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Special> Focus on Xinjiang> Related
UPDATED: July 9, 2009
History and Development of Xinjiang (I)

The Information Office of the State Council

May 2003


The Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (also called Xinjiang for short), situated in the border area of northwest China and the hinterland of the Eurasian Continent, occupies an area of 1.6649 million square km, accounting for one-sixth of Chinese territory. It has a land border of 5,600 km bounded by eight countries. It was an important section of the ancient Silk Road. According to statistics, in the year 2000 Xinjiang had a population of 19.25 million, including 10.9696 million people of other ethnic groups than the Han, China's majority ethnic group. There are 47 ethnic groups in Xinjiang, mainly the Uygur, Han, Kazak, Hui, Mongolian, Kirgiz, Xibe, Tajik, Uzbek, Manchu, Daur, Tatar and Russian. It is one of China's five autonomous regions for ethnic minorities.

Since ancient times, Xinjiang has been inhabited by many ethnic groups believing in a number of religions. Since the Western Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 24), it has been an inseparable part of the unitary multi-ethnic Chinese nation. In the more than 50 years since the People's Republic of China was founded in 1949, the people of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang, with concerted and pioneering efforts, have jointly written brilliant pages in the annals of the region's development, construction and frontier defense, causing earth-shaking changes in the social outlook of the region.

I. Xinjiang Has Been a Multi-ethnic Region Since Ancient Times

In ancient history, many tribes and ethnic groups lived in Xinjiang. The ethnic origins of the residents of Xinjiang began to be clearly recorded in the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D.220), the main ones being the Sai (Sak), Rouzhi (or Yueh-chih), Wusun (Usun), Qiang, Xiongnu (Hun) and Han.

The Sai as a nomadic tribe used to roam about the area from the Ili and Chuhe river basins in the east to the Sir (Syrdarya) River valley in the west. Under pressure from the Rouzhi, they moved westward -some to the north bank of the Sir River, while others southward to scatter in the areas of the Pamirs. The Rouzhi roamed the vast region between the Gansu Corridor and the Tarim Basin during the Warring States Period (475-221 B.C.) and flourished during the Qin (221-206 B.C.) and Han dynasties. Attacked by the Xiongnu around 176 B.C., they were forced to move to the Ili River basin, from which they dislodged the Sai. The Wusun first lived in the Gansu Corridor. In the late Qin and early Han period, attacked by the Rouzhi, they yielded their allegiance to the Xiongnu. Supported by the Xiongnu, the Wusun attacked the Rouzhi, and drove them out of the Ili River basin. The Qiang originally lived along the middle and upper reaches of the Yellow River. During the Spring and Autumn (770-476 B.C.) and Warring States periods, some of the Qiang migrated westward across the Gansu Corridor and the Qilianshan-Kunlunshan mountain ranges, leaving their footprints in Xinjiang. The Xiongnu entered Xinjiang mainly around 176 B.C. The Han was one of the earliest peoples to settle in Xinjiang. In 101 B.C., the Han empire began to station garrison troops to open up wasteland for cultivation of farm crops in Luntai (Bugur), Quli and some other places. Later, it sent troops to all other parts of Xinjiang for the same purpose. All the garrison reclamation points became the early settlements of the Han people after they entered Xinjiang. Since the Western Regions Frontier Command was established in 60 B.C., the inflow of the Han people to Xinjiang, including officials, soldiers and merchants, had never stopped.

The period of the Wei, Jin and Southern and Northern dynasties (220-589) was a period of the large-scale merging of ethnic groups in China, witnessing frequent ethnic migration across the land of China, and the entry into Xinjiang by many ancient ethnic groups, such as the Rouran (Jorjan), Gaoche, Yeda and Tuyuhun. The Rouran were descendants of the Donghu, an ancient people rising on the northern grasslands in the early fifth century. After establishing a powerful regime on the Mongolian grasslands in 402, they struggled with the Northern Wei (386-534) for domination of the Western Regions. The nomadic Gaoche, also called the Tolos or Teli, first appeared around Lake Baikal and the basins of the Orkhon and Tura rivers. In 487, Avochilo, chief of the Puwurgur tribe of the Gaoche, and his brother Qunqi led more than 100,000 families to migrate westward, and founded the State of Gaoche to the northwest of Anterior Cheshi (the ancient city of Jiaohe near modem Turpan). The Yeda, rising in the region north of the Great Wall, moved eastward to the Tarim Basin, attacked the Rouzhi in the south and set up a state in the late fifth century. They crossed the Pamirs, and once controlled part of south Xinjiang. The Tuyuhun, originating from the ancient Xianbei people, moved westward from Liaodong (the region east of the Liaohe River in northeast China) in the early fourth century, and set up their own regime after conquering the ancient Di and Qiang peoples in the region of south Gansu, Sichuan and Qinghai.

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