Xinjiang (; ; ; postal map spelling: Sinkiang), officially Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, is an autonomous region of the People's Republic of China in the northwest of the country. It is the largest Chinese administrative division and spans over 1.6 million km2. Xinjiang borders Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. It has abundant oil reserves and is China's largest natural gas-producing region.
It is home to a number of ethnic groups including the Uyghur, Han, Kazakh, Tajiks, Hui, Kyrgyz, and Mongol, with a majority of the population adhering to Islam. More than a dozen autonomous prefectures and counties for minorities are in Xinjiang. Older English-language reference works often refer to the area as Chinese Turkestan. Xinjiang is divided into the Dzungarian Basin in the north and the Tarim Basin in the south by a mountain range. Only about 4.3% of Xinjiang's land area is fit for human habitation.
With a documented history of at least 2,500 years, a succession of peoples and empires has vied for control over all or parts of this territory. Before the 21st century, all or part of the region has been ruled, controlled, influenced by the Tocharians, Yuezhi, Xiongnu Empire, Kushan Empire, Han Empire, Former Liang, Former Qin, Later Liang, Western Liáng, Tang Dynasty, Uyghur Khaganate, Kara-Khanid Khanate, Mongol Empire (Yuan Dynasty), Dzungar Khanate, Qing Dynasty, the Republic of China and, since 1950, the People's Republic of China.
According to J.P. Mallory and Victor H. Mair, the Chinese sources describe the existence of "white people with lightish hair" or the Bai people in the Shan Hai Jing, who lived beyond their northwestern border.
The well-preserved Tarim mummies with Caucasoid features, often with reddish or blond hair, today displayed at the Ürümqi Museum and dated to the 3rd century BC, have been found in precisely the same area of the Tarim Basin. Nomadic tribes such as the Yuezhi were part of the large migration of Indo-European speaking peoples who were settled in eastern Central Asia (possibly as far as Gansu). The Ordos in northern China east of the Yuezhi are another example.
Nomadic cultures such as the Yuezhi are documented in the area of Xinjiang where the first known reference to the Yuezhi was made in 645 BC by the Chinese Guan Zhong in his Guanzi 管子 (Guanzi Essays: 73: 78: 80: 81). He described the Yuzhi 禺氏, or Niuzhi 牛氏, as a people from the north-west who supplied jade to the Chinese from the nearby mountains of Yuzhi 禺氏 at Gansu. The supply of jade from the Tarim Basin from ancient times is well documented archaeologically: "It is well known that ancient Chinese rulers had a strong attachment to jade. All of the jade items excavated from the tomb of Fuhao of the Shang dynasty, more than 750 pieces, were from Khotan in modern Xinjiang. As early as the mid-first millennium BC the Yuezhi engaged in the jade trade, of which the major consumers were the rulers of agricultural China."
The nomadic tribes of the Yuezhi are documented in detail in Chinese historical accounts, in particular the 2nd–1st century BC "Records of the Great Historian", or Shiji, by Sima Qian, which state that they "were flourishing" but regularly in conflict with the neighboring tribe of the Xiongnu to the northeast. According to these accounts:
The Yuezhi originally lived in the area between the Qilian and Dunhuang, but after they were defeated by the Xiongnu they moved far away to the west, beyond Dayuan, where they attacked and conquered the people of Daxia and set up the court of their king on the northern bank of the Gui [= Oxus] River. A small number of their people who were unable to make the journey west sought refuge among the Qiang barbarians in the Southern Mountains, where they are known as the Lesser Yuezhi.
Traversed by the Northern Silk Road, the Tarim and Dzungaria regions were known as the Western Regions. At the beginning of the Han Dynasty (206 BC–AD 220), the region was subservient to the Xiongnu, a powerful nomadic people based in modern Mongolia.
In the 2nd century BC, Han China sent Zhang Qian as an envoy to the states in the region, beginning several decades of struggle between the Xiongnu and Han China over dominance of the region, eventually ending in Chinese success. In 60 BC Han China established the Protectorate of the Western Regions (西域都護府) at Wulei (烏壘; near modern Luntai) to oversee the entire region as far west as the Pamir. Tarim Basin was under the influence and control of the Han dynasty.
During the usurpation of Wang Mang in China, the dependent states of the protectorate rebelled and returned to domination in AD 13. Over the next century, Han China conducted several expeditions into the region, re-establishing the protectorate from 74 to 76, 91 to 107, and from 123 onward. These campaigns expanded Han sovereignty into the Tarim Basin and Central Asia. This region was also ruled by the Kushan Empire between 114 and 168. After the fall of the Han Dynasty, the protectorate continued to be maintained by Cao Wei (until 265) and the Western Jin Dynasty (from 265 onward).
Ptolemy had good information on Xinjiang, taken from three accounts.
A succession of peoples
The Western Jin Dynasty succumbed to successive waves of invasions by nomads from the north at the beginning of the 4th century. The short-lived kingdoms that ruled northwestern China one after the other, including Former Liang, Former Qin, Later Liang, and Western Liáng, all attempted to maintain the protectorate, with varying degrees of success. After the final reunification of northern China under the Northern Wei empire, its protectorate controlled what is now the southeastern region of Xinjiang. Local states such as Shule, Yutian, Guizi and Qiemo controlled the western region, while the central region around Turpan was controlled by Gaochang, remnants of a state (Northern Liang) that once ruled part of what is now Gansu province in northwestern China.
The Tang Dynasty was established in 618 and the dynasty conducted a series of expeditions against the Tujue eventually forcing their capitulation in 657. Xinjiang was placed under the Anxi Protectorate (安西都護府; "Protectorate Pacifying the West"). The protectorate did not outlast the decline of Tang China in the 8th century.
Uyghur Khaganate and Kara-Khanid Khanate
During the devastating Anshi Rebellion, Tibet invaded the Tang on a wide front from Xinjiang to Yunnan, occupied the Tang capital Chang'an in 763 for 16 days, and took control of southern Xinjiang by the end of the century. At the same time, the Uyghur Khaganate took control of northern Xinjiang, as well as much of the rest of Central Asia, including Mongolia.
As both Tibet and the Uyghur Khaganate declined in the mid-9th century, the Kara-Khanid Khanate, which was a confederation of Turkic tribes such as the Karluks, Chigils and Yaghmas, took control of western Xinjiang in the 10th century and the 11th century. Meanwhile, after the Uyghur khanate in Mongolia had been smashed by the Kirghiz in 840, branches of the Uyghurs established themselves in Qocha (Karakhoja) and Beshbalik near today's Turfan and Urumchi. This Uyghur state would remain in eastern Xinjiang until the 13th century, though it would be subject to overlords during that time. The Kara-Khanids converted to Islam, whereas the Uyghur state in eastern Xinjiang remained Manicheaean, but later converting to Buddhism.
In 1132, remnants of the Khitan Empire from Manchuria entered Xinjiang, fleeing the onslaught of the Jurchens into north China. They established an exile regime, the Kara-Khitan Khanate, which became overlord over Kara-Khanid-held and Uyghur-held parts of the Tarim Basin for the next century.
Mongol Empire, Chagatai Khanate, and Yuan Dynasty
After Genghis Khan unified Mongolia and began his advance west, the Uyghur state in the Turpan-Urumchi area offered its allegiance to the Mongols in 1209, contributing taxes and troops to the Mongol imperial effort. In return, the Uyghur rulers retained control of their kingdom. By contrast, Genghis Khan's Mongol Empire conquered the Kara-Khitan in 1218. Because the Kara-Khitan had persecuted Islam, the Mongols were met as liberators in the Kashgar area. During the era of the Mongol Empire, the Yuan Dynasty vied with the Chagatai Khanate for rule over the area, with the latter taking control of most of this region. After the break-up of the Chagatai Khanate into smaller khanates in the mid-14th century, the region fractured and was ruled by Persianized Mongol Khans simultaneously, including the ones of Mogholistan (with the assistance of the local Dughlat Emirs), Uigurstan (later Turpan) and Kashgaria. These leaders engaged in wars with each other and the Timurids of Transoxania to the west and the Western Mongols to the east, the successor Chagatai regime based in Mongolia and in China. Although there were high points in Persian culture reached (e.g., the Dughlat historian Hamid-mirza), succession crises and internal divisions (Kashgaria split in two for centuries) meant that this region almost completely fades from the history books during the 16th and 17th centuries. In the 17th century, the Mongolian Dzungars established an empire over much of the region.
The Mongolian Dzungar (also Jungar, Zunghar or Zungar; Mongolian: Зүүнгар Züüngar) is the collective identity of several Oirat tribes that formed and maintained one of the last nomadic empires. The Dzungar Khanate covered the area called Dzungaria and stretched from the west end of the Great Wall of China to present-day eastern Kazakhstan, and from present-day northern Kyrgyzstan to southern Siberia (most of this area is renamed to Xinjiang after the fall of the Dzungar Empire). It existed from the early 17th century to the mid-18th century.
The Manchu Qing Dynasty gained control over eastern Xinjiang as a result of a long struggle with the Dzunghars that began in the 17th century. In 1755, with the help of the Oirat nobel Amursana, the Qing attacked Ghulja, and captured the Dzunghar khan. After Amursana's request to be declared Zunghar khan went unanswered, he led a revolt against the Qing. Over the next two years, Qing armies destroyed the remnants of the Dzunghar khanate and many Chinese Muslims (Hui) moved into the pacified areas.
The Dzungars suffered important loss in the brutal campaigns and the smallpox epidemic at the time. One writer, Wei Yuan, described the resulting desolation in what is now northern Xinjiang as: "an empty plain for several thousand li, with no Oirat yurt except those surrendered." It has been estimated that 80% of the 600,000 or more Zunghars were destroyed by a combination of disease and warfare, and it took generations for it to recover.
After the defeat of the Dzungars, the Qing made members of a clan of sufi shaykhs known as the Khojas, rulers in the western Tarim Basin, south of the Tianshan Mts. In 1758–59, however, rebellions against this arrangement broke out both north and south of the Tian Shan mountains. The Qing was thus forced, contrary to its initial intent, to establish a form of direct military rule over both Zungharia (northern Xinjiang) and the Tarim Basin (southern Xinjiang). The Manchus put the whole region under the rule of a General of Ili, headquartered at the fort of Huiyuan (the so-called "Manchu Kuldja", or Yili), 30 km west of Ghulja (Yining).
After 1759 state farms were established, "especially in the vicinity of Urumchi, where there was fertile, well-watered land and few people." From 1760 to 1830 more state farms were opened and the Chinese population in Xinjiang grew rapidly to about 155,000.
By the mid-19th century, the Russian Empire was encroaching upon Qing China along its entire northern frontier. The Opium Wars and Taiping and other rebellion's in China proper had severely restricted the dynasty's ability to maintain its garrisons in distant Xinjiang. In 1864 both Chinese Muslims (Hui) and Uyghurs rebelled in Xinjiang cities, following an on-going Chinese Muslim Rebellion in Gansu and Shaanxi provinces further east. Yaqub Beg's Turkic Muslim troops also committed massacres upon the Chinese Muslims. In 1865, Yaqub Beg, a warlord from the neighbouring Khanate of Kokand, entered Xinjiang via Kashgar and conquered nearly all of Xinjiang over the next six years. At the Battle of Ürümqi (1870) Yaqub Beg's Turkic forces, allied with a Han Chinese militia, attacked and besieged Chinese Muslim forces in Urumqi. In 1871, Russia took advantage of the chaotic situation and seized the rich Ili River valley, including Gulja. By then, Qing China held onto only a few strongholds, including Tacheng.
Yaqub Beg's rule lasted until General Zuo Zongtang (also known as General Tso) reconquered the region between 1875 and 1877 for Qing China. In 1881, Qing China recovered the Gulja region through diplomatic negotiations (Treaty of Saint Petersburg (1881)).
In 1884 (1882 according to some sources), Qing China established Xinjiang ("new frontier") as a province, formally applying onto it the political system of China proper and dropping the old name of Huijiang or 'Muslimland'.
In 1912, the Qing Dynasty was replaced by the Republic of China. Yuan Dahua, the last Qing governor of Xinjiang, fled. One of his subordinates, Yang Zengxin (杨增新), took control of the province and acceded in name to the Republic of China in March of the same year. Through Machiavellian politics and clever balancing of mixed ethnic constituencies, Yang maintained control over Xinjiang until his assassination in 1928.
The Kumul Rebellion and other rebellions arose against his successor Jin Shuren (金树仁) in the early 1930s throughout Xinjiang, involving Uyghurs, other Turkic groups, and Hui (Muslim) Chinese. Jin drafted White Russians to crush the revolt. In the Kashgar region on November 12, 1933, the short-lived self-proclaimed East Turkistan Republic was declared, after some debate over whether the proposed independent state should be called "East Turkestan" or "Uyghuristan." The region claimed by the ETR in theory encompassed Kashgar, Khotan and Aqsu prefectures in southwestern Xinjiang. The Chinese Muslim Kuomintang 36th Division (National Revolutionary Army) destroyed the army of the First East Turkestan Republic at the Battle of Kashgar (1934), bringing the Republic to an end after the Chinese Muslims executed the two Emirs of the Republic, Abdullah Bughra and Nur Ahmad Jan Bughra. The Soviet Union invaded the province in the Soviet Invasion of Xinjiang. In the Xinjiang War (1937), the entire province was brought under the control of northeast Chinese warlord Sheng Shicai (盛世才), who ruled Xinjiang for the next decade with close support from the Soviet Union, many of whose ethnic and security policies Sheng instituted in Xinjiang. The Soviet Union maintained a military base in Xinjiang and had several military and economic advisors deployed in the region. Sheng invited a group of Chinese Communists to Xinjiang, including Mao Zedong's brother Mao Zemin, but in 1943, fearing a conspiracy, Sheng executed them all, including Mao Zemin.
A Second East Turkistan Republic (2nd ETR, also known as the Three Districts Revolution) existed from 1944 to 1949 with Soviet support in what is now Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture (Ili, Tarbagatay and Altay Districts) in northern Xinjiang. The Second East Turkistan Republic came to an end when the People's Liberation Army entered Xinjiang in 1949. Also, five ETR leaders, who would negotiate the final status of East Turkistan with the Chinese, died in an air crash in 1949 in Soviet airspace over the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic.
The Chinese Muslim General Bai Chongxi advocated swamping Xinjiang with disbanded Chinese soldiers to prevent the Soviet union from seizing control during this time.
According to the PRC interpretation, the 2nd ETR was Xinjiang's revolution, a positive part of the communist revolution in China; the 2nd ETR acceded to and welcomed the PLA when it entered Xinjiang, a process known as the Peaceful Liberation of Xinjiang. However, independence advocates view the ETR as an effort to establish an independent state, and the subsequent PLA entry as an invasion.
The autonomous region of the PRC was established on October 1, 1955, replacing the province.
The PRC's first nuclear test was carried out at Lop Nur, Xinjiang, on October 16, 1964. A Japanese researcher known for prominently opposing the tests as "the Devil's conduct" speculated that between 100,000 and 200,000 people may have been killed due to the consequential radiation, although the Lop Nur area has not been permanently inhabited since the 1920s, being located between the Taklamakan and Kumtag deserts in Ruoqiang County, which has an area of almost 200,000km2 with a population density of only .16/km2. Chinese media challenged this conclusion without providing an alternate number.
During the Great Chinese Famine (1958–1961), Xinjiang experienced a great emigration of residents both to the Soviet Union and to East China. After a number of student demonstrations in the 1980s, the Baren Township riot of April 1990 led to more than 20 deaths. 1997 saw the Ghulja Incident and Urumqi bus bombs, while police continue to battle with religious separatists from the East Turkestan Islamic Movement.
Han Youwen, a Salar general, once served as vice chairman of Xinjiang.
During the Cold War and the Sino-Soviet split, China stationed military forces in Xinjiang to guard against Soviet attack, and the Chinese used Xinjiang to supply and train anti-Soviet Islamic militants during the Islamic insurgency against the Soviet backed Afghan communists.
During the Sino-Soviet split, strained relations between China and Soviet Russia resulted in bloody border clashes and mutual backing for the opponents enemies. China and Afghanistan had neutral relations with each other during the King's rule. When the pro Soviet Afghan communists seized power in Afghanistan in 1978, relations between China and the Afghan communists quickly turned hostile. The Afghan pro-Soviet communists supported China's enemies in Vietnam and blamed China for supporting Afghan anti-communist militants. China responded to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan by supporting the Afghan Mujahidin and ramping up their military presence near Afghanistan in Xinjiang. China acquired military equipment from America to defend itself from Soviet attack.
The People's Liberation Army trained and supported the Afghan Mujahidin during the Soviet war in Afghanistan. China moved its training camps for the mujahideen from Pakistan into China. Hundreds of millions worth of anti-aircraft missiles, rocket launchers and machine guns were given to the Mujahidin by the Chinese. Chinese military advisors and army troops were present with the Mujahidin during training.
In recent years Xinjiang has been a focal point of ethnic and other tensions.
Recent incidents include the 2007 Xinjiang raid, a thwarted 2008 suicide bombing attempt on a China Southern Airlines flight, and the 2008 Xinjiang attack which resulted in the deaths of sixteen police officers four days before the Beijing Olympics. Further incidents include the July 2009 Ürümqi riots, the September 2009 Xinjiang unrest, and the 2010 Aksu bombing that led to the trials of 376 people.
From 1949 to 2001, education has expanded greatly in the region, with 6,221 primary schools up from 1,335; 1,929 middle schools up from 9, and institutions of higher learning at 21, up from 1. The illiteracy rate for young and middle-age people has decreased to less than 2%. Agricultural science has made inroads into the region, as well as innovative methods of road construction in the desert.
Culturally, Xinjiang maintains 81 public libraries and 23 museums, compared to none of each in 1949, and Xinjiang has 98 newspapers in 44 languages, up from 4 newspapers in 1952. According to official statistics, the ratios of doctors, medical workers, medical clinics, and hospital beds to people surpass the national average, and immunization rates have reached 85%.