On the southern part of the Silk Road, Hotan was an early center for the spread of Buddhism from India into China. It fell to the Arabs in the 8th cent., and grew wealthy on the proceeds of the caravan trade that traveled the route between China and the West. Its prosperity ended with the conquest of Hotan by Jenghiz Khan. After many political changes the region became (1878) permanently part of China. The city was the site of a Uigur uprising in 1954.
The oasis town of Hotan or Hetian (, formerly: ; also spelled Khotan). It was previously known in Chinese as 于窴 pinyin: Yutian.
Hotan is the capital of Hotan Prefecture, Xinjiang, China. With a population of 114,000 (2006), Hotan lies in the Tarim Basin, just north of the Kunlun Mountains, which are crossed by the Sanju, Hindu-tagh, and Ilchi passes.
The town, located southeast of Yarkand and populated almost exclusively by Uyghurs, is a minor agricultural center. An important station on the southern branch of the historic Silk Road, Hotan has always depended on two strong rivers - the Karakash River and the Yurungkash River - to provide the water needed to survive on the southwestern edge of the vast Taklamakan Desert. The Yurungkash still provides water and irrigation for the town and oasis.
The oasis of Hotan is strategically located at the junction of the southern (and most ancient) branch of the famous “Silk Route” joining China and the West with one of the main routes from India and Tibet to Central Asia and distant China. It provided a convenient meeting place where not only goods, but technologies, philosophies, and religions were transmitted from one culture to another.
At Sampul, to the east of the city of Hotan, there is an extensive series of cemeteries scattered over an area about a kilometre wide and 23 km long. The excavated sites range from about 300 BCE - 100 CE. The excavated graves have produced a number of fabrics of felt, wool, silk and cotton and even a fine bit of tapestry showing the face of Caucasoid man which was made of threads of 24 shades of colour. The tapestry had been cut up and fashioned into trousers worn by one of the deceased! Anthropological studies 56 individuals studied show a primarily Caucasoid population "similar to the Saka burials of the southern Pamirs".
There is a relative abundance of information on Hotan readily available for study. The main historical sources are to be found in the Chinese histories (particularly detailed during the Han and early Tang dynasties), the accounts of several Chinese pilgrim monks, a few Buddhist histories of Hotan that have survived in Tibetan, and a large number of documents in Khotanese and other languages discovered, for the most part, early this century at various sites in the Tarim Basin and from the hidden library at the “Caves of the Thousand Buddhas” near Dunhuang.
By 1006, Khotan was held by the Muslim Yūsuf Qadr Khān, a brother or cousin of the Muslim ruler of Kāshgar and Balāsāghūn. Between 1006 and 1165, after it fell to the Kara Kitai, it was part of the Kara-Khanid Khanate and became, in time, a Muslim state. The town suffered severely during the Dungan revolt against the Qing Dynasty in 1864-1875, and again a few years later when Yaqub Beg of Kashgar made himself master of East Turkestan.
Khotan is famous for its high-quality nephrite jade, which comes in a variety of colours. Chinese historical sources indicate that Hotan was the main source of the nephrite jade used in ancient China. For several hundred years, until they were defeated by the Xiongnu in 176 BCE, the trade of Hotanese jade into China was controlled by the nomadic Yuezhi. The Chinese still refer to the Yurungkash as the White Jade River, alluding to the white jade recovered from its alluvial deposits. Most of the jade is now gone, with only a few kilos of good quality jade found yearly. Some is still mined in the Kunlun Mountains to the south in the summer, but it is generally of poorer quality than that found in the rivers. Fabrics and carpets
Chinese-Khotanese relations were so close that the oasis emerged as one of the earliest centres of silk manufacture outside China. There are good reasons to believe that the silk-producing industry flourished in Hotan as early as the fifth century. According to one story, a Chinese princess given in marriage to a Khotan prince brought to the oasis the secret of silk-manufacture, "hiding silkworms in her hair as part of her dowry", probably in the first half of the 1st century CE. It was from Khotan that the eggs of silkworms were smuggled to Persia, reaching Justinian's Constantinople in 551 AD.
Khotanese carpets, were mentioned by Xuanzang, who visited the oasis in 644 CE: "The country produces woolen carpets and fine felt, and the people are skillful in spinning and weaving silk. In his Biography it is stated: "It produced carpets and fine felt, and the felt-makers also spun coarse and fine silk."
Not only pile carpets were produced in ancient times, but also kilims:
Khotanese pile carpets are still highly prized and form an important export.
Silk production is still a major industry employing more than a thousand workers and producing some 150 million metres of silk annually. Silk weaving by Uighur women is a thriving cottage industry, some of it produced using traditional methods.