Located in the centre of Asia, the Uyghur people have had a long and colourful history. Modern Uyghurs are thought to be the descendants of a myriad of empires and kingdoms – the Huns, Tocharians and Scythians, the Gokturks and Old Uyghurs, the Idiqut and Qarakhanids, Hotan, Chaghatay, Altisheher, and most recently the two republics of East Turkistan.
The result is a Turkic, majority Muslim population with the readopted name of “Uyghur” – United. Annexed to the People’s Republic of China in 1949 and later renamed Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (Xinjiang meaning “new frontier”), the Uyghur homeland borders China, Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, and was a centre of the remarkable Silk Road. Therefore, while the majority of the population identify as Uyghur, there is a fair mix of other cultures lending their colours to this region, from Mongol to Sarikol to Kazakh, Hui, Tatar and many more. More recently there has been a large influx of incentivised Han Chinese settlement in the region.
Due to its abundance of natural resources and strategic location between East and West, the Uyghur region has been subject to many a political upheaval. However, it has also given rise to a rich and wonderful culture.
Culture & Religion
Uyghurs have developed a unique culture due to their long history and role as traders and connectors between different civilisations. They have made significant contributions to Asian literature, medicine, architecture, music, song, dance, and fine arts.
As a Central Asian region, they also share similar cultural motifs to other Central Asian states, such as Uzbekistan. Each "oasis city" also boasts its own distinct characteristics in the areas mentioned above.
Uyghur people have been known for their vibrant music and ethnic dances for centuries and these occupy a significant place in Uyghur life. The most prestigious and well-known genre of Uyghur music is the Muqam. Uyghur Muqam is a composite of songs, dances, poetry, folk and classical music, and is characterized by the diversity of content, dance styles, musical morphology and instruments used.
Uyghurs have historically participated in many religions, the remnants of which have informed parts of their culture to this day. These include Shamanism, Tengriism, Buddhism, Manicheism, and Nestorian Christianity. Currently, most Uyghurs identify as Muslim and practice Sunni Islam with influences of Sufism.
The Uyghur language is a Turkic language with 10 to 25 million speakers. Uyghur belongs to the Karluk branch of the Turkic language family, which also includes languages such as Uzbek.
The Karluk language started to be written with the Perso-Arabic script in the 10th century upon the conversion of the Kara-Khanids to Islam. This Perso-Arabic script was reformed in the 20th century with modifications to represent all Modern Uyghur sounds including short vowels and eliminate Arabic letters representing sounds not found in Modern Uyghur.
Unlike many other modern Turkic languages, Uyghur is primarily written using an Arabic alphabet, although a Cyrillic alphabet and two Latin alphabets also are in use.
Food is an important part of Uyghur culture. Offering guests a selection of different dishes and encouraging them to eat past their limits is a customary tradition that exemplifies the warm hospitable culture.
Uyghur cuisine is also the ultimate melting pot of flavour and culinary delight, with many different types of bread, noodle stir-fries, pilav-style rice, fried pies, steamed and boiled dumplings, hearty soups and sumptuous kebab-based foods, spiced with a wide array of native herbs and seasonings.
Lamb plays a major role in most foods, although chicken, other birds, and sometimes beef and horse are also used. Each region is famous for different fresh and dried fruits due to varying climates, as well as specialty teas. You may even find imported "Hami melons" or jujubes from Hotan in your local grocery stores.
The Uyghur region covers more than 1,709,400 square kilometres and contains huge deposits of oil, natural gas, coal, gold and other minerals. Its capital city, Urumchi, is known to be the most remote city from any sea in the world.
The region contains 26,000-foot-high mountains with glaciers, evergreen forests and alpine meadows, shifting sand deserts, Silk Road oases with bazaars and folk fairs, and ruined cities. It is split into north and south by the Tengritagh mountain ranges, which also gives rise to vastly different climates, the north being more cold with high levels of rainfall and snow, and the south being drier and warmer.
The south contains the Taklimakan Desert, the second-largest shifting-sand desert in the world, and the Tarim Basin, the largest inland basin in the world. The north contains the Junggar basin, and is surrounded by tree-covered, snow-capped mountains, such as the Altay Mountains, that are reminiscent of the Alps. It is known for its fertile river valleys and mountain ranges where nomadic Kazakh and Torgut Mongols live to this day. To the west there are the Pamirs, and the south is lined with the Karakoram, Altun and Kunlun Mountains.