An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Huihe 回紇, Huihu 回鶻, Weiwur 維吾爾, Uyghurs

Dec 15, 2012 © Ulrich Theobald

The Uyghurs (Uiɣ​urs) were a Türkic-speaking people living in the northwestern parts of modern China. During the Tang period 唐 (618-907) they built up a large state that was the successor the earlier khanates of the Eastern Türks. The Uyghurs were also known under the names Huihe 回紇, Yuange 袁紇, Weige 韋紇, Wuhu 烏護 (Sui period term), from 788 on Huihu 回鶻, from the Yuan period 元 (1279-1368) on Weiwur 畏兀兒 or Uihur. Their descendants are called the National Minority of the Uyghurs (Weiwur zu 維吾爾族).

Some scholars believe that the early Uyghurs were parts of the federation of the Gaoche 高車 or the Tölöš 鐵勒. The term Wuhu 烏護 might be a Chinese transliteration of the Türkic word oɣ​uz (wugusi 烏古斯) that appears in the term toquz oɣ​uz "Nine Oghuz Tribes" that is used in the runic inscriptions of the Eastern Türk empire from the 8th century, as well as in Muslim geographies of the 9th century. These are in Chinese sources called the "Nine Tölöš Tribes" (jiu xing Tiele 九姓鐵勒) or "Nine Uyghur Tribes" (jiu xing Huihu 九姓回鶻).

According to legend, the oldest qaɣ​an (khan, Chinese: kèhán! 可汗) was Buk Khan 卜可汗, who led his people, one of the six tribes of the Gaoche federation, to a region south of the Gobi Desert, where they learned agriculture. The leader of the Uyghurs later rebelled against the Northern Wei dynasty 北魏 (386-534) and migrated back to the north, at least for a while, before they again entered southern regions. Early Tang sources say that the Uyghurs lived at the borders of the River Selengga, north of the Xueyantuo 薛延陀 (Syr Tarduš) federation. Around 600 the Uyghurs, along with the Tölöš tribes of the Xueyantuo, Pugu 僕骨 (or 僕固), Tongluo 同羅 and Qibi 契苾, became subject to the mighty federation of the Türks 突厥, but also from time to time were able to get rid of the Türkish domination.

In 627 the Uyghur khan Pusa 菩薩, son of Shi-jian-qi-jin 時健俟斤, forged an alliance with the Xueyantuo and defeated the Eastern Türks 東突厥. In 630 the armies of the Tang empire captured the leader of the Eastern Türks, Jie-li Khan 頡利可汗, and ended the Former Eastern Türkish Empire. The power vacuum was thereupon filled by Uyghurs and the Xueyantuo, to which the former were subservient from time to time. In 646 the Uyghurs and various other Tölöš tribes supported the Tang empire in their campaign against the Xueyantuo. The Xuanyantuo tribe was defeated, and the Uyghurs from then on took over control over all Tölöš tribes.

The Tang dynasty founded the area command (dudufu 都督府) Hanhai 瀚海 and appointed the leader (iltäbär, or khan) of the Uyghurs, Tu-mi-du 吐迷度, commander-in-chief (dudu 都督) of the area command. He was still khan, but at the same time acted as a kind of official of the Tang empire. This kind of indirect rule over remote territories was called "governing with loose reins" (jimi 羈縻). Six generations of khans occupied this position. The area command Hanhai was subordinated to the protectorate (duhufu 都護府) Yanran 燕然.

The Uyghur Khanate

In 682 the Later Eastern Türkish Empire was founded. Under this pressure, the leader of the Uyghurs led four Tölöš tribes toward the east: The Uyghurs, Xiebi, Hun 渾 and Sijie 思結 migrated into the prefectures Ganzhou 甘州 and Liangzhou 涼州 in the territory of the Tang empire (modern province of Gansu). In the vicinity of Chinese communities the Uyghur tribes adopted more and more a sedentary way of life. In the 740s the Eastern Türkish Empire was shaken by succession struggles among the family of the khan.

In 742 the Uyghurs, Qarluqs 葛邏祿 and Bašmyls 拔悉密 attacked the Türkish khan, Wu-su-mi-shi 烏蘇米施可汗, killed him, and proclaimed the Bašmyl leader Jie-die-yi-shi 頡跌伊施可汗 khan of all Türkish tribes. He was assisted by the two leaders of the Uyghurs and the Qarluqs as tribal administrators (yabɣ​u, Chinese rendering yehu 葉護). Two years later the Uyghur leader, Qutluɣ​ Bilgä (Gu-li Pei-luo 骨力裴羅 or Gu-duo-lu Pi-jia 骨咄祿毗伽), supported by the leader of the Qarluqs, killed Jie-die-yi-shi Khan and proclaimed himself Qutluɣ​ Bilgä Köl Qaɣ​an (Gu-du-lu Pi-jia Que Ke-han 骨咄祿毗伽闕可汗). He moved his seat to the ancient Türkish capital in Qara Balɣ​asun at the banks of River Orkhon (modern Inner Mongolia). The Tang government accepted him as the new leader of the steppe peoples and bestowed him the title of Huairen Khan 懷仁可汗 "Pityful-Kindhearted".

Huairen Khan and his son and successor Mo-yan-chuo 磨延啜, known as Gele Khan 葛勒可汗, built up the powerful Uyghur khanate. The qaɣ​an was assisted by two assistant commander (šad, Chinese rendering sha 殺 or she 設). The system of courtiers was adopted from the Türkish empire, with tribal administrators (yabɣ​u), and 28 lower ranks of ministers. At the same time, some offices of the Tang governmental system were adopted, like counsellors (zaixiang 宰相), commanders-in-chief (dudu), generals (jiangjun 將軍), marshals (sima 司馬), and so on. The khan of the Uyghurs controlled the tribes of the Pugu, Hun, Bayegu 拔野古, Tongluo, Sijie, Xiebi, Abusi 阿布思 and Gulun Oɣ​uz 骨倫屋骨思. The Bašmyl and Qarluqs played an eminent role among the eleven tribes united in the Uyghur federation. Following the example of the Tang empire, the Uyghur khan bestowed the leaders of the tribes the title of commander-in-chief.

The Uyghur tribe itself was led by nine large family clusters, the names of which were Yao-luo-ge 藥羅葛 (Chinese transcription of Yaɣ​laqar; the khan's family), Hu-duo-ge 胡咄葛, Gu-luo-wu 啒羅勿, Mo-ge-xi-qi 貊歌息訖, A-wu-di 阿勿嘀, Ge-sa 葛薩, Hu-wen-su 斛{溫-水+口}素, Yao-wu-ge 藥勿葛 and Xi-ye-wu 奚耶勿. These families were called "inner kinsmen" (nei jiu xing 内九姓), but sometimes also "Nine Uyghur Tribes", which is misleading, because the last term also refers to the tribes that were part of the Uyghur federation (i.e. the Nine Tölöš Tribes), and not proper Uyghurs.

In 755 the Tang dynasty was endangered by the large-scale rebellion of An Lushan 安祿山 (703-757). Two years later, when the capital Chang'an 長安 (modern Xi'an 西安, Shaanxi) was endangered, Gele Khan sent his son with troops to support the Tang dynasty against the insurgent. He was rewarded for his military support with a Chinese princess. Emperor Suzong's 唐肅宗 (r. 756-762) own daughter, Princess Ningguo 寧國公主, was presented as a consort to the Uyghur khan.

In 762 Mouyu Khan 牟羽可汗 also sent troops to help the Tang dynasty against the rebel Shi Siming 史思明. Trade and diplomatic envoys were regularly exchanged between the Tang court and the court of the Uyghur khans. While their ancestors had lived the life of pastoral nomads, the Uyghurs of the eights century had become sedentary and engaged in agriculture and commerce, and became experts in various trades, especially smithry. Border markets served for the exchange of horses and silks. Except merchants, missionaries also arrived in the land of the Uyghurs. They were especially fond of Manicheism.

The next Uyghur khans all mounted the throne after bloody conflicts. At the same time, new enemies appeared in the surroundings, especially the kingdom of Tubo 吐蕃 (also read Tufan, modern Tibet). In 789 Uyghurs and Tibetans fought a heavy battle for the town of Beš Baliq 別失八里 (Chinese name Beiting 北庭). Although marriage politics with the Tang empire continued, and the Tang princess Xian'an 咸安公主 was married to the Uyghur khan, there were only seldomly diplomatic envoys between the Tang court and the seat of the khan.

In 795 the counsellor of the Uyghur khanate who came from the family Xie-die 𨁂跌, usurped the throne of the khan. He was acknowledged by the Tang court and was bestowed the title of Huaixin Khan 懷信可汗 "Pityful-Trustworthy". He founded a new dynasty that revived the power of the Uyghur federation and expanded their domination towards the west. The Uyghur khan controlled the whole region until the banks of River Syr Darya in modern Uzbekistan, and the Ferghana Basin in modern Uzbekistan.

In 821 Chongde Khan 崇德可汗 "Venerating Virtue" mounted the throne and was presented a daughter of Emperor Xianzong 唐憲宗 (r. 805-820), Princess Taihe 太和公主. In the decades thereafter the central power of the Uyghur khanate disintegrated. In 840 the khan was killed by Kirgizes 黠戛斯, and the federation fell apart. Part of the Uyghurs under Te-le-wu-jie Khan 特勒烏介可汗 migrated to the east and found refuge in the Tang empire. They came as far as Taiyuan 太原 in modern Shanxi, but the troops of the military commissioners (jiedushi 節度使) Liu Mian 劉沔 of Taiyuan. E-nian 遏捻 joined the federation of the Xi and the Shiwei 室韋. Another group of Uyghur tribes under Xiang-ji-zhi 相馺職 and Pang-te-qin 龐特勤 joined the Qarluqs, migrated into the territory of Tibet, or even more to the west, into the Protectorate of the Pacified West 安西都護府. Those tribes submitting to the Tibetan kingdom lived in the region of Hexi 河西 (modern Gansu).

Table 1. Rulers of the Uyghur Khanate
Te-jin Tegin 特健俟斤
qi-jin 俟斤 = te-jin 特勤 (erroneously te-le 特勒) = tegin "younger scion"
Pu-sa Tegin 菩薩俟斤
Tu-mi-du 吐迷度, ruler of the Huihe 回紇, family Yaghlaqar (Yaoluoge 藥羅葛氏) ?-648
Po-run 婆閏 648-661
Bilig (Bi-li 比栗, Bi-li-du 比粟毒) 661-?
Tutukčig (Du-jie-zhi 獨解支) ?-715
Fu-di-fu 伏帝匐 715-?
Čengčon (Cheng-zong 承宗) ?-727
Fu-di-nan 伏帝難 727-?
Qutlugh Bilge Köl Qaγan 骨咄祿毗伽闕可汗, short title Köl Bilgä Qaγan 闕毘伽可汗, personal name Gu-li pei-luo 骨力裴羅, Chinese title Huairen Qaghan 懷仁可汗 (r. 744–747)
Täŋridä Bolmiš Il Itmiš Bilgä Qaγan 登里囉没蜜施頡翳徳蜜施毘伽可汗, short title Ge-le Qaghan 葛勒可汗, personal name Bayan Chur (Mo-yan-chuo 磨延啜), Chinese title Yingwu Weiyuan Qaghan 英武威遠可汗 (r. 747–759)
Täŋridä Qut Bolmiš Il Tutmiš Alp Külüg Bilgä Qaγan 登里囉汩没蜜施頡咄登蜜施合倶録毘伽可汗, short title Bögu Qaγan (Mou-yu Qaghan 牟羽可汗) or Täŋri Qaγan 登里可汗, personal name Yi-di-jian 移地健, Chinese title Yingyi Qaghan 英義可汗 (r. 759–779)
Alp Qutluγ Bilgä Qaγan 合骨咄祿毗伽可汗 (Tun Baγa Tarqan 頓莫賀達干), Chinese title Wuyi Chenggong Qaghan 武義成功可汗 or Changshou Tianqin Qaghan 長壽天親可汗 (r. 779–789)
Ai Tengride Bolmiš Külüg Bilgä Qaγan 愛登里邏汩沒密施俱錄毗伽可汗, short title Külüg Bilgä Qaγan, personal name Duo-luo-si 多邏斯, Chinese title Zhongzhen Qaghan 忠貞可汗, ruler of the Huigu 回鶻 (r. 789–790)
Qutluγ Bilgä Qaγan 汩咄錄毗伽可汗, personal name A-chuo 阿啜, Chinese title Fengcheng Qaghan 奉誠可汗 (r. 790–795)
Ai Täŋridä Uluγ Bolmiš Alp Qutluγ Külüg Bilgä Qaγan 愛騰里邏羽錄沒密施合祿胡毗伽可汗, personal name Qutluγ (Gu-duo-lu 骨咄祿), Chinese title Huaixin Qaghan 懷信可汗, family A-die 阿跌氏 (r. 795–808)
Täŋridä Alp Külüg Bilgä Qaγan 滕里野合俱錄毘伽可汗 (Teng-li Qaghan 滕里可汗) (r. 805–808)
Ay Täŋridä Qut Bolmiš Alp Bilgä Qaγan 愛登里羅汩密施合毗伽可汗, Chinese title Baoyi Qaghan 保義可汗 (r. 808–821)
Kün Täŋridä Uluγ Bolmiš Küčlüg Bilgä Qaγan 登囉羽錄沒密施句主毗伽可汗, Chinese title Chongde Qaghan 崇德可汗 (r. 821–824)
Ay Täŋridä Qut Bolmiš Alp Bilgä Qaγan 愛登里囉汩沒密施合毗伽可汗, personal name Qasar (Ge-sa Te-le 曷薩特勒), Chinese title Zhaoli Qaghan 昭禮可汗 (r. 824–832)
Ay Täŋridä Qut Bolmiš Alp Külüg Bilgä Qaγan 愛登里囉汩沒密施合句錄毗伽可汗, personal name Hu Te-qin 胡特勤, Chinese title Zhangxin Qaghan 彰信可汗 (r. 832–839)
Kasar Qaγan (Ke-sa Tegin 㕎馺特勤), family Xiadie 硤跌
(r. 839–840)
Öge Qaγan (Wu-jie Qaghan 烏介可汗) (r. 841–847)
E-nian Qaghan 遏捻可汗 (r. 846-848)
Ay Tengride Kut Bolmiš Alp Kutluγ Bilgä Qaγan 溫祿登里邏汩沒密施合俱錄毗伽可汗, personal name Menglig Qaγan (Mang Te-qin 厖特勤), Chinese title Huaijian Qaghan 懷建可汗
Moved his political centre to the west.
(r. 848-?)

The Uyghurs of Ganzhou 甘州回鶻 or Uyghurs of Hexi 河西回鶻

The Hexi corridor had long been inhabited by peoples of various ethnic stock, from Chinese settlers to descendants of the Xiongnu, to, more recently, Tibetans and Tanguts. When the Uyghur khanate disintegrated, the Tibetan kingdom of Tubo was also losing control over its northern regions. Some Uyghur tribes therefore migrated to this region and settled down in the prefectures of Qinzhou 秦州, Liangzhou, Ganzhou, Suzhou 肅州, Guazhou 瓜州 and Shazhou 沙州 (Dunhuang 敦煌).

In the 890s the Uyghurs of Ganzhou founded a khanate. Some scholars believe that the founder of this khanate was Pang-te-qin who first came to Yanqi 焉耆 (Türkic name Qarašahr) before he later went on to Ganzhou and finally to Xizhou 西州 (Türkic name Turpan or Turfan), where he founded the Uyghur khanate of Xizhou. In the tenth century the Ganzhou Uyghurs were led by Ren-mei 仁美 and Ren-yu 仁裕 who were granted the titles of Yingyi Khan 英義可汗 "Flowering righteousness" (Wumuzhu Khan 烏母主可汗) and Shunhua 順化可汗 "Obedient" or Fenghua Khan 奉化可汗 by the rulers of the Five Dynasties 五代 (907-960) in northern China. Khans of this tribe bore the family name Ye-luo-he 夜落紇, Ye-luo-ge 夜落隔 or Yi-lu-ge-le 伊嚕格勒, which are all Chinese transcriptions of "Yaɣ​laqar".

Table 2. Khans of the Ganzhou Uyghurs, family Yao-luo-ge 藥羅葛
Huaijian Khan 懷建可汗, personal name Pang-te-qin 龐特勤 * (or Pugu Jun 僕固俊) ()
Yingyi Khan 英義可汗, personal name Ren-mei 仁美 (911-924)
Shunhua Khan 順化可汗, from 936 奉化可汗 Fenghua Khan, personal name Ren-yu 仁裕, A-duo-yu 阿咄欲, or Di-yin 狄銀 (924-959)
personal name Jing-jiong 景瓊 (960-975)
Ye-luo-he Mi-li-e 夜落紇密禮遏 (976-983)
Lu-sheng 祿勝 (khan of the Xizhou Uyghurs?) (998-1003)
Zhongshun Baode Khan 忠順保德可汗, personal name Ye-luo-he 夜落紇 or Ye-luo-ge 夜落隔 (1004-1016)
Huaining Shunhua Khan 懷甯順化可汗, personal name Ye-luo-ge Gui-hua 夜落隔歸化 (1016-1023)
Guizhong Baoshun Khan 歸忠保順可汗, personal name Ye-luo-ge Tong-shun 夜落隔通順 (1023-1028)
Baoguo Khan 寶國可汗, personal name Yi-lu-ge-le Ya-su 伊嚕格勒雅蘇 (1028-1032)
* hyphens signify Chinese transcription of foreign names

From 961 on, after the foundation of the Song empire 宋 (960-1279) in China, the Ganzhou Uyghurs established friendly relations with the Song and accepted their suzerainty. These diplomatic relations were of great importance for Song China because the Uyghurs controlled the eastern part of the Silk Road. In the early eleventh century the Gansu Uyghurs entered a long period of conflict with the Tanguts 黨項 of Xiazhou 夏州 (modern Baichengzi 白城子, Inner Mongolia).

In 1003 the leader of the Tanguts, Li Jiqian 李繼遷, attacked Xiliang 西涼, but his troops were engaged by the "barbarian tribes" of the six valleys (liu gu fan bu 六谷蕃部), and Li Jiqian died. The Gansu Uyghurs thereupon prepared for war with the Tanguts. In 1008 the Uyghurs were able to destroy a Tangut contingent under the command of a certain Wanzi 萬子. A year later the Tanguts tried in vain to conquer Liangzhou, and the Ganzhou Uyghurs used this chance to take possession of this prefecture. In the same year the ruler of the Liao empire 遼 (907-1125), Emperor Shengzong 遼聖宗 (r. 982-1030), campaigned against the west and three times defeated the Uyghurs, in 1008, 1010, and in 1026. These setbacks critically weakened the Uyghurs, so that the leader of the Tanguts, Li Yuanhao 李元昊 (Emperor Jingzong 西夏景宗, r. 1032-1048), took the chance to take over control over the region of Hexi, and founded the Western Xia empire 西夏 (1038-1227). The Tanguts destroyed the Ganzhou khanate, and the Uyghurs moved farther to the west, to Guazhou and Shazhou.

The Uyghurs of Shazhou (Dunhuang) 沙州回鶻

The Uyghurs living in the region of Shazhou (Dunhuang) from the beginning declared that they were willing to accept the suzerainty of the new Tangut empire. At the same time they delivered tributed to the Song empire. In 1019 the leader of the Tanguts bestowed upon Cao Shun 曹順, who had adopted the old title of military commissioner of Guiyi 歸義, the title of Commandery Prince of Dunhuang 敦煌郡王. In 1030 Guazhou surrendered to the Western Xia empire of the Tanguts, and in 1036 the Uyghurs of Shazhou also accepted to be part of the Tangut empire. The title of "prince" was still used in later years.

It is recorded for 1041 for the "prince defender-of-the-state" (zhenguo wangzi 鎮國王子) and for the princely khan (kehan wang 可汗王) of Shazhou. The term zhenguo is probably a translation of the Uyghurian term il tutmyš, which was one of the cognomina of the khan. In 1127 the name of a ruler called Huo-la-san Khan 活剌散可汗 is recorded, which shows that the Uyghurs of Shazhou still had a certain autonomy in the Western Xia empire.

The Uyghurs of Kočo and Turfan (Xizhou Huihu 西州回鶻)

Around 843 the Uyghurs living in the northern parts of the Tianshan Range migrated southwards. Under the leadership of Pangtele they settled down in Yanqi. Pangtele called himself yabɣ​u and occupied the city states of Qiuci 龜茲 (Türkic name Kuča) and Gaochang 高昌 (Türkic name Kočo), where he was able to expel Kirgiz tribes. He founded the Uyghur khanate of Gaochang that was widely known as a powerful realm. Even the Tang court dispatched an envoy, Wang Duanzhang 王端章, in 857.

In 866 a Türkish chieftain called Pugu Jun 僕固俊 proclaimed himself khan, with the support of the Kirgizes, or probably the Tibetans. He was able to control the towns of Luntai 輪臺, Beiting 北庭 and Qingzhen 清鎮. The khanates of Gaochang delivered tributes to the Song court during the late tenth century. In 981 the khan of Gaochang adopted the title of Lion Khan (Arslan Khan). In the history Yuanshi 元史 and the book Kutadgu bilig (Chinese name Fule zhihui 福樂智慧) the khan of Gaochang is called with the old title idqut (Chinese transcription yiduhu 亦都護) "leader", which was an old term used by the Bašmyl tribe.

Table 3. Khans of the Kočo (Gaochang) Uyghurs
Ilig Bilgä T[e]ngri (Jie-li Pi-jia Tianwang 頡利·毗伽·天王) (c. 954)
Arslan Bilgä T[e]ngri ilig (A-er-si-lan Pi-jia Tianwang 阿兒思蘭·毗伽·天王), Süngülüg Qaghan (Sun-gu-lü ke-han 孫古律可汗) (c. 981, 984)
Bügü Bilgä T[e]ngri ilig (Sheng Pi-jia Tianwang 聖·毗伽·王天) (c. 996-1007)
Alp Arsla Qutlugh Kül Bilgä T[e]ngri Qan (He A-er-si-lan Guo-du-lu Que Pi-jia Tian-han 合·阿兒思蘭·骨咄祿·闕·毗伽·天汗) (c. 1007-1019/1024)
Kül Bilgä T[e]ngri Qan (Que Pijia 闕·毗伽·王汗) (1024-?)
T[e]ngri Bügü il Bilgä Arslan Tngri Uighur Tärkän 天聖國·毗伽·阿兒思蘭·天·回鹘·答兒罕) (1068-?)
Bilgä (Bi-le-ge 畢勒哥) (c. 1123)
Yue-er Tie-mu-er 月兒帖木儿 (?-1229)
Barčuq Art iduq-qut (Ba-er-zhu A-er-te Yi-du-hu 巴而术·阿而忒·亦都護) (1229-1241)
Kesmez iduq-qut (Qie-shi-mi-si 怯失迷思) (1242-1246)
Salïndï Tigin iduq-qut (Sa-ling-ding Di-jin 撒怜丁·的斤) (?-1253)
Ögrünch Tigin iduq-qut (Yugulun-chi Di-jin 玉古倫赤·的斤) (1253-1257)
Mamuraq Tigin iduq-qut (Ma-mu-la Di-jin 馬木剌·的斤) (1257-1265)
Qosqar Tigin iduq-qut (Huo-chi-ha-er Di-jin 火赤哈儿·的斤) (1266-1280)
Negüril Tigin iduq-qut (Niu-lin Di-jin 紐林·的斤) (1280-1318)
Tämir Buqa iduq-qut (Tie-mu-er Pu-hua 帖睦爾普化) (1322-1330)
Senggi iduq-qut (Qian-ji 籛吉) (1330-1332)
Taipindu iduq-qut (Tai-ping-nu 太平奴) (1332-1352)
Kiräsiz iduq-qut (Chi-la-shi-si 吃剌失思), subject of Chagatai Khanate (?-1309/18)
Köncök iduq-qut (Kuan-che 寬徹), subject of Chagatai Khanate (1309/18-1326/34年)
Ching Timür iduq-qut (Cheng Tie-mu-er 成帖木兒), subject of Chagatai Khanate (c. 1352-1348/60)
* hyphens signify Chinese transcription of foreign names

In the same year the Song court accepted his new title and dispatched an envoy to Gaochang. The diplomat Wang Yande 王延德 was hosted in the khan's summer palace in Beiting, while Gaochang was his winter residence. He returned in 984 and has written a report of his travel to the khanate of Gaochang, the book Gaochang xingji 高昌行紀 that is preserved in fragments. The khanate of Gaochang had an intense relationship with Song China. The city states in the region flourished during that time. Manicheism, Buddhism and Nestorianism found a lot of adherents. A lot of religious books were translated into the Uyghurian language. For this purpose, the Uyghurians made use of the Syrian script (also called Soghdian script), in which the books of the Nestorians were written. The script was later changed and adopted by the Mongols. From the 10th century on the old names of the city states of the Silkroad were gradually replaced by Uighurian names, like Qarašahr for Yanqi, Kuča for Qiuci, or Kočo or Turpan for Gaochang.

In the 1120s the khan of the Gaochang Uyghurs was called Bilge Khan (Bi-le-ge ke-han 畢勒哥可汗). At that time the Liao empire of the Khitans 契丹 was endangered by the Jurchens 女真. When the latter conquered the Liao empire, invaded the northern parts of the Song empire and founded the Jin dynasty 金 (1115-1234), a scion of the Liao dynasty, Yelü Dashi 耶律大石, led part of the Khitans and migrated to the west. He was able to enforce the submission of Bilge Khan. As Emperor Dezong 西遼德宗 (r. 1124-1143) of the Western Liao 西遼 (1124-1211), he established a supervising governor-regent (jianguo 監國) in Gaochang.

When the power of the Mongols 蒙古 grew in the early 13th century, the idqut of the Uyghurs, Barčuq Art Tegin (Ba-er-zhu A-er-te Di-jin 巴而朮阿而忒的斤), saw his chance to shake off the yoke of the Western Liao and offered his submission to Činggis Qaɣan. The mighty khan rewarded the Uyghurs of Kočo for this offer by integrating them into the administrative layers of his empire. Uyghurs were important advisors in cultural, military and literary matters not only in the first decades of the Mongol empire, but remained for more than one century the Mongols' most important technical and administrative elite.

The Yellow Head Uyghurs 黃頭回紇

The Yellow Head Uyghurs (Huangtou Huihe 黃頭回紇 or Huangtou Huihu 黃頭回鶻) are seen as a tribe of the Hexi or Ganzhou Uyghurs, but might as well be descendans of the Xizhou or Turfan Uyghurs. They are first mentioned in 1081 as Uyghurs that had migrated to the east as a consequence of the destruction of the Ganzhou Uyghurs' khanate by the Western Xia empire. Part of them migrated to the west, to Turfan that was controlled by a chieftain called Gu-si-luo 唃廝囉, part migrated to Xizhou more eastwards and into the Gansu corridor, and a third part moved to Shazhou 沙州 (modern Dunhuang 敦煌, Gansu).

The latter are known as the Yellow Head Uyghurs. They settled between Dunhuang and the Tsaidam Basin and between Khotan and the region of Cercen, Ruoqiang and Lop Noor. The Yellow Head Uyghurs delivered tributes to the Song and Liao courts and resisted the military force of the Western Xia empire. They were pastoral nomads and worshipped the Buddha. There are several explanations for the term "Yellow Head". One explanation is that "yellow" in the Altai languages meant a superior person, or ruler. Another explanation is that the tribe of the Yellow Türgiš 黃色突騎施 that became part of the Uyghur federation, gave them their name. Other explanations argue with yellow robes, yellow hair or yellow headscarves, or a congruence with the Yellow Head Shiwei 黃頭室韋. A further explanation is that in the Uyghurian language, the word for "yellow" (sériq) is very similar to that of the city of Shule 疏勒 (ancient pronunciation ʃĭɑ lək, i.e. Kašgar). The sound was wrongly interpreted by the Chinese as "yellow".

In the 13th century they were called Sali Uyghurs 撒里畏兀. The descendants of the Yellow Head Uyghurs are identified as the present National Minority of the Yughurs 裕固族.

The Uyghurs of Kuča 龜茲回鶻

Some historians discern the Uyghurs from Kočo and Turpan from those of Kuča (the former Qiuci). They also dwelled in the city states of the southern route of the Silkroad, for instance, in Khotan (the former Yutian 于闐). In the eastern parts of the Tarim Basin, around Lake Lop Noor, the so-called Yellow Head Uyghurs 黃頭回鶻 were dwelling. The rulers of the Kuča Uyghurs also called themselves Arslan Khan. In 1001 the ruler of the Kuča Uyghurs, who bore the title of Wang Lusheng 王祿勝, "Khan and military tarqan (a very old title similar to khan), great commander-in-chief of grand Uyghurs Kuča in the prefecture of the Pacified West" (da Huihu Qiuci Anxizhou da dudu chanyu jun kehan 大回鶻龜茲安西州大都督單于軍剋韓) sent his military affairs commissioner (shumishi 樞密使) Cao Wantong 曹萬通 to the court of the Song empire to offer tributes. He offered cooperation with the Song in fighting the Tangut leader Li Jiqian. In the next decades the Uyghurs of Kuča sent manytribute envoys to the Song court.

The Uyghurs of Kašgar

Uyghur tribes that migrated to the west under the leadership of Pangtejin and Xiangjizhi founded the empire of the Black Khans (Qara Qan, Chinese translation Heihan 黑汗). The capital of this empire was Balasaghun modern Tokmak, Kirgizstan), and it covered the region between the River Amu Darya and the city states on the southern route of the Silkroad, like Kašgar (the former Shule 疏勒) and Khotan. In the eleventh century the Qaraqan empire was split into a western part (with the capital Xunsigan 尋思干, modern Samarkand) and an eastern part (with the capital Kašgar). In the 1130s both empires fell under the control of the Western Liao empire that was founded by a scion of the Khitan Liao dynasty who had migrated to the west. He took over the Türkic title of ilek "king" that was used by the khans of the Qaraqan empires. In the beginning of the 13th century the eastern khanate fell apart, while the western khanate was conquered by the shah of Khwarezm.

Around 950 the warrior religion of the Islam spread to Central Asia. Because of its simple contents it was willingly adopted by the Uyghurs in the Qaraqan empire and soon proclaimed as the orthodox state religion. The Uyghurs were the first Türkish people converting to Islam.

The Qaraqans promoted commerce and culture. The most important products of Uyghur literature were Yusūf Khāṣṣ Ḥājib's ballad Kutadgu bilig, and Maḥmūd al-Kāšġarī's dictionary Dīwānu 'l-luġat at-Turk.

The Uyghurs under the Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties

From the Yuan period on the different Uyghurs were called Weiwur 畏兀兒, Weiwur 畏午兒, Weiwur 畏吾兒, Weiwu 偉兀, Weiwur 偉吾而, Weiwu 衛吾, Weiwu 委兀, Waiwu 外五, Guigu 瑰古, or Wuyu 烏鵒. Their rulers continued using the old Bašmyl title of iduq qut (Chinese rendering yiduhu 亦都護). From the 12th century on the Uyghur tribes were subject to the Western Liao empire.

The Western Liao emperors appointed junior overseers (shaojian 少監) to control the Uyghur tribes. They resided in Qaraqočo 哈剌火州 (the former Gaochang). When these overseers became ever more arrogant and oppressive, the Uyghur leader Barčuq Art Tegin (Ba-er-zhu A-er-te Di-jin 巴而朮阿而忒的斤) killed the overseer and declared his alliance with Činggis Qaɣan, leader of a powerful Mongol federation. Arte Tegin was highly rewarded with the title of "fifth son of the khan", and was given Princess Ye-li An-dun 也立安敦 to his wife. He was reconfirmed his dynastic rights as highest ruler over the Uyghurs. In Qaraqočo and Beš Baliq he was allowed to appoint overseers (daruɣ​ači, Chinese transcription daluhuachi 達魯花赤). The great khans Öködei and Güyük appointed the Uyghur chieftain Mas'ud (Ma-su-hu 麻速忽) chief tax collector of whole northern China. Great khan Möngke appointed the Uyghurs Ne-huai 訥懷 and Ta-la-hai 塔剌海 heads of the branch department of state affairs (xing shangshusheng 行尚書省, a kind of provincial government) of Beš Baliq.

After the death of Möngke, the throne of the great khan was heavily contested. The Uyghurs sided with Qubilai, and therefore their territory was invaded by Qaidu 海都, Temüder 帖木迭兒, Du'a 篤哇 and Busma 布思麻. They besieged Qaraqočo. When the iduq qut Qočqar Tegin (Huo-chi-ha-er di-jin 火赤哈兒的斤) besieged the city of Hamili 哈密力 (Hami), he died in battle. He was succeeded by his son Neguril Tegin (Niu-lin di-jin 紐林的斤) who was forced to move his seat of government to the east, to Yongchang 永昌 in the province of Gansu.

In 1286 Qubilai Khan founded chief military commands in the pacification offices (xuanweisi duyuanshuai fu 宣慰司都元帥府) in Beš Baliq and Hezhou 和州 (the former Qaraqočo), in order to protect the western region against intrusions by Qaidu and Du'a. Under Qubilai's successor Emperor Chengzong 元成宗 (r. 1294-1307) a further pacification office was founded in Beiting. The administrative apparatus under the Uyghur leaders was also reorganised. The office of judge (duanshiguan 斷事官) was created, a protectorate (duhufu 都護府) of Beiting was founded, a grand protectorate (da duhufu 大都護府) over the western regions, and a Court of Judicial Review (dalisi 大理寺). Emperor Renzong 元仁宗 (r. 1311-1320) made the Uyghur leader prince or king (wang 王) of Gaochang, with a princely mentor (wangfu 王傅). The king of Gaochang was so practically made an official of the Mongol Yuan empire and had the responsibility to administer the affairs of all Uyghurs, within and without his proper domain.

The most important economical and cultural center of the region was the Turfan oasis that was particularly famous for its agricultural products, especially for cotton, sesame, melons and grapes, of which a superb wine was made. The craftsmen of Turfan were known for their excellent silversmithry works, as well as for their high quality cotton products. The great khan had therefore resettled many Uyghur craftsmen to the capital Dadu 大都 (modern Beijing), where they produced objects for the imperial court. Turfan is also known for the rich work in printing products of books written in many languages and scripts, like Syrian, Mongolian, Sanskrit, Tibetan, Chinese, and Tangutan. These books were printed with moveable letters, as can be seen in documents from around 1300 that were discovered in Dunhuang. Much famous is the network of courier stations that was founded under Chagatai and enlarged under the emperors of the Yuan dynasty. The courier stations linked Central Asia with China and were an important contribution of the so-called Pax Mongolica, under which East and Central Asia prospered during the late 13th century. Marco Polo and many other merchants traveled along the Silkroad to China.

Trade was made easier by the creation of paper bills that were accepted in many parts of the Yuan empire. In the Silkroad region, the Yuan government founded a supervisorate of paper money (jiaochao tijusi 交鈔提舉司) and a paper money storehouse (jiaochaoku 交鈔庫). The most important paper bills used in the Uyghur region were the Zhongtong note 中統鈔 and the Zhiyuan baochao note 至元寳鈔 issued during the reign of Qubilai.

As a literate people the Uyghurs played a great role in the administration of the Yuan empire. Taiyang Khan 太陽可汗, ruler of the Naiman 乃蠻, made the Uyghur Ta-ta-tong-a 塔塔統阿 his mentor. He also served as a tutor of Činggis Qaɣan's sons. Ha-la-yi Ha-chi Bei-lu 哈剌亦哈赤北魯 was tutor of the emperor of the Western Liao before he became a teacher of the Mongol princes. These persons used the Syrian script, by which the Uyghur language was written, to create a script to write the Mongolian language. Yue-lin Temür 岳麟帖木兒, Si-ban 昔班, Meng-su-si 孟速思 and Bu-lu-hai-ya 布魯海牙 served the Mongol lords Wo-chi-jin 斡赤斤, Öködei and Tolui and made them educated and literate persons. Some of them also took over highly responsible tasks in the tax administration, in military matters, or the organisation of craftsmen.

The location of the Silkroad made it necessary the many Uighurs were fluent in a lot of languages. The Mongols therefore also employed them as translators in the Hanlin Academy 翰林院, where state documents were processed and drafted. They translated important administrative texts as the Zhenguan zhengyao 貞觀政要 and histories like the Zizhi tongjian 資治通鑒 into Mongolian, and Mongolian laws into Chinese. The most important members of the compilation team of the official dynastic histories of the Liao and Jin empires, the Liaoshi 遼史 and Jinshi 金史, were Uyghurs. Uyghurs were also responsible for the veritable records of the Yuan dynasty. Some Uyghurs even professed in Chinese poetry, like Lian Dun 廉惇 or Guan Yunshi 貫雲石. Shuo-si Ji-wo-jie-er 搠思吉斡節兒 wrote an essay about the Mongolian language called Xingu 心箍. Lu Mingshan 魯明善 wrote an agricultural book called Nongsang yishi cuoyao 農桑衣食撮要, and Sa-de-mi-shi 薩德彌實 wrote a medical treatise called Ruizhutang jingyan fang 瑞竹堂經驗方.

During the Yuan period many Uyghurs moved eastwards into China proper, first into the provinces of Gansu and Shaanxi, but later on also to other parts of China. Today, they are ethnically not any more distinct from the Chinese, but their religions, Islam, has survived, so that they are known as the national minority of the Hui 回族. What has also survived, are their particular professions, like peasants cultivating cotton, melons, or grapes, producing wine and brandy.

In the 17th century the Uyghur leader of Yarkant 葉爾羌 (former Shache 莎車) proclaimed himself khan, but was willing to deliver tributes to the court of the Ming dynasty 明 (1368-1644), and from 1646 on to the Qing dynasty 清 (1644-1911). In the late 17th century the federation of the Dzunghars became stronger and stronger, and in 1678 they transgressed the Tianshan range, endangering the Uyghur city states in the Tarim Basin. They destroyed the khanate of Yarkant and took over control over the whole western territories.

The Kangxi emperor thereupon decided to challenge Galdan Khan (Chinese transcription Ga-er-dan 噶爾丹), the leader of the Dzunghars. In 1696, E-bei-du-la 額貝都拉 (Abdullah?), the Uyghur leader of Hami, the easternmost Uyghur community, declared their alliance with the Qing. The leader of Turfan, Emin Hoja 額敏和卓, submitted to the Qing in 1720. Allied Uyghur leaders were highly rewarded by the Qing court and were reconfirmed in their hereditary positions of community leaders.

In 1755 the Qing troops conquered Ili 伊犂, the former Ili Baliq. The Qianlong Emperor ordered all Uyghurs that had been forced by the Dzunghars to settle down in Ili, to return to their ancient towns south of the Tianshan Range. In 1759 the Qing armies put down the rebellion of the Great and Lesser Khojas of Kašgar and pacified the western territories. The region was from then on given the designation "new borderlands" (xinjiang 新疆). The highest Qing official of the region was the General of Yili 伊犂將軍. In all imporant oasis town south of the Tianshan Range, a Grand Minister Consultant (canzan dachen 參贊大臣) and a Grand Minister Superintendent (banshi dachen 辦事大臣) was appointed. The Qing officials were only responsible for military matters, while civilian matters continued to be cared for by each local beg (Chinese rendering boke 伯克). A new currency was introduced, and the old pul coins were replaced by imperial Qing coins. Taxes were also geared to the Qing model, and became lighter than before. This is the main reason for the long peace that ruled in Xinjiang until the mid-19th century. The only exception was the rebellion of the Uyghurs in Uš 烏什 (Učturpan) in 1765.

Only when the Qing government was substantially weakened after the two Anglo-Chinese wars (the so-called Opium Wars) and the Taiping uprising, the Uyghur communities began rebelling against the Qing colonisation. In 1864 the Holy War was proclaimed against the Qing occupation. Yet Xinjiang was also threatened by foreign incursions, like the activities in 1865 of Jihangir (Chinese transcription Zhang Ge'er 張格爾) and Muhammed Yusup (Chinese transcription Yusupu 玉素普) that were supported by the Sultan of Kokand 浩罕. A year earlier, and then again in 1870 and 1876, Russian troops had threatened the border garrison of Ili. In the 1870s Yakub Beg (Chinese transcription Agubo 阿古柏) rebelled against the Qing empire.

In 1884 Xinjiang was made a province, and the old system of indirect administration by begs was given up. Instead, Qing prefects and magistrates were appointed to administer the communities. Simultaneously, the Uyghur population became direct subjects to the Qing, and peasants were liberated from the corvée labour they formerly had to deliver to the local begs. Local potentates nevertheless tried to retain power and defended their hereditary rights against the Qing officials. Only in 1931 the status of beg was abolished.

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Further reading:
Mackerras, Colin (1994). "The Uighurs", in Denis Sinor, ed. The Cambridge History of Early Inner Asia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 317-342.