Sinkiang-Uighur Autonomous Region

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Xinjiang Uygur

, Sinkiang-Uighur Autonomous Region
an administrative division of NW China: established in 1955 for the Uygur ethnic minority, with autonomous subdivisions for other small minorities; produces over half China's wool and contains valuable mineral resources. Capital: Urumqi. Pop.: 19 340 000 (2003 est.). Area: 1 646 799 sq. km (635 829 sq. miles)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Sinkiang-Uighur Autonomous Region


(Sinkiang), a part of China; located in Northwest China, on the border with the USSR, Afghanistan, India, and the Mongolian People’s Republic. Area, 1.6 million sq km. Population, 7.27 million (1972), primarily Uighurs but also Kazakhs, Kirghiz, Mongols, Hui (Dungans), Chinese, and other nationalities; the proportion of Chinese is increasing. The urban population accounts for 13 percent of all population. The population is concentrated mainly in the oases of Kashgaria and in the river valleys of Dzungaria. The region includes five autonomous districts, six districts, four cities under province and district jurisdiction, 74 counties, and 6 autonomous counties. The principal city is Urumchi.

Natural features. The Dzungarian Plain, located in the region’s north, is one of the most extensive surface features. Its central sections are composed of loams and sands. Inselberg ridges and hummocky topography are common. The other major geographical feature is the Kashgar Plain (Tarim Basin), whose central section is occupied by the sandy Takla-Makan Desert. Solonchaks and Takyrs are found in low areas.

The two plains are separated by the Eastern Tien-Shan, whose summits reach elevations of more than 7,000 m. The region’s north is enclosed by the semicircle formed by the Mongolian Altai, Saur, and Tarbagatai mountains, which rise to elevations of 3,000-4,000 m. In the south, the northern ranges of the Kunlun Mountains, with elevations to 6,000–7,000 m, extend into the region. In the southwest, the Karakoram, with elevations of 6,000-8,000 m, extend into the region. The Turfan Depression lies amid the spurs of the Eastern Tien-Shan; at 154 m below sea level, it is the deepest depression in Central Asia.

The climate of the Sinkiang-Uighur Autonomous Region is extremely arid and continental. On the plains the summers are hot; the average temperature in July ranges from 20° to 25°C. The winters are cold and snowless. In the plains the annual precipitation is less than 200 mm, and in the mountains as much as 800 mm. Most of the region’s rivers empty into lakes or gradually disappear into the sands; much of the region, with the exception of the Irtysh River basin, thus has no surface outlet. The largest rivers are the Tarim, the upper Hi, and the Irtysh. The largest lakes are Lop Nor, which varies greatly in extent and configuration, and Bagrash-köl and Ebi Nor. The plains are for the most part occupied by deserts, with sand ridges, bar-chans, and areas of loose sand. The mountains exhibit altitudi-nal zonation, with successive zones of desert, semidesert, steppe, isolated coniferous forests, and meadows. Snowfields and glaciers dot the highest ranges of the Eastern Tien-Shan, Karakoram, and Kunlun.

Economy. Agriculture is the mainstay of the economy of the Sinkiang-Uighur Autonomous Region. Crop cultivation accounts for more than 50 percent of the value of the region’s agricultural and industrial production, and animal husbandry for about 15 percent.

Cultivated land covers about 2 percent of the region’s total land area (1967). The main crops are wheat, corn, and rice, which together occupy more than one-half of the cultivated land; other crops are cotton, rape, and hemp. Rice is grown primarily in the Ak’osu River valley. The most important cotton-growing areas are the oases of Khotan (Hot’ien) and Kashgar-Yarkand, the Turfan Depression, and the Manas River valley. Kashgaria is noted for viticulture and fruit growing, especially the growing of apricots, apples, pears, and English walnuts; it is also noted for melons and watermelon. Fruits are also grown in the Ili River area and in southern Dzungaria. Kashgaria also has sericulture.

In the north, except around Urumchi and Hami, stock raising is the main branch of the economy. Sheep, goats, cattle, camels, and horses are raised. Animals and animal products, especially, sheep’s wool, account for much of the region’s production for shipment elsewhere.

In the Sinkiang-Uighur Autonomous Region, oil, coal, rare and precious metals, mica, graphite, and nephrite are exploited. The region is one of the largest oil-producing and oil-refining centers in the People’s Republic of China (PRC); oil fields are at Karamai-Urkhei, Tushantzu-Wusu, the Tarim area, and Hami-Turfan. Metallurgy is concentrated in Urumchi and Hami. Machine building (assembly and repair of motor vehicles, agricultural machine building), the chemical industry, and the production of building materials have come under development. Textile enterprises are at Urumchi, Khotan, Shihhotzu, and Kashgar, and leather enterprises in Kuldja and Kashgar. Crafts are widespread, such as the manufacture of fabrics, carpets, koshmas, leather and leather goods, and paper.

The basis of the region’s transportation network is the Lan-chou-Urumchi railroad and the Hami-Turfan-Urumchi-Chu-guchak and Turfan-Kashgar roads. Airlines link Urumchi with Peking and other cities in China.


History. “Sinkiang” (”New Line” or “New Frontier”) is the Chinese name given to East Turkestan and Dzungaria after the areas’ conquest in the 1750’s by the Manchu Ch’ing dynasty. In the first millennium B.C., East Turkestan and Dzungaria were populated by tribes of nomadic hunters and herdsmen and by settled agricultural tribes of various ethnic origin, such as Ir-ano-Turkic and Mongolian tribes. By the turn of the second century B.C., the area was subjugated by the Hsiung-nu. The Chinese Han dynasty (206 B.C.-220 A.D.) fought predatory wars against the Hsiung-nu, bringing the eastern part of the region under its influence. From the third to sixth centuries, the Hsieng-pi and subsequently the Juan-juan controlled the region. From the second half of the sixth century, Turkic peoples held the region, making it a khaganate. In the seventh century, the Chinese T’ang Empire established temporary control over the region. In the 670’s Tibet conquered the region’s southern parts, and from this period, feudal relations prevailed in East Turkestan and Dzungaria.

In the mid-ninth century, a large number of Uighurs migrated into the region from the basins of the Orkhon and Sel-enga rivers. In the early tenth century, they established the Turfan state, which in the 12th century became a vassal state of the Karakitai. From the 13th to 15th centuries. East Turkestan and Dzungaria were ruled by the Mongol khans; after the 15th century, when Tamerlane’s empire broke up, several smaller states formed here. In the north, the western Mongols—the Oirats—grew in strength; in the 1630’s they established the Oi-rat Khanate (Dzungarian Khanate). In the late 1750’s the Ch’ing Empire conquered the region.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the peoples of East Turkestan and Dzungaria repeatedly rose in rebellion against the Chi-nese-Manchu yoke. Uprisings of the Uighurs and Dungans (1862–77) led to the creation of an Uighur state, headed by Ia-kub-bek, and a Dungan alliance of cities. After the suppression of the uprisings, the region was made Sinkiang Province of the Ch’ing Empire.

In 1912, during the Hsin-hai revolution of 1911–13, the rule of the Ch’ing dynasty was toppled in Sinkiang. However, the new republican governor Yang Tseng-hsin, supported by Yüan Shih-k’ai in Peking, soon established a military dictatorship in Sinkiang. In 1928 he was replaced by the Chinese militarist Chin Shu-jen. National oppression grew stronger. In 1931 a series of liberation uprisings broke out in Sinkiang.

In April 1933, Chin Shu-jen was ousted from power in Urumchi, and a new provincial government, which included representatives of progressive circles, was installed. The new government, which from 1933 was headed by Sheng Shih-ts’ai, initially gave in to pressure from the popular masses and pursued a progressive policy; it established trade and cultural relations with the USSR and proclaimed equal rights for the province’s various nationalities. In the early 1940’s, however, Sheng Shih-ts’ai inaugurated an antipopular reactionary policy, which worked to the advantage of the Kuomintang government of Chiang Kai-shek. Because of the resulting discontent among the various peoples of Sinkiang, democratic revolutionary activity sprang up in Ili and southern Sinkiang. Thus, by about September 1945, Kuomintang authorities were completely driven out of the northern districts of Sinkiang, that is, from Hi, Tarbagatai, and Altai districts. In actuality, two camps took shape in Sinkiang: the revolutionary democrats and the Kuomintang. In January 1946 they concluded a peace agreement, according to which a coalition government was formed in July 1946 in Urumchi, a government in which all nationalities and various social strata and public groups were represented. The reactionaries of Chiang Kai-shek later tried unsuccessfully to retake the three northern districts of Sinkiang.

In 1949 the victory of the people’s revolution throughout China brought the peaceful liberation of Sinkiang from Kuomintang rule. In the 1950’s, with the fraternal aid of the Soviet people, the region’s sociopolitical, economic, and cultural life made rapid strides. In 1954 an agrarian reform was brought to completion, and the principle of cooperation made advances in agriculture. In September 1955 the PRC province of Sinkiang was made the Sinkiang-Uighur Autonomous Region.

Changes in the domestic and foreign policies of the PRC’s leadership subsequently brought about national discrimination against the peoples of Sinkiang. During the Cultural Revolution of the late 1960’s, national autonomy was reduced to a mere fiction. The militarization of Sinkiang was intensified. Chinese settlers colonized the region in growing numbers. Uighurs, Kazakhs, Dungans, Mongols, and other non-Chinese nationalities were resettled to arid desert regions. The rights of the non-Chinese indigenous population were infringed. As a result, the peoples of Sinkiang fell prey to extreme discontent, and national contradictions grew more acute.

Architecture and art. The oldest works of art in Sinkiang, which are often closely akin to works done in the animal style, date to the period of the first through third centuries A.D. Terracotta vases and statuettes, ornaments, seals, and amulets of carved stone and bronze have been found in the southwestern oases at Yarkand, Khotan, Keriya (Yut’ien), and Miran.

The art of India greatly influenced the art of Sinkiang, especially the basic types of cultic buildings, such as stupas and cave temples. The sixth and seventh centuries saw the growth of artistic ties with Sogdiana and other countries of Middle Asia. In the seventh and eighth centuries the stupas grew slimmer and more elegant, and their plinths, with the addition of many projections, more elaborate.

The originality of Sinkiang art is especially striking in the stucco and clay sculpture of the third to sixth centuries, which is noted for its massiveness and generalized forms. It is also evident in the paintings of the cave temples and monasteries of K’uch’e (Kucha), Karashahr (Yench’i), and Turfan, paintings that date from the sixth and seventh centuries and that primarily depict small scenes from the life of Buddha. From the ninth century the paintings are done in a more monumental style and in brighter colors; in sculpture the images are more conventional and canonical.

In the 1950’s construction in the Sinkiang-Uighur Autonomous Region proceeded at a rapid pace; traditional folk crafts, such as silk weaving and carpet making, also grew apace. Since the early 1960’s, the Chinese leadership’s policy of discrimination against the peoples of Sinkiang has had a pernicious effect on local artistic traditions.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.