Uyghur people

The Uyghur (also spelled Uygur, Uighur, Uigur, Uyghur: ئۇيغۇر; ) are a Turkic people of Central Asia. Today Uyghurs live primarily in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (also known by its controversial name Uyghurstan or East Turkistan) in the People's Republic of China.

There are Uyghur diasporic communities in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Uzbekistan, Germany and Turkey and smaller ones in Pakistan, Russia and Taoyuan County of Hunan province in south-central Mainland China. Uyghur neighborhoods can be found in major Chinese cities like Beijing and Shanghai. There are small communities in the United States, mainly in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City and Washington, DC, as well as Toronto and Vancouver in Canada.


Historically the term "Uyghur" was applied to a group of Turkic-speaking tribes that lived in the Altay Mountains. Along with the Göktürks (Kokturks), the Uyghurs were one of the largest and most enduring Turkic peoples living in Central Asia.

In the literature, the term Uyghur has a number of differing spellings, including Uigur, Uygur, and Uighur. The word means "Confederation of Nine Tribes" and is synonymous with the name Tokuz-Oguz. In Turkic inscriptions, the name Tokuz-Oguz is used for the subdued Uigurs, and the resisting are called Uigurs, pointing to semantical nuances between the two names. Etymologically, Türkic "tokuz" = nine, and "gur" = tribe. They were one of the Tele tribes that migrated in the 4th century from Hesi northward. The Chinese also referred to the Uyghurs as Hoy-Hu, Üan-Ga, and Chiu Hsing (English: "Nine Clans"). Another suggested etymology is a composite of "uigy" quick + "er/ir/ur" = man for "Quick People", "Uygar" as "civilised", and derivations such as "unified, united", though none of these are justified on historical or linguistic grounds.

The earliest use of the term "Uyghur" (Weihu) was during the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534 CE), in China. At that time, the Uyghur were part of the Gaoche (English: "High Wheels"), a group of Turkic tribes, which Chinese later called Tele people, from the Turkic word, "tele the "Nine-Family Tele" association, i.e., Tokuz-Oguzes) for "wheelwagon". This group included tribes such as Syr-Tardush (Chinese: Xueyantuo), Basmyl (Chinese: Baximi), Oguz (Chinese: Wuhu), Khazar (Chinese: Hesan), Alans (Chinese: A-lans), Kyrgyz (Chinese: Hegu), Tuva (Chinese: Duva) and Yakut (Chinese: Guligan) from the Lake Baikal Region. The forebears of the Tele belonged to those of Hun (Chinese: Xiongnu) descendants. According to Chinese Turkic scholars Ma Changshou and Cen Zhongmian, the Chinese word Tiele originates from the Turkic word "Türkler" (Turks), which is a plural form of "Türk" (Turk) and the Chinese word "Tujue" comes from the Turkic word "Türküt" which is a singular form of Türk. The origin of Gaoche can be traced back to the Dingling peoples of about 200 BC, contemporary with the Chinese Han Dynasty.

The first use of "Uyghur" as a reference to a political nation occurred during the interim period between the First and Second Göktürk Kaganates (630-684 AD). After the collapse of the Uyghur Empire in 840 AD, Uyghur resettled to the Tarim Basin.

In modern usage, "Uyghur" refers to settled Turkic urban-dwellers and farmers of Kashgaria and Jungaria or Uyghurstan who follow traditional Central Asian practices, as distinguished from nomadic Turkic populations in Central Asia . The Bolsheviks reintroduced the term "Uyghur" to replace the previously used Turki.

Today, Uyghurs live mainly in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China, where they are the largest ethnic group. "Xinjiang", meaning "New Frontier", is the Chinese name of the Autonomous Region.


Orkhon Uyghur

Uyghur history can be divided into four distinct phases: Pre-Imperial (300 BC-630 CE), Imperial (630-840 CE), Idiqut (840-1209 CE), and Mongol (1209-1600 CE), with perhaps a fifth modern phase running from the death of the Silk Road in 1600 CE until the present. Uyghur history is the story of an obscure nomadic tribe from the Altai Mountains rising to challenge the Chinese Empire and ultimately becoming the diplomatic arm of the Mongol invasion.

Pre Imperial-745 CE

The ancestors of the Uyghur include the Huns.Uyghur emerged as the leaders of a new coalition force called the "Toquz Oghuz". In 744 the Uyghur, together with other related subject tribes (the Basmyl and Qarluq), defeated the Göktürk Khanate and founded the Uyghur Empire at Mount Ötüken, which lasted for about 100 years (744-840).

Uyghur Empire: the golden age (744-840)

Properly called the On-Uyghur (ten Uyghurs) and Toquz-Oghuz (nine tribes) Orkhon Khanate, the Uyghur Empire stretched from the Caspian Sea to Manchuria and lasted from 744 to 840 CE. It was administered from the imperial capital Ordu Baliq. Uyghur Empire considered conquering the Tang Empire, but chose instead to use an exploitive trade policy to drain off the wealth of China without actually destroying it. In 840, following a famine and a civil war, the Uyghur Empire was overrun by the Kyrgyz.

Modern Uyghur

840 CE-1600 CE

Following the collapse of the Uyghur Empire, the Uyghur established states in three areas: present day Gansu, Xinjiang, and the Chu River the West of Tian Shan (Tengri-Tag) Mountains.

Today one can still see Uyghurs with light-colored skin and hair. The genetic studies show that the Uyghur (UIG) population, presenting a typical admixture of Eastern and Western anthropometric traits, results showed that UIG was formed by two-way admixture, with 60% European ancestry and 40% East Asian (Turkic-Hun) ancestry. Overall linkage disequilibrium (LD) in UIG was similar to that in its parental populations represented in East Asia and Europe with regard to common alleles, and UIG manifested. Both the magnitude of LD and fragmentary ancestral chromosome segments indicated a long history of Uyghur. Under the assumption of a hybrid isolation (HI) model, it was estimated that the admixture event of UIG occurred about 126 [107, 146] generations ago, or 2520 [2140, 2920] years ago assuming 20 years per generation.

Yugor The eastern-most of the three Uyghur states was the Ganzhou Kingdom (870-1036 CE), with its capital near present-day Zhangye in the Gansu province of China. There, the Uyghur converted from Manicheism to Lamaism (Tibetan and Mongol Buddhism). Unlike other Turkic peoples further west, they did not later convert to Islam. Their descendants are now known as Yugurs (or Yogir, Yugor, and Sary Uyghurs, literally meaning "yellow Uyghurs") and are distinct from modern Uyghurs. In 1028-1036 CE, the Yugors were defeated in a bloody war and forcibly absorbed into the Tangut kingdom.

Karakhoja The central of the three Uyghur states was the Karakhoja kingdom (created during 856-866 CE), also called the "Idiqut" ("Holy Wealth, Glory") state, and was based around the cities of Turfan (winter capital), Beshbalik (summer capital), Kumul, and Kucha. A Buddhist state, with state-sponsored Buddhism and Manicheism, it can be considered the center of Uyghur culture. The Idiquts (title of the Karakhoja rulers) ruled independently until 1209, when they submitted to the Mongols under Genghis Khan and, as vassal rulers, existed until 1335.

Kara-Khanids, or The Karahans (Great Khans Dynasty), was the westernmost of the three Uyghur states. The Karahans (Karakhanliks) originated from Uyghur tribes settled in the Chu River Valley after 840 and ruled between 940-1212 in Turkistan and Maveraünnehir. They converted to Islam in 934 under the rule of Sultan Satuq Bughra Khan (920-956) and, after taking power over Qarluks in 940, built a federation with Muslim institutions. Together with the Samanids of Samarkand, they considered themselves the defenders of Islam against the Buddhist Uyghur Idiqut. The first capital of the Karahans was established in the city of Balasagun in the Chu River Valley and later was moved to Kashgar.

The reign of the Karahans is especially significant from the point of view of Turkic culture and art history. During this period, mosques, schools, bridges, and caravansaries were constructed in the cities. Kashgar, Bukhara and Samarkand became centers of learning. During this period, Turkic literature developed. Among the most important works of the period is Kutadgu Bilig (English: "The Knowledge That Gives Happiness"), written by Yusuf Balasaghuni between the years 1060-1070, and Lughat-at-Turk(The Turkic dictionary) by Mahmud of Kashgar.

Both the Idiqut and the Kara-Khanid states eventually submitted to the Kara Khitais. After the rise of the Seljuk Turks in Iran, the Kara-Khanids became nominal vassals of the Seljuks as well. Later they would serve the dual-suzerainty of the Kara-Khitans to the north and the Seljuks to the south. Finally all three states became vassals to Genghis Khan in 1209.

Most inhabitants of the Besh Balik and Turfan regions did not convert to Islam until the 15th century expansion of the Yarkand Khanate, a Turko-Mongol successor state based in western Tarim. Before converting to Islam, Uyghurs were Tengriist, Manichaeans, Buddhists, or Nestorian Christians.

Chagatay Khanate

See also Chagatay Khanate

The Chagatai Khanate was a khanate of the Mongol Empire that comprised the lands controlled by Chagatai Khan (alternative spellings Chagata, Chugta, Chagta, Djagatai, Jagatai), second son of the Mongol emperor Genghis Khan. Chagatai's ulus, or hereditary territory, consisted of the part of the Mongol Empire which extended from the Ili River (today in eastern Kazakhstan) and Kashgaria (in the western Tarim Basin) to Transoxiana (modern Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan). After the death of his father, he inherited most of what are now the five Central Asian states and northern Iran, which he ruled until his death in 1242. These lands later came to be known as the Chagatai Khanate, part of the Mongol Empire. These territories would later become the Turco-Mongol states.

After the death of the Chagatayid ruler Qazan Khan in 1346, the Chagatai Khanate was divided into western (Transoxiana) and eastern (Moghulistan/Uyghuristan) halves, which was later known as "Kashgar and Uyghurstan," according Balkh historian Makhmud ibn Vali (Sea of Mysteries, 1640). Kashgar historian Muhammad Imin Sadr Kashgari called the country Uyghurstan in his book Traces of Invasion (Asar al-futuh) in 1780. Power in the western half devolved into the hands of several tribal leaders, most notably the Qara'unas. Khans appointed by the tribal rulers were mere puppets. In the east, Tughlugh Timur (1347-1363), an obscure Chaghataite adventurer, gained ascendancy over the nomadic Mongols, and converted to Islam. In 1360, and again in 1361, he invaded the western half in the hope that he could reunify the khanate. At their greatest extent, the Chaghataite domains extended from the Irtysh River in Siberia down to Ghazni in Afghanistan, and from Transoxiana to the Tarim Basin.

Tughlugh Timur was unable to completely subjugate the tribal rulers. After his death in 1363, the Moghuls left Transoxiana, and the Qara'unas' leader Amir Husayn took control of Transoxiana. Tīmur-e Lang (Timur the Lame), or Tamerlane, a Muslim native of Transoxania who claimed descent from Genghis Khan, desired control of the khanate for himself and opposed Amir Husayn. He took Samarkand in 1366, and was recognized as emir in 1370, although he continued to officially act in the name of the Chagatai khans. For over three decades, Timur used the Chagatai lands as the base for extensive conquests, conquering the rulers of Herat in Afghanistan, Shiraz in Persia, Baghdad in Iraq, Delhi in India, and Damascus in Syria. After defeating the Ottoman Turks at Angora, Timur died in 1405 while marching on Ming Dynasty China. The Timurid Dynasty continued under his son, Shah Rukh, who ruled from Herat until his death in 1447.

By 1369, the western half (Transoxonia and further west) of the Chagatai Khanate had been conquered by Tamerlane in his attempt to reconstruct the Mongol Empire. The eastern half, mostly under what is now Xinjiang, remained under Chagatai princes that were at times allied or at war with Timurid princes. Finally, in the 17th century, all the remaining Chagatay domains fell under the theocratic regime of Apak Khoja and his descendant, the Khojijans, who ruled East Turkestan under Jungar and/or Manchu overlordships.

Both Transoxonia and the Tarim Basin of East Turkestan became known as Moghulistan or Mughalistan, named after the ruling class of Chagatay and Timurid states which descended from the "Moghol" (Mongol) tribe of Doghlat, but was completely Islamicized and Turkified in language. It was the same Moghol Timurid ruling class that established the Timurid rule on the Indian Subcontinent known as the Mughal Empire.

Under the Chagatay Khanate's rule in East Turkestan/Uyghurstan, the culture of the original subjects of the Karakhanids(Uyghurs) became somewhat of a "national culture" of the largely Muslim state, that the Buddhist populations of the former Karakhoja(Uyghurs) Idikut-ate largely converted into the Muslim faith, and that all Chagatai-speaking Muslims, regardless whether they lived in Turpan or Kashgar, became known by their occupations as Moghols (ruling class), Sarts (merchants and townspeople) and Taranchis (farmers). This triple division of classes among the same Muslim Turkic folk also existed in Transoxonia, regardless whether they were under Timurid or Chagatay, or even Uzbek and Khojijan princes. Even today, the sense of ethnic kinship between the modern Uyghur and Uzbek peoples remain strong.

It is widely believed that the modern Uyghur nation acquired its current demographic composition and its current cultural identity during the East Turkestani Chagatay period. The Chagatay period in East Turkestan was marked by instability and internecine warfare, with Kashgar, Yarkant and Qomul as major centers of warfare and warlord rule. Some Chagatay princes allied with the Timurids and Uzbeks of Transoxonia, and some sought help from the Buddhist Kalmyks. The Chagatay prince Mirza Haidar Kurgan escaped his war-torn homeland Kashgar in the early 16th century to Timurid Tashkent, only to be evicted by the invading Shaybanids. Escaping to the mercy of his Mughal Timurid cousins, which was then rulers of Delhi, India, he gained his final post as governor of Kashmir and wrote the famous Tarikh-i-Rashidi, widely acclaimed as the most comprehensive work on the Uyghur civilization during the East Turkestani Chagatay reign.

The Khojijans were originally the Aq Tagh tariqa of the Naqshbandi order, which originated in Timurid Transoxonia. Struggles between two prominent Naqshbandi tariqas the Aq Taghlik and the Kara Taghlik engulfed the entire East Turkestani Chagatay domain in late 17th century, which Apaq Khoja finally triumphant both as a national religious and political leader. The last ruling Chagatay princess married one of the ruling Khojijan princes (descendants of Apaq) and became known as Khanum Pasha. She ruled with brutality after the death of her husband, and singlehandedly slaughtered many of her Khojijan and Chagatayid rivals. She was known to have boiled alive the last Chagatayid princess that could have continued the dynasty. The Khojijan Dynasty fell into chaos despite the brutality of Khanum Pasha, and became a vassal of the invading Jungar Kalmyks.

The triumph of the Manchu Qing Dynasty over the Jungars brought Manchu military governorship to the Ili Valley north of Kashgar. Some Khojijan princes put up a struggle against Qing overlordship, but all were finally pacified and became local rulers in a fragmented East Turkestan that recognized Qing suzerainty.

Post-1600 CE

The Manchus, semi-nomads from present-day northeast China, vastly expanded the Qing empire, which they founded in 1644, to include much of Mongolia, East Turkistan, and Tibet. The Manchus invaded East Turkistan in 1759 and dominated it until 1864. During this period, the Uyghurs revolted 42 times against Qing Dynasty rulers. In the revolt of 1864, the Uyghurs were successful in expelling the Qing Dynasty officials from East Turkistan, and founded an independent Kashgaria kingdom, called Yettishar (English: "country of seven cities"). Under the leadership of Yakub Beg, it included Kashgar, Yarkand, Hotan, Aksu, Kucha, Korla and Turfan). The kingdom was recognized by the Ottoman Empire (1873), Tsarist Russia (1872), and Great Britain (1874), which established a mission in the capital, Kashgar.

Large Qing Dynasty forces under the overall command of General Zuo Zongtang attacked East Turkestan in 1876. Fearing Tsarist expansion into East Turkestan, Great Britain supported the Manchu invasion forces through loans by British banks (mostly through Boston Bank, located in Hong Kong). After this invasion, East Turkestan was renamed "Xinjiang" or "Sinkiang", which means "New Dominion" or "New Territory", and it was annexed by the Manchu empire on November 18, 1884.

Throughout the Qing Dynasty, the sedentary Turkic inhabitants of the oases around the Tarim speaking Qarluq/Old Uyghur-Chagatay dialects were still largely known as Taranchi, Sart, ruled by their Moghul rulers of Khojijan or Chagatay lineages. Other parts of the Islamic World still knew this area as Moghulistan or as the eastern part of Turkestan.

Before being renamed "New Territory" by Zuo Zongtang, this eastern part of Turkestan was more often known to the Qing Chinese as Hui Jiang, or "The Frontier of the Huis". Qarluq Turkic speaking Taranchi and Sart are often known as "Chantou Hui" (Turban-wearing Hui), for their headgears distinctive from those of the Chinese-speaking Hui. It was based on this designation of Hui, that Sart-Taranchi participants of the Czarist Central Asian Islamic modernist movement, the Jadid Movement, concluded that the modernized ethnonym of the Sart-Taranchi of Moghulistan should be Uyghur, because the names Hui and Uyghur are cognates. It was from outside of Qing Domain, well within the Czarist controlled parts of Central Asia, that Sart-Taranchi, Uzbek and Russian scholars first propagated the use of the modern ethnonym Uyghur. To illustrate the artificiality of the distinctions between the modern Uzbek and Uyghur nationality, one only needs to look at General Saipidin Eziz, the first governor of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. General Saipidin was born to a Kashgar Sart merchant family with Andijan roots. Technically, one with Andijan roots would be classified as Uzbek as many Xinjiang people with connections in Uzbekistan, and speaking Turkic dialects local to Uzbekistan, continue to be classified as "Uzbeks in Xinjiang". However, since Kashgar Sarts and Andijan Sarts are hardly different culturally from each other, Saipidin grew up to identify himself primarily with his hometown Kashgar, and has always been identified as an Uyghur. The Uzbek culture does derive largely from the Sart culture common to most of Turkestan during the Karakhanid and Chagatay eras. However the Uzbek Khanate which did not rule Xinjiang, but only Uzbekistan in early modern times, had its ruling culture derived from the true Uzbeks, a Kypchak horde similar to the Kazakhs and Karakalpaks. The modern Uzbek nation did absorb something from this Kypchak ruling culture which can be discerned from the doppas worn by the Uzbeks and Uyghurs. The Uyghurs usually wear the square doppas whereas the Uzbeks usually wear the round doppas in similar make as the Kazakh and Kazan Tatar doppas.

By 1920, Uyghur nationalism had already become a grave challenge to the Qing and Republican Chinese warlords controlling Xinjiang. Turpan poet Abdulhaliq, having spent his early years in Semey (Semipalatinsk) and the Jadid intellectual centres in Uzbekistan, returned to Xinjiang with a penname that he later styled as a surname: Uyghur. He wrote the famous nationalist poem Oyghan, which opened with the line "Ey pekir Uyghur, oyghan!" (Hey poor Uyghur, wake up!). He was later martyred by the Chinese warlord Sheng Shicai in Turpan in March,1933 for inciting Uyghur nationalist sentiments through his works.

Meanwhile, the "Great Games" among Russia, Britain and China was underway in Central Asia, with former continuous ethnic cultures from Afghanistan through Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to Xinjiang, being divided into artificial "nationalities". Artificial lines have been drawn between Shiite Persian speakers and Sunni Chagatay Turkic speakers within the same Uzbek cultural sphere and gave rise to the modern Tajik and Uzbek nationalities. Likewise the Russians and the Chinese deemed it necessary to draw a line between the Sart-Taranchi on different sides of the border separating Uzbekistan and Xinjiang. Whereas the rather similar Sart-Taranchi populations around Kashgar(Xinjiang) and Andijan(Uzbekistan) became artificially divided into the different ethnicities of Uyghur and Uzbeks, diverse local populations, though speaking closely related Chagatay dialects scattered among oases of Turpan, Qumul, Korla, Kashgar, Yarkant, Yengihissar, Khotan, Gulja through the Tarim Basin and the edges of Xinjiang, were recognized as one modern ethnicity: Uyghur. Official recognition of the Uyghur nationality came under the rule of Sheng Shicai, a Republican Chinese, or nominally Kuomintang warlord who ruled Xinjiang almost as an independent, feudal kingdom.

The Uyghur independence activists staged several uprisings against Sheng-Kuomintang rule. Twice, in 1933 and 1944, Uyghur were successful in setting up two independent Uyghur states: East Turkestan Republic and Republic of Uyghurstan or Islamic Eastern Turkestan Republic. The more secular, socialist East Turkestan Republic was multiethnic, with Kazakh, Uzbek, Han Chinese, Kyrgyz, Russian as well as Uyghur founders, and was backed by Joseph Stalin. In 1949, the East Turkestan agreed to form a confederate relation with Mao's People's Republic of China, banking on the firm grip on Xinjiang by its own pro-Soviet and ethnic nationalist local regime. However, a plane crash killed the main body of East Turkestan Republic's supreme leadership, as this party was on its way to Beijing to negotiate the terms of confederation. The crash is sometimes alleged as a plot by Mao, because soon following the crash, General Wang Zhen quickly marched on Xinjiang through the deserts, suppressing pro-Kuomintang and anti-Chinese ethnic uprisings. The remaining East Turkestan Republic leadership under General Saipidin Eziz quickly surrendered to Mao's terms and agreed to turn Xinjiang into the Uyghur Autonomous Region, with the Eastern Turkestan Republican Army pressed into the PLA and Saipidin Eziz serving as the region's first CCP governor. Many East Turkestan Republic loyalists, resenting Saipidin's betrayal of the Uyghur's nationalist dream, made their exiles to Turkey and the West. Yet many other loyalists remained behind and staged anti-CCP activities aiming at re-establishing an independent nation in Xinjiang. Soon after that, all mentioning of the name East Turkestan have been censored and the display of the republic's blue star-crescent flag became illegal.


The name Xinjiang, which means "new territory" in Chinese, is considered offensive by many advocates of Uyghur independence who prefer to use historical or ethnic names such as Uyghurstan or East Turkestan (with Turkestan sometimes spelled as Turkistan).

Following the September 11, 2001 attacks in the USA, China voiced its support for the United States of America in the war on terror. The Chinese government has often referred to Uyghur nationalists as "terrorists" and received more global support for their own "war on terror" since 9/11. Human rights organizations have become concerned that this "war on terror" is being used by the Chinese government as a pretext to repress ethnic Uyghurs. Uyghur exile groups also claim that the Chinese government is suppressing Uyghur culture and religion, and responding to demands for independence with human rights violations.

According to at least one outside source, Beijing has "decimated Uyghur culture."

In traditional Uyghur cities like Kashgar, a vibrant bazaar town on the border of Central Asia, the authorities tore down Uyghur stalls across the central square, where Muslim men once gathered for open-air shaves before heading to the central mosque. The local government replaced them with a bland plaza patrolled by Chinese troops. In another unpopular move, Beijing offered financial incentives for ethnic Chinese migrants to come to the province and set up businesses. Now, ethnic [Han] Chinese dominate nearly all big businesses in the region.

Many Uyghur in the diaspora support Pan-Turkic groups. Several organizations, such as the East Turkestan Party, provide support for the Chinese Uyghurs.

Most Uyghur political groups have supported "peaceful" Uyghur nationalism, advocating independence from China. There are two separatist terrorist groups (the East Turkestan Islamic Movement and, disputedly, East Turkestan Liberation Organization) that have been involved in fighting with the Chinese army and killing the Han Chinese. Often the Chinese government refers generally to East Turkestan nationalists as "terrorists".

On July 21, 2008, Two explosions on buses in the south-western Chinese city of Kunming have left at least two people dead and 14 injured, according to reports. The East Turkestan Islamic Movement claimed responsibility afterwards.

On August 4, 2008, 4 days before the Beijing Olympics, 16 Chinese police officers were killed and 16 were injured by two men. The men - a taxi driver and a vegetable seller from the local area, according to Chinese media - were later arrested.

On August 9 - the first day of the Beijing Olympics - there were a series of bomb attacks in Kuqa (Kucha), Xinjiang on a police station and commercial buildings. There were two policemen injured and five attackers killed in the conflict. Later, the state media reported that the death toll had risen to eight with four injured.


The relics of the Uyghur culture constitute major collections in the museums of Berlin, London, Paris, Tokyo, St. Petersburg, and New Delhi. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, scientific and archaeological expeditions to the region of Eastern Turkestan’s Silk Road discovered numerous cave temples, monastery ruins, and wall paintings, as well as valuable miniatures, books, and documents. Explorers from Europe, America, and even Japan were amazed by the art treasures found there, and soon their reports caught the attention of an interested public around the world. The manuscripts and documents discovered in Xinjiang (Uyghurstan/Eastern Turkestan) reveal the very high degree of civilization attained by the Uyghurs. This Uyghur power, prestige, and civilization, which dominated Central Asia for over a thousand years, went into a steep decline after the Manchu invasion of their homeland. Throughout the history of Central Asia, they left a lasting imprint on both the culture and tradition of the people of central Asia.

Chinese ambassador Wang Yen De to the Karakhoja Uyghur Kingdom in 981-984: "I was impressed with the extensive civilization I have found in the Uyghur Kingdom. The beauty of the temples, monasteries, wall paintings, statues, towers, gardens, housings and the palaces built throughout the kingdom cannot be described. The Uyghurs skilfully make things of silver and gold, vases and pitchers. Some say that God has infused this talent into these people only."

Albert von Le Coq: "The Uyghur language and script contributed to the enrichment of civilizations of the other peoples in Central Asia. Compared to the Europeans of that time, the Uyghurs were far more advanced. Documents discovered in Uyghur Region prove that an Uigur farmer could write down a contract, using legal terminology. How many European farmers could have done that at that period? This shows the extent of Uyghur civilization of that time."


The Uyghurs are known as educated people: they worked in chanceries and embassies of different states, and they were teachers, military officers, and ambassadors in Rome, Istanbul, and Bagdad, and scholars in Tebriz. There are hundreds of famous Uyghur scholars and the Uyghur literature is vast. Some of Uyghur books have been translated into different western languages. In the 11th century the Uyghurs accepted the Arabic alphabet.

Most of the early Uyghur literary works were translations of Buddhist and Manichean religious texts, but there were also narrative, poetic, and epic works. Some of these have been translated into German, English, Russian, and Turkish. After embracing Islam, world-renowned Uyghur scholars emerged, and Uyghur literature flourished. Among hundreds of important works surviving from that era are Qutatqu Bilik (Wisdom Of Royal Glory) by Yüsüp Has Hajip (1069-70), Mähmut Qäşqäri's Divan-i Lugat-it Türk- A Dictionary of Turkic Dialects(1072), and Ähmät Yüknäki's Atabetul Hakayik. Perhaps the most famous and well loved pieces of modern Uyghur literature are Abdurehim Otkur's Iz, Oyghanghan Zimin, Zordun Sabir's Anayurt and Ziya Samedi's (former minister of culture in Sinkiang Government in 50's) novels Mayimkhan and Mystery of the years .

Ferdinand de Saussure: "Those who preserved the language and written culture of Central Asia were the Uyghurs."


The Uyghurs had an extensive knowledge of medicine and medical practice. Chinese Song Dynasty (906-960) sources indicate that an Uyghur physician named Nanto traveled to China and brought with him many kinds of medicine unknown to the Chinese. There were 103 different herbs used in Uyghur medicine recorded in a medical compendium by Li Shizhen (1518-1593), a Chinese medical authority. Tatar scholar, professor Reşit Rahmeti Arat in Zur Heilkunde der Uighuren (Medical Practices of the Uygurs) published in 1930 and 1932, in Berlin, discussed Uygur medicine. Relying on a sketch of a man with an explanation of acupuncture, he and some Western scholars suspect that acupuncture was not a Chinese, but an Uygur discovery.

Today, traditional Uyghur medicine can still be found at street stands. Similar to other traditional medicine, diagnosis is usually made through checking the pulse, symptoms, and disease history, and then the pharmacist pounds up different dried herbs, making personalized medicines according to the prescription. Modern Uyghur medical hospitals adopted the Western medical system and adopt Western pharmaceutical technology to produce traditional medicines.

Uyghur Art

The cave paintings at Bezeklik and Kizil

Uyghur Music

Russian scholar Pantusov writes that the Uyghurs manufactured their own musical instruments; they had 62 different kinds of musical instruments and in every Uyghur home there used to be an instrument called a "dutar".


Throughout the centuries, the Uyghurs have used the following scripts:

  1. Confederated with the Göktürks in the 6th and 7th centuries, they used the Orkhon script.
  2. In the 5th century, they adopted Sogdian italic script which after heavy modification became known as the Uyghur script, and was written upside down. This script was used for almost 800 years, not only by the Uyghurs, but also by other Turkic peoples, by the Mongols, and by the Manchus in the early stage of their rule in China.

After having studied the Chinese historical chronicles, Uighur historian Turghun Almas asserts, that Uighur script came into the world several centuries before Christ.

  1. After embracing Islam in the 10th century, the Uyghurs adopted the Arabic alphabet, and its use became common in the 11th century.
  2. During a short period of time (1969-1987), Uyghurs in China used a Latin script (yengi yazik).
  3. Today the Uyghurs of the former Soviet Union use Cyrillic, the Uyghurs of Xinjiang (Uyghurstan) use a modified Arabic script, and the Uyghurs of Turkey use the Latin alphabet.

The Uighur Script

See also



  • Chinese Cultural Studies: Ethnography of China: Brief Guide at
  • Findley, Carter Vaughn. 2005. The Turks in World History. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-516770-8; 0-19-517726-6 (pbk.)
  • Hessler, Peter. Oracle Bones: A Journey Through Time in China. New York: Harper Perennial, 2006.
  • Human Rights in China: China, Minority Exclusion, Marginalization and Rising Tensions, London, Minority Rights Group International, 2007
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