Xinjiang (shĬn´jyäng´) or Sinkiang (shĬn´jyäng´, sĬn´kyăng) [Chinese,=new frontier], officially Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (Mandarin Xinjiang Uygur Zizhiqu), autonomous region (2010 pop. 21,813,334), c.637,000 sq mi (1,650,257 sq km), NW China. It is also called Chinese Turkistan or Eastern Turkistan. Xinjiang is bordered by Pakistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan on the west and north, by the Republic of Mongolia, Gansu, and Qinghai on the east, and by Tibet and India on the south. The capital is Ürümqi (Urumchi). Other important cities are Yining (Gulja), Kashi (Kashgar), Hotan (Khotan), and Aksu.
Land and People
The great Altai, Tian Shan, and Kunlun mountain ranges enclose the region on the north, west, and south, respectively; a barren plateau lies to the west. Xinjiang's rivers, including the Tarim, Yarkant, Ili, Manas, and Hotan, rise in the mountains and flow from east to west. The level land, divided by the Tian Shan in central Xinjiang, comprises Dzungaria, a grazing region to the north, and the Tarim basin (Taklimakan), a vast desert to the south. Lop Nur, a largely dried-up salt lake in the Tarim basin, is the site of Chinese nuclear test explosions. Xinjiang has a dry continental climate with great extremes of winter and summer temperature. Rainfall is scant, seldom exceeding 10 in. (30 cm) annually.
Xinjiang is ethnically diverse, with mainly Muslim, Turkic-speaking Uigurs making up nearly half the population. There are also Hui, Mongolians, Manchu, dozens of other minority groups and, as a result of government-encouraged migration and development, a growing Chinese population that roughly equals the Uigur population. Most people live along the borders of the Dzungaria and the Tarim basin. Xinjiang Univ. is in Ürümqi.
Agriculture has long been important to Xinjiang's economy and, with government encouragement, it is increasingly undertaken on a large scale. Cotton, sugar beets, wheat, rice, millet, potatoes, sorghum, and fruit are grown. The Manas irrigation project in S Dzungaria is one of several extensive modern government attempts to expand the area under cultivation. Although extensive areas of grazing land have been converted to raising crops, large-scale animal husbandry remains important, and the number of livestock (sheep, goats, cattle, horses, and camels) is increasing. Many of the Kazakh and Mongol stock-herders are still at least seminomadic.
Xinjiang also has rich mineral resources, and their extraction has become more significant economically. The vast oil fields at Karamay (served by both highways and an airline) are among the largest in China, and there are extensive deposits of coal, silver, copper, lead, nitrates, gold, and zinc. New mines as well as associated industry, such as refineries, ironworks, steelworks, and chemical plants, have been established. Other industries include textile (especially cotton and wool) and cement production and sugar refining.
The region is linked to the Chinese rail network by line from Lanzhou, Gansu, to Ürümqi (completed 1963). West and south of Ürümqi transportation is mainly by highways built along two ancient roads: the north road, which skirts the southern edge of the Dzungaria and connects Ürümqi with the Turkistan-Siberia rail line, and the south road, encircling the Tarim basin. The camel remains an important means of transport, but the use of trucks continues to increase.
Early History to 1949
Xinjiang has had a turbulent history. Some of the earliest known inhabitants, from c.4,000 years ago, have been found mummified in the region's deserts and appear to be of Caucasoid origin, possibly ancient Tokharians. Xinjiang first passed under Chinese rule in the 1st cent. BC, when the emperor Wu Ti sent a Chinese army to defeat the Huns and occupy the region. In the 2d cent. AD, China lost Xinjiang to the Uzbek Confederation but reoccupied it in the mid-7th cent. It was conquered (8th cent.) by the Tibetans, overrun by the Uigurs, who established a kingdom there, and subsequently invaded (10th cent.) by the Arabs. Xinjiang passed to the Mongols in the 13th cent. An anarchic period followed until the Manchus established (1756) loose control.
The subsequent relations between China and Xinjiang were marked by cultural and religious conflict, bloody rebellions, and tribal dissensions. In the 19th cent., this unrest was encouraged by Great Britain and czarist Russia to protect India and Siberia, respectively. Xinjiang became a Chinese province in 1881, but even as late as the establishment of the Chinese republic in 1912 it remained more or less independent of the central government. Rebellions in 1936, 1937, and 1944 further eased Chinese rule.
Chinese Communist Rule
Late in 1949, Xinjiang capitulated to the Chinese Communists without a struggle, but there was a Uigur uprising in Hotan in 1954. On the basis of the 1953 census, which showed the Uigurs to comprise 74% of the population, Xinjiang prov. was reconstituted (1955) an autonomous region. Autonomous districts were created as well for the Kazakhs, Mongols, Hui, and Kyrgyz. In the 1950s and 1960s, the central government sent massive numbers of Chinese to Xinjiang to help develop water-conservancy and mineral-exploitation schemes. This has drastically altered the population balance, and the Chinese are approaching numerical parity with the Uigurs. National defense has also been a consideration in the strategic and sensitive region. In 1969, frontier incidents led to fighting between Soviet and Chinese forces along the border.
In the 1990s, the Turkic peoples of Xinjiang grew increasingly discontented with Chinese rule, in part because of the migration of large numbers of Chinese to the area as a result of government resettlement programs, and rioting by proindependence Muslims broke out in 1997. China subsequently increased the number of troops in the region, and has instituted a harsh crackdown on political dissent and Turkic separatists. Orthodox Islamic practices have been discouraged or suppressed by the government for fear that they will become a focus of Uigur nationalism. The number of Chinese in the region's population has continued to increase, and the funds invested in development have largely benefited them. Occasional anti-Chinese protests and ethnic riots have occurred since 1997, most violently in 2009 (when Uigurs and Chinese attacked each other in the streets), and there also have been separatist attacks on government officials and buildings and other targets.