The Uyghurs (/ˈwiːɡʊərz/, /uːiˈɡʊərz/) or Uygurs (as the standard romanisation in Chinese GB 3304-1991) are a Turkic ethnicity who live in East and Central Asia. Today, Uyghurs live primarily in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China, where they are one of fifty-five officially recognized ethnic minorities. Uyghurs primarily practice Islam. Like many populations of Central Eurasia, they are closely related to both European and East Asian populations.
An estimated 80% of Xinjiang's Uyghurs live in the south-western portion of the region, the Tarim Basin. Outside Xinjiang, the largest community of Uyghurs in China is in Taoyuan County, in south-central Hunan. Outside of China, according to the World Uyghur Congress, the Uyghur population is believed to number 1.0–1.6 million. Significant diasporic communities of Uyghurs exist in the Central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan, and in Turkey. Smaller communities are found in Afghanistan, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Canada, and the United States.
|Regions with significant populations|
|11,303,355 - 15,000,000+ (Uyghur American Association)|
|Saudi Arabia||~50,000 (2013) (Saudi Labor Ministry)|
|Pakistan||~1,000 families (2010) (Uyghurs in Pakistan)|
|Related ethnic groups|
|other Turkic peoples|
In the Uyghur language, the ethnonym is written ئۇيغۇر in Arabic script, Уйғур in Cyrillic, and Uyghur in Latin; they are all pronounced as [ʔʊjˈʁʊː]. In Chinese, this is transcribed into characters as 维吾尔 / 維吾爾, which is romanized in pinyin as Wéiwú'ěr.
In English, the name is officially spelt "Uyghur" by the Xinjiang government but also appears as "Uighur", "Uigur", and "Uygur". (These reflect the various Cyrillic spellings Уиғур, Уигур, and Уйгур.) The name is usually pronounced in English as /ˈwiːɡʊər/, although some Uyghurs and Uyghur scholars have advocated for using the closer pronunciation /uːiˈɡʊər/ instead.
The original meaning of the term is unclear. Old Turkic inscriptions record a word uyɣur (𐰺𐰍𐰖𐰆), which was transcribed into Tang annals as 回纥 / 回紇 (now Huíhé, but probably *[ɣuɒiɣət] in Middle Chinese). It was used as the name of one of the Turkic polities formed in the interim between the First and Second Göktürk Khaganates (AD 630-684). The Old History of the Five Dynasties records that in 788 or 809 the Chinese acceded to a Uyghur request and emended their transcription to 回鹘 / 回鶻 (now Huíhú, but [ɣuɒiɣuət] in Middle Chinese). Modern etymological explanations for the name "Uyghur" have ranged from derivation from the verb "follow, accommodate oneself" and adjective "non-rebellious" (i.e., from Turkic uy/uð-) to the verb meaning "wake, rouse, or stir" (i.e., from Turkic oðğur-). None of these is thought to be satisfactory because the sound shift of /ð/ and /ḏ/ to /j/ does not appear to have taken place by this time. The etymology therefore cannot be conclusively determined, and its referent is also difficult to fix. The "Huihe" and "Huihu" seem to have been a political rather than a tribal designation or to have just been one group among several others collectively known as the Toquz Oghuz. The name fell out of use in the 15th century, but it was reintroduced in the early 20th century by the Soviet Bolsheviks to replace the previous terms "Turk" and "Turki".[a] It is presently used to refer to the settled Turkic urban dwellers and farmers of the Tarim Basin who follow traditional Central Asian sedentary practices, distinguishable from the nomadic Turkic populations in Central Asia.
The Uyghurs also appear in Chinese records under other names. The earliest record to a Uyghur tribe appears in accounts from the Northern Wei (4th–6th century A.D.). They are described as the 高车 / 高車 (lit. "High Carts"), now read as Gāochē but with the reconstructed Middle Chinese pronunciation *[kɑutɕʰĭa]. This in turn has been connected to the Uyghur Qangqil (قاڭقىل or Қаңқил). They were later known as the Tiele (铁勒 / 鐵勒, Tiělè).
Throughout its history, the term Uyghur has taken on an increasingly expansive definition. Initially signifying only a small coalition of Tiele tribes in Northern China, Mongolia, and the Altai Mountains, it later denoted citizenship in the Uyghur Khaganate. Finally, it was expanded into an ethnicity whose ancestry originates with the fall of the Uyghur Khaganate in the year 842, which caused Uyghur migration from Mongolia into the Tarim Basin. This migration assimilated and replaced the Indo-European speakers of the region to create a distinct identity as the language and culture of the Turkic migrants eventually supplanted the original Indo-European influences. This fluid definition of Uyghur and the diverse ancestry of modern Uyghurs create confusion about what constitutes true Uyghur ethnography and ethnogenesis.
Contemporary scholars consider modern Uyghurs to be the descendants of a number of people, including the ancient Uyghurs of Mongolia who arrived at the Tarim Basin after the fall of the Uyghur Khaganate, Iranic Saka tribes, and other Indo-European peoples who inhabited the Tarim Basin before the arrival of the Turkic Uyghurs. DNA analyses indicate that the peoples of central Asia such as the Uyghurs are all mixed Caucasian and East Asian. Uyghur activists identify with the Tarim mummies, remains of an ancient people who inhabited the region, but research into the genetics of ancient Tarim mummies and their links with modern Uyghurs remains problematic, both to Chinese government officials concerned with ethnic separatism, and to Uyghur activists concerned that the research could affect their people's claim of being indigenous to the region.
The Uighurs are the people whom old Russian travellers called Sart (a name which they used for sedentary, Turkish-speaking Central Asians in general), while Western travellers called them Turki, in recognition of their language. The Chinese used to call them Ch'an-t'ou ('Turbaned Heads') but this term has been dropped, being considered derogatory, and the Chinese, using their own pronunciation, now called them Weiwuerh. As a matter of fact there was for centuries no 'national' name for them; people identified themselves with the oasis they came from, like Kashgar or Turfan.— Owen Lattimore, "Return to China's Northern Frontier." The Geographical Journal, Vol. 139, No. 2, June 1973
The term "Uyghur" was not used to refer to any existing ethnicity in the 19th century, but to an ancient people. A late 19th-century encyclopedia titled The cyclopædia of India and of Eastern and Southern Asia said "the Uigur are the most ancient of Turkish tribes, and formerly inhabited a part of Chinese Tartary (Xinjiang), which is now occupied by a mixed population of Turk, Mongol, and Kalmuck". The inhabitants of Xinjiang were not called Uyghur before 1921/1934. Western writers called the Turkic-speaking Muslims of the oases "Turki", and the Turkic Muslims in Ili were known as "Taranchi". The Russians and other foreigners referred to them as "Sart", "Turk", or "Turki".[a] In the early 20th century, they would call themselves by different names to different peoples and in response to different inquiries: they called themselves Sarts in front of Kyrgyz and Kazakhs, while they called themselves "Chantou" if asked about their identity after identifying as a Muslim first. The term "Chantou" (纏頭, Ch'an-t'ou, meaning "Rag head" or "Turban Head") was used to refer to the Turkic Muslims of Xinjiang, including by Hui (Tungan) people. These groups of peoples often identified themselves by the oases they came from rather than an ethnicity; for example those from Kashgar may refer to themselves as Kashgarliq or Kashgari, while those from Hotan called themselves "Hotani". Other Central Asians once called all the inhabitants of Xinjiang's Southern oases Kashgari, a term still used in some Pakistan regions. The Turkic people also used "Musulman", which means "Muslim", to describe themselves.
Rian Thum explored the concepts of identity among the ancestors of the modern Uyghurs in Altishahr (the native Uyghur name for eastern Turkestan or southern Xinjiang) before the adoption of the name "Uyghur" in the 1930s, referring to them by the name "Altishahri" in his article Modular History: Identity Maintenance before Uyghur Nationalism. Thum indicated that Altishahri Turkis did have a sense that they were a distinctive group separate from the Turkic Andijanis to their west, the nomadic Turkic Kirghiz, the nomadic Mongol Qalmaq, and the Han Chinese Khitay before they became known as Uyghurs. There was no single name used by them to refer to themselves, the various native names Altishahris used to refer to themselves were Altishahrlik (Altishahr person), yerlik (local), Turki, and Musulmān (Muslim), the term Musulmān in this situation did not signify religious connotations, because the Altishahris would exclude other Muslim peoples like the Kirghiz when referring to themselves as Musulmān. Dr. Laura J Newby has also noted that the sedentary Altishahri Turkic people felt themselves as a separate group from other Turkic Muslims since at least the 19th century.
The name "Uyghur" reappeared after the Soviet Union took the 9th-century ethnonym from the Uyghur Khaganate and reapplied it to all non-nomadic Turkic Muslims of Xinjiang, following western European orientalists like Julius Klaproth in the 19th century who revived the name and spread the use of the term to local Turkic intellectuals, and a 19th-century proposal from Russian historians that modern-day Uyghurs were descended from the Kingdom of Qocho and Kara-Khanid Khanate, which had formed after the dissolution of the Uyghur Khaganate. Historians generally agree that the adoption of the term "Uyghur" is based on a decision from a 1921 conference in Tashkent, which was attended by Turkic Muslims from the Tarim Basin (Xinjiang). There, "Uyghur" was chosen by them as the name of their own ethnicity, although the delegates noted that the modern groups referred to as "Uyghur" were distinct from the old Uyghur Khaganate. According to Linda Benson, the Soviets and their client Sheng Shicai intended to foster a Uyghur nationality to divide the Muslim population of Xinjiang, whereas the various Turkic Muslim peoples themselves preferred to identify as "Turki", "East Turkestani", or "Muslim".
On the other hand, the ruling regime of China at that time, the Kuomintang, grouped all Muslims, including the Turkic-speaking people of Xinjiang, into the "Hui nationality". The Qing dynasty and the Kuomintang generally referred to the sedentary, oasis-dwelling Turkic Muslims of Xinjiang as "turban-headed Hui" to differentiate them from other predominantly Muslim ethnicities in China.[b] Foreigners traveling in Xinjiang in the 1930s, like George W. Hunter, Peter Fleming, Ella Maillart, and Sven Hedin, all referred to the Turkic Muslims of the region as "Turki" in their books. Use of the term Uyghur was unknown in Xinjiang until 1934, when the governor, Sheng Shicai, came to power in there. Sheng adopted the Soviets' ethnographic classification rather than that of the Kuomintang and became the first to promulgate the official use of the term "Uyghur" to describe the Turkic Muslims of Xinjiang. "Uyghur" replaced "rag-head".
Sheng Shicai's introduction of the "Uighur" name for the Turkic people of Xinjiang however was criticized and rejected by Turki intellectuals, such as Pan-Turkist Jadids and East Turkestan independence activists Muhammad Amin Bughra (Mehmet Emin) and Masud Sabri. They demanded that the names "Türk" or "Türki" be used instead as the ethnonyms for their people. Masud Sabri viewed the Hui people as Muslim Han Chinese and separate from his own people, while Bughrain criticized Sheng for his designation of Turkic Muslims into different ethnicities which could sow disunion among Turkic Muslims. After the Communist victory, the Communist Party of China under Mao Zedong continued the Soviet classification, using the term "Uyghur" to describe the modern ethnicity.
In current usage, Uyghur refers to settled Turkic urban dwellers and farmers of the Tarim Basin and Ili who follow traditional Central Asian sedentary practices, as distinguished from nomadic Turkic populations in Central Asia. However, the Chinese government has also designated as "Uyghur" certain peoples with significantly divergent histories and ancestries from the main group. These include the Lopliks of Ruoqiang County and the Dolan people, who are thought to be closer to the Oirat Mongols and the Kyrgyz. The use of the term Uyghur has led to anachronisms when describing the history of the people. In one of his books the term Uyghur was deliberately not used by James Millward.
Another ethnicity, the Western Yugur of Gansu, have consistently been called by themselves and others the "Yellow Uyghur" (Sarïq Uyghur). Some scholars say that the Yugur's culture, language, and religion are closer to the original culture of the original Uyghur Karakorum state than is the culture of the modern Uyghur people of Xinjiang. Linguist and ethnographer S. Robert Ramsey has argued for inclusion of both the Eastern and Western Yugur and the Salar as subgroups of the Uyghur based on similar historical roots for the Yugur and on perceived linguistic similarities for the Salar. These groups are recognized as separate ethnicities, though, by the Chinese government.
"Turkistani" is used as an alternate ethnonym for "Uyghur" by some Uyghurs, for example the Uyghur diaspora in Saudi Arabia have adopted the identity "Turkistani". Some Uyghurs in Saudi Arabia adopted the Arabic nisba of their home city, such as Al Kashgari from Kashgar. Saudi born Uyghur Hamza Kashgari's family originated from Kashgar. Uyghurs who migrated from the Tarim Basin to Ürümqi and Dzungaria in the northern portion of Xinjiang during the Qing dynasty were known as Taranchi meaning "farmer".
The history of the Uyghur people, as with the ethnic origin of the people, is a matter of contention between Uyghur nationalists and the Chinese authority. Uyghur historians viewed the Uyghurs as the original inhabitants of Xinjiang with a long history. Uyghur politician and historian Muhemmed Imin Bughra wrote in his book A History of East Turkestan, stressing the Turkic aspects of his people, that the Turks have a 9000-year history, while historian Turghun Almas incorporated discoveries of Tarim mummies to conclude that Uyghurs have over 6400 years of history, and the World Uyghur Congress claimed a 4,000-year history in East Turkestan. However, the official Chinese view asserts that the Uyghurs in Xinjiang originated from the Tiele tribes and only became the main social and political force in Xinjiang during the ninth century when they migrated to Xinjiang from Mongolia after the collapse of the Uyghur Khaganate, replacing the Han Chinese they claimed were there since the Han Dynasty. Many contemporary Western scholars, however, do not consider the modern Uyghurs to be of direct linear descent from the old Uyghur Khaganate of Mongolia. Rather, they consider them to be descendants of a number of peoples, one of them the ancient Uyghurs.
Discovery of well-preserved Tarim mummies of a people European in appearance indicates the migration of an Indo-European people into the Tarim area at the beginning of the Bronze age around 1800 BCE. These people probably spoke Tocharian languages and were suggested by some to be the Yuezhi mentioned in ancient Chinese texts. However, Uyghur activists claimed these mummies to be of Uyghur origin, based partly on a word, which they argued to be Uyghur, found in written scripts associated with these mummies, although other linguists suggest it to be a Sogdian word later absorbed into Uyghur. Later migrations brought peoples from the west and north-west to the Xinjiang region, probably speakers of various Iranian languages such as the Saka tribes. Other people in the region mentioned in ancient Chinese texts include the Dingling as well as the Xiongnu who fought for supremacy in the region against the Chinese for several hundred years. Some Uyghur nationalists also claimed descent from the Xiongnu (according to the Chinese historical text the Book of Wei, the founder of the Uyghurs was descended from a Xiongnu ruler), but the view is contested by modern Chinese scholars.
The Yuezhi were driven away by the Xiongnu, but founded the Kushan Empire, which exerted some influence in the Tarim Basin where Kharosthi texts have been found in Loulan, Niya and Khotan. Loulan and Khotan were some of the many city states that existed in the Xinjiang region during the Han Dynasty, others include Kucha, Turfan, Karasahr and Kashgar. The settled population of these cities later merged with incoming Turkic people such as the Uyghurs of Uyghur Khaganate to form the modern Uyghurs.
The Uyghurs of the Uyghur Khaganate were part of a Turkic confederation called the Tiele, who lived in the valleys south of Lake Baikal and around the Yenisei River. They overthrew the Turkic Khaganate and established the Uyghur Khaganate.
The Uyghur Khaganate stretched from the Caspian Sea to Manchuria and lasted from 744 to 840. It was administered from the imperial capital Ordu-Baliq, one of the biggest ancient cities built in Mongolia. In 840, following a famine and civil war, the Uyghur Khaganate was overrun by the Yenisei Kirghiz, another Turkic people. As a result, the majority of tribal groups formerly under Uyghur control dispersed and moved out of Mongolia.
According to the New Book of Tang, the Uyghurs who founded the Uyghur Khaganate dispersed after the fall of the Khaganate; some went to live amongst the Karluks, and some moved to Turpan and Gansu.[c] These Uyghurs soon founded two kingdoms and the easternmost state was the Ganzhou Kingdom (870–1036), with its capital near present-day Zhangye, Gansu, China. The modern Yugurs are believed to be descendants of these Uyghurs. Ganzhou was absorbed by the Western Xia in 1036.
The second Uyghur kingdom, the Kingdom of Qocho, also known as Uyghuristan in its later period, was founded in the Turpan area with its capital in Qocho (modern Gaochang) and Beshbalik. The Kingdom of Qocho lasted from the ninth to the fourteenth century and proved to be longer-lasting than any power in the region, before or since. The Uyghurs were originally Manichaean, but converted to Buddhism during this period. Qocho accepted the Qara Khitai as its overlord in 1130s, and in 1209 submitted voluntarily to the rising Mongol Empire. The Uyghurs of Kingdom of Qocho were allowed significant autonomy and played an important role as civil servants to the Mongol Empire, but was finally destroyed by the Chagatai Khanate by the end of the 14th century.
In the tenth century, the Karluks, Yagmas, Chigils and other Turkic tribes founded the Kara-Khanid Khanate in Semirechye, Western Tian Shan, and Kashgaria, and later conquered Transoxiana. The Karakhanid rulers were likely to be Yaghmas who were associated with the Toquz Oghuz, and some historians therefore see this as a link between the Karakhanid and the Uyghurs of the Uyghur Khaganate, although this connection is disputed by others.
The Karakhanids converted to Islam in the tenth century beginning with Sultan Satuq Bughra Khan, the first Turkic dynasty to do so. Modern Uyghurs see the Muslim Karakhanids as an important part of their history, however, Islamization of the people of the Tarim Basin was a gradual process. The Indo-European Saka Buddhist Kingdom of Khotan was conquered by the Turkic Muslim Karakhanids from Kashgar in the early 11th century, but Uyghur Qocho remained mainly Buddhist until the 15th century, and the conversion of the Uyghur people to Islam was not completed until the 17th century.
The 12th and 13th century saw the domination by non-Muslim powers: first the Kara-Khitans in the 12th century, followed by the Mongols in the 13th century. After the death of Genghis Khan in 1227, Transoxiana and Kashgar became the domain of his second son, Chagatai Khan. The Chagatai Khanate split into two in the 1340s, and the area of the Chagatai Khanate where the modern Uyghurs live became part of Moghulistan, which meant "land of the Mongols". In the 14th century, a Chagatayid khan Tughluq Temür converted to Islam. His son Khizr Khoja conquered Qocho and Turfan (the core of Uyghuristan) in the 1390s, and the Uyghurs there became largely Muslim by the beginning of the 16th century. After being converted to Islam, the descendants of the previously Buddhist Uyghurs in Turfan failed to retain memory of their ancestral legacy and falsely believed that the "infidel Kalmuks" (Dzungars) were the ones who built Buddhist structures in their area.
From the late 14th through 17th centuries the Xinjiang region became further subdivided into Moghulistan in the north, Altishahr (Kashgar and the Tarim Basin), and the Turfan area, each often ruled separately by competing Chagatayid descendants, the Dughlats, and later the Khojas.
Islam was also spread by the Sufis, and branches of its Naqshbandi order were the Khojas who seized control of political and military affairs in the Tarim Basin and Turfan in the 17th century. The Khojas however split into two rival factions, the Aqtaghlik Khojas (also called the Afaqiyya) and the Qarataghlik Khojas (the Ishaqiyya). The legacy of the Khojas lasted until the 19th century. The Qarataghlik Khojas seized power in Yarkand where the Chagatai Khans ruled in the Yarkent Khanate, forcing the Aqtaghlik Afaqi Khoja into exile.
In the 17th century, the Buddhist Dzungar Khanate grew in power in Dzungaria. The Dzungar conquest of Altishahr ended the last independent Chagatai Khanate, the Yarkent Khanate, after the Aqtaghlik Afaq Khoja attempt to gain aid from the 5th Dalai Lama and his Dzungar Buddhist followers to help him in his struggle against the Qarataghlik Khojas. The Aqtaghlik Khojas in the Tarim Basin then became vassals to the Dzungars, who extracted heavy taxes and tribute from the Tarim Basin cities.
The expansion of the Dzungars into Khalkha Mongol territory in Mongolia brought them into direct conflict with Qing China in the late 17th century, and in the process also brought Chinese presence back into the region a thousand years after Tang China lost control of the Western Regions.
The Dzungar–Qing War lasted a decade. During the Dzungar conflict, two Aqtaghlik brothers, the so-called "Younger Khoja" (Chinese: 霍集占), also known as Khwāja-i Jahān, and his sibling, the Elder Khoja (Chinese: 波羅尼都), also known as Burhān al-Dīn, after being appointed as vassals in the Tarim Basin by the Dzungars, first joined the Qing and rebelled against Dzungar rule until the final Qing victory over the Dzungars, then they rebelled against the Qing, an action which prompted the invasion and conquest of the Tarim Basin by the Qing in 1759. The Uyghurs of Turfan and Hami such as Emin Khoja were allies of the Qing in this conflict, and these Uyghurs also helped the Qing to rule the Altishahr Uyghurs in the Tarim Basin.
The final campaign against the Dzungars in the 1750s ended with the Dzungar genocide. The Qing "final solution" of genocide to solve the problem of the Dzungar Mongols created a land devoid of Dzungars, which was followed by the Qing sponsored settlement of millions of other people in Dzungaria. In northern Xinjiang, the Qing brought in Han, Hui, Uyghur, Xibe, Daurs, Solons, Turkic Muslim Taranchis and Kazakh colonists, with one third of Xinjiang's total population consisting of Hui and Han in the northern area, while around two thirds were Uyghurs in southern Xinjiang's Tarim Basin. In Dzungaria, the Qing established new cities like Ürümqi and Yining. The Dzungarian basin itself is now inhabited by many Kazakhs. The Qing therefore unified Xinjiang and changed its demographic composition as well.:71 The crushing of the Buddhist Dzungars by the Qing led to the empowerment of the Muslim Begs in southern Xinjiang, migration of Muslim Taranchis to northern Xinjiang, and increasing Turkic Muslim power, with Turkic Muslim culture and identity was tolerated or even promoted by the Qing.:76 It was therefore argued by Henry Schwarz that "the Qing victory was, in a certain sense, a victory for Islam".:72
During the Dungan Revolt (1862–77), Andijani Uzbeks from the Khanate of Kokand under Buzurg Khan and Yaqub Beg expelled Qing officials from parts of southern Xinjiang and founded an independent Kashgarian kingdom called Yettishar "Country of Seven Cities". Under the leadership of Yaqub Beg, it included Kashgar, Yarkand, Khotan, Aksu, Kucha, Korla, and Turpan.
Large Qing dynasty forces under Chinese General Zuo Zongtang attacked Yettishar in 1876. After this invasion, the two regions of Dzungaria, which had been known as the Dzungar region or the Northern marches of the Tian Shan, and the Tarim Basin, which had been known as "Muslim land" or southern marches of the Tian Shan, were reorganized into a province named Xinjiang meaning "New Territory".
In 1912, the Qing Dynasty was replaced by the Republic of China. By 1920, Pan-Turkic Jadidist Islamists had become a challenge to Chinese warlord Yang Zengxin who controlled Xinjiang. Uyghurs staged several uprisings against Chinese rule. Twice, in 1933 and 1944, the Uyghurs successfully gained their independence (backed by the Soviet Communist leader Joseph Stalin): the First East Turkestan Republic was a short-lived attempt at independence around Kashghar, and it was destroyed during the Kumul Rebellion by Chinese Muslim army under General Ma Zhancang and Ma Fuyuan at the Battle of Kashgar (1934). The Second East Turkestan Republic was a Soviet puppet Communist state that existed from 1944 to 1949 in the three districts of what is now Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture during the Ili Rebellion while the majority of Xinjiang was under the control of the Republic of China. Religious Uyghur separatists from the First East Turkestan Republic like Isa Yusuf Alptekin and Muhammad Amin Bughra opposed the Soviet Communist backed Uyghur separatists of the Second East Turkestan Republic under Ehmetjan Qasim and they supported the Republic of China during the Ili Rebellion.
Mao declared the founding of the People's Republic of China on October 1, 1949. He turned the Second East Turkistan Republic into the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture, and appointed Saifuddin Azizi as the region's first Communist Party governor. Many Republican loyalists fled into exile in Turkey and Western countries. The name Xinjiang was changed to Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, where Uyghurs are the largest ethnicity, mostly concentrated in the south-western Xinjiang. The Xinjiang conflict is an ongoing separatist conflict in China's far-west province of Xinjiang, whose northern region is known as Dzungaria and whose southern region (the Tarim Basin) is known as East Turkestan. Uyghur separatists and independence movements claim that the region is not a part of China, but that the Second East Turkestan Republic was illegally incorporated by the PRC in 1949 and has since been under Chinese occupation. Uyghur identity remains fragmented, as some support a Pan-Islamic vision, exemplified by the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, while others support a Pan-Turkic vision, such as the East Turkestan Liberation Organization. A third group would like a "Uyghurstan" state, such as the East Turkestan independence movement. As a result, "[n]o Uyghur or East Turkestan group speaks for all Uyghurs, although it might claim to", and Uyghurs in each of these camps have committed violence against other Uyghurs who they think are too assimilated to Chinese or Russian society or are not religious enough. Mindful not to take sides, Uyghur "leaders" such as Rebiya Kadeer mainly try to garner international support for the "rights and interests of the Uyghurs", including the right to demonstrate, although the Chinese government has accused her of orchestrating the deadly July 2009 Ürümqi riots.
Eric Enno Tamm's 2011 book states that, "Authorities have censored Uyghur writers and 'lavished funds' on official histories that depict Chinese territorial expansion into ethnic borderlands as 'unifications (tongyi), never as conquests (zhengfu) or annexations (tunbing)' "
According to a 2018 report by The Economist, Uyghurs in Xinjiang suffer under a "fully-fledged police state" with extensive controls and restrictions upon their religious, cultural and social life. In Xinjiang, the Chinese government has expanded police surveillance to watch for signs of "religious extremism" that include owning books about Uyghurs, growing a beard, having a prayer rug, or quitting smoking or drinking. The government had also installed cameras in the homes of private citizens.
Further, at least 120,000 (and possibly over 1 million) Uyghurs are detained in mass detention camps, termed "re-education camps," aimed at changing the political thinking of detainees, their identities, and their religious beliefs. Some of these facilities keep prisoners detained around the clock, while others release their inmates at night to return home. The New York Times has reported inmates are required to "sing hymns praising the Chinese Communist Party and write 'self-criticism' essays," and that prisoners are also subjected to physical and verbal abuse by prison guards. Chinese officials are sometimes assigned to monitor the families of current inmates, and women have been detained due to actions by their sons or husbands.
Beijing denied the existence of the camps initially, but have changed their stance since to that the camps serve to combat terrorism and give vocational training to the Uighur people. Yet, calls by activists to open the camps to the visitors to prove their function have gone unheeded. Plus, media groups have shown that many in the camps were forcibly detained there in rough unhygienic conditions while undergoing political indoctrination.
Around 5,000 Uyghurs live around Taoyuan County and other parts of Changde in Hunan province. They are descended from Hala Bashi, a Uyghur leader from Turpan (Kingdom of Qocho), and his Uyghur soldiers sent to Hunan by the Ming Emperor in the 14th century to crush the Miao rebels during the Miao Rebellions in the Ming Dynasty. The 1982 census records 4,000 Uyghurs in Hunan. They have genealogies which survive 600 years later to the present day. Genealogy keeping is a Han Chinese custom which the Hunan Uyghurs adopted. These Uyghurs were given the surname Jian by the Emperor. There is some confusion as to whether they practice Islam or not. Some say that they have assimilated with the Han and do not practice Islam anymore, and only their genealogies indicate their Uyghur ancestry. Chinese news sources report that they are Muslim.
The Uyghur troops led by Hala were ordered by the Ming Emperor to crush Miao rebellions and were given titles by him. Jian is the predominant surname among the Uyghur in Changde, Hunan. Another group of Uyghur have the surname Sai. Hui and Uyghur have intermarried in the Hunan area. The Hui are descendants of Arabs and Han Chinese who intermarried, and they share the Islamic religion with the Uyghur in Hunan. It is reported that they now number around 10,000 people. The Uyghurs in Changde are not very religious, and eat pork. Older Uyghurs disapprove of this, especially elders at the mosques in Changde, and they seek to draw them back to Islamic customs.
In addition to eating pork, the Uyghurs of Changde Hunan practice other Han Chinese customs, like ancestor worship at graves. Some Uyghurs from Xinjiang visit the Hunan Uyghurs out of curiosity or interest. Also, the Uyghurs of Hunan do not speak the Uyghur language, instead, they speak Chinese as their native language, and Arabic for religious reasons at the mosque.
The Uyghurs are a Eurasian population with Eastern and Western Eurasian anthropometric and genetic traits. Uyghurs are thus one of the many populations of Central Eurasia that can be considered to be genetically related to Caucasoid and East Asian populations. However, various scientific studies differ on the size of each component. One study, using samples from Hetian (Hotan) only, found that Uyghurs have 60 per cent European ancestry and 40 per cent East Asian ancestry. A further study showed slightly greater European component (52 per cent European) in the Uyghur population in southern Xinjiang, but slightly greater East Asian component (47 per cent European) in the northern Uyghur population. Another study used a larger sample of individuals from a wider area, and found only about 30 per cent European component to the admixture. A study on mitochondrial DNA (therefore the matrilineal genetic contribution) found the frequency of western Eurasian-specific haplogroup in Uyghurs to be 42.6 per cent, and East Asian haplogroup to be 57.4 per cent. A further study shows that the western-Eurasian patrilineal Y-DNA haplogroup in Uyghurs is around 65% to 70%, and east-Asian Y-DNA haplogroup around 30% to 35%.
The admixture may be the result of a continuous gene flow from populations of European and Asian descent, or may have been formed by a single event of admixture during a short period of time (the hybrid isolation model). If a hybrid isolation model is assumed, it can be estimated that the hypothetical admixture event occurred about 126 generations ago, or 2,520 years ago assuming twenty years per generation.
According to the paper by Li et al.:
... the western East Asians are more closely related to Uyghurs than the eastern East Asians. ... STRUCTURE cannot distinguish recent admixture from a cline of other origin, and these analyses cannot prove admixture in the Uyghurs; however, historical records indicate that the present Uyghurs were formed by admixture between Tocharians from the west and Orkhon Uyghurs (Wugusi-Huihu, according to present Chinese pronunciation) from the east in the 8th century AD. The Uyghur Empire was originally located in Mongolia and conquered the Tocharian tribes in Xinjiang. Tocharians such as Kroran have been shown by archaeological findings to appear phenotypically similar to northern and central Europeans, whereas the Orkhon Uyghur people were clearly Mongolians. The two groups of people subsequently mixed in Xinjiang to become one population, the present Uyghurs. We do not know the genetic constitution of the Tocharians, but if they were similar to western Siberians, such as the Khanty, admixture would already be biased toward similarity with East Asian populations.
The paper further concludes:
... that the Uyghurs' genetic structure is more similar to East Asians than to Europeans, in contrast to the reports by Xu and Jin, whose work may have been affected by their sparse population coverage. The median line of the Eurasian genetic landscape appears to lie to the west of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China. When we have collected more data on these 34 populations, we should be able to refine these estimates.
The physical features of many Uighurs, characterized by a mixture of European and East Asian characteristics, are considered "exotic" in China; in theatre the use of Uighur actors has become common because they can play the roles of foreign characters while at the same time speaking flawless Mandarin.
The ancient Uyghurs believed in Shamanism and Tengrism, then Manichaeism, Buddhism and Church of the East. People in the western Tarim Basin region began to convert to Islam in significant number early in the Kara-Khanid Khanate period. Modern Uyghurs are now primarily Muslim, and they are the second largest predominantly Muslim ethnicity in China after the Hui.
The majority of modern Uyghurs are Sunnis, although conflicts exist between Sufi and non-Sufi religious orders. While modern Uyghurs consider Islam to be part of their identity, religious observance varies between different regions. In general, Muslims in the southern region, Kashgar in particular, are more conservative. For example, women wearing the full veil (brown cloth covering the head completely) are more common in Kashgar but may not be found in some other cities. There is also a general split between the Uyghurs and the Hui Muslims in Xinjiang, and they normally worship in different mosques. There had been Christian conversions in the late 19th and early 20th centuries but these were suppressed.
The ancient people of the Tarim Basin originally spoke different languages such as Saka (Khotanese), Tocharian and Gandhari. The Turkic people who moved into region in the 9th century brought with them their languages which slowly supplanted the original tongues of the local inhabitants. By the 11th century, it was noted by Mahmud al-Kashgari that the Uyghurs (of Qocho) spoke a pure Turkic language, but they also still spoke another language among themselves and have two different scripts. He also noted that the people of Khotan did not know Turkic well, and have their own language and script (Khotanese). Writers of the Karakhanid period, al-Kashgari and Yusuf Balasagun, referred to their Turkic language as Khāqāniyya (meaning royal), or the "language of Kashgar", or simply Turkic.
The modern Uyghur language is classified under the Karluk branch of the Turkic language family. It is closely related to Äynu, Lop, Ili Turki, and Chagatay (the East Karluk languages), and slightly less closely to Uzbek (which is West Karluk). The Uyghur language is an agglutinative language and has a subject-object-verb word order. It has vowel harmony like other Turkic languages, and has noun and verb cases, but lacks distinction of gender forms.
Modern Uyghurs have adopted a number of scripts for their language. The Arabic script, known as the Chagatay alphabet, was adopted along with Islam. This alphabet is known as Kona Yëziq (old script). Political changes in the 20th century led to numerous reforms of the writing scripts, for example the Cyrillic-based Uyghur Cyrillic alphabet, a Latin Uyghur New Script, and later a reformed Uyghur Arabic alphabet which represents all vowels unlike Kona Yëziq. A new Latin version, the Uyghur Latin alphabet, was also devised in the 21st century.
The literary works of the ancient Uyghurs were mostly translations of Buddhist and Manichaean religious texts, but there were also narrative, poetic, and epic works apparently original to the Uyghurs. However, it is the literature of Kara-Khanid period that is considered by modern Uyghurs to be the important part of their literary traditions. Amongst these are Islamic religious texts and histories of Turkic peoples, and important works surviving from that era are Kutadgu Bilig "Wisdom of Royal Glory" by Yusuf Khass Hajib (1069–70), Mahmud al-Kashgari's Dīwānu l-Luġat al-Turk "A Dictionary of Turkic Dialects" (1072), and Ehmed Yükneki's Etebetulheqayiq. Modern Uyghur religious literature includes the Taẕkirah, biographies of Islamic religious figures and saints. The Turki-language Tadhkirah i Khwajagan was written by M. Sadiq Kashghari. Between the 1600s and 1900s many Turki language tazkirah manuscripts devoted to stories of local sultans, martyrs and saints were written. Perhaps the most famous and best-loved pieces of modern Uyghur literature are Abdurehim Ötkür's Iz, Oyghanghan Zimin, Zordun Sabir's Anayurt and Ziya Samedi's novels Mayimkhan and Mystery of the years.
Uyghur folk music with modern influence
An example of modern Uyghur music
Muqam is the classical musical style. The 12 Muqams are the national oral epic of the Uyghurs. The muqam system was developed among the Uyghur in north-west China and Central Asia over approximately the last 1500 years from the Arabic maqamat modal system that has led to many musical genres among peoples of Eurasia and North Africa. Uyghurs have local muqam systems named after the oasis towns of Xinjiang, such as Dolan, Ili, Kumul and Turpan. The most fully developed at this point is the Western Tarim region's 12 muqams, which are now a large canon of music and songs recorded by the traditional performers Turdi Akhun and Omar Akhun among others in the 1950s and edited into a more systematic system. Although the folk performers probably improvised their songs as in Turkish taksim performances, the present institutional canon is performed as fixed compositions by ensembles.
The Uyghur Muqam of Xinjiang has been designated by U.N.E.S.C.O. as part of the Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
Amannisa Khan, sometimes called Amanni Shahan, (1526–1560) is credited with collecting and thereby preserving the Twelve Muqam. 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 "duttar".
Sanam is a popular folk dance among the Uyghur people. It is commonly danced by people at weddings, festive occasions, and parties. The dance may be performed with singing and musical accompaniment. Sama is a form of group dance for Newruz (New Year) and other festivals. Other dances include the Dolan dances, Shadiyane, and Nazirkom. Some dances may be alternate between singing and dancing, and Uyghur hand-drums called dap are commonly used as accompaniment for Uyghur dances.
During the late-19th and early-20th centuries, scientific and archaeological expeditions to the region of Xinjiang's Silk Road discovered numerous cave temples, monastery ruins, and wall paintings, as well as miniatures, books, and documents. There are 77 rock-cut caves at the site. Most have rectangular spaces with rounded arch ceilings often divided into four sections, each with a mural of Buddha. The effect is of an entire ceiling covered with hundreds of Buddha murals. Some ceilings are painted with a large Buddha surrounded by other figures, including Indians, Persians and Europeans. The quality of the murals vary with some being artistically naïve while others are masterpieces of religious art.
Historically, the education level of Old Uyghur people was higher than the other ethnicities around them. The Buddhist Uyghurs of Qocho became the civil servants of Mongol Empire and Old Uyghur Buddhists enjoyed a high status in the Mongol empire. In the Islamic era, education may be provided by the mosques and madrassas. During the Qing era, Chinese Confucian schools were also set up in Xinjiang, and in the late 19th century Christian missionary schools.
In the late nineteenth and early 20th century, school were often located in mosques and madrassah. Mosques ran the informal schools, known as mektep or maktab, attached to the mosques, The maktab provided most of the education and its curriculum was primarily religious and oral. Boys and girls may be taught in separate schools, some of which may also offer modern secular subjects in the early 20th century. In Madrasas, poetry, logic, Arabic grammar, and Islamic law were taught. In the early 20th century, the Jadidists Turkic Muslims from Russia spread new ideas on education, and popularized the identity of "Turkestani".
In more recent times, religious education is highly restricted in Xinjiang, and the Chinese authority had sought to eradicate any religious school they considered illegal. Although Islamic private schools (Sino-Arabic schools (中阿學校)) have been supported and permitted by the Chinese government among Hui Muslim areas since the 1980s, this policy does not extend to schools in Xinjiang due to fear of separatism.
Beginning in the early 20th century, secular education became more widespread. Early in the PRC era, Uyghurs may have a choice from two separate secular school systems, one conducted in their own language, and one offering instructions only in Chinese. Many Uyghurs link the preservation of their cultural and religious identity with the language of instruction in schools and therefore prefer the Uyghur language school. However, from the mid-1980s onward, the Chinese government began to reduce teaching in Uyghur, and starting mid-1990s also began to merge some schools from the two systems. By 2002 Xinjiang University, originally a bilingual institution, had ceased offering courses in the Uyghur language. From 2004 onward, the government policy is that classes should be conducted in Chinese as much as possible, and in some selected regions, instruction in Chinese began in the first grade. The level of education attainment among Uyghurs is generally lower than that of the Han Chinese; this may be due to the cost of education, the lack of proficiency in the Chinese language (now the main medium of instruction) among many Uyghurs, and a poorer employment prospect for Uyghur graduates. Uyghurs in China, unlike the Salar and Hui who are also mostly Muslim, generally do not oppose coeducation. Girls however may be withdrawn from school earlier than boys.
Their traditional medicine is Unani (Greek) medicine. Sir Percy Sykes described the medicine as "based on the ancient Greek theory" and mentioned how ailments and sicknesses were treated in Through Deserts and Oases of Central Asia. Today, traditional 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 modern medical science and medicine and applied evidence-based pharmaceutical technology to traditional medicines. Historically, Uyghur medical knowledge has contributed to Chinese medicine in terms of medical treatments, medicinal materials and ingredients, and symptom detection. It introduced to Chinese medicine the medical use of snakes, opium and many new kinds of plants. During the Qing era the Uyghurs used Chinese medicine.
Uyghur food shows both Central Asian and Chinese elements. A typical Uyghur dish is polu (or pilaf), a dish found throughout Central Asia. In a common version of the Uyghur polu, carrots and mutton (or chicken) are first fried in oil with onions, then rice and water are added, and the whole dish is steamed. Raisins and dried apricots may also be added. Kawaplar (Uyghur: Каваплар) or chuanr (i.e., kebabs or grilled meat) are also found here. Another common Uyghur dish is leghmen (لەغمەن, ләғмән), a noodle dish with a stir-fried topping (säy, from Chinese cai, 菜) usually made from mutton and vegetables, such as tomatoes, onions, green bell peppers, chili peppers, and cabbage. This dish is likely to have originated from the Chinese lamian, but its flavor and preparation method are distinctively Uyghur.
Uyghur food (Уйғур Йәмәклири, Uyghur Yemekliri) is characterized by mutton, beef, camel (solely bactrian), chicken, goose, carrots, tomatoes, onions, peppers, eggplant, celery, various dairy foods, and fruits.
A Uyghur-style breakfast consists of tea with home-baked bread, hardened yogurt, olives, honey, raisins, and almonds. Uyghurs like to treat guests with tea, naan, and fruit before the main dishes are ready.
Sangza (ساڭزا, Саңза) are crispy fried wheat flour dough twists, a holiday specialty. Samsa (سامسا, Самса) are lamb pies baked in a special brick oven. Youtazi is steamed multi-layer bread. Göshnan (گۆشنان, Гөшнан) are pan-grilled lamb pies. Pamirdin (Памирдин) are baked pies stuffed with lamb, carrots, and onions. Shorpa is lamb soup (شۇرپا, Шорпа). Other dishes include Toghach (Тоғач) (a type of tandoor bread) and Tunurkawab (Тунуркаваб). Girde (Гирде) is also a very popular bagel-like bread with a hard and crispy crust that is soft inside.
In the early 20th century, face covering veils with caps velvet with trimmed with otter fur were worn in the streets by Turki women in public in Xinjiang as witnessed by the adventurer Ahmad Kamal in the 1930s. Travelers of the period Sir Percy Sykes and Ella Sykes wrote that in Kashghar women went into the bazar "transacting business with their veils thrown back" but mullahs tried to enforce veil wearing and were "in the habit of beating those who show their face in the Great Bazar"." In that period, belonging to different social statuses meant a difference in how rigorously the veil was worn.
Muslim Turkestani men traditionally cut all the hair off their head. It was observed that the Turki Muhammadan, accustomed to shelter this shaven head under a substantial fur-cap when the temperature is so low as it was just then. by Sir Aurel Stein. No hair cutting for men took place on the ajuz ayyam, days of the year that were considered inauspicious.
Yengisar is famous for manufacturing Uyghur handcrafted knives. The Uyghur word for knife is pichaq (پىچاق, пичақ) and the word for knives is pichaqchiliq (پىچاقچىلىقى, пичақчилиқ). Uyghur artisan craftsmen in Yengisar are known for their knife manufacture. Uyghur men carrying knives on their body is a major part of Uyghur culture. The knives are intended to demonstrate the masculinity of the wearer but have also led to ethnic tension. Limitations were placed on knife vending due to concerns over terrorism and violent assaults.
Since Islam reached them much after Altishahr, personal names of non-Islamic Old Uyghur origin are still used in Qumul and Turfan while people in Altishahr use mostly Islamic names of Persian and Arabic origin. After the establishment of the Soviet Union, many Uyghurs who studied in Soviet Central Asia added Russian suffixes to Russify their surnames and make them look Russian. Names from Russia and Europe are used in Qaramay and Urumchi by part of the population of city-dwelling Uyghurs. Others use names with hard to understand etymologies, with the majority dating from the Islamic era and being of Persian or Arabic derivation.
Yet the Uyghurs have stubbornly resisted the Chinese Communist Party's idealogical claims, Bovingdon writes, in 'an enduring struggle over history that is also a battle' over the future of their land and their own fate.
The most widely circulated estimate of the number of people interned in re-education camps—several hundred thousand to just over 1 million—was developed by Adrian Zenz of the European School of Culture and Theology from leaks that surfaced in January and February.
The fact that many young girls hope to pursue careers as folk dancers is perhaps another indication that the stereotype promoted by the Chinese authorities of the colourful, exotic minorities who dance and sing is not a pure Chinese invention: the Uighur themselves regard this as an important expression of their identity.