A short history of Xinjiang by some dude on Quora Jan 22, 2020 8:11:49 GMT -5
Post by Admin on Jan 22, 2020 8:11:49 GMT -5
There are many things that they don’t tell you about Xinjiang in China.
Please spend 15 minutes of your time to read this post and have a check on how much you already knew and how much you didn’t know about Xinjiang.
Warning: this is an extremely long post with lots of historic, geographic and technological knowledge about Xinjiang. (This is a draft for a book I’m writing.) If you spot anything wrong or factually incorrect analysis, please leave a comment.
Let’s get started.
Do you know the largest online retailer and e-commerce giant in China?
Yes, it is called Alibaba. But do you know why is it called Alibaba?
This is because the Founder of Alibaba, Jack Ma, found most people around the world knew the name “Ali Baba”. If you listen to the pronunciations of “Ali Baba” from all major languages, they all sound the same: “Ali Baba”.
Why was the name “Ali Baba” known to the world?
Ali Baba is a famous character from the fairy tale: “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” in the One Thousand and One Nights, which is a collection of originally folk stories from the Arabic and Persian people.
“Open Sesame”, a magic phrase used to open the gate to the treasure in Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. Now it is used as “Sesame Credit” in Alibaba.com
There are other stories that are popular among the kids: Aladdin and the magic lamp. And this story was recently picked by Disney for another movie reproduction.
Based on the initial story translated by the French translator, Antoine Galland: Aladdin is actually a “Chinese Muslim” dwelling in "one of the cities of China". Surprise huh? But Uyghur people would say, Aladdin is actually an Uyghur from Xinjiang.
Anyway, from these stories, you can sense the magnificent culture of the Islam world. It is filled with the finest architecture, sculpture, characters, and drama. It reflects what was like in the Golden Age of the Islamic world.
When and where did those amazing stories originate from?
It is said most of the stories were compiled from the Arabic Empire since the Umayyad Caliphate (661–750 AD). At that time, the Arabic Empire has united the region of Arabia, Persia, Egypt, and the West Hindustan (Sindh province). It is easier for those folk stories to spread within one empire, right? But what is more important, their focus is to spread the religion of Islam, through the folk stories.
Historic Atlas around 680 AD from Western Point of View (Ollie Bye
From the above map, you might already notice that, on the east, a similar empire was also on its largest extent too. It was the Tang Dynasty of China (618-907 AD). And at that time, Tang was the richest and most populous empire in the world.
The clash of the two largest empires
Now we are entering an interesting period of history: The Umayyad Caliphate was aiming for the East and Tang was aiming for the West. When both empires were on their peak and directly contacted with each other, obviously conflicts would occur.
It is said that in 715 AD and 717AD, the two empires engaged in proxy fights at the border (Battle of Aksu , in current West Xinjiang) and Tang won the battle. But later in 750AD, the Umayyad Caliphate was overthrown and the Arabic Empire entered into a more powerful dynasty Abbasid Caliphate. The Abbasid seemed to be more aggressive in terms of expansion.
Inevitably, the Abbasid Caliphate Army and Tang Army had a massive battle in 751 AD at Talas (currently Kyrgyzstan)and Tang lost the battle. Many people thought this battle has shifted the geopolitical implications of Central Asia. It caused the Islam religion to spread into Central Asia and Xinjiang.
Battle of Talas, a battle that stopped Tang’s moving west
But I don’t think this single defeat in this battle has weakened Tang’s control in Central Asia. Instead, for the next few years, Tang even strengthened the control around this region. It was the over-spending in the Tang military and logistic that caused the collapse of the financial system of the Tang empire, just like the current United States of America.
Why was it expensive for Tang to send troops here?
This is because of the unique geography of Xinjiang. There are two giant basins surrounded by tall mountains. In the middle, the Tian Shan Mountains are lying like a giant shield that protects the Xinjiang from the Arabic Invasion from the west. It is a blessing for Tang. But it will also increase the logistic costs if Tang Army needed to come out from Xinjiang and march west.
Tang has a massive “shield” that increases the difficulties of foreign invasions to the East. But it also hampers their own invasions to the West. The cross “Talas” is where the war happened.
Many people didn’t get the scale of how massive the area is and how costly the logistics would be. The “giant basin”, or Tarim Basin in South of Xinjiang is larger than twice the area of the UK. Just for an interesting reference, how about we fit a UK, France, and California here for scale?
Can you imagine how costly if the Tang Army needed to maintain a 2000km logistic line over the desert in the 9th century? That’s the ultimate reason why I think Tang was destined to fail.
A raised-relief map of Tang’s Empire. Supporting wars on the west of the giant mountains was very costly for the Tang Empire in the 9th century.
The Aftermath of Arab-Tang Battle
Interestingly, during the big fight, there were a group of Turkic people roaming around Talas in Tang’s campaign. They were called the Sogdians. One of the Sogdian natives was called An Lushan, and later he became a general of Tang through bribing.
In the year 755, An Lushan organized a rebellion against his own emperor. He amassed a rebellion army of 150k and captured the capital of Tang, Chang’an. Tang army took eight years to stifle the rebellion. But Tang would no longer return to its glorious peak and golden age. And meanwhile, the Abbasid Caliphate and the Islam religion continued to spread northwards on the west of Tianshan mountains towards the Karluks territories. This was obviously a win for the Arabic Empire and the Islam religion.
Uyghur Khaganate, rise, and fall
But these are not our main characters of the story. In the north of the Khangai Mountains, lives our main character of this answer: the Uyghur Nomadic Tribe:
The location of the Uyghurs tribes in Sui Dynasty around 583 AD (when Sui split the Gokturk Khaganate). Note that there were another two tribes that are worth mentioning: the Kyrgyz who were living in the north of Uyghurs. And there were Khitans living in the East.
Unlike other nomadic tribes, Uyghurs did have a really great and peaceful relationship with Tang. When the Tang Empire initially unified China around 680 AD, Tang needed to beat the Göktürks to secure its north. So Tang and Uyghur tribes united and attacked the Eastern Göktürk like a sandwich.
It is very likely that when Aladdin was rubbing his magic lamp, meanwhile, on the east, Mulan was recruited to march in the north. Yes, this is how the two Disney animes were closely linked.
Stories of Hua Mulan, based on the fairy tales “Ballad of Mulan” compiled in Northern Wei or Tang Dynasty.
But in the Mulan story, Disney never told you who were the “enemies”. In the story, the “enemies” were “Rouran Khaganate”, a nomadic tribe roaming in the north of the Northern Wei. But the actual story of Mulan was probably compiled during the start of the Tang Dynasty when Tang and Uyghur people were fighting the Turkic “Göktürk Khaganate”.
In 742 AD, the Uyghur tribes have beaten the Göktürks and established the Uyghur Khaganate. And the Göktürks had to escape to the west and eventually, they ended up in current Turkey. After establishing the Uyghur Khaganate, Uyghurs exchanged a few royal marriages with Tang and became the protectorate of Tang. Please note that Uyghurs and Tang were loose allies for hundreds of years since then.
But after 755 AD, Tang’s influence was in abrupt decline after the An Lushan’s rebellion. All the neighbours of Tang, especially the Tibetan Empire started to break tributes with Tang and invaded the basin. And Tang had to ask Uyghurs for help to defeat the An Lushan’s Rebellion and Tibetian’s Invasion. At that time, the Uyghur Khaganate became even stronger and Tang became even weaker.
Historic Atlas around 800 AD from Western Point of View (Ollie Bye
). Tang was in its decline. Uyghurs and Tibetans rose. And also Abbasid Caliphate was on its largest extent.
Uyghur Migration and Assimilation
After maintaining in power for another few decades, the Uyghurs Khaganate was overthrown by the Kyrgyz people who live in the north. Yes, you heard it right: the Kyrgyz beat the Uyghurs in 840 AD. And the Uyghur people had to leave their original homeland and migrate to other places. Eventually, they found three places to live and formed three different countries:
Qocho Uyghurs 高昌回纥
Ganzhou Uyghurs 甘州回纥
Kara-Khanids 喀喇汗 (Formed by Uyghurs, Karlurks and Turgesh together)
The grand Uyghur migration happened in 840 AD.
Please note that all the “fertile” grasslands were already inhabited by strong nomadic tribes. The Uyghurs were faced with two choices: either find a “less fertile” region to take control of the weak indigenous tribes or become a minority in a stronger tribe.
Among them, Qocho Uyghurs chose the first approach. They took over the Turpan basin and expanded south to the Tarim Basin gradually. The rest of Uyghurs chose the second approach: Ganzhou Uyghurs surrendered to the Tang and later renamed themselves Yughurs  and got gradually assimilated by the Hui Chinese Muslim. They are currently living around Lanzhou, China. And Kara-Khanid Uyghurs started to live with the Türgesh and Karlurks people and they established the Kara-Khanid Khaganate together on the west.
Uyghur Conversion to Buddhism
After 840 AD, when the Uyghur people migrated to the central and south Xinjiang, they have taken over the indigenous states that existed for thousands of years. Actually, these city-states were just villages along the oasis in the Tarim Basin. They did not have a lot of population due to the harsh desert climate in the Tarim Basin.
City-states before Uyghur Migration (Sorry no English equivalent) In the 9th century, the oasis area was much smaller compared to the current satellite image. There was no such irrigation technology 2000 years ago as current Xinjiang.
Each city-state has a distinct culture but they all believed in Mahayana Buddhism. Please note that South Xinjiang was very close to Ladakh (300km away). Ladakh was the “gateway” that made Mahayana Buddhism spread into China. These city-states were naturally devout Buddhist believers who have built countless Buddhist temples, architecture, paintings, and sculpture around the basin.
The spread of Mahayana Buddhism to China through Ladakh, Tarim Basin and to Inland China, Korea and Japan.
To understand Buddhism and other religions before the Uyghurs moved in, please have a visit to the Ruoqiang Loulan Museum in Ruoqiang County, in Xinjiang, China.
Ruoqiang Loulan Museum in Ruoqiang County, Xinjiang, China. This museum has lots of mummies found in the desert (more than the British Museum).
Native people dressed like angels before Uyghur migration, found in Ruoqiang County Relics, Xinjiang, China. Not sure what religion it is.
And the unknown mummies who use “Chopsticks”. Perhaps it also explains why Uyghurs in Xinjiang today use chopsticks but other people in West Central Asia don’t use chopsticks
Around the 900 AD, the Uyghurs converted themselves to Mahayana Buddism from Tengriism. They also dropped the nomadic culture and started to cultivate wheat and made bread. Just like rest of tribes in the basin, Uyghurs were devout believers in Mahayana Buddism. The proof? Here are the another two most representative Buddist museums for you to visit in Xinjiang:
Buddism Uyghur with Han monk painting found in Bezeklik Caves, Turfan, Xinjiang, China
Museum 1: Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves in Turpan, Xinjiang, China
Museum 2: Aksu Thousand Buddha Caves (Kizil Caves), in Aksu, Xinjiang, China
The Romance of the Three (Uyghur) Kingdoms
After the Uyghur migration and conversion to Buddhism around 900AD, the world has witnessed a drastic change. Both of the Tang and Arabic Empire had “exploded”.
Perhaps God was really pissed off at the human civilization at that time, he made both Tang and Abbalis collapse into ashes. Now the human civilization looks something like this around the late 9th century:
Tang has exploded in the 910s AD and the Uyghurs have been kicked out by Kyrgyz. Persian Empire (Samanid) got independence from the Abbasid Caliphate. Sorry, no English equivalent maps. But please do enjoy the wonderful colours.
During this interesting period of time (850 AD–1200 AD), those small countries started to fight and absorb each other to become great again. This was the same for the Uyghur states. We call this period the Three Kingdoms of Xinjiang.
Let’s zoom in and have a look at what happened to the Uyghur states. Here is the map of the three countries. In the northeast, we have Qocho Uyghur Khanate centred around Qocho (current Turpan). In the west, there is the Kara-Khanid who have two capitals in Shule(Kashgar) and Balasagun (currently abandoned in Kyrgyzstan). In the South lies the Kingdom of Yutian or Khotan (于闐) established by the native people of this Tarim Basin, not the Uyghurs.
Again, it is essential to understand the scale here. Let’s put the British Isles in the Tarim Basin for size comparison. We can treat the Yutian as “England”, the Kara-Khanid as “Wales and Ireland”, and the Qocho Uyghurs as Scotland.
Then for the next 600 years, this place will become the fiercest battleground of the religion of Islam and Mahayana Buddism.
The Holy War: Islam vs Mahayana Buddism
Did you still recall the once glorious Abbasid Caliphate that had wars with Tang? In 820 AD, the empire started to collapse into pieces led by Tajik tribes. The Tajik then established the Samanid Empire. Even though the formal Abbasid Caliphate collapsed, the religion of Islam still persisted in the Samanid Empire.
Samanid Empire (819 AD- 999 AD) at its largest extent
The Samanid Empire proposed to “make Persia great again” and started expansion and Islamic Holy War towards its neighbours. After unifying the whole Persia, they started to aim the land in its north - the Kara-Khanid Khanate. At that time, the Kara-Khanid was still a nomadic country composed of Uyghurs, Turgesh and Karlurks and they believed in Tengrism.
In the Samanid Empire, there was a handsome Prince of Persia called Nasr Iwho got beaten by his brother when he was trying to be the Crown Sultan Prince. The prince escaped to the Kara-Khanid Khanate and seek the Uyghurs and Karlurks for help.
The Prince of Persia in Exile in Kara-Khanid
The Kara-Khanid Khan (KKK) thought it was a great opportunity to support the Persian prince so that they could back up a pro-Kara-Khanid Persian King in the future. So the Kara-Khanid Khan appointed the Prince of Persia to govern the Artux region (current Artux in Kyzilsu in Xinjiang, China).
However, the Prince of Persia demanded the Kara-Khanid Khan to build a Mosque for him. So this is how the Artux Great Mosque in Artux was built. It was the first mosque built in the Tarim Basin. Yes, the mosque is still here in Artux in Xinjiang. It represents the first step that Islam enters the Tarim Basin.
Artux Great Mosque in Artux, Kyzilsu, Xinjiang, China. 39°42'51.3"N 76°10'13.5"E, Please use Baidu Map for Street View. Or you can travel here and see by yourself.
Inside the Artux Great Mosque. 1200 years have passed. Did the mosque get torn down? Of course not.
The Muslim Prince of Persia also converted one “rebel” son among the many sons of the Kara-Khanid Khan to Islam secretly. In 910AD, the “secret rebel son” of the Kara-Khanid Khan initiated a coup against his own father and took over the throne. He then declared the whole Kara-Khanid Khanate to convert to Islam. All the Buddhist temples were torn down and Buddhist monks were driven away.
Most of the Buddhist temples no longer exist around Kashgar. And this is the only Buddhist Stupa left today in Kashgar.
Relics of Moer Buddhist Stupa （莫尔佛塔） in Kashgar, Xinjiang, China
Another representative example can be also found in nearby Afganistan, where a giant buddha statue was destroyed. Its face was cut in flat.
Buddhas of Bamyan destroyed by Muslim in Afganistan
The Holy War II: Buddism fought back
The suppression of Buddhists in Kara-Khanid Khanate has attracted the concerns of Yutian, Qocho Uyghurs, and the Tibetan Empire, as all of them were devout Buddhist countries.
Around 970 AD, the three countries formed into a coalition of the Buddhist Army led by the King of Yutian against the Islamic Kara-Khanid Khanate. The coalition army successfully captured the Kashgar and drove the Kara-Khanid Khanate to the west.
They also captured a dancing elephant from Kara-Khanid. Meanwhile, Inland China became united again under the Song Dynasty. The Yutian King then sent a dancing elephant to Song as the “tributes”.
A dancing elephant sent to newly-formed Song Dynasty of China as the tributes
The Holy War III: Death of Yutian
After suffering the defeat, the Kara-Khanid Khanate retreated to the west and then gathered its army of 40k to strike back. The war has been on-going for another two decades. The Kingdom of Yutian was gradually in short of men and it was exhausted in this long-time war. At that time, the Song Dynasty could not support Yutian due to the blockade of West Hsia.
In 1006 AD, the Muslim Kara-Khanid ruler Yusuf Kadir (Qadir) Khan conquered Hotan, the capital of Yutian, ending Yutian's existence as an independent state.
After the occupation of Yutian, all the Buddhist temples were torn down and monks were killed. A Kara-Khanid writer Mahmud al-Kashgari
recorded a short Turkic language poem about the conquest :
We came down on them like a flood,
We went out among their cities,
We tore down the idol-temples,
We shat on the Buddha's head!
Before the Kara-Khanid’s conquest, the Kingdom of Yutian was like this:
The portrait of the King of Yutian Kingdom in 900 AD in Mogao Caves in Dunhuang. This is proof that the Kingdom of Yutian has once a Han/Tang dominated culture. If you are Chinese, you can read the text on the left which was written in 1100 years ago.
After the Kara-Khanid’s conquest, the Kingdom of Yutian was like this:
Buddhist drawings were damaged by Kara-Khanid Muslims
The Jihad War IV: Muslim Uyghurs vs Buddhist Uyghurs
After absorbing the Kingdom of Yutian, the Kara-Khanid Khanate (KKK) started the next Holy War against their own brothers - Qocho Uyghur Khanate. This is called the war between the Muslim Uyghurs and the Buddhist Uyghurs.
Based on the Turkic Dictionary “Dīwān Lughāt al-Turk”, its author Mahmoud al-Kashgari said those Qocho Uyghurs who did not believe in Islam were "the most ferocious enemy." In 1017 AD, the KKK took the lead and led the army from Ba Lasha (in the Tokmak area of Kazakhstan today), crossed the Ili River and attacked Qocho (in current Turpan, in Xinjiang). In retaliation, the Qocho Uyghurs raised an army of 300k and defended their territory. At that time, the KKK suddenly got ill. So they had to withdraw their Jihad army.
The Sinification: Khitans are coming
The standoff between the Muslim Uyghurs vs Buddhist Uyghurs has been ongoing for another 100 years. With Islamic Kara-Khanid Khanate’s strict rule, the West and South Tarim Basin (South Xinjiang) were converted to Islam, despite lots of riots happened from remaining Buddhist resistances.
The Kara-Khanid Khanate started to organise another Jihad invasion to the Qocho Uyghurs. However, to their surprise, the Qocho Uyghurs had surrendered to their new master, the Khitans.
Khitan people, with mixed nomadic and Han culture
The Khitans were originally roaming around Mongolia. But they were beaten by the Jurchens and Song Dynasty. After the defeat, they had to find somewhere else for their new base. Again, they found this Tarim Basin just like the ancient Uyghurs.
Just like the ancient Uyghurs who migrated here, the Khitans chose the same path of migration.
As the Khitans had been battling with Song for decades, they had more soldiers and advanced military technology. Despite the Khitans were defeated by the Jurchens, both the Muslim Uyghurs and the Buddhist Uyghurs were no match for the Khitan army. Both the Kara-Khanid Khanate and Qocho Khanate were absorbed easily. The Khitans then established the Western Liao Empire.
The Khitan people used Han Chinese characters and adopted Han Chinese way of lives. This is why the Turkic people in the west thought the Khitans represented China. This is why those countries still call Chinese as Khitans today.
During the rule of the Liao Empire, the Khitan Emperor stopped the spread of Islam. However, his main focus was still about how to retake China back, just like the Republic of China in Taiwan. This did not last long. Just 80 years later, the Mongols came and crushed the empire.
Mongolfication: Mongols are coming
Yes, no matter how strong you thought you were. You were no match for the Mongols.
This area of Central Asia was then allocated to the second son of Ghengis Khan. He established the Chagatai Khanate. It was the only time when Central Asia was unified under “one country”. And the Mongol Empire allowed different tribes and religions to coexist and spread peacefully.
The once broken silk road was reconnected thanks to the Mongol Empire. Please note that Kashgar in Xinjiang was a critical node for trade in this silk road.
This is the time when the Kashgar city started to grow. Now it is called Kashgar old city.
Kashgar Old City is now transformed as a tourist attraction in Kashgar, South Xinjiang, China.
These ancient buildings are still there and they look even more beautiful now.
Kashgar Old City in Kashgar, South Xinjiang, China. They have a similar Mediterranean style just like Spain
Anyway, thanks to the silk road, a new set of Muslim stories spread along. One of the most well-known stories were Nasreddin or Afandi (阿凡提). Nasreddin or Afandi was an extremely wise man with lots of funny stories. It is said he was born in the 13th century when the whole world was ruled under Mongols:
The stories of Afandi, a series of stories known by all the Chinese and Central Asian people.
The cosplay of Nasreddin in Turkey, basically they were the same guy
Interestingly, each ethnic group claims this character belongs to them. The Uyghurs claim that Afandi was an Uyghur born in Turpan who grew grapes. The Uzbeks believed Afandi was an Uzbek born in Bukhara. The Azerbaijani and Turkish people believe the guy was theirs. But you can’t deny the fact that it was the silk road that spread this story around.
The Fallen of last Buddhism in Xinjiang
Despite the bright side of Islam, let’s have a look at the dark side. In the 1340s, the Mongol Chagatai Khanate split into two parts. This is because of the giant Tian Shan Mountains blocking in the middle of the country.
On the west of Tian Shan, the Western Chagatai was then called Transoxiana with Turkic Muslim dominated. Later it was absorbed by the famous Timurid Empire on its the South.
The Eastern Chagatai became independent under the leader Tughlugh Timur, who was a Torghut Mongol. The country was inhabited by Mongols and Uyghurs who followed Buddhism and Mongolian shamanism (Tengrism).
In 1353, Tughlugh Timur had to convert to Islam to gain support from the Muslim population in Eastern Chagatai. He became the first Mongol Khan who converted to Islam. Later he renamed his title from Khan to Sultan. As we know, Islam was an extremely exclusive religion. After the conversion to Islam, Tughlugh Timur changed the Mongolian tradition that one must respect all religions. He started to suppress all the other religions in his country.
The remaining centres of Buddhism such as Kuqa, Turpan and Kumul(Hami), were wiped out. Countless temples were burned to ashes. The remaining artefacts recovered today were found among those ashes. All the remaining Buddhist Uyghurs and Mongolians were forced to convert to Islam.
Damaged artefacts recovered from Buddhist Temple Relics in Turpan, Xinjiang, China
At the end of the 14th century, the whole South Xinjiang was fully converted to Islam. The Buddhism monks had to retreat to the city of Dunhuang in the East, protected by the newly formed Ming dynasty.
Since the conversion to Islam of Eastern Chagatai, countless mosques were built by the Sultans. One of the most influential mosques is the Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar. Now it is the largest mosque in China.
Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar built in 1442 AD.
The split of Northern Yuan (Northern Mongols)
Now we finally reached the time when the game of the Europa Universalis 4 started in 1444 AD. At that time, the once glorious Mongol Empire has been exploded into 13 tribes.
There will be 11 (Tengrim)+2 (Muslim) Mongol tribes competing the game of thrones. The two Muslim Mongol countries were: Eastern Chagatai and Yarkand.
11+2 major players in the Mongol Game of Thrones as shown in the Europa Universalis IV Game around 15th century.
For more detailed stories about the Mongol tribes, please check the parallel history of the Mongols in my another answer about Mongolia: Janus Dongye Qimeng's answer to What do you think of “Inner Mongolia (China)'s economy is 21 times bigger than Mongolia's in 2017”?
The end game is that the “forest people” or the Oriat Mongols in the north migrated to Eastern Chagatai due to tribal conflicts between the Eastern Mongols. The Choros tribe established the Dzungar Khanate in 1634. The Dzungars firstly went to war against the Turkic tribes on its west, namely the Kyrgyz, Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Kazakhs. After unifying Central Asia, the country then turned against the Muslim Mongols: Chagatai and Yarkand in the south. The next is to absorb the Khoshut Mongols who ruled the Tibet.
After the uniting the whole area of Xinjiang and Tibet, the Dzungar Mongols did not convert to Islam and they have relocated and “enslaved” some Uyghur groups within the country. One of the Uyghur groups were relocated to Ili valley for growing crops. At that time, they were called Taranchi.
When the Dzungars started to invade the Khalkha Mongols on the east in the 1680s, the Qing dynasty just finished absorbing Ming and Taiwan. The Khalkha Mongols had to seek help from Qing (surrender) to beat the Dzungars.
However, this decision turned out to be a disaster for the Mongols.
Dzungar Genocide by Qing
And it was already the 17th century. The world has entered the Age of Gun Powder and the Age of Discovery. Nomadic calvaries were no longer effective against guns. Guns and cannons were more effectively used during wars.
Central Asia was surrounded by big empires during the 1700s. Dzungar Khaganate was surrounded by four big empires: Qing in the east, Russia in the north, Ottoman in the west and Mughal in the south.
In 1688 AD, the Qing Empire started to invade the Dzungar Khaganate. Both the Dzungars and Qing Army used pistols, muskets, guns and cannons for wars. The Dzungar Khaganate have purchased the latest muskets and cannons from Russia based on European technology. And Qing still used outdated cannons and guns that were carried by camels. And the Russians just sat still and watch Qing and Dzungar fought.
Qing’s formation against Dzungar Mongols. Do you notice their cannons carried by camels?
After 70 years of battles, Qing managed to crush the remaining of the Dzungar Khaganate in 1757 AD. After winning the war, the Emperor of Qing, Qianlong ordered to kill all the remaining Dzungar men to avoid further troubles from them:
Show no mercy at all to these rebels. Only the old and weak should be saved. Our previous military campaigns were too lenient. If we act as before, our troops will withdraw, and further trouble will occur.
In his account of the war, Qing scholar Wei Yuan, wrote that about 50% of the Dzungar households were killed by smallpox, 20% fled to Russia or the Kazakh Khanate, and 30% were killed by the army, leaving no yurts in an area for several thousand li, except those of the surrendered.
We are not sure how many people were actually killed during the genocide. But the direct outcome is that the Dzungar Mongol tribe disappeared in northern Xinjiang. Later Qing brought in massive migration from Han, Hui, Uyghur people to the gap, which has massively changed the demographics of Xinjiang. The Mongol population in Xinjiang became the minority since then.
Qing’s Colonisation of Xinjiang
In 1759, the Emperor of Qing, Qianlong, officially named this place as “Xin Jiang”, meaning “New Territory”. And Qing renamed its biggest military posts in the north of Turpan as “Dihua” (迪化), meaning “Enlightenment”.
As for the Qing Emperor, Xinjiang is a large chunk of territory with lots of potential problems due to the influence of Islam. South Xinjiang has already been ruled by the Islam religion for more than 600 years. It was also a headache for Qing to handle the spread of Islam into Inland China.
How did Qing handle the religion of Islam?
Qianlong’s strategy to govern Muslim was: “修其教不易其俗，齐其政不易其宜”
Modify the religion, but don’t change their culture. Split the politics but don’t remove their interests (satisfy them with conciliation).
This strategy turned out to be very effective. The religion of Islam has then become “Islam with Chinese Characteristics”.
You can still build mosques, but you should add some Chinese characteristics in them. That’s why you can find numerous Chinese style mosques built by Qing.
Hebalin Mosque built in 1716 AD in Tibet, China
Similarly, the Qing Empire also used the “Divide and Conquer” to rule Xinjiang, just like the Mongols. Qing set up 260 Baig  to let the Uyghurs and other tribes govern themselves, just like the Mongol Banners. They also split the Xinjiang into two administrative regions. The Northern Region (北疆) is also called Dzungarlia. They use standard currency from the rest of China. During the 18th-19th century, Qing has amassed people of Han, Khazak, Hui, Kyrgyz migrations to set up cities and start cultivation here.
On the South Xinjiang (南疆) lies the Tarim Basin. This region is also called Altishahr (Six cities) dominated by various ethnic Muslim groups. In this region, Qing declared a “special administrative zone” that uses a special currency called “Red Cash”. And they can be only used in South Xinjiang. This is also the measure to control the economy of South Xinjiang.
Red Cash - a special currency only used in South Xinjiang, Chinese characters and Uyghur Languages are on both sides
British or Russian, Opium or Vodka?
Xinjiang remained peaceful under Qing’s rule for around 100 years until the Russian Empire and the British Empire absorbed the rest of Central Asia.
And Central Asia was fully absorbed by big empires during the 1800s.
Problems appeared whenever those empires collapsed. That’s why nowadays you can find utterly strange borders, conflicts, standoffs in this region, especially the Wakhan Corridor in Afghanistan. This is basically the outcome of the fight between the two trouble makers: British and Russia.
Since the defeat of the Opium War in the 1840s, the Qing Empire started its decline. Many other empires wanted to get a territorial slice from Qing. In the 1860s, Qing ceded 1/3 of Xinjiang’s territory to Russia and also lost the Outer Manchuria (their own hometown).
Territorial losses to Russia since the 1860s
Of course, both British and Russian Empires wanted to push further to take over the land of Xinjiang and Tibet. Then you can guess why immediately after the Second Opium War in 1860, there were suddenly rebellions rising in Xinjiang. And then you can guess why the rebellion army was magically equipped with even better weapons than the Qing Army. And then you can guess why the rebellion leader Yaqub Beg (阿古柏) can quickly take over the whole Xinjiang. And then you can guess why the British Empire immediately established diplomatic relations with Yaqub Beg after he declared independence.
Zuo Zongtang’s campaign to take back Xinjiang
Thanks to Qing’s general Zuo Zongtang immediate actions. The rebellion was suppressed and Qing managed to keep full control of Xinjiang. He then established the Xinjiang Province to strengthen control. Without him, Xinjiang would have permanently got independent from China like current Mongolia.
The Spread of Communism and Pan-Turkism
In just 40 years later, the Qing dynasty collapsed and the Republic of China inherited all the territory from Qing dynasty. Yuan Dahua, the last Qing governor of Xinjiang, fled. One of his subordinates, Yang Zengxin, took control of the province and acceded in name to the Republic of China. Yang maintained control over Xinjiang until his assassination in 1928 after the Northern Expedition of the Kuomintang.
During this time, lots of Uyghur young people went abroad to study overseas.
Some of the Uyghurs went to Russia and France, they learned about the theory of capitalism and communism and became devout believers in Communism.
Ehmetjan Qasim, an Uyghur Communist Member that helped CCP liberated Xinjiang
Burhan Shahidi, an Uyghur Communist Member who became the first president of Xinjiang Autonomous Region of PRC
The most representative examples are: Saifuddin Azizi  Burhan Shahidi, Ehmetjan Qasim . These Uyghurs helped the CCP to maintain control of Xinjiang before the CCP took over China in 1949.
However, the other groups of Uyghurs went to the Ottoman Empire for study and they learned the theory of Pan-Turkism. Basically, Pan-Turkism believed that all the Turkish ethnicities should unite and form one nation (or belong to the sphere of influence of the Ottoman Empire). And the theory believed that the Uyghur ethnicity belongs to Turkic ethnicity too.
The most representative example is Muhammad Amin Bughra  born in Hotan.
What did he do in Xinjiang after graduating from the Ottoman Empire?
After returning to Xinjiang, he got assistance from the British Empire and received weapons from British India in the south. Then he started a rebellion against the ROC Xinjiang Government and took over Hotan in 1933. He then immediately established the first East Turkestan Republic before taking the rest of the towns in Xinjiang.
Muhammad Amin Bughra, an Uyghur Pan-Turkist
However, only one year later, his “government” was crushed by the Hui Malitia Ma Zhongying and Amin had to escape to Kashmir in British Raj.
During his exile in Kashmir, he published his first book “The History of East Turkestan”. Well, you can pretty much guess what would he say in this book.
If you have time, you can check their version of the history and compare with my versions of history. You will notice the vast differences in the narratives of history. Who are the Uyghurs of East Turkestan?
Republic of China … Sigh … What can I say
In 1937, this guy “Muhammad Amin Bughra” went to Japan and asked the Japanese to invade Xinjiang during the Sino-Japanese War in 1937.
After the Japanese surrendered in 1945, he switched sides and joined Kuomintang. Yes, he joined Kuomintang, the nationalist party of China. You heard it right.
Are you kidding me?
What’s more absurd is that Chiang Kai-shek, the president of the ROC appointed him to be the vice president of the Xinjiang Province. And the president of Xinjiang was Masud Sabri  who was also a pan-Turkish activist graduated from the Ottoman Empire.
Masud Sabri, the leader of Xinjiang Province in 1945, Republic of China
Can you imagine you hire an East-Turkistan terrorist/activist to become the very top leader of Xinjiang? Only the Kuomintang can do this.
Although they don’t control the military of Xinjiang, they control the authority of education, textbooks, literature and media. Since 1945, lots of “Pan-Turkish”, “Anti-Hui, Anti-Han” books were published in Uyghur language and spread across Xinjiang.
These books sparked Islamic extremism and hate towards Han and Hui ethnics. Even the United State of America won’t allow this kind of book to publish, let alone China.
The direct consequences are that some of the books are still spreading today in China. They were the “root of evil” that caused various terrorist attacks in recent years in Xinjiang.
In 1949, when CCP took over Xinjiang, Muhammad Amin once again fled and dropped his membership of Kuomintang. But for this time, he went back to Turkey (no longer Ottoman) and established the East Turkistan Government in Exile. This is how the current East Turkistan Movement started and they still remain in Turkey now.
East Turkistan Movement in Turkey
Interestingly, in 1954, Amin once went to Taiwan to try to persuade the exiled Republic of China to drop the claim of Xinjiang. The demand was rejected immediately and Taiwan affirmed that ROC claimed Xinjiang as "an integral part of China”.
Chinese Communist Party, Good or Bad?
Well, before the CCP took over Xinjiang in 1949, some branches of the Chinese communist party supported the Soviet actions to assist the Second East Turkistan Movement against the Republic of China. However, after the CCP established the People’s Republic of China, they completely changed the stance. They don’t want any interference from the Soviet in Xinjiang. This is kind of hypocrite.
After taking over Xinjiang, the CCP took a similar approach from Qianlong Emperor in Qing Dynasty. They established the Islamic Association of China  to aim for the following objectives:
Modify the Islamic religion to be pro-China and pro-CCP (Islam with Chinese characteristics), but don’t change their culture.
Split the politics out of the religion but don’t remove their interests.
Islamic Association of China in Beijing, China
The strategy turned out to be effective in Northern Xinjiang. Most of the people living in the North Xinjiang are pretty much secular. And for Muslim, they practised Islam with Chinese characteristics. And what’s important: most of them are taught with bilingual education. Most of them can speak their native language + Mandarin.
However, these tasks were not properly enforced in Southern Xinjiang. It turned out the CCP had given too much “autonomy” in Southern Xinjiang. The direct proof is that after 70 years rule under PRC, some Uyghur people in South Xinjiang villages can only speak Uyghurs language and practice Sunni Fundamental Islam instead of Islam with Chinese characteristics.
“One Province Two Systems”
Another fact they don’t tell you is that Xinjiang actually has two governments. The first government is the official governing body of “Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region” (XUAR) in 1955. This government is operated by governors from different ethnic groups predominated by Uyghurs and Han.
The second government is called “Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps” (XPCC)  disguised as an organisation. This “organisation” has its own territory, set of laws, courts, tax authorities, hospitals, schools etc. It has its own administrative structure, fulfilling governmental functions under its jurisdiction. The president of XPCC has the same political rank as the leader of XUAR in the central government of China.
The territory of Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps labelled in green colour. These green territories are not governed by Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Government.
The XPCC was founded by Mao in 1954. After the establishment of PRC, there were around 170,000 PLA soldiers stationed in Xinjiang. Since there was no longer a civil war, these soldiers were disbanded and employed to engage in farming and construction. They built farms, dams, railways, towns, and cities in deserted areas such as the fringes of the Taklimakan Desert and Gurbantunggut Desert, under the principle of "not competing for benefits with the local people”.
Westward Expansion of Han Chinese
After XPCC built cities, those cities were initially “ghost towns”. The central government of China has then organised a massive Han migration from Inland China to live in these cultivated cities. You will be given land and benefits if you live here. Those Han farmers who didn’t have enough land in Henan, Shandong, Hebei would always love to move here.
Just like the westward expansion of the United States, over the course of 65 years (1954–2019), the XPCC has built 10 medium-sized cities. Now each city has around 500k people dominated by Han Chinese. According to their plan, XPCC is going to build another 18 new cities in Xinjiang by 2030 .
The most well-known XPCC settlements are Shihezi, Aral, Kuytun, Beitun, Wujiaqu, Horgos etc. These cities are no different than normal cities in the mainland.
Shihezi City, the implicit “capital” of XPCC in China
Have you ever heard of Jin-Yin-Chuan city (金银川市)? No?
Of course, you shouldn’t. It has not yet been built.
To know their whole history of cultivation and migration, please have a visit to the Museum of XPCC in Shihezi Xinjiang when you have the chance to visit Xinjiang.
XPCC Museum in ShiHezi Xinjiang
If XPCC were a country, how big and how economic powerful would it be?
In 2018, the XPCC has a total population of 3 million with an administrative area of 70,000 km2. The total GDP of XPCC in 2018 is 36.5 billion dollars (comparable to Uzbekistan). Therefore the GDP per capita for XPCC is $11500, which is higher than the average Chinese, Russians and Malaysians.
Will Han dominate Xinjiang in the future?
Now we all know XPCC is the organisation responsible for massive Han migration. How many Han Chinese had actually moved to Xinjiang since the establishment of XPCC?
In 1949, there were 4.3 million people in Xinjiang. Among them, there were 0.29 million Han, 3 million Uyghurs, 0.6 million Kazakhs. Han people only account for 6% of the total population.
In 2010, there were 21.8 million people in Xinjiang. Among them, there were 8.74 million Han, 10.06 million Uyghurs, 1.46 million Kazakhs. Han people account for 40.1% and Uyghurs account for 48.3% of the total population.
By judging from the statistics, it seemed that Xinjiang will be dominated by the Han sooner or later. Some Uyghur friends were obviously panicked about this.
Is that true? Let’s look at the latest statistics in 2015.
In 2015, there were 23.6 million people in Xinjiang. Among them, there are 8.59 million Han, 11.3 million Uyghurs, 1.69 million Kazakhs. Han people account for 37.1%, a 3% decrease compared to 5 years ago, and Uyghurs account for 47.8% of the total population . This report did not attract Uyghurs’ attention but it has made many Han people panicked.
However, there is another official government data report saying the Han population is 9.47 million in Xinjiang in 2015. I guess this is caused by the confusion of whether to include the population of XPCC (the implicit government) or not.
Anyway, both data show that Uyghurs and Kazakhs have witnessed a 10%-15% population increase in Xinjiang in just 5 years. There is an approximate 1 million increase in the Uyghur population in Xinjiang for the past five years. It is because the one-child policy didn’t apply on Uyghurs and Kazakhs. They can have as many babies as they like. And also the Islam religion encourages you to have more babies.
That’s probably why two years later in 2017, China started to announce that two-children policies applicable on Uyghurs and other ethnic groups. 
Why are there so many Kazakhs in Xinjiang?
You might have already noticed that there are 1.7 million Kazakhs living in Xinjiang. Where did they come from? Some of them were native Kazakhs roaming since the Qing dynasty. And some other of them migrated from the Soviet.
There were two severe famines happened in the Soviet in 1919 and 1932 that caused massive Kazakhs migration to China.
Kazakhs migration to China during the 1930s
Some historians assume that 42% of the entire Kazakh population died in the Kazakh famine of 1932–33 . Some Kazakh historians claimed 500k Kazakhs had to move to China for food. (I could not verify whether this number is true or not or it is anti–Soviet propaganda. If you think these number is imprecise, I will remove them.)
Anyway, what is certain is that in 1949, there were 0.6 million Kazakhs in Xinjiang. 70 years later, these Kazakhs have increased by 3 times, reaching 1.7 million in 2015. Those people seemed to live well in Xinjiang.
A wedding photo from a Kazakh couple in Xinjiang
Interestingly, most Kazakh people look like Mongolian and Han Chinese. That’s why many Uyghur people normally mistook them for Han Chinese.
Yes, they are all Kazakh people in Kazakhstan. Most of them look like Han Chinese, Koreans and Japanese
Secularization of Uyghurs
After these long posts, who are the Uyghur people actually? Are they Muslim? Are they Turkic? Are they Chinese?
The most reasonable explanation is that the current Uyghurs are a mixture of different ancient ethnic groups from the Mongolian Plateau, Central Asia and Persian.
Some Uyghurs look like Han-Chinese, Koreans and Japanese. They were the Uyghur descendants migrated from Mongolia.
Some Uyghurs look like Caucasian, Persians and Aryans. They were the Uyghur descendants migrated from Persia.
Alpha, the youth Uyghur star that was popular in China
Uyghur people waiting in a queue for a bus
But what can be certain is that Uyghurs are more “free” than the other Mulism dominated regions. Just walk in the street of Urumqi in Xinjiang, you can spot some women wear hijab and some don’t. It is their choice to wear a hijab or not. There is no Islamic religious police forcing them to wear a hijab.
Uyghur women on the street of Urumqi
This is the outcome of the “secularization” of Uyghurs. The secularization refers to the belief that as societies progress, particularly through modernization (Modernization theory - Wikipedia
) and rationalization (Rationalization (sociology) - Wikipedia
), religion loses its authority in all aspects of social life and governance.
And this is what China believes as the right thing to do. You might already have heard of the reeducation camps in Xinjiang. Reeducation camps are just one of the measures to “force” Uyghurs to be secular.
More importantly, the “education” camps or the schools in Xinjiang are more effective. Nowadays, educated Uyghur young people are just as energetic as other Chinese. Some find their talents in rapping, music and popular culture of China.
Some of the Uyghur/minority ethnic girls became celebrities in China.
Dilraba Dilmurat (left), Zhao Liying (Han, middle) and Gülnezer Bextiyar (right).
Great Western Development (西部大开发) since 1999
Since China opened up its economy in 1978, the coastal regions of eastern China benefited greatly from these reforms, and their economies quickly raced ahead. The western half of China, especially Xinjiang, despite strong in agriculture, lagged behind severely in industry and manufacturing. Since 1999, Chairman Jiang Zemin started to propose his grand vision of developing the west using the tax money from the east. This plan was called “Great Western Development”. When Xi took power, this program was rebranded and expanded to the “One-belt-one-road” initiatives.
Over the past four decades, China has constructed 4,800km expressways, 6166 km of railways, bridges, tunnels etc in Xinjiang. There is no need to emphasise how great the infrastructure is in Xinjiang (perhaps in another answer about OBOR). What’s more interesting is how did China build and finance the infrastructure campaign in Xinjiang.
Each eastern province of China is required to assist one or more cities in Xinjiang to develop the infrastructure and economy. An analogy is that each eastern state of the USA is required to assist towns and cities in Alaska. Is it possible in the USA? Of course not. The federal government of the USA does not have the authority to command their eastern states let alone taking tax money from them.
A map of the province-city pair-to-pair assistance program for Xinjiang in China. Unfortunately, there were no English reports.
Lastly, we finally reach the 21st century. For the last time, let's have a look at the historic map:
Historic Atlas around 2020 AD of the Middle East and Central Asia. The middle east and central Asia has collapsed into smaller countries.
The once glorious Islamic Golden Age, the Abbasid Caliphate, the Arab-Tang War, the Persian Empire, the Ottoman Empire have long been forgotten by people nowadays.
The Arab and Persian world once led science and technology of the world. Their religion is not a barrier.
The land is now replaced with Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afganistan, Pakistan, Syria, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia.
Can you count how many wars happened in those countries just during the last two decades (2000–2020)? Can you count how many sanctions, coups, terrorist attacks, political turmoil happened in these regions?
The devastation caused by the Syrian Civil War
On the other side of the Tian Shan Mountains, we can see a totally different picture:
Did you still remember the ancient battleground where the Abbasid Caliphate and Tang Empire fought? (Battle of Talas in current Kyrgyzstan). Now the Chinese are coming here again after 1200 years. But for this time, they came here to build roads, instead of invading others.
North-South Expressway in Kyrgyzstan built by the Chinese. It is the first expressway in Kyrgyzstan, to be completed in 2023.
Did you still remember the ancient Holy-War battleground where the Prince of Persia came to convert the Kara Khanid Khanate and then Kara-Khanate eliminated Buddhism in Yutian? (Kashgar) .
Now the Vice Mayors of Shenzhen are coming here again after 1000 years. But for this time, they helped this place to become a “free trade zones” for Central Asia.
New economic zone and the free trade area of Kashgar.
Did you still remember the ancient Holy-War battleground where the Muslim Uyghurs and Buddhist Uyghurs fought?
Now constructors are coming here again after 800 years. But for this time, they built a bridge here. And they shortened the travel time between Ili and Urumqi by 12 hours.
Guozigou Bridge, Xinjiang, 44°28'15.9"N 81°08'23.0"E
Did you still remember the ancient Mongol Muslim tribes (Eastern Chagatai) burned Buddhist Temples in Turpan?
Now herds of Chinese tourists are coming here again after 600 years. But for this time, they brought lots of income for the local residents.
Turpan becomes one of the most popular tourist attractions in China
Did you still remember the battleground where the Qing Empire and the Dzungar Mongols use camel cannons to shoot each other in the desert?
Now the Chinese are coming here again after 300 years. But for this time, they built the world’s largest potassium sulfate factory, used for fertilizer production.
Luobupo, Xinjiang, China 40°25'44.6"N 90°47'34.2"E
Did you still remember the story of Alibaba told at the beginning of this answer?
Now the “real” Alibaba is coming here in Xinjiang again after 1500 years. But for this time, they brought an online wholesale platform . So that farmers in Xinjiang can directly enjoy the Alibaba online distribution and wholesales network to sell their dates, grapes, tomatoes online to the Inland China market.
 Aladdin - Wikipedia
 Battle of Aksu (717) - Wikipedia Battle of Talas - Wikipedia Uyghur Khaganate - Wikipedia Yenisei Kyrgyz - Wikipedia Yugur - Wikipedia Nasr - Wikipedia Mahmud al-Kashgari - Wikipedia Dīwān Lughāt al-Turk - Wikipedia Tughlugh Timur - Wikipedia Taranchi - Wikipedia Timeline of the gunpowder age - Wikipedia Dzungar genocide - Wikipedia Baig - Wikipedia Saifuddin Azizi - Wikipedia Burhan Shahidi - Wikipedia Ehmetjan Qasim - Wikipedia 穆罕默德·伊敏 - 维基百科，自由的百科全书 Masud Sabri - Wikipedia East Turkestan independence movement - Wikipedia Islamic Association of China - Wikipedia Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps - Wikipedia 新疆兵团拟建18座城市 最特殊省级单位新疆建设兵团，人均GDP超山东重庆，产棉168万吨_全国 新疆维吾尔自治区2010年第六次全国人口普查主要数据公报 在中国新疆 身为汉族人是什么感受？ 新疆维吾尔自治区统计局 新疆新修订人口与计划生育条例 生育子女个数不再区分民族 Kazakh famine of 1932–33 - Wikipedia 1931-1933 жылдардағы ашаршылық қарсаңында қазақ халқы қанша еді? 一组哈萨克族婚纱照|摄影|人像|摄影师木辉 - 原创作品 - 站酷 (ZCOOL) 阿里巴巴新疆兴农扶贫启动会在乌鲁木齐举行