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吐鲁番市 · تۇرپان شەھىرى
Prefecture-level City
Emin Minaret in Turpan, Turpan
Emin Minaret in Turpan, Turpan
Turpan (red) in Xinjiang (orange)
Turpan (red) in Xinjiang (orange)
Country People's Republic of China
Region Xinjiang
County-level divisions 3
Prefecture seat Gaochang District
Lowest elevation −154 m (−505 ft)
Time zone China Standard (UTC+8)
Website Turpan Prefecture-level city Government

Turpan (simplified Chinese: 吐鲁番; traditional Chinese: 吐魯番; pinyin: Tǔlǔfān; Uyghur: تۇرپان‎, ULY: Turpan, UYY: Turpan?), also known as Turfan or Tulufan, is a prefecture-level city located in the east of Xinjiang, People's Republic of China. It has an area of 69,324 square kilometres (26,766 sq mi) and a population of 570,000 (2003).


  • History 1
    • Tang conquest 1.1
    • Uyghur rule 1.2
    • 15th and 16th centuries 1.3
    • 19th century 1.4
  • Subdivisions 2
  • Geography and climate 3
  • Demography 4
  • Transport 5
  • See also 6
  • Footnotes 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9


Tarim Basin in the 3rd century

Turpan has long been the centre of a fertile oasis (with water provided by the karez canal system) and an important trade centre. It was historically located along the Silk Road, at which time it was adjacent to the kingdoms of Korla and Karashahr. The name Turfan itself however was not used until the end of the Middle Ages - its use became widespread only in the post-Mongol period.[1] Historically, settlements in the region have been given a number of different names, such as Tulufan, Jushi, Qocho, Karakhoja, Hezhou, Gaochang, and Jiaohe, many of which refer to the same place. The center of the region has shifted a number of times, from Yar-Khoto (Jiaohe, 10 km to the west of modern Turpan) to Qocho (Gaochang, 30 km to the southeast of Turpan), and to Turpan itself.[2]

The peoples of the Kingdoms of Nearer and Further Jushi (the Turpan Oasis and the region to the north of the mountains near modern Jimasa), were closely related. It was originally one kingdom called Gushi, which the Chinese conquered in 107 BC.[3][4] It was subdivided into two kingdoms by the Chinese in 60 BC. During the Han era the city changed hands several times between the Xiongnu and the Han, interspersed with short periods of independence.[5]

After the fall of the Han dynasty in 220, the region was virtually independent but tributary to various dynasties. Until the 5th century AD, the capital of this kingdom was Jiaohe (modern Yarghul 16 kilometres (9.9 mi) west of Turpan).[6]

From 487 to 541 AD, Turpan was an independent Kingdom ruled by a Turkic tribe known to the Chinese as the Tiele. The Rouran Khaganate defeated the Tiele and subjugated Turpan, but soon afterwards the Rouran were destroyed by the Göktürks.

Buddhist Uyghur king from Turpan attended by servants. Depicted in Dunhuang Mogao Caves, Western Xia Dynasty.

Tang conquest

The Tang dynasty had reconquered the Tarim Basin by the 7th century AD. During the 7th, 8th, and early 9th centuries the Tibetan Empire, the Tang Chinese, and Turks fought to conquer the Tarim Basin. Sogdians and Chinese engaged in extensive commercial activities with each other under Tang rule. The Sogdians were mostly Mazdaist at this time. Turpan, renamed Xizhou by the Tang after their armies conquered it in 640 AD,[7] had a history of commerce and trade along the Silk Road already centuries old; it had many inns catering to merchants and other travelers, while numerous brothels are recorded in Kucha and Khotan.[8] As a result of the Tang conquest, policies forcing minority group relocation and encouraging Han settlement led to Turpan's name in the Sogdian language becoming known as “Chinatown” or "Town of the Chinese".[7][9]

In Astana, a contract written in Sogdian detailing the sale of a Sogdian girl to a Chinese man was discovered dated to 639 AD. Individual slaves were common among silk route houses; early documents recorded an increase in the selling of slaves in Turpan.[10] Twenty-one 7th-century marriage contracts were found that showed, where one Sogdian spouse was present, for 18 of them their partner was a Sogdian. The only Sogdian men who married Chinese women were highly eminent officials.[11] Several commercial interactions were recorded, for example a camel was sold priced at 14 silk bolts in 673,[12][13] and a Chang'an native bought a girl age 11 for 40 silk bolts in 731 from a Sogdian merchant.[14] Five men swore that the girl was never free before enslavement, since the Tang Code forbade commoners to be sold as slaves.[7]

The Tang dynasty became weakened considerably due to the An Lushan Rebellion, and the Tibetans took the opportunity to expand into Gansu and the Western Regions. The Tibetans took control of Turfan in 792.

Uyghur rule

In 803, the Uyghurs of the Uyghur Khaganate seized Turfan from the Tibetans. The Uyghur Khaganate however was destroyed by the Kirghiz and its capital Ordu-Baliq in Mongolia sacked in 840. The defeat resulted in the mass movement of the Uyghurs out of Mongolia and their dispersal into Gansu and Central Asia, and many joined other Uyghurs already present in Turfan. In the early twentieth century, a collection of some 900 Christian manuscripts dating to the ninth to the twelfth centuries was found at a monastery site at Turfan.[15]

The Uyghurs established a Kingdom in the Turpan region with its capital in Gaochang or Kara-Khoja. The kingdom was known as the Uyghuria Idikut state or Kara-Khoja Kingdom that lasted from 856 to 1389 AD. The Uyghurs were Manichaean but later converted to Buddhism and funded the construction the cave temples in the Bezeklik Caves. The Uyghurs formed an alliance with the rulers of Dunhuang. The Uyghur state later became a vassal state of the Kara-Khitans, and then as a vassal of the Mongol Empire. This Kingdom was led by the Idikuts, or Saint Spiritual Rulers. The last Idikut left Turpan area in 1284 for Kumul, then Gansu to seek protection of Yuan Dynasty, but local Uyghur Buddhist rulers still held power until the invasion by the Moghul Hizir Khoja in 1389. The conversion of the local Buddhist population to Islam was completed nevertheless only in the second half of the 15th century.[16]

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.[17][18]

15th and 16th centuries

As late as 1420, the Timurid envoy Ghiyāth al-dīn Naqqāsh, who passed through Turpan on the way from Herat to Beijing, reported that many of the city's residents were "infidels". He visited a "very large and beautiful" temple with a statue of Shakyamuni; in one of the versions of his account it was also claimed that many Turpanians "worshipped the cross".[19]

"Mughal embassy", seen by the Dutch visitors in Beijing in 1656. According to Lach & Kley (1993), modern historians (namely, Luciano Petech) think that the emissaries portrayed had come from Turpan, rather than all the way from the Moghul India.

The Moghul ruler of Turpan Yunus Khan, also known as Ḥājjī `Ali, (ruled 1462–1478) unified Moghulistan (roughly corresponding to today's Eastern Xinjiang) under his authority in 1472. Around that time, a conflict with the Ming China started over the issues of tribute trade: Turpanians benefited from sending "tribute missions" to China, which allowed them to receive valuable gifts from the Ming emperors and to do plenty of trading on the side; the Chinese, however, felt that receiving and entertaining these missions was just too expensive. (Muslim envoys to the early Ming China were impressed by the lavish reception offered to them along their route through China, from Suzhou to Beijing, such as described by Ghiyāth al-dīn Naqqāsh in 1420–1421.[20])

A model of the Turpan water system in Turpan Water Museum: Water is collected from mountains and channeled underground to agriculture fields

Yunus Khan was irritated by the restrictions on the frequency and size of Turpanian missions (no more than one mission in 5 years, with no more than 10 members) imposed by the Ming government in 1465, and by the Ming's refusal to bestow sufficiently luxurious gifts on his envoys (1469). Accordingly, in 1473 he went to war against China, and succeeded in capturing Hami in 1473 from the Oirat Mongol Henshen and holding it for a while, until Ali was repulsed by the Ming Dynasty into Turfan. He reoccupied Hami after Ming left. Henshen's Mongols recaptured Hami twice in 1482 and 1483, but the son of Ali, Ahmad Alaq, reconquered it in 1493 and captured the Hami leader and the resident of China in Hami (Hami was a vassal state to Ming). In response, the Ming Dynasty imposed an economic blockade on Turfan and kicked out all the Uyghurs from Gansu. It became so harsh for Turfan that Ahmed left. Ahmed's son Mansur succeeded him and took over Hami in 1517.[21][22] These conflicts were called the Ming Turpan Border Wars.

Several times, after occupying Hami, Mansur tried to attack China in 1524 with 20,000 men, but was beaten by Chinese forces. The Turpan kingdom under Mansur, in alliance with Oirat Mongols, tried to raid Suzhou in Gansu in 1528, but were severely defeated by Ming Chinese forces and suffered heavy casualties.[23] The Chinese refused to lift the economic blockade and restrictions that had led to the battles, and continued restricting Turpan's tribute and trade with China. Turfan also annexed Hami.[24]

19th century

Qingnian Lu, a Turpan street shaded by grapevine trellises

Francis Younghusband visited Turpan in 1887 on his overland journey from Beijing to India. He said it consisted of two walled towns, a Chinese one with a population of no more than 5,000 and, about a mile (1.6 km) to the west, a Turk town of "probably" 12,000 to 15,000 inhabitants. The town (presumably the "Turk town") had four gateways, one for each of the cardinal directions, of solid brickwork and massive wooden doors plated with iron and covered by a semicircular bastion. The well-kept walls were of mud and about 35 ft (10.7 m) tall and 20 to 30 feet (6 to 9 m) thick, with loopholes at the top. There was a level space about 15 yards (14 m) wide outside the main walls surrounded by a musketry wall about 8 ft (2.4 m) high, with a ditch around it some 12 ft (3.7 m) deep and 20 ft (6 m) wide). There were drumtowers over the gateways, small square towers at the corners and two small square bastions between the corners and the gateways, "two to each front." Wheat, cotton, poppies, melons and grapes were grown in the surrounding fields.[25]

Turpan grapes impressed other travelers to the region as well. The 19th-century Russian explorer Grigory Grumm-Grzhimaylo, thought the local raisins may be "the best in the world", and noted the buildings of a "perfectly peculiar design" used for drying them.[26]


Turpan directly controls 1 district and 2 counties.

# Name Hanzi Hanyu Pinyin Uyghur (UEY) Uyghur Latin (ULY) Population
(2010 Census)
Area (km²) Density (/km²)
1 Gaochang District 高昌区 Gāochāng Qū قاراھوجا رايونى Qarahoja Rayoni 273,385 13,690 19.96
2 Shanshan County 鄯善县 Shànshàn Xiàn پىچان ناھىيىسى Pichan Nahiyisi 231,297 39,759 5.81
3 Toksun County 托克逊县 Tuōkèxùn Xiàn توقسۇن ناھىيىسى Toqsun Nahiyisi 118,221 16,171 7.31

Geography and climate

Climate chart ()
Average max. and min. temperatures in °C
Precipitation totals in mm
Source: CMA [27]
View of the "Flaming Mountains"

Turpan is located about 150 km (93 mi) southeast of Ürümqi, Xinjiang's capital, in a mountain basin, on the northern side of the Turpan Depression, at an elevation of 30 m (98 ft) above sea level. Outside of Turpan is a small volcanic cone, the Turfan volcano, that is said to have erupted in 1120 as described in the Song Dynasty.[28]

Turpan has a harsh, drastic, cold desert climate (Köppen BWk), with very hot and long summers, and very cold but short winters, and brief spring and autumn in between. Annual precipitation is very low, amounting to only 15.7 millimetres (0.62 in). The monthly 24-hour average temperature ranges from −7.6 °C (18.3 °F) in January to 32.2 °C (90.0 °F) in July; the annual mean is 14.4 °C (57.9 °F).[27] With monthly percent possible sunshine ranging from 48% in December to 75% in September, sunshine is abundant and the city receives 2,912 hours of bright sunshine annually. Temperature differences between summer and winter are oppressively large (over 50°C). The warmest months often approach the stifling intensity of cities such as Phoenix or Las Vegas, while winters produce average lows that more closely resemble frigid Minneapolis.

Extremes have ranged from −28.9 °C (−20 °F) to 48.1 °C (119 °F), although a reading of 49.6 °C (121 °F) in July 1975 is regarded as dubious.[29]

However, the very heat and dryness of the summer, when combined with the area's ancient system of irrigation, allows the countryside around Turpan to produce great quantities of high-quality fruit.


According to the 2000 census, the city of Turpan had a population of 251,652 (population density 15.99 inh./km²). The breakdown by nationality was as follows:

Ethnicity Inhabitants Percentage
Uyghur 177,106 70.38%
Han 55,238 21.95%
Hui 18,482 7.34%
Tujia 182 0.07%
Manchu 132 0.05%
Tu 98 0.04%
Mongol 77 0.03%
Tibetan 70 0.03%
Kazakh 56 0.02%
Miao 45 0.02%
Russian 33 0.01%
Zhuang 31 0.01%
Dongxiang 30 0.01%
Iranian 72 0.03%


Turpan is served by China National Highway 312. It is the junction for the Lanzhou-Xinjiang and the Southern Xinjiang Railways.

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ Hill (2009), p. 109.
  4. ^
  5. ^ Hill (2009), p. 442.
  6. ^ [1]
  7. ^ a b c
  8. ^ Xin Tangshu 221a:6230. In addition, Susan Whitfield offers a fictionalized account of a Kuchean courtesan's experiences in the 9th century without providing any sources, although she has clearly drawn on the description of the prostitutes' quarter in Chang’an in Beilizhi; Whitfield, 1999, pp. 138-154.
  9. ^
  10. ^ Wu Zhen 2000 (p. 154 is a Chinese-language rendering based on Yoshida's Japanese translation of the Sogdian contract of 639).
  11. ^ Rong Xinjiang, 2001, pp. 132-135. Of the 21 epitaphs, 12 are from Quan Tangwen buyi (supplement to the complete writings of the Tang), five from Tangdai muzhi huibian (Collected epitaphs of the Tang), three were excavated at Guyuan, Ningxia, and one is from another site.
  12. ^ Yan is a common ending for Sogdian first names meaning ‘for the benefit of’ a certain deity. For other examples, see Cai Hongsheng, 1998, p. 40.
  13. ^ Ikeda contract 29.
  14. ^ Ikeda contract 31. Yoshida Yutaka and Arakawa Masaharu saw this document, which was clearly a copy of the original with space left for the places where the seals appeared.
  15. ^ Saved on Wayback Machine
  16. ^ 关于明代前期土鲁番统治者世系的几个问题 - 中国边疆网 - 中国社会科学院
  17. ^
  18. ^ [2][3][4]
  19. ^ . Christianity is mentioned in the Turkic translation of Ghiyāth al-dīn's account published by Bellér-Hann, but not in the earlier Persian versions of his story.
  20. ^ Bellér-Hann 1995, pp. 160–175
  21. ^
  22. ^ Godrich & Fang 1976
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^ Younghusband, Francis E. (1896). The Heart of a Continent, pp. 139-140. John Murray, London. Facsimile reprint: (2005) Elbiron Classics. ISBN 1-4212-6551-6 (pbk); ISBN 1-4212-6550-8 (hardcover).
  26. ^ Grigory Grumm-Grzhimaylo (Г. Грум-Гржимайло), East Turkestan (Восточный Туркестан), in Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopedic Dictionary. (Russian) (The original quote: «Турфан же славится и своим изюмом, который можно считать лучшим в мире (высушивается в совершенно своеобразного типа сушильнях)», i.e. "Turfan is also famous for its raisins, which may be deemed the best in the world. They are dried in drying houses of a completely peculiar type".
  27. ^ a b c
  28. ^
  29. ^


  • Hill, John E. (2009) Through the Jade Gate to Rome: A Study of the Silk Routes during the Later Han Dynasty, 1st to 2nd Centuries CE. BookSurge, Charleston, South Carolina. ISBN 978-1-4392-2134-1.
  • Hill, John E. 2004. The Peoples of the West from the Weilue 魏略 by Yu Huan 魚豢: A Third Century Chinese Account Composed between 239 and 265 CE. Draft annotated English translation. [5]
  • Hulsewé, A. F. P. and Loewe, M. A. N. 1979. China in Central Asia: The Early Stage 125 BC – AD 23: an annotated translation of chapters 61 and 96 of the History of the Former Han Dynasty. E. J. Brill, Leiden.
  • Puri, B. N. Buddhism in Central Asia, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited, Delhi, 1987. (2000 reprint).
  • Stein, Aurel M. 1912. Ruins of Desert Cathay: Personal narrative of explorations in Central Asia and westernmost China, 2 vols. Reprint: Delhi. Low Price Publications. 1990.
  • Stein, Aurel M. 1921. Serindia: Detailed report of explorations in Central Asia and westernmost China, 5 vols. London & Oxford. Clarendon Press. Reprint: Delhi. Motilal Banarsidass. 1980.[6]
  • Stein Aurel M. 1928. Innermost Asia: Detailed report of explorations in Central Asia, Kan-su and Eastern Iran, 5 vols. Clarendon Press. Reprint: New Delhi. Cosmo Publications. 1981.
  • Yu, Taishan. 2004. A History of the Relationships between the Western and Eastern Han, Wei, Jin, Northern and Southern Dynasties and the Western Regions. Sino-Platonic Papers No. 131 March, 2004. Dept. of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Pennsylvania.

External links

  • Along the ancient silk routes: Central Asian art from the West Berlin State Museums, an exhibition catalog from The Metropolitan Museum of Art (fully available online as PDF), which contains material from Turpan
  • Silk Road Seattle - University of Washington (The Silk Road Seattle website contains many useful resources including a number of full-text historical works, maps, photos, etc.)
  • Karez (Qanats) of Turpan, China
  • Images and travel impressions along the Silk Road - Turpan PPS in Spanish
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