Uigurs, Uighurs, or Uygurs, Turkic-speaking people of Asia who live mainly in W China. They were the Yue-che of ancient Chinese records and first rose to prominence in the 7th cent. when they supported the T'ang Chinese in central Asia. In 744 the Uigurs seized control of Mongolia and established their capital on the Orkhon River, near the site of later Karakorum. Ousted (840) from Mongolia by the Kyrgyz, they moved to Turpan, in Xinjiang, where they founded an empire that lasted until the Mongol onslaught of the 13th cent. Unlike other peoples of central Asia, the Uigurs were not exclusively nomadic but practiced some agriculture and trade. They were converted to Manichaeism but later became Sunni Muslims. The Uigurs transmitted their script to the Mongols.

A movement promoting Uigur independence has existed for many years, and there were attempts to establish an East Turkestan Republic in Xinjiang in the 1930s and 40s. Since the time of the Chinese Communist victory (1949) there have been sporadic antigovernment protests and violence and government antiseparatist crackdowns; in 1954 there was a Uigur uprising in Hotan, and in 2009 there was deadly street fighting between Uigurs and Chinese in Ürümqi. Today half of the population of Xinjiang (reorganized as the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in 1955) is of Uigur descent; there they number about 8 million. Another 1 million Uigurs live in Central Asia and elsewhere.

See C. Mackerras, ed., The Uighur Empire (1968, repr. 1973).

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