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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a people and the indigenous population of the Sin-kiang-Uighur Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China. Population, approximately 5.5 million (1975, estimate). Uighurs also live in several regions of the USSR and in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. They speak the Uighur language. Religious believers among them practice Islam, which replaced shamanism, Manichaeism, Christianity, and Buddhism between the 14th and 17th centuries. Uighurs are Europeoids with a small Mongoloid admixture.

The Uighurs are among the oldest Turkic-speaking peoples of Central Asia. Their ancestors, the nomadic tribes of eastern Turkestan, were an important part of the Hun tribal alliance, which existed from the third century B.C. to the third and fourth centuries AD. The Uighurs are mentioned in written sources beginning in the third century AD., including the Orkhon inscriptions of the eighth century. From the fifth to the eighth centuries the Uighurs were part of the Juan-juan Kaganate; later they were included in the Turkic Kaganate.

The ethnic consolidation of the Uighurs was completed in the eighth century, after the collapse of the Turkic Kaganate and the formation of an early feudal state by the Uighurs on the Orkhon River. In 840 the Uighur state was overrun by the Enisei Kirghiz. Some Uighurs migrated to eastern Turkestan and western Kansu, where they created two independent states with centers in Kansu and the Turfan oasis. The first was destroyed by the Tanguts, and the second became a vassal of the Karakitai in the 12th century and part of Mogulistan in the 14th century.

With the prolonged hegemony of various conquerors and national disintegration, the term “Uighur” nearly became obsolete. The people themselves came to be known by terms referring to their place of residence—Kashgarlyki, “people of Kashgar, ” and Turfanlyki, “people of Turfan”—or to their occupation— Taranchi, “farmers.” The Uighurs preserved their ethnic identity, however, as well as their language.

In the 17th and 18th centuries eastern Turkestan was the site of a Uighur state, which was seized by the Manchu rulers of China in 1760. National oppression and cruel exploitation caused the Uighurs to rebel several times against enslavement by the Ch’ing (Manchu) and, later, the Kuomintang. With the victory of the people’s revolution in China in 1949 and the formation of the Sinkiang-Uighur Autonomous Region in 1955, the economy and culture of the Uighurs have undergone some development.

The traditional occupations of the Uighurs are farming and various domestic handicrafts; a working class has also emerged. The Uighurs created a rich and distinctive culture, including large-scale religious architecture and musical and literary works, which has influenced the culture of many Eastern countries.

In the USSR, Uighurs live in several regions of the Kazakh, Kirghiz, Uzbek, and Turkmen SSR’s, with a total population of 173,000 (1970 census). From the mid-18th to the early 20th century, many Uighurs migrated from the Kashgar oasis to Middle Asia—primarily to Semirech’e and the Fergana Valley—to escape the oppression of the Chinese rulers. In 1921, at a congress of Uighur representatives held in Tashkent, the ancient self-designation “Uighur” was restored. The Uighurs in the USSR are primarily kolkhoz and industrial workers. A national intelligentsia has emerged.


Narody Srednei Azii i Kazakhstana, vol. 2. Moscow, 1963.
Narody VostochnoiAzii. Moscow-Leningrad, 1965.
Tikhonov, D. I. Khoziaistvo i obshchestvennyi stroi Uigurskogo gosudarstva X-XIV vv. Moscow-Leningrad, 1966.
Khamraev, M. K. Rastsvet kul’tury uigurskogo naroda. Alma-Ata, 1967.
Iskhakov, G. M. Etnograficheskoe izuchenie uigurov Vostochnogo Turkestana russkimi puteshestvennikami vtoroi poloviny XIX v. Alma-Ata, 1975.
Kabirov, M. N. Ocherki istorii uigurov Sovetskogo Kazakhstana. Alma-Ata, 1975.


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