For other uses, see Xinjiang (disambiguation).
Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region
Autonomous region
Name transcription(s)
  Chinese 新疆维吾尔自治区
(Xīnjiāng Wéiwú'ěr Zìzhìqū)
  Abbreviation  (Pinyin: Xīn)
  Uyghur شىنجاڭ ئۇيغۇر ئاپتونوم رايونى
  Uyghur transl. Shinjang Uyghur Aptonom Rayoni

Map showing the location of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region

Map showing the location of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region
Coordinates: 41°N 85°E / 41°N 85°E / 41; 85Coordinates: 41°N 85°E / 41°N 85°E / 41; 85
Named for
  • 新 xīn ("New")
  • 疆 jiāng ("Frontier")
  • Gansu Province's "New Frontier" (old borderland newly returned)
(and largest city)
Divisions 14 prefectures, 99 counties, 1005 townships
  Secretary Chen Quanguo
  Chairman Shohrat Zakir
  Total 1,664,897 km2 (642,820 sq mi)
Area rank 1st
Population (2010)[2]
  Total 21,815,815
  Estimate (31 December 2014)[3] 22,980,000
  Rank 25th
  Density 13/km2 (30/sq mi)
  Density rank 29th
 and dialects
ISO 3166 code CN-65
GDP (2014) CNY 926.4 billion
US$ 150.8 billion (25th)
 - per capita CNY 40,607
US$ 6,611 (16th)
HDI (2010) 0.667[5] (medium) (22nd)
Website Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region

"Xinjiang" in Chinese characters
Chinese name
Chinese 新疆
Postal Sinkiang
Literal meaning Gansu Province's "New Frontier" (old borderland newly returned)
Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region
Simplified Chinese 新疆维吾尔自治区
Traditional Chinese 新疆維吾爾自治區
Postal Sinkiang Uyghur Autonomous Region
Mongolian name
Mongolian Cyrillic
Синжийан Уйғур-ун өбэртэгэн жасақу орун
Mongolian script

ᠰᠢᠨᠵᠢᠶᠠᠩ ᠤᠶᠢᠭᠤᠷ ᠤᠨ ᠥᠪᠡᠷᠲᠡᠭᠡᠨ ᠵᠠᠰᠠᠬᠤ ᠣᠷᠤᠨ

Uyghur name
شىنجاڭ ئۇيغۇر ئاپتونوم رايونى
Russian name
Russian Синьцзян
Romanization Sińcźan
Kazakh name

شينجياڭ ۇيعۇر اۆتونوميالى رايونى

Шыңжаң Ұйғыр аутономиялық ауданы
Şıñjañ Uyğır awtonomïyalıq awdanı
Kyrgyz name

شئنجاڭ ۇيعۇر اپتونوم رايونۇ

Шинжаң-Уйгур автоном району
Şincañ-Uyğur avtonom rayonu
Oirat name
Oirat Зуунгар

Xinjiang (Uyghur: شىنجاڭ, ULY: Shinjang; Mandarin pronunciation: [ɕíntɕjɑ́ŋ]; Chinese: 新疆; pinyin: Xīnjiāng), officially the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, is an provincial-level autonomous region of China in the northwest of the country. It is the largest Chinese administrative division, the 8th largest country subdivision in the world, spanning over 1.6 million km2 (0.64 million square miles).[1] It contains the disputed territory of Aksai Chin administered by China. Xinjiang borders the countries of Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. The rugged Karakoram, Kunlun, and Tian Shan mountain ranges occupy much of Xinjiang's borders, as well as its western and southern regions. Xinjiang also borders Tibet Autonomous Region and the provinces of Gansu and Qinghai. The most well-known route of the historical Silk Road ran through the territory from the east to its northwestern border. In recent decades, abundant oil and mineral reserves have been found in Xinjiang, and it is currently China's largest natural gas-producing region.

It is home to a number of ethnic groups including the Han, Kazakhs, Tajiks, Hui, Uyghur, Kyrgyz, Mongols, and Russians.[6] More than a dozen autonomous prefectures and counties for minorities are in Xinjiang. Older English-language reference works often refer to the area as "Chinese Turkestan".[7] Xinjiang is divided into the Dzungarian Basin in the north and the Tarim Basin in the south by a mountain range. Only about 4.3% of Xinjiang's land area is fit for human habitation.[8]

With a documented history of at least 2,500 years, a succession of peoples and empires have vied for control over all or parts of this territory. The territory came under the rule of the Qing dynasty in the 18th century, which was later replaced by the Republic of China government. Since 1949, it has been part of the People's Republic of China following the Chinese Civil War. In 1954, Xinjiang Bingtuan has been set up to strengthen the border defense against Soviet Union, and also promote local economy. In 1955, Xinjiang has been turned into a autonomous region from a province. In the last decades, there are tensions regarding Xinjang's political status and dissident groups are active in exile.[9][10] Amnesty International said that activists in Xinjiang have been arrested and tortured.[11]


Under the Han dynasty, which drove the Xiongnu empire out of the region in 60 BC, Xinjiang was previously known as Xiyu (西域) or Qurighar (Қуриғар), meaning "Western Region". This was in an effort to secure the profitable routes of the Silk Road.[12] Dzungaria was known as Zhunbu (準部, "Dzungar region") and the Tarim Basin was known as Huijiang (回疆, "Muslim Frontier") during the Qing dynasty before both regions were merged and became the region of "Gansu Xinjiang", later simplified as "Xinjiang".

The general region of Xinjiang has been known by many names in earlier times including "Western Regions",[13] Khotan, Khotay, Chinese Tartary, High Tartary, East Chagatay (it was eastern part of Chagatai Khanate), Moghulistan ("land of the Mongols"), Kashgaria, Altishahr ("the six cities" of the Tarim), Little Bokhara and Serindia (due to Indian cultural influence).[14] The name "Xinjiang", which literally means "New Frontier" or "New Borderland", was given during the Qing dynasty. According to the Chinese statesman Zuo Zongtang's report to the Emperor of Qing, Xinjiang means an "old land newly returned" (故土新归). For instance, present-day Jinchuan County was known as "Jinchuan Xinjiang'". In the same manner, present-day Xinjiang was known as "Gansu Xinjiang" (甘肃新疆), which means Gansu Province's "New Frontier". After 1821, the Qing changed the names of the other regained regions, and "Xinjiang" became the name specifically of present-day Xinjiang.[15]

The name "East Turkestan" was created by Russian Sinologist Hyacinth to replace the term "Chinese Turkestan" in 1829.[notes 1] "East Turkestan" was used traditionally to only refer to the Tarim Basin, and not Xinjiang as a whole, with Dzungaria being excluded from the area consisting of "East Turkestan".

In 1955, Xinjiang province was renamed Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The name that was originally proposed was simply "Xinjiang Autonomous Region". Saifuddin Azizi, the first chairman of Xinjiang, registered his strong objections to the proposed name with Mao Zedong, arguing that "autonomy is not given to mountains and rivers. It is given to particular nationalities." Mao agreed and the administrative region was named "Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region" to recognize its significant ethnic Uyghur population.


Dzungaria (Red) and the Tarim Basin (Blue)
Northern Xinjiang (Junggar Basin) (Yellow), Eastern Xinjiang- Turpan Depression (Turpan Prefecture and Hami Prefecture) (Red), and Southern Xinjiang/the Tarim Basin (Blue)

Xinjiang consists of two main geographically, historically, and ethnically distinct regions with different historical names, Dzungaria north of the Tianshan Mountains and the Tarim Basin south of the Tianshan Mountains, before Qing China unified them into one political entity called Xinjiang province in 1884. At the time of the Qing conquest in 1759, Dzungaria was inhabited by steppe dwelling, nomadic Tibetan Buddhist Dzungar people, while the Tarim Basin was inhabited by sedentary, oasis dwelling, Turkic speaking Muslim farmers, now known as the Uyghur people. They were governed separately until 1884. The native Uyghur name for the Tarim Basin is Altishahr.

The Qing dynasty was well aware of the differences between the former Buddhist Mongol area to the north of the Tianshan and Turkic Muslim south of the Tianshan, and ruled them in separate administrative units at first.[16] However, Qing people began to think of both areas as part of one distinct region called Xinjiang .[17] The very concept of Xinjiang as one distinct geographic identity was created by the Qing and it was originally not the native inhabitants who viewed it that way, but rather it was the Chinese who held that point of view.[18] During the Qing rule, no sense of "regional identity" was held by ordinary Xinjiang people; rather, Xinjiang's distinct identity was given to the region by the Qing, since it had distinct geography, history and culture, while at the same time it was created by the Chinese, multicultural, settled by Han and Hui, and separated from Central Asia for over a century and a half.[19]

In the late 19th century, it was still being proposed by some people that two separate parts be created out of Xinjiang, the area north of the Tianshan and the area south of the Tianshan, while it was being argued over whether to turn Xinjiang into a province.[20]

Xinjiang is a large, sparsely populated area, spanning over 1.6 million km2 (comparable in size to Iran), which takes up about one sixth of the country's territory. Xinjiang borders the Tibet Autonomous Region and India's Leh District to the south and Qinghai and Gansu provinces to the southeast, Mongolia to the east, Russia to the north, and Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India to the west.

Physical map showing the separation of Dzungaria and the Tarim Basin (Taklamakan) by the Tien Shan Mountains

The east-west chain of the Tian Shan separate Dzungaria in the north from the Tarim Basin in the south. Dzungaria is a dry steppe and the Tarim Basin contains the massive Taklamakan Desert, surrounded by oases. In the east is the Turpan Depression. In the west, the Tian Shan split, forming the Ili River valley.


Main article: History of Xinjiang

Early history

The Tarim Basin in the 3rd century CE.

Nomadic cultures such as the Yuezhi (Rouzhi) are documented in the area of Xinjiang where the first known reference to the Yuezhi was made in 645 BC by the Chinese Guan Zhong in his Guanzi (管子, Guanzi Essays: 73: 78: 80: 81). He described the Yúshì 禺氏 (or Niúshì 牛氏), as a people from the north-west who supplied jade to the Chinese from the nearby mountains (also known as Yushi) in Gansu.[21] The supply of jade[22] from the Tarim Basin from ancient times is well documented archaeologically: "It is well known that ancient Chinese rulers had a strong attachment to jade. All of the jade items excavated from the tomb of Fuhao of the Shang dynasty, more than 750 pieces, were from Khotan in modern Xinjiang. As early as the mid-first millennium BC, the Yuezhi engaged in the jade trade, of which the major consumers were the rulers of agricultural China."[23]

Traversed by the Northern Silk Road,[24] the Tarim and Dzungaria regions were known as the Western Regions. It was inhabited by various peoples, including Indo-European Tocharians in Turfan and Kucha and Indo-Iranian Saka peoples centered around Kashgar and Khotan.[25] At the beginning of the Han dynasty (206 BC–AD 220), the region was subservient to the Xiongnu, a powerful nomadic people based in modern Mongolia. In the 2nd century BC, the Han dynasty made preparations for war when Emperor Wu of Han dispatched the explorer Zhang Qian to explore the mysterious kingdoms to the west and to form an alliance with the Yuezhi people in order to combat the Xiongnu. As a result of these battles, the Chinese controlled the strategic region from the Ordos and Gansu corridor to Lop Nor. They succeeded in separating the Xiongnu from the Qiang peoples to the south, and also gained direct access to the Western Regions. Han China sent Zhang Qian as an envoy to the states in the region, beginning several decades of struggle between the Xiongnu and Han China over dominance of the region, eventually ending in Chinese success. In 60 BC Han China established the Protectorate of the Western Regions (西域都护府) at Wulei (乌垒); near modern Luntai) to oversee the entire region as far west as the Pamir Mountains, which would remain under the influence and suzerainty of the Han dynasty with some interruptions. For instance, it fell out of their control during the civil war against Wang Mang (r. 9-23 AD). It was brought back under Han control in 91 AD due to the efforts of the general Ban Chao.

The Western Jin dynasty succumbed to successive waves of invasions by nomads from the north at the beginning of the 4th century. The short-lived kingdoms that ruled northwestern China one after the other, including Former Liang, Former Qin, Later Liang, and Western Liáng, all attempted to maintain the protectorate, with varying degrees of success. After the final reunification of northern China under the Northern Wei empire, its protectorate controlled what is now the southeastern region of Xinjiang. Local states such as Shule, Yutian, Guizi and Qiemo controlled the western region, while the central region around Turpan was controlled by Gaochang, remnants of a state (Northern Liang) that once ruled part of what is now Gansu province in northwestern China.

A Sogdian man on a Bactrian camel, sancai ceramic statuette, Tang dynasty

During the Tang dynasty, a series of expeditions were conducted against the Western Turkic Khaganate, and their vassals, the oasis states of southern Xinjiang.[26] Campaigns against the oasis states began under Emperor Taizong with the annexation of Gaochang in 640.[27] The nearby kingdom of Karasahr was captured by the Tang in 644 and the kingdom of Kucha was conquered in 649.[28]

During the devastating Anshi Rebellion, which nearly led to the destruction of the Tang dynasty, Tibet invaded the Tang on a wide front, from Xinjiang to Yunnan. It occupied the Tang capital of Chang'an in 763 for 16 days, and took control of southern Xinjiang by the end of the century. At the same time, the Uyghur Khaganate took control of northern Xinjiang, as well as much of the rest of Central Asia, including Mongolia.

Sogdian donors to the Buddha (fresco, with detail), Bezeklik, eastern Tarim Basin, 8th century.

As both Tibet and the Uyghur Khaganate declined in the mid-9th century, the Kara-Khanid Khanate, which was a confederation of Turkic tribes such as the Karluks, Chigils and Yaghmas,[29] took control of western Xinjiang in the 10th century and the 11th century. Meanwhile, after the Uyghur khanate in Mongolia had been smashed by the Kirghiz in 840, branches of the Uyghurs established themselves in Qocha (Karakhoja) and Beshbalik, near the modern cities of Turfan and Urumchi. This Uyghur state remained in eastern Xinjiang until the 13th century, though it was subject to foreign overlords during that time. The Kara-Khanids converted to Islam. The Uyghur state in eastern Xinjiang remained Manichaean, but later converted to Buddhism.

In 1132, remnants of the Liao dynasty from Manchuria entered Xinjiang, fleeing the rebellion of their neighbors, the Jurchens. They established a new empire, the Qara Khitai, which ruled over both the Kara-Khanid-held and Uyghur-held parts of the Tarim Basin for the next century. Although Khitan and Chinese were the primary languages of administration, the empire also administered in Persian and Uyghur.[30]

Islamisation and Turkicisation of Xinjiang

The historical area of what is modern day Xinjiang consisted of the distinct areas of the Tarim Basin and Dzungaria, and was originally populated by Indo-European Tocharian and Iranic Saka peoples who practiced the Buddhist religion. The area was subjected to Turkification and Islamification at the hands of invading Turkic Muslims. The Turkification was carried out in the 9th and 10th centuries by two different Turkic Kingdoms, the Buddhist Uyghur Kingdom of Qocho and the Muslim Karluk Kara-Khanid Khanate. Halfway in the 10th century the Saka Iranic Buddhist Kingdom of Khotan came under attack by the Turkic Muslim Karakhanid ruler Musa, and in what proved to be a pivotal moment in the Turkification and Islamification of the Tarim Basin, the Karakhanid leader Yusuf Qadir Khan conquered Khotan around 1006.[31]

Professor James A. Millward described the original Uyghurs as physically Mongoloid, giving as an example the images in Bezeklik at temple 9 of the Uyghur patrons, until they began to mix with the Tarim Basin's original eastern Iranian inhabitants.[32] The modern Uyghurs are now a mixed hybrid of East Asian Mongoloid and Europoid Caucasian populations.[33][34][35]

Some Uyghur ultra-nationalist revisionists, worried at the prospect that they are descendants of migrants into Xinjiang and could be seen as invaders and not the indigenous inhabitants, have sought to revise history like Turghun Almas in his book Uyghurlar, claiming that Turkic Uyghurs were always natives of Xinjiang, claiming that the Tocharian Tarim mummies were Uyghurs, and that Uyghur civilization is 6,000 years old and is the origin of all world civilization.

Mongol period

Mongol states, XIV-XVII: 1.Northern Yuan dynasty 2. Four Oirat. 3.Moghulistan 4.Qara Del

After Genghis Khan unified Mongolia and began his advance west, the Uyghur state in the Turpan-Urumchi area offered its allegiance to the Mongols in 1209, contributing taxes and troops to the Mongol imperial effort. In return, the Uyghur rulers retained control of their kingdom. By contrast, Genghis Khan's Mongol Empire conquered the Qara Khitai in 1218. During the era of the Mongol Empire, the Yuan dynasty vied with the Chagatai Khanate for rule over the area, with the latter taking control of most of this region. After the break-up of the Chagatai Khanate into smaller khanates in the mid-14th century, the region fractured and was ruled by numerous Persianized Mongol Khans simultaneously, including the ones of Moghulistan (with the assistance of the local Dughlat Emirs), Uigurstan (later Turpan), and Kashgaria. These leaders engaged in wars with each other and the Timurids of Transoxania to the west and the Oirats to the east, the successor Chagatai regime based in Mongolia and in China. In the 17th century, the Dzungars established an empire over much of the region.

The Battle of Oroi-Jalatu in 1756 between the Manchu and Oirat armies.

The Mongolian Dzungar was the collective identity of several Oirat tribes that formed and maintained one of the last nomadic empires. The Dzungar Khanate covered the area called Dzungaria and stretched from the west end of the Great Wall of China to present-day eastern Kazakhstan, and from present-day northern Kyrgyzstan to southern Siberia. Most of this area was only renamed "Xinjiang" by the Chinese after the fall of the Dzungar Empire. It existed from the early 17th century to the mid-18th century.

The Turkic Muslim sedentary people of the Tarim Basin were originally ruled by the Chagatai Khanate while the nomadic Buddhist Oirat Mongol in Dzungaria ruled over the Dzungar Khanate. The Naqshbandi Sufi Khojas, descendants of the Islamic prophet, Muhammad, had replaced the Chagatayid Khans as the ruling authority of the Tarim Basin in the early 17th century. There was a struggle between two factions of Khojas, the Afaqi (White Mountain) faction and the Ishaqi (Black Mountain) faction. The Ishaqi defeated the Afaqi, which resulted in the Afaqi Khoja inviting the 5th Dalai Lama, the leader of the Tibetan Buddhists, to intervene on his behalf in 1677. The 5th Dalai Lama then called upon his Dzungar Buddhist followers in the Dzungar Khanate to act on this invitation. The Dzungar Khanate then conquered the Tarim Basin in 1680, setting up the Afaqi Khoja as their puppet ruler.

After being converted to Islam, the descendants of the previously Buddhist Uyghurs in Turfan failed to retain memory of their ancestral legacy and falsely believed that the "infidel Kalmuks" (Dzungars) were the ones who built Buddhist monuments in their area.[36][37]

Qing dynasty

The Turkic Muslims of the Turfan and Kumul Oases then submitted to the Qing dynasty of China, and asked China to free them from the Dzungars. The Qing accepted the rulers of Turfan and Kumul as Qing vassals. The Qing dynasty waged war against the Dzungars for decades until finally defeating them and then Qing Manchu Bannermen carried out the Dzungar genocide, nearly wiping them from existence and depopulating Dzungaria. The Qing then freed the Afaqi Khoja leader Burhan-ud-din and his brother Khoja Jihan from their imprisonment by the Dzungars, and appointed them to rule as Qing vassals over the Tarim Basin. The Khoja brothers decided to renege on this deal and declare themselves as independent leaders of the Tarim Basin. The Qing and the Turfan leader Emin Khoja crushed their revolt and China then took full control of both Dzungaria and the Tarim Basin by 1759.

The Manchu Qing dynasty of China gained control over eastern Xinjiang as a result of a long struggle with the Dzungars that began in the 17th century. In 1755, with the help of the Oirat nobel Amursana, the Qing attacked Ghulja and captured the Dzungar khan. After Amursana's request to be declared Dzungar khan went unanswered, he led a revolt against the Qing. Over the next two years, Qing armies destroyed the remnants of the Dzungar khanate and many Han Chinese and (Hui) moved into the pacified areas.[38]

The native Dzungar Oirat Mongols suffered heavily from the brutal campaigns and a simultaneous smallpox epidemic. One writer, Wei Yuan, described the resulting desolation in what is now northern Xinjiang as: "an empty plain for several thousand li, with no Oirat yurt except those surrendered."[39] It has been estimated that 80% of the 600,000 or more Dzungars were destroyed by a combination of disease and warfare,[40] and it took generations for it to recover.[41]

A scene of the Qing campaign against rebels in Altishahr, 1828

Han and Hui merchants were initially only allowed to trade in the Tarim Basin, while Han and Hui settlement in the Tarim Basin was banned, until the Muhammad Yusuf Khoja invasion, in 1830 when the Qing rewarded the merchants for fighting off Khoja by allowing them to settle down.[42] Robert Michell noted that in 1870 there were many Chinese of all occupations living in Dzungaria and they were well settled in the area, while in Turkestan (Tarim Basin) there were only a few Chinese merchants and soldiers in several garrisons among the Muslim population.[43][44]

After reconquering Xinjiang from the Tajik adventurer Yaqub Beg in the late 1870s, the Qing dynasty established Xinjiang ("new frontier") as a province in 1884,[45] formally applying to it the political systems of the rest of China and dropping the old names of Zhunbu (準部, Dzungar region) and Huijiang, "Muslimland."[46][47] After Xinjiang was converted into a province by the Qing, the provincialisation and reconstruction programs initiated by the Qing resulted in the Chinese government helping Uyghurs migrate from southern Xinjiang to other areas of the province, like the area between Qitai and the capital, which was formerly nearly completely inhabited by Han Chinese, and other areas like Ürümqi, Tacheng (Tabarghatai), Yili, Jinghe, Kur Kara Usu, Ruoqiang, Lop Nor, and the Tarim River's lower reaches.[48] It was during Qing times that Uyghurs were settled throughout all of Xinjiang, from their original home cities in the western Tarim Basin.

Republic of China

Kuomintang in Xinjiang, 1942
Flag of the First East Turkestan Republic, a short-lived attempt at independence in the Kashgar region.

In 1912, the Qing dynasty was replaced by the Republic of China. 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 in March of the same year. Through Machiavellian politics and clever balancing of mixed ethnic constituencies, Yang maintained control over Xinjiang until his assassination in 1928 after the Northern Expedition of the Kuomintang.[49]

The Kumul Rebellion and other rebellions arose against his successor Jin Shuren in the early 1930s throughout Xinjiang, involving Uyghurs, other Turkic groups, and Hui (Muslim) Chinese. Jin drafted White Russians to crush the revolt. In the Kashgar region on November 12, 1933, the short-lived self-proclaimed First East Turkistan Republic was declared, after some debate over whether the proposed independent state should be called "East Turkestan" or "Uyghuristan".[50][51] The region claimed by the ETR in theory encompassed Kashgar, Khotan and Aqsu prefectures in southwestern Xinjiang.[52] The Chinese Muslim Kuomintang 36th Division (National Revolutionary Army) destroyed the army of the First East Turkestan Republic at the Battle of Kashgar (1934), bringing the Republic to an end after the Chinese Muslims executed the two Emirs of the Republic, Abdullah Bughra and Nur Ahmad Jan Bughra. The Soviet Union invaded the province in the Soviet Invasion of Xinjiang. In the Xinjiang War (1937), the entire province was brought under the control of northeast Manchu warlord Sheng Shicai, who ruled Xinjiang for the next decade with close support from the Soviet Union, many of whose ethnic and security policies Sheng instituted in Xinjiang. The Soviet Union maintained a military base in Xinjiang and had several military and economic advisors deployed in the region. Sheng invited a group of Chinese Communists to Xinjiang, including Mao Zedong's brother Mao Zemin, but in 1943, fearing a conspiracy, Sheng executed them all, including Mao Zemin. In 1944, then the President and Premier of China Chiang Kai-shek, was informed of Shicai's intention of joining the Soviet Union by Soviets, decided to shift him out of Xinjiang to Chongqing as the Minister of Agriculture and Forest.[53] More than one decade of Sheng's era had stopped. However, a short-lived Soviet-backed Second East Turkestan Republic was established in that year, which lasted until 1949 in what is now Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture (Ili, Tarbagatay and Altay Districts) in northern Xinjiang.

The Soviet-backed Second East Turkestan Republic existed in what is now the Ili, Tarbagatay and Altay districts of Xinjiang

People's Republic of China

During the Ili Rebellion the Soviet Union backed Uyghur separatists to form the Second East Turkistan Republic (2nd ETR) in Ili region while the majority of Xinjiang was under Republic of China Kuomintang control.[50] The People's Liberation Army entered Xinjiang in 1949 and the Kuomintang commander Tao Zhiyue surrendered the province to them.[51] Five ETR leaders who were to negotiate with the Chinese over the ETR's sovereignty died in an air crash in 1949 in Soviet airspace over the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic.[54]

The autonomous region of the PRC was established on October 1, 1955, replacing the province.[51] In 1955 (the first modern census in China was taken in 1953), Uyghurs were counted as 73% of Xinjiang's total population of 5.11 million.[55] Although Xinjiang as a whole is designated as a "Uyghur Autonomous Region", since 1954 more than 50% of Xinjiang's land area are designated autonomous areas for 13 native non-Uyghur groups.[56] The modern Uyghur people experienced ethnogenesis especially from 1955, when the PRC officially recognized that ethnic category - in opposition to the Han - of formerly separately self-identified oasis peoples.[57]

Southern Xinjiang is home to the majority of the Uyghur population (about nine million people). The majority of the Han (90%) population of Xinjiang, which is mostly urban, are in Northern Xinjiang.[58][59] This situation has been followed by an imbalance in the economic situation between the two ethnic groups, since the Northern Junghar Basin (Dzungaria) has been more developed than the Uighur south.[60]

Since the Chinese economic reform from the late 1970s has exacerbated uneven regional development, more Uyghurs have migrated to Xinjiang cities and some Hans have also migrated to Xinjiang for independent economic advancement. Increased ethnic contact and labor competition coincided with Uyghur separatist terrorism from the 1990s, such as the 1997 Ürümqi bus bombings.[61]

In 2000, Uyghurs "comprised 45 per cent of Xinjiang's population, but only 12.8 per cent of Urumqi's population." Despite having 9% of Xinjiang's population, Urumqi accounts for 25% of the region's GDP, and many rural Uyghurs have been migrating to that city to seek work in the dominant light, heavy, and petrochemical industries.[62] Hans in Xinjiang are demographically older, better-educated, and work in higher-paying professions than their Uyghur cohabitants. Hans are more likely to cite business reasons for moving to Urumqi, while some Uyghurs also cite trouble with the law back home and family reasons for their moving to Urumqi.[63] Hans and Uyghurs are equally represented in Urumqi's floating population that works mostly in commerce. Self-segregation within the city is widespread, in terms of residential concentration, employment relationships, and a social norm of endogamy.[64] In 2010, Uyghurs constituted a majority in the Tarim Basin, and a mere plurality in Xinjiang as a whole.[65]

In recent years, Xinjiang has been a focal point of ethnic and other tensions.[66][67] Recent incidents include the 2007 Xinjiang raid,[68] a thwarted 2008 suicide bombing attempt on a China Southern Airlines flight,[69] and the 2008 Xinjiang attack which resulted in the deaths of sixteen police officers four days before the Beijing Olympics.[70][71]

Culturally, Xinjiang maintains 81 public libraries and 23 museums, compared to none of each in 1949, and Xinjiang has 98 newspapers in 44 languages, up from 4 newspapers in 1952. According to official statistics, the ratios of doctors, medical workers, medical clinics, and hospital beds to people surpass the national average, and immunization rates have reached 85%.[72]

Administrative divisions

Xinjiang is divided into thirteen prefecture-level divisions: four prefecture-level cities, six prefectures, and five autonomous prefectures (including the sub-provincial autonomous prefecture of Ili, which in turn has two of the seven prefectures within its jurisdiction) for Mongol, Kyrgyz, Kazakh and Hui minorities.

These are then divided into 13 districts, 24 county-level cities, 62 counties, and 6 autonomous counties. Eight of the county-level cities do not belong to any prefecture, and are de facto administered by the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps. Sub-level divisions of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region is shown in the adjacent picture and described in the table below:

Administrative divisions of Xinjiang
Division code[73] English name Uyghur Latin Yéziqi
Chinese Pinyin Area in km2[74] Population 2010[75] Seat Divisions[76]
Districts Counties Aut. counties CL cities
  650000 Xinjiang Uyghur
Autonomous Region
شىنجاڭ ئۇيغۇر ئاپتونوم رايونى Shinjang Uyghur Aptonom Rayoni
Xinjang Uyĝur Aptonom Rayoni
新疆维吾尔自治区 Xīnjiāng Wéiwú'ěr Zìzhìqū 1664900.00 21,813,334 Ürümqi 13 62 6 24
2 650100 Ürümqi ئۈرۈمچى شەھىرى Ürümchi Shehiri
Ürümqi Xäĥiri
乌鲁木齐市 Wūlǔmùqí Shì 13787.90 3,110,280 Tianshan District 7 1
3 650200 Karamay قاراماي شەھىرى Qaramay Shehiri
K̂aramay Xäĥiri
克拉玛依市 Kèlāmǎyī Shì 8654.08 391,008 Karamay District 4
6 650400 Turpan تۇرپان شەھىرى Turpan Shehiri
Turpan Xäĥiri
吐鲁番市 Tǔlǔfān Shì 67562.91 622,679 Gaochang District 1 2
7 650500 Hami قۇمۇل شەھىرى Qumul Shehiri
K̂umul Xäĥiri
哈密市 Hāmì Shì 142094.88 572,400 Yizhou District 1 1 1
12 652300 Changji Hui
Autonomous Prefecture
سانجى خۇيزۇ ئاپتونوم ئوبلاستى Sanji Xuyzu Aptonom Oblasti
Sanji Huyzu Aptonom Oblasti
昌吉回族自治州 Chāngjí Huízú Zìzhìzhōu 73139.75 1,428,592 Changji 4 1 2
11 652700 Bortala Mongol
Autonomous Prefecture
بۆرتالا موڭغۇل ئاپتونوم ئوبلاستى Börtala Mongghul Aptonom Oblasti
Börtala Mongĝul Aptonom Oblasti
博尔塔拉蒙古自治州 Bó'ěrtǎlā Měnggǔ Zìzhìzhōu 24934.33 443,680 Bole / Bortala 2 2
14 652800 Bayingolin Mongol
Autonomous Prefecture
بايىنغولىن موڭغۇل ئاپتونوم ئوبلاستى Bayingholin Mongghul Aptonom Oblasti
Bayinĝolin Mongĝul Aptonom Oblasti
巴音郭楞蒙古自治州 Bāyīnguōlèng Měnggǔ Zìzhìzhōu 470954.25 1,278,492 Korla 7 1 1
9 652900 Aksu Prefecture ئاقسۇ ۋىلايىتى Aqsu Wilayiti
Ak̂su Vilayiti
阿克苏地区 Ākèsū Dìqū 127144.91 2,370,887 Aksu 8 1
13 653000 Kizilsu Kirghiz
Autonomous Prefecture
قىزىلسۇ قىرغىز ئاپتونوم ئوبلاستى Qizilsu Qirghiz Aptonom Oblasti
K̂izilsu K̂irĝiz Aptonom Oblasti
克孜勒苏柯尔克孜自治州 Kèzīlèsū Kē'ěrkèzī Zìzhìzhōu 72468.08 525,599 Artux 3 1
8 653100 Kashgar / Kashi Prefecture قەشقەر ۋىلايىتى Qeshqer Wilayiti
K̂äxk̂är Vilayiti
喀什地区 Kāshí Dìqū 137578.51 3,979,362 Kashgar / Kashi 10 1 1
10 653200 Hotan Prefecture خوتەن ۋىلايىتى Hoten Wilayiti
Hotän Vilayiti
和田地区 Hétián Dìqū 249146.59 2,014,365 Hotan 7 1
1 654000 Ili Kazakh
Autonomous Prefecture
ئىلى قازاق ئاپتونوم ئوبلاستى Ili Qazaq Aptonom Oblasti
Ili K̂azak̂ Aptonom Oblasti
伊犁哈萨克自治州 Yīlí Hāsàkè Zìzhìzhōu 56381.53 * 2,482,627 * Gulja / Yining 7 * 1 * 3 *
5 654200 Tacheng Prefecture * تارباغاتاي ۋىلايىتى Tarbaghatay Wilayiti
Tarbaĝatay Vilayiti
塔城地区 Tǎchéng Dìqū 94698.18 1,219,212 Tacheng 4 1 2
4 654300 Altay Prefecture * ئالتاي ۋىلايىتى Altay Wilayiti
Altay Vilayiti
阿勒泰地区 Ālètài Dìqū 117699.01 526,980 Altay 6 1
15 659001 Shihezi ** شىخەنزە شەھىرى Shixenze Shehiri
Xihänzä Xäĥiri
石河子市 Shíhézǐ Shì 456.84 635,582 Hongshan Subdistrict 1
18 659002 Aral ** ئارال شەھىرى Aral Shehiri
Aral Xäĥiri
阿拉尔市 Ālā'ěr Shì 5266.00 166,205 Jinyinchuan Road Subdistrict 1
17 659003 Tumxuk ** تۇمشۇق شەھىرى Tumshuq Shehiri
Tumxuk̂ Xäĥiri
图木舒克市 Túmùshūkè Shì 1927.00 147,465 Qiganquele Subdistrict 1
16 659004 Wujiaqu ** ۋۇجياچۈ شەھىرى Wujyachü Shehiri
Vujyaqü Xäĥiri
五家渠市 Wǔjiāqú Shì 740.00 72,613 Renmin Road Subdistrict 1
19 659005 Beitun ** بەيتۈن شەھىرى Beatün Shehiri
Bäatün Xäĥiri
北屯市 Běitún Shì 910.50 76,300 Beitun Town 1
20 659006 Tiemenguan ** باشئەگىم شەھىرى Bashegym Shehiri
Baxägym Xäĥiri
铁门关市 Tiĕménguān Shì 590.27 50,000 Chengqu Subdistrict 1
21 659007 Shuanghe ** قوشئۆگۈز شەھىرى Qoshögüz Shehiri
K̂oxögüz Xäĥiri
双河市 Shuānghé Shì 742.18 53,800 Tasierhai Town 1
22 659008 Kokdala ** كۆكدالا شەھىرى Kökdala Shehiri
Kökdala Xäĥiri
可克达拉市 Kěkèdálā Shì 979.71 75,000 Kokdala Town 1
23 659009 Kunyu ** قۇرۇمقاش شەھىرى Qurumqash Shehiri
Kurumkax Xäĥiri
昆玉市 Kūnyù Shì 687.13 47,500 Kunyu Town 1

* - Altay Prefecture or Tacheng Prefecture are subordinate to Ili Prefecture. / The population or area figures do not include Altay Prefecture or Tacheng Prefecture which are subordinate to Ili Prefecture.
** - Directly administered county-level divisions by the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps

Geography and geology

Close to Karakoram Highway in Xinjiang.
Tianchi lake.
Black Irtysh river in Burqin County is famous spot for sightseeing.

Xinjiang is the largest political subdivision of China—it accounts for more than one sixth of China's total territory and a quarter of its boundary length.

Mountain systems and basins

Xinjiang is split by the Tian Shan mountain range (تەڭرى تاغ, Тәңри Тағ, Tengri Tagh), which divides it into two large basins: the Dzungarian Basin in the north, and the Tarim Basin in the south. A small V-shaped wedge between these two major basins, limited by the Tian Shan's main range in the south and the Borohoro Mountains in the north, is the basin of the Ili River, which flows into Kazakhstan's Lake Balkhash; an even smaller wedge farther north is the Emin Valley.

Other major mountain ranges of Xinjiang include the Pamir Mountains and Karakoram in the southwest, the Kunlun Mountains in the south (along the border with Tibet), and the Altai Mountains in the northeast (shared with Mongolia). The region's highest point is the mountain K2, 8611 metres above sea level, in the Karakoram Mountains on the border with Pakistan.

Much of the Tarim Basin is dominated by the Taklamakan Desert. North of it is the Turpan Depression, which contains the lowest point in Xinjiang, and in the entire PRC, is the Turpan Depression, at 155 metres below sea level.

The Dzungarian Basin is slightly cooler, and receives somewhat more precipitation, than the Tarim Basin. Nonetheless, it, too, has a large Gurbantünggüt Desert (also known as Dzoosotoyn Elisen) in its center.

The Tian Shan mountain range marks the Xinjiang-Kyrgyzstan border at the Torugart Pass (3752 m). The Karakorum highway (KKH) links Islamabad, Pakistan with Kashgar over the Khunjerab Pass.


Largest cities and towns of Xinjiang

Most of Xinjiang is young geologically, having been formed from the collision of the Indian plate with the Eurasian plate, forming the Tian Shan, Kunlun Shan, and Pamir mountain ranges. Consequently, Xinjiang is a major earthquake zone. Older geological formations occur principally in the far north, where the Junggar Block is geologically part of Kazakhstan, and in the east, which is part of the North China Craton.

Center of the continent

Xinjiang has within its borders, in the Dzoosotoyn Elisen Desert, the location in Eurasia that is furthest from the sea in any direction (a continental pole of inaccessibility): 46°16.8′N 86°40.2′E / 46.2800°N 86.6700°E / 46.2800; 86.6700 (Eurasian pole of inaccessibility)). It is at least 1,645 miles (2,647 km) (straight-line distance) from any coastline.

In 1992, local geographers determined another point within Xinjiang  43°40′52″N 87°19′52″E / 43.68111°N 87.33111°E / 43.68111; 87.33111 in the southwestern suburbs of Ürümqi, Ürümqi County  to be the "center point of Asia". A monument to this effect was then erected there and the site has become a local tourist attraction.[77]

Rivers and lakes

Due to the hot summer and low precipitation, most of Xinjiang is endorheic, i.e. its rivers either disappear in the desert, or terminate in salt lakes (within Xinjiang itself, or in the neighboring Kazakhstan), instead of flowing toward an ocean. The only exception is the northernmost part of the region, where the Irtysh River, originating in the Altai Mountains, flows (via Kazakhstan and Russia) toward the Arctic Ocean. Even then, a significant part of this river's waters is now artificially diverted, via the Irtysh–Karamay–Ürümqi Canal, to the drier areas of southern Dzungarian Basin.

Elsewhere, most of Xinjiang's rivers are comparatively short streams fed by the snows of the several ranges of the Tian Shan. Once they enter the populated areas in the mountains' foothills, their waters are extensively used for irrigation, so that the river often disappears in the desert instead of reaching the lake to whose basin it nominally belongs. This is the case even with the main river of the Tarim Basin, the Tarim, which has been dammed at a number of locations along its course, and whose waters have been completely diverted before they can reach the Lop Lake. In the Dzungarian basin, a similar situation occurs with most rivers that historically flowed into Lake Manas. Some of the salt lakes, having lost much of their fresh water inflow, are now extensively use for the production of mineral salts (used e.g., in the manufacturing of potassium fertilizers); this includes the Lop Lake and the Manas Lake.


Officially, Xinjiang is on the same time zone as the rest of China, Beijing Time (UTC+8). However, being roughly two time zones west of the capital, some residents, local organization and local government follow their own unofficial Xinjiang Time (UTC+6).[78] The division follows ethnic lines, with Han tending to use Beijing Time and Uyghurs tending to use Xinjiang Time; this is seen as a form of resistance to the central government.[79] Regardless of the ethnicity of their proprietors, most businesses and schools open and close according to Xinjiang time, i.e. two hours later than their equivalents in other regions of China.[80]


Deserts include:

Major cities

Due to the water situation, most of Xinjiang's population lives within fairly narrow belts that are stretched along the foothills of the region's mountain ranges, where irrigated agriculture can be practised. It is in these belts where most the region's cities are found.


Generally, a semi-arid or desert climate (Köppen BSk or BWk, respectively) prevails in Xinjiang. The entire region is marked by great seasonal differences in temperature and cold winters. During the summer, the Turpan Depression usually records the hottest temperatures nationwide,[81] with air temperatures easily exceeding 40 °C (104 °F). In the far north, and at the highest mountain elevations, however, winter temperatures regularly drop below −20 °C (−4 °F).

Continuous permafrost is typically found in the Tian Shan starting at the elevation of about 3,500-3,700 m above the sea level. Discontinuous alpine permafrost usually occurs down to 2,700-3,300 m, but in certain locations, due to the peculiarity of the aspect and the microclimate, it can be found at elevations as low as 2,000 m.[82]

Bordering regions


Nur Bekri, Chairman of the Xinjiang Government between 2007 and 2015

List of Secretaries of the CPC Xinjiang Committee:

  1. 1949–1952 Wang Zhen (王震)
  2. 1952–1967 Wang Enmao (王恩茂)
  3. 1970–1972 Long Shujin (龙书金)
  4. 1972–1978 Saifuddin Azizi (赛福鼎•艾则孜,سەيپىدىن ئەزىزى)
  5. 1978–1981 Wang Feng (汪锋)
  6. 1981–1985 Wang Enmao (王恩茂)
  7. 1985–1994 Song Hanliang (宋汉良)
  8. 1994–2010 Wang Lequan (王乐泉)
  9. 2010–2016 Zhang Chunxian (张春贤)
  10. 2016–present Chen Quanguo (陈全国)

List of Chairmen of the Xinjiang Government:

  1. 1955–1967 Saifuddin Azizi (赛福鼎•艾则孜,سەيپىدىن ئەزىزى)
  2. 1968–1972 Long Shujin (龙书金)
  3. 1972–1978 Saifuddin Azizi
  4. 1978–1979 Wang Feng (汪锋)
  5. 1979–1985 Ismail Amat (司马义•艾买提, ئىسمائىل ئەھمەد)
  6. 1985–1993 Tömür Dawamat (铁木尔•达瓦买提, تۆمۈر داۋامەت)
  7. 1993–2003 Abdul'ahat Abdulrixit (阿不来提•阿不都热西提, ئابلەت ئابدۇرىشىت)
  8. 2003–2007 Ismail Tiliwaldi (司马义•铁力瓦尔地, ئىسمائىل تىلىۋالدى)
  9. 2007–2015 Nur Bekri (努尔•白克力, نۇر بەكرى)
  10. 2015–present Shohrat Zakir (雪克来提·扎克尔, شۆھرەت زاكىر)

Human rights

Main article: Human rights in China

Human Rights Watch has documented the denial of due legal process and fair trials and failure to hold genuinely open trials as mandated by law e.g. to suspects arrested following ethnic violence in the city of Urumqi 2009 riots.[83]


Ürümqi is a major industrial center within Xinjiang.
Wind farm in Xinjiang.
Sunday market in Khotan.
Uyghur blacksmiths in Yengisar.

Traditionally an agricultural region, Xinjiang also has large deposits of minerals and oil.

The distribution map of Xinjiang's GDP per person (2011)

Xinjiang's nominal GDP was approximately 220 billion RMB (US$28 billion) in 2004 and increased to 657.4 billion RMB (US$104.3 billion) in 2011, due to exploration of the regions abundant reserves of coal, crude oil, and natural gas and the China Western Development policy introduced by the State Council to boost economic development in Western China.[84] Its per capita GDP for 2009 was 19,798 RMB (2,898 USD), with a growth rate of 1.7%.[84] Southern Xinjiang, with 95% non-Han population, has an average per capita income half that of Xinjiang as a whole.[85]

In July 2010, China Daily reported that:

Local governments in China's 19 provinces and municipalities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangdong, Zhejiang and Liaoning, are engaged in the commitment of "pairing assistance" support projects in Xinjiang to promote the development of agriculture, industry, technology, education and health services in the region.[86]

Agriculture and fishing

Xinjiang has long been a major area of irrigated agriculture. Traditionally, wheat was the main staple crop of the region; maize was grown as well; millet was found in the south, while only a few area (in particular, Aksu) grew rice.[87]

By the late 19th century, cotton became an important crop in several oases, notably Khotan, Yarkand, and Turpan.[87] Sericulture, too, is practiced.[88]

Xinjiang is nationally known for its fruits and produce, including grapes, melons, pears, walnuts. Particularly famous are Hami melons and Turpan raisins.

The main livestock of the region have traditionally been sheep. Much of the region's pasture land is in its northern part, where more precipitation is available,[89] but there are mountain pastures throughout the region.

Due to the lack of access to the ocean, and limited amount of inland water, Xinjiang's fish resources are somewhat limited. Nonetheless, there is a significant amount of fishing in Lake Ulungur and Lake Bosten and in the Irtysh River. A large number of fish ponds have been constructed since the 1970s, their total surface exceeding 10,00 hectares by the 1990s. In 2000, the total of 58,835 tons of fish was produced in Xinjiang, 85% of which came from aquaculture.[90]

In the past, the Lop Lake was known for its fisheries, and the area residents, for their fishing culture; now, due to the diversion of the waters of the Tarim River, the lake has dried out.

Mining and minerals

In the late 19th century the region was noted for producing salt, soda, borax, gold, jade and coal.[91]

The oil and gas extraction industry in Aksu and Karamay is booming, with the West–East Gas Pipeline connecting to Shanghai. The oil and petrochemical sector account for 60% of Xinjiang's local economy.[92] Containing over a fifth of China's coal, natural gas and oil resources, Xinjiang has the highest concentration of fossil fuel reserves of any region in the country.[93]

Foreign trade

Xinjiang's exports amounted to 19.3 billion USD, while imports turned out to be 2.9 billion USD in 2008. Most of the overall import/export volume in Xinjiang was directed to and from Kazakhstan through Ala Pass. China's first border free trade zone (Horgos Free Trade Zone) was located at the Xinjiang-Kazakhstan border city of Horgos.[94] Horgos is the largest "land port" in China's western region and it has easy access to the Central Asian market. Xinjiang also opened its second border trade market to Kazakhstan in March 2006, the Jeminay Border Trade Zone.[95]

Economic and Technological Development Zones



Main article: Migration to Xinjiang
The languages of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region .
Distribution of ethnic Uighurs in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region
Historical population
1912[103] 2,098,000    
1928[104] 2,552,000+21.6%
1936-37[105] 4,360,000+70.8%
1947[106] 4,047,000−7.2%
1954[107] 4,873,608+20.4%
1964[108] 7,270,067+49.2%
1982[109] 13,081,681+79.9%
1990[110] 15,155,778+15.9%
2000[111] 18,459,511+21.8%
2010[112] 21,813,334+18.2%

The earliest Tarim mummies, dated to 1800 BC, are of a Caucasoid physical type.[113] East Asian migrants arrived in the eastern portions of the Tarim Basin about 3,000 years ago, while the Uighur peoples arrived after the collapse of the Orkon Uighur Kingdom, based in modern-day Mongolia, around the year 842.[114][115]

Muslim Turkic peoples in Xinjiang include Uyghurs, Uzbeks, Kyrgyz, Tatars and the Kazakhs; Muslim Iranian peoples include Pamiris and the Sarikolis/Wakhis (often conflated as Pamiris); and Muslim Sino-Tibetan peoples such as the Hui. Other PRC ethnic groups in the region include Han, Mongols (Oirats, Dagur, Dongxiang), Russians, Xibes, and Manchus. Around 70,000 Russian immigrants were living in Xinjiang in 1945.[116]

The Han Chinese of Xinjiang arrived at different times, from different directions and social backgrounds: They are descendants of criminals and officials who had been exiled from China proper during the second half of the eighteenth and first half of the 19th centuries; descendants of families of military and civil officers from Hunan, Yunnan, Gansu and Manchuria; descendants of merchants from Shanxi, Tianjin, Hubei and Hunan and descendants of peasants who started immigrating into the region in 1776.[117]

Some Uighur scholars claim descent from both the Turkic Uighurs and the pre-Turkic Tocharians (or Tokharians, whose language was Indo-European), and relatively fair-skin, hair and eyes, as well as other so-called 'Caucasoid' physical traits, are not uncommon among them. In general Uyghurs resemble those peoples who live around them in Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Pakistan.

In 2002, there were 9,632,600 males (growth rate of 1.0%) and 9,419,300 females (growth rate of 2.2%). The population overall growth rate was 1.09%, with 1.63% of birth rate and 0.54% mortality rate.

Three Uyghur girls at a Sunday market in the oasis city Khotan

The Qing began a process of settling Han, Hui, and Uyghur settlers into Northern Xinjiang (Dzungaria) starting in the 18th century. At the start of the 19th century, 40 years after the Qing reconquest, there were around 155,000 Han and Hui Chinese in northern Xinjiang and somewhat more than twice that number of Uyghurs in southern Xinjiang.[118] A census of Xinjiang under Qing rule in the early 19th century tabulated ethnic shares of the population as 30% Han and 60% Turkic, while it dramatically shifted to 6% Han and 75% Uyghur in the 1953 census. However, a situation similar to the Qing era-demographics with a large number of Han had been restored by 2000 with 40.57% Han and 45.21% Uyghur.[119] Professor Stanley W. Toops noted that today's demographic situation is similar to that of the early Qing period in Xinjiang.[120] Before 1831, only a few hundred Chinese merchants lived in southern Xinjiang oases (Tarim Basin) and only a few Uyghurs lived in northern Xinjiang (Dzungaria).[121] After 1831 the Qing permitted and encouraged Han Chinese migration into the Tarim basin in southern Xinjiang, although with very little success, and stationed permanent troops on the land there as well.[122] Political killings and expulsions of non Uyghur populations in the uprisings of the 1860s[122] and 1930s saw them experience a sharp decline as a percentage of the total population[123] though they rose once again in the periods of stability following 1880 (which saw Xinjiang increase its population from 1.2 million)[124][125] and 1949. From a low of 7% in 1953, the Han began to return to Xinjiang between then and 1964, where they comprised 33% of the population (54% Uyghur), similarly to Qing times. A decade later, at the beginning of the Chinese economic reform in 1978, the demographic balance was 46% Uyghur and 40% Han;[119] this has not changed drastically until the last census in 2000, with the Uyghur population reduced to 42%.[126] Military personnel are not counted and national minorities are undercounted in the Chinese census, as in most censuses.[127] While some of the shift has be attributed to an increased Han presence,[128] Uyghurs have also emigrated to other parts of China, where their numbers have increased steadily. Uyghur independence activists express concern over the Han population changing the Uyghur character of the region, though the Han and Hui Chinese mostly live in northern Xinjiang Dzungaria, and are separated from areas of historical Uyghur dominance south of the Tian Shan mountains (southwestern Xinjiang), where Uyghurs account for about 90% of the population.[129]

In general, Uyghurs are the majority in southwestern Xinjiang, including the prefectures of Kashgar, Khotan, Kizilsu, and Aksu (about 80% of Xinjiang's Uyghurs live in those four prefectures), as well as Turpan prefecture in eastern Xinjiang. Han are the majority in eastern and northern Xinjiang (Dzungaria), including the cities of Urumqi, Karamay, Shihezi and the prefectures of Changjyi, Bortala, Bayin'gholin, Ili (especially the cities of Kuitun), and Kumul. Kazakhs are mostly concentrated in Ili prefecture in northern Xinjiang. Kazakhs are the majority in the northernmost part of Xinjiang.

Ethnic groups in Xinjiang.
根据2009年底人口抽查统计 [130]
Nationality Population Percentage
Uyghur 10,019,758 46.42%
Han 8,416,867 38.99%
Kazakh 1,514,814 7.02%
Hui 980,359 4.54%
Kirghiz 189,309 0.88%
179,615 0.83%
Pamiris 39,493 0.21%
Xibe 42,790 0.20%
Manchu 26,195 0.11%
Tujia 15,787 0.086%
Uzbek 16,669 0.066%
Russian 11,672 0.048%
Miao 7,006 0.038%
Tibetan 6,153 0.033%
Zhuang 5,642 0.031%
Tatar 4,883 0.024%
Salar 3,762 0.020%
Major ethnic groups in Xinjiang by region (2000 census)[notes 2]
P = Prefecture; AP = Autonomous prefecture; PLC = Prefecture-level city; DACLC = Directly administered county-level city.[131]
Uyghurs (%) Han (%) Kazakhs (%) others (%)
Xinjiang 43.6 40.6 8.3 7.5
Ürümqi PLC 11.8 75.3 3.3 9.6
Karamay PLC 13.8 78.1 3.7 4.5
Turpan Prefecture 70.0 23.3 < 0.1 6.6
Kumul Prefecture 18.4 68.9 8.8 3.9
Changji AP + Wujiaqu DACLC 3.9 75.1 8.0 13.0
Bortala AP 12.5 67.2 9.1 11.1
Bayin'gholin AP 32.7 57.5 < 0.1 9.7
Aksu Prefecture + Aral DACLC 71.8 26.6 0.1 1.4
Kizilsu AP 64.0 6.4 < 0.1 29.6
Kashgar Prefecture + Tumushuke DACLC 89.3 9.2 < 0.1 1.5
Khotan Prefecture 96.4 3.3 < 0.1 0.2
Ili AP[notes 3] 16.1 44.4 25.6 13.9
Kuitun DACLC 0.5 94.6 1.8 3.1
former Ili Prefecture 27.2 32.4 22.6 17.8
Tacheng Prefecture 4.1 58.6 24.2 13.1
Altay Prefecture 1.8 40.9 51.4 5.9
Shihezi DACLC 1.2 94.5 0.6 3.7

Vital statistics

[132] Average population Live births Deaths Natural change Crude birth rate (per 1000) Crude death rate (per 1000) Natural change (per 1000)
2011 22,090,000 14.994.4210.57
2012 22,330,000 15.324.4810.84
2013 22,640,000 15.844.9210.92
2014 22,980,000 16.444.9711.47


Religion in Xinjiang (around 2010)

  Islam[133] (58%)
Id Kah mosque.

The major religions in Xinjiang are Islam among the Uyghurs and the Hui Chinese minority, while many of the Han Chinese practice Chinese folk religions, Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism. According to a demographic analysis of the year 2010, Muslims form 58% of the province's population.[133] Christianity in Xinjiang is the religion of 1% of the population according to the Chinese General Social Survey of 2009.[134]

A majority of the Uyghur Muslims adhere to Sunni Islam of the Hanafi school of jurisprudence or madhab. A large minority of Shias, almost exclusively of the Nizari Ismaili (Seveners) rites are found in the higher mountains of Pamir and Tian Shan. In the western mountains (the Pamirs), almost the entire population of Pamiris, (Sarikolis and Wakhis) are Nizari Ismaili Shia.[6] In the north, in the Tian Shan, the Kyrgyz and Kazakhs are Sunni.

Afaq Khoja Mausoleum and Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar are among the most important Islamic sites in Xinjiang. Emin Minaret is a key Islamic site, in Turfan. Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves is a major Buddhist site.

"Heroic Gesture of the Bodhisattva", example of 6th-7th century terracotta Greco-Buddhist art (local populations were Buddhist) from Tumxuk Xinjiang.
Temple of the Great Buddha in Midong, Urumqi.
Taoist Temple of Fortune and Longevity at the Heavenly Lake of Tianshan in Fukang, Changji Hui Autonomous Prefecture.
People sporting in snow by a statue of goddess Guanyin in Wujiaqu.


The Xinjiang Networking Transmission Limited operates the Urumqi People Broadcasting Station and the Xinjiang People Broadcasting Station, broadcasting in Mandarin, Uyghur, Kazakh and Mongolian.

In 1995, there were 50 minority-language newspapers published in Xinjiang, including the Qapqal News, the world's only Xibe-language newspaper.[135] The Xinjiang Economic Daily is considered one of China's most dynamic newspapers.[136]

For a time after the July 2009 riots, authorities placed restrictions on the internet and text messaging, gradually permitting access to state-controlled websites like Xinhua's,[137] until restoring Internet to the same level as the rest of China on May 14, 2010.[138][139][140]

As reported by the BBC News, "China strictly controls media access to Xinjiang so reports are difficult to verify."[141]


Xinjiang is home to the Xinjiang Guanghui Flying Tigers professional basketball team of the Chinese Basketball Association, and to Xinjiang Tianshan Leopard F.C., a football team that plays in China League One.

The capital, Urumqi, is home to the Xinjiang University baseball team, an integrated Uyghur and Han group profiled in the documentary film Diamond in the Dunes.



Karakorum highway.

In 2008, according to the Xinjiang Transportation Network Plan, the government has focused construction on State Road 314, Alar-Hotan Desert Highway, State Road 218, Qingshui River Line-Yining Highway, and State Road 217, as well as other roads.

The construction of the first expressway in the mountainous area of Xinjiang began a new stage in its construction on July 24, 2007. The 56 km (35 mi) highway linking Sayram Lake and Guozi Valley in Northern Xinjiang area had cost 2.39 billion yuan. The expressway is designed to improve the speed of national highway 312 in northern Xinjiang. The project started in August 2006 and several stages have been fully operational since March 2007. Over 3,000 construction workers have been involved. The 700 m-long Guozi Valley Cable Bridge over the expressway is now currently being constructed, with the 24 main pile foundations already completed. Highway 312 national highway Xinjiang section, connects Xinjiang with China's east coast, central and western Asia, plus some parts of Europe. It is a key factor in Xinjiang's economic development. The population it covers is around 40 percent of the overall in Xinjiang, who contribute half of the GDP in the area.


Xinjiang's rail hub is Ürümqi. To the east, a conventional and a high-speed rail line runs through Turpan and Hami to Lanzhou in Gansu Province. A third outlet to the east connects Hami and Inner Mongolia.

To the west, the Northern Xinjiang runs along the northern footslopes of the Tian Shan range through Changji, Shihezi, Kuytun and Jinghe to the Kazakh border at Alashankou, where it links up with the Turkestan-Siberia Railway. Together, the Northern Xinjiang and the Lanzhou-Xinjiang lines form part of the Trans-Eurasian Continental Railway, which extends from Rotterdam, on the North Sea, to Lianyungang, on the East China Sea. The Second Ürümqi-Jinghe Railway provides additional rail transport capacity to Jinghe, from which the Jinghe-Yining-Horgos Railway heads into the Ili River Valley to Yining, Huocheng, and Khorgos, a second rail border crossing with Kazakhstan. The Kuytun-Beitun Railway runs from Kuytun north into the Junggar Basin to Karamay and Beitun, near Altay.

In the south, the Southern Xinjiang Line from Turpan runs southwest along the southern footslopes of the Tian Shan into the Tarim Basin, with stops at Yanqi, Korla, Kuqa, Aksu, Maralbexi (Bachu), Artux, and Kashgar. From Kashgar, the Kashgar-Hotan Railway, follows the southern rim of the Tarim to Hotan, with stops at Shule, Akto, Yengisar, Shache (Yarkant), Yecheng (Karghilik), Moyu (Karakax).

The Ürümqi-Dzungaria Railway connects Ürümqi with coal fields in the eastern Junggar Basin. The Hami–Lop Nur Railway connects Hami with potassium salt mines in and around Lop Nur.

The Golmud-Korla Railway, under construction as of August 2016, would provide an outlet to Qinghai. Railways to Pakistan and Kyrgyzstan have been proposed.

East Turkestan independence movement

Some factions in Xinjiang province advocate establishing an independent country, which has caused tension and ethnic strife in Xinjiang province.[142][143][144] The Xinjiang conflict[145] is an ongoing[146] separatist conflict in the northwestern part of China. The separatist movement claims that the region, which they view as their homeland and refer to as "East Turkestan", is not part of China, but was invaded by China in 1949 and has been under Chinese occupation since then. China states that the region has been part of China since ancient times, and now calls it Xinjiang Province. Xinjiang, literally meaning "New Territory" or, officially, "old territory returned to the motherland", is a name given by the Qianlong Emperor of the Qing dynasty).[147] The separatist movement is led by ethnically Uyghur Muslim underground organizations, most notably the East Turkestan independence movement, against the Chinese government. According to the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, the two main sources for separatism in the Xinjiang Province are religion and ethnicity. Religiously, the Uyghur peoples of Xinjiang follow Islam, while in the large cities of Han China, the primary religions practiced are Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism or a combination of them. The other major difference and source of friction with eastern China is ethnicity. The Uyghurs are ethnically, linguistically, and culturally Turkic, a clear distinction from the Han and other ethnicities that are the majority in the eastern regions of China. Hence, there is a noticeable voice of ethnic Uyghurs who would like to separate their region from China. Ironically, the capital of Xinjiang Urumqi was originally a Han and Hui (Tungan) city with few Uyghur people before recent Uyghur migration to the city.[148] In retaliation against separatists, China has engaged in "strike hard" campaigns since 1996.[149] On June 5, 2014, China sentenced nine persons to death for terrorist attacks. They were seeking to overthrow Chinese rule in Xinjiang, inspired by a global jihadi ideology.[150]

See also


  1. It should be noted that Bartholemew, the Scottish cartographers, as late as 1912, were using the term "Chinese Turkestan" in their world atlas (Bellér-Hann 2007, p. 34).
  2. Does not include members of the People's Liberation Army in active service.
  3. Ili AP is composed of Kuitun DACLC, Tacheng Prefecture, Aletai Prefecture, as well as former Ili Prefecture. Ili Prefecture has been disbanded and its former area is now directly administered by Ili AP.



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Further reading

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