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Author:Laxman Burdak, IFS (Retd.)

Map of Tian Shan Mountain

Turpan, also known as Turfan or Tulufan, is a city located in the east of Xinjiang, People's Republic of China.

Visited by Xuanzang in 630 AD

Xuanzang persuaded some Buddhist guards at Yumen Pass and slipped out of the empire through Liangzhou (Gansu) and Qinghai in 629.

Xuanzang subsequently travelled across the Gobi Desert to Kumul (modern Hami City), thence following the Tian Shan westward, arriving in Turpan in 630. Here he met the king of Turpan, a Buddhist who equipped him further for his travels with letters of introduction and valuables to serve as funds.


Turpan has long been the centre of a fertile oasis (with water provided by the karez canal system) and an important trade centre. It was historically located along the Silk Road, at which time it was adjacent to the kingdoms of Korla and Karashahr. The name Turfan itself however was not used until the end of the Middle Ages - its use became widespread only in the post-Mongol period.[1]

Historically, settlements in the region have been given a number of different names, such as Tulufan, Jushi, Qocho, Karakhoja, Hezhou, Gaochang, and Jiaohe, many of which refer to the same place. The center of the region has shifted a number of times, from Yar-Khoto (Jiaohe, 10 km to the west of modern Turpan) to Qocho (Gaochang, 30 km to the southeast of Turpan), and to Turpan itself.[2]

The peoples of the Kingdoms of Nearer and Further Jushi (the Turpan Oasis and the region to the north of the mountains near modern Jimasa), were closely related. It was originally one kingdom called Gushi, which the Chinese conquered in 107 BC.[3]

It was subdivided into two kingdoms by the Chinese in 60 BC. During the Han era the city changed hands several times between the Xiongnu and the Han, interspersed with short periods of independence.[4]

After the fall of the Han dynasty in 220, the region was virtually independent but tributary to various dynasties. Until the 5th century AD, the capital of this kingdom was Jiaohe (modern Yarghul 16 kms west of Turpan).

From 487 to 541 AD, Turpan was an independent Kingdom ruled by a Turkic tribe known to the Chinese as the Tiele. The Rouran Khaganate defeated the Tiele and subjugated Turpan, but soon afterwards the Rouran were destroyed by the Göktürks.

The Tang dynasty had reconquered the Tarim Basin by the 7th century AD. During the 7th, 8th, and early 9th centuries the Tibetan Empire, the Tang Chinese, and Turks fought to conquer the Tarim Basin. Sogdians and Chinese engaged in extensive commercial activities with each other under Tang rule. The Sogdians were mostly Mazdaist at this time. Turpan, renamed Xizhou by the Tang after their armies conquered it in 640 AD,[5] had a history of commerce and trade along the Silk Road already centuries old; it had many inns catering to merchants and other travelers, while numerous brothels are recorded in Kucha and Khotan.[6] As a result of the Tang conquest, policies forcing minority group relocation and encouraging Han settlement lead to Turpan's name in Sogdian language becoming known as “Chinatown” or "Town of the Chinese".[7][8]

In Astana, a contract written in Sogdian detailing the sale of a Sogdian girl to a Chinese man was discovered dated to 639 AD. Individual slaves were common among silk route houses; early documents recorded an increase in the selling of slaves in Turpan.[9]Twenty-one 7th-century marriage contracts were found that showed, where one Sogdian spouse was present, for 18 of them their partner was a Sogdian. The only Sogdian men who married Chinese women were highly eminent officials. Several commercial interactions were recorded, for example a camel was sold priced at 14 silk bolts in 673,[[10][11] and a Chang'an native bought a girl age 11 for 40 silk bolts in 731 from a Sogdian merchant.[12] Five men swore that the girl was never free before enslavement, since the Tang Code forbade commoners to be sold as slaves.[13]

The Tang dynasty became weakened considerably due to the An Lushan Rebellion, and the Tibetans took the opportunity to expand into Gansu and the Western Regions. The Tibetans took control of Turfan in 792.

In 803, the Uyghurs of the Uyghur Khaganate seized Turfan from the Tibetans. The Uyghur Khaganate however was destroyed by the Kirghiz and its capital Ordu-Baliq in Mongolia sacked in 840. The defeat resulted in the mass movement of the Uyghurs out of Mongolia and their dispersal into Gansu and Central Asia, and many joined other Uyghurs already present in Turfan. In the early twentieth century, a collection of some 900 Christian manuscripts dating to the ninth to the twelfth centuries was found at a monastery site at Turfan.[14]

The Uyghurs established a Kingdom in the Turpan region with its capital in Gaochang or Kara-Khoja. The kingdom was known as the Uyghuria Idikut state or Kara-Khoja Kingdom that lasted from 856 to 1389 AD. The Uyghurs were Manichaean but later converted to Buddhism and funded the construction the cave temples in the Bezeklik Caves. The Uyghurs formed an alliance with the rulers of Dunhuang. The Uyghur state later became a vassal state of the Kara-Khitans, and then as a vassal of the Mongol Empire. This Kingdom was led by the Idikuts, or Saint Spiritual Rulers. The last Idikut left Turpan area in 1284 for Kumul, then Gansu to seek protection of Yuan Dynasty, but local Uyghur Buddhist rulers still held power until Invasion of Moghul Hizir Khoja in 1389. The conversion of the local Buddhist population to Islam was completed nevertheless only in the second half of the 15th century.

As late as 1420, the Timurid envoy Ghiyāth al-dīn Naqqāsh, who passed through Turpan on the way from Herat to Beijing, reported that many of the city's residents were "infidels". He visited a "very large and beautiful" temple with a statue of Shakyamuni; in one of the versions of his account it was also claimed that many Turpanians "worshipped the cross".[15]

External sources/links


  1. Denis Sinor (1997). Inner Asia. RoutledgeCurzon. p. 121. ISBN 978-0-7007-0896-3
  2. Svat Soucek (2000). A History of Inner Asia. Cambridge University Press. p. 17.
  3. Hill (2009), p. 109.
  4. Hill (2009), p. 442
  5. HANSEN, Valerie. "The Impact of the Silk Road Trade on a Local Community: The Turfan Oasis, 500-800" (PDF). Yale University Press
  6. Xin Tangshu 221a:6230. In addition, Susan Whitfield offers a fictionalized account of a Kuchean courtesan's experiences in the 9th century without providing any sources, although she has clearly drawn on the description of the prostitutes' quarter in Chang’an in Beilizhi; Whitfield, 1999, pp. 138-154.
  7. HANSEN, Valerie. "The Impact of the Silk Road Trade on a Local Community: The Turfan Oasis, 500-800" (PDF). Yale University Press. Retrieved 2010-07-14.
  8. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12288967
  9. Wu Zhen 2000 (p. 154 is a Chinese-language rendering based on Yoshida's Japanese translation of the Sogdian contract of 639).
  10. Yan is a common ending for Sogdian first names meaning ‘for the benefit of’ a certain deity. For other examples, see Cai Hongsheng, 1998, p. 40.
  11. Ikeda contract 29.
  12. Ikeda contract 31. Yoshida Yutaka and Arakawa Masaharu saw this document, which was clearly a copy of the original with space left for the places where the seals appeared.
  13. HANSEN, Valerie. "The Impact of the Silk Road Trade on a Local Community: The Turfan Oasis, 500-800" (PDF). Yale University Press.
  14. "The Christian Library from Turfan". SOAS, University of London. Retrieved 5 August 2014.Saved on Wayback Machine
  15. Bellér-Hann., Ildikó (1995), A History of Cathay: a translation and linguistic analysis of a fifteenth-century Turkic manuscript, Bloomington: Indiana University, Research Institute for Inner Asian Studies, p. 159, ISBN 0-933070-37-3. Christianity is mentioned in the Turkic translation of Ghiyāth al-dīn's account published by Bellér-Hann, but not in the earlier Persian versions of his story.

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