Uyghurs – “fully-fledged police state”

The Uyghurs or Uygurs (as the standard romanisation in Chinese GB 3304-1991) are a Turkic ethnicity who live in East and Central Asia. Today, Uyghurs live primarily in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China, where they are one of fifty-five officially recognized ethnic minorities. Uyghurs primarily practice Islam. Like many populations of Central Eurasia, they are closely related to both European and East Asian populations.

An estimated 80% of Xinjiang’s Uyghurs live in the south-western portion of the region, the Tarim Basin. Outside Xinjiang, the largest community of Uyghurs in China is in Taoyuan County, in south-central Hunan. Outside of China, according to the World Uyghur Congress, the Uyghur population is believed to number 1.0–1.6 million. Significant diasporic communities of Uyghurs exist in the Central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan, and in Turkey. Smaller communities are found in Afghanistan, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Canada, and the United States.

In the Uyghur language, the ethnonym is written ئۇيغۇر in Arabic script, Уйғур in Cyrillic, and Uyghur in Latin; they are all pronounced as [ʔʊjˈʁʊː]. In Chinese, this is transcribed into characters as 维吾尔 / 維吾爾, which is romanized in pinyin as Wéiwú’ěr.

In English, the name is officially spelt “Uyghur” by the Xinjiang government but also appears as “Uighur”, “Uigur”, and “Uygur”. (These reflect the various Cyrillic spellings Уиғур, Уигур, and Уйгур.) The name is usually pronounced in English as /ˈwɡʊər/, although some Uyghurs and Uyghur scholars have advocated for using the closer pronunciation /iˈɡʊər/ instead.

The original meaning of the term is unclear. Old Turkic inscriptions record a word uyɣur, which was transcribed into Tang annals as 回纥 / 回紇 (now Huíhé, but probably *[ɣuɒiɣət] in Middle Chinese). It was used as the name of one of the Turkic polities formed in the interim between the First and Second Göktürk Khaganates (AD 630-684). The Old History of the Five Dynasties records that in 788 or 809 the Chinese acceded to a Uyghur request and emended their transcription to 回鹘 / 回鶻 (now Huíhú, but [ɣuɒiɣuət] in Middle Chinese). Modern etymological explanations for the name “Uyghur” have ranged from derivation from the verb “follow, accommodate oneself” and adjective “non-rebellious” (i.e., from Turkic uy/uð-) to the verb meaning “wake, rouse, or stir” (i.e., from Turkic oðğur-). None of these is thought to be satisfactory because the sound shift of /ð/ and /ḏ/ to /j/ does not appear to have taken place by this time. The etymology therefore cannot be conclusively determined, and its referent is also difficult to fix. The “Huihe” and “Huihu” seem to have been a political rather than a tribal designation or to have just been one group among several others collectively known as the Toquz Oghuz. The name fell out of use in the 15th century, but it was reintroduced in the early 20th century by the Soviet Bolsheviks to replace the previous terms “Turk” and “Turki”. It is presently used to refer to the settled Turkic urban dwellers and farmers of the Tarim Basin who follow traditional Central Asian sedentary practices, distinguishable from the nomadic Turkic populations in Central Asia.

The Uyghurs also appear in Chinese records under other names. The earliest record to a Uyghur tribe appears in accounts from the Northern Wei (4th–6th century A.D.). They are described as the 高车 / 高車 (lit. “High Carts”), now read as Gāochē but with the reconstructed Middle Chinese pronunciation *[kɑutɕʰĭa]. This in turn has been connected to the Uyghur Qangqil (قاڭقىل or Қаңқил). They were later known as the Tiele (铁勒 / 鐵勒Tiělè).

Throughout its history, the term Uyghur has taken on an increasingly expansive definition. Initially signifying only a small coalition of Tiele tribes in Northern China, Mongolia, and the Altai Mountains, it later denoted citizenship in the Uyghur Khaganate. Finally, it was expanded into an ethnicity whose ancestry originates with the fall of the Uyghur Khaganate in the year 842, which caused Uyghur migration from Mongolia into the Tarim Basin. This migration assimilated and replaced the Indo-European speakers of the region to create a distinct identity as the language and culture of the Turkic migrants eventually supplanted the original Indo-European influences. This fluid definition of Uyghurand the diverse ancestry of modern Uyghurs create confusion about what constitutes true Uyghur ethnography and ethnogenesis.

Contemporary scholars consider modern Uyghurs to be the descendants of a number of people, including the ancient Uyghurs of Mongolia who arrived at the Tarim Basin after the fall of the Uyghur Khaganate, Iranic Saka tribes, and other Indo-European peoples who inhabited the Tarim Basin before the arrival of the Turkic Uyghurs. DNA analyses indicate that the peoples of central Asia such as the Uyghurs are all mixed Caucasian and East Asian. Uyghur activists identify with the Tarim mummies, remains of an ancient people who inhabited the region, but research into the genetics of ancient Tarim mummies and their links with modern Uyghurs remains problematic, both to Chinese government officials concerned with ethnic separatism, and to Uyghur activists concerned that the research could affect their people’s claim of being indigenous to the region.

Origin of the modern ethnic concept

The Uighurs are the people whom old Russian travellers called Sart (a name which they used for sedentary, Turkish-speaking Central Asians in general), while Western travellers called them Turki, in recognition of their language. The Chinese used to call them Ch’an-t’ou (‘Turbaned Heads’) but this term has been dropped, being considered derogatory, and the Chinese, using their own pronunciation, now called them Weiwuerh. As a matter of fact there was for centuries no ‘national’ name for them; people identified themselves with the oasis they came from, like Kashgar or Turfan.

— Owen Lattimore, “Return to China’s Northern Frontier.” The Geographical Journal, Vol. 139, No. 2, June 1973

The term “Uyghur” was not used to refer to any existing ethnicity in the 19th century, but to an ancient people. A late 19th-century encyclopedia titled The cyclopædia of India and of Eastern and Southern Asia said “the Uigur are the most ancient of Turkish tribes, and formerly inhabited a part of Chinese Tartary (Xinjiang), which is now occupied by a mixed population of Turk, Mongol, and Kalmuck”. The inhabitants of Xinjiang were not called Uyghur before 1921/1934. Western writers called the Turkic-speaking Muslims of the oases “Turki”, and the Turkic Muslims in Ili were known as “Taranchi”. The Russians and other foreigners referred to them as “Sart”, “Turk”, or “Turki”. In the early 20th century, they would call themselves by different names to different peoples and in response to different inquiries: they called themselves Sarts in front of Kyrgyz and Kazakhs, while they called themselves “Chantou” if asked about their identity after identifying as a Muslim first. The term “Chantou” (纏頭, Ch’an-t’ou, meaning “Rag head” or “Turban Head”) was used to refer to the Turkic Muslims of Xinjiang, including by Hui (Tungan) people. These groups of peoples often identified themselves by the oases they came from rather than an ethnicity; for example those from Kashgar may refer to themselves as Kashgarliq or Kashgari, while those from Hotan called themselves “Hotani”. Other Central Asians once called all the inhabitants of Xinjiang’s Southern oases Kashgari, a term still used in some Pakistan regions. The Turkic people also used “Musulman”, which means “Muslim”, to describe themselves.

Rian Thum explored the concepts of identity among the ancestors of the modern Uyghurs in Altishahr (the native Uyghur name for eastern Turkestan or southern Xinjiang) before the adoption of the name “Uyghur” in the 1930s, referring to them by the name “Altishahri” in his article Modular History: Identity Maintenance before Uyghur Nationalism. Thum indicated that Altishahri Turkis did have a sense that they were a distinctive group separate from the Turkic Andijanis to their west, the nomadic Turkic Kirghiz, the nomadic Mongol Qalmaq, and the Han Chinese Khitay before they became known as Uyghurs. There was no single name used by them to refer to themselves, the various native names Altishahris used to refer to themselves were Altishahrlik (Altishahr person), yerlik (local), Turki, and Musulmān (Muslim), the term Musulmān in this situation did not signify religious connotations, because the Altishahris would exclude other Muslim peoples like the Kirghiz when referring to themselves as Musulmān. Dr. Laura J Newby has also noted that the sedentary Altishahri Turkic people felt themselves as a separate group from other Turkic Muslims since at least the 19th century.

The name “Uyghur” reappeared after the Soviet Union took the 9th-century ethnonym from the Uyghur Khaganate and reapplied it to all non-nomadic Turkic Muslims of Xinjiang, following western European orientalists like Julius Klaproth in the 19th century who revived the name and spread the use of the term to local Turkic intellectuals, and a 19th-century proposal from Russian historians that modern-day Uyghurs were descended from the Kingdom of Qocho and Kara-Khanid Khanate, which had formed after the dissolution of the Uyghur Khaganate. Historians generally agree that the adoption of the term “Uyghur” is based on a decision from a 1921 conference in Tashkent, which was attended by Turkic Muslims from the Tarim Basin (Xinjiang). There, “Uyghur” was chosen by them as the name of their own ethnicity, although the delegates noted that the modern groups referred to as “Uyghur” were distinct from the old Uyghur Khaganate. According to Linda Benson, the Soviets and their client Sheng Shicai intended to foster a Uyghur nationality to divide the Muslim population of Xinjiang, whereas the various Turkic Muslim peoples themselves preferred to identify as “Turki”, “East Turkestani”, or “Muslim”.

On the other hand, the ruling regime of China at that time, the Kuomintang, grouped all Muslims, including the Turkic-speaking people of Xinjiang, into the “Hui nationality”. The Qing dynasty and the Kuomintang generally referred to the sedentary, oasis-dwelling Turkic Muslims of Xinjiang as “turban-headed Hui” to differentiate them from other predominantly Muslim ethnicities in China. Foreigners traveling in Xinjiang in the 1930s, like George W. Hunter, Peter Fleming, Ella Maillart, and Sven Hedin, all referred to the Turkic Muslims of the region as “Turki” in their books. Use of the term Uyghur was unknown in Xinjiang until 1934, when the governor, Sheng Shicai, came to power in there. Sheng adopted the Soviets’ ethnographic classification rather than that of the Kuomintang and became the first to promulgate the official use of the term “Uyghur” to describe the Turkic Muslims of Xinjiang. “Uyghur” replaced “rag-head”.

Sheng Shicai’s introduction of the “Uighur” name for the Turkic people of Xinjiang however was criticized and rejected by Turki intellectuals, such as Pan-Turkist Jadids and East Turkestan independence activists Muhammad Amin Bughra (Mehmet Emin) and Masud Sabri. They demanded that the names “Türk” or “Türki” be used instead as the ethnonyms for their people. Masud Sabri viewed the Hui people as Muslim Han Chinese and separate from his own people, while Bughrain criticized Sheng for his designation of Turkic Muslims into different ethnicities which could sow disunion among Turkic Muslims.After the Communist victory, the Communist Party of China under Mao Zedong continued the Soviet classification, using the term “Uyghur” to describe the modern ethnicity.

In current usage, Uyghur refers to settled Turkic urban dwellers and farmers of the Tarim Basin and Ili who follow traditional Central Asian sedentary practices, as distinguished from nomadic Turkic populations in Central Asia. However, the Chinese government has also designated as “Uyghur” certain peoples with significantly divergent histories and ancestries from the main group. These include the Lopliks of Ruoqiang County and the Dolan people, who are thought to be closer to the Oirat Mongols and the Kyrgyz. The use of the term Uyghur has led to anachronisms when describing the history of the people. In one of his books the term Uyghur was deliberately not used by James Millward.

Another ethnicity, the Western Yugur of Gansu, have consistently been called by themselves and others the “Yellow Uyghur” (Sarïq Uyghur). Some scholars say that the Yugur’s culture, language, and religion are closer to the original culture of the original Uyghur Karakorum state than is the culture of the modern Uyghur people of Xinjiang. Linguist and ethnographer S. Robert Ramsey has argued for inclusion of both the Eastern and Western Yugur and the Salar as subgroups of the Uyghur based on similar historical roots for the Yugur and on perceived linguistic similarities for the Salar. These groups are recognized as separate ethnicities, though, by the Chinese government.

“Turkistani” is used as an alternate ethnonym for “Uyghur” by some Uyghurs, for example the Uyghur diaspora in Saudi Arabia have adopted the identity “Turkistani”. Some Uyghurs in Saudi Arabia adopted the Arabic nisba of their home city, such as Al Kashgari from Kashgar. Saudi born Uyghur Hamza Kashgari’s family originated from Kashgar. Uyghurs who migrated from the Tarim Basin to Ürümqi and Dzungaria in the northern portion of Xinjiang during the Qing dynasty were known as Taranchi meaning “farmer”.

We never call each other Uyghur, but only refer to ourselves as East Turkestanis, or Kashgarlik, Turpanlik, or even Turks.– according to some Uyghurs born in Turkey.

Uyghur princes from Cave 9 of the Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves, Xinjiang, China, 8th–9th century AD, wall painting

The history of the Uyghur people, as with the ethnic origin of the people, is a matter of contention between Uyghur nationalists and the Chinese authority. Uyghur historians viewed the Uyghurs as the original inhabitants of Xinjiang with a long history. Uyghur politician and historian Muhemmed Imin Bughra wrote in his book A History of East Turkestan, stressing the Turkic aspects of his people, that the Turks have a 9000-year history, while historian Turghun Almas incorporated discoveries of Tarim mummies to conclude that Uyghurs have over 6400 years of history, and the World Uyghur Congress claimed a 4,000-year history in East Turkestan. However, the official Chinese view asserts that the Uyghurs in Xinjiang originated from the Tiele tribes and only became the main social and political force in Xinjiang during the ninth century when they migrated to Xinjiang from Mongolia after the collapse of the Uyghur Khaganate, replacing the Han Chinese they claimed were there since the Han Dynasty. Many contemporary Western scholars, however, do not consider the modern Uyghurs to be of direct linear descent from the old Uyghur Khaganate of Mongolia. Rather, they consider them to be descendants of a number of peoples, one of them the ancient Uyghurs.

Early history

Discovery of well-preserved Tarim mummies of a people European in appearance indicates the migration of an Indo-European people into the Tarim area at the beginning of the Bronze age around 1800 BCE. These people probably spoke Tocharian languages and were suggested by some to be the Yuezhi mentioned in ancient Chinese texts. However, Uyghur activists claimed these mummies to be of Uyghur origin, based partly on a word, which they argued to be Uyghur, found in written scripts associated with these mummies, although other linguists suggest it to be a Sogdian word later absorbed into Uyghur. Later migrations brought peoples from the west and north-west to the Xinjiang region, probably speakers of various Iranian languages such as the Saka tribes. Other people in the region mentioned in ancient Chinese texts include the Dingling as well as the Xiongnu who fought for supremacy in the region against the Chinese for several hundred years. Some Uyghur nationalists also claimed descent from the Xiongnu (according to the Chinese historical text the Book of Wei, the founder of the Uyghurs was descended from a Xiongnu ruler), but the view is contested by modern Chinese scholars.

The Yuezhi were driven away by the Xiongnu, but founded the Kushan Empire, which exerted some influence in the Tarim Basin where Kharosthi texts have been found in Loulan, Niya and Khotan. Loulan and Khotan were some of the many city states that existed in the Xinjiang region during the Han Dynasty, others include Kucha, Turfan, Karasahr and Kashgar. The settled population of these cities later merged with incoming Turkic people such as the Uyghurs of Uyghur Khaganate to form the modern Uyghurs.

Uyghur Khaganate

The Uyghurs of the Uyghur Khaganate were part of a Turkic confederation called the Tiele, who lived in the valleys south of Lake Baikal and around the Yenisei River. They overthrew the Turkic Khaganate and established the Uyghur Khaganate.

The Uyghur Khaganate stretched from the Caspian Sea to Manchuria and lasted from 744 to 840. It was administered from the imperial capital Ordu-Baliq, one of the biggest ancient cities built in Mongolia. In 840, following a famine and civil war, the Uyghur Khaganate was overrun by the Yenisei Kirghiz, another Turkic people. As a result, the majority of tribal groups formerly under Uyghur control dispersed and moved out of Mongolia.

Uyghur kingdoms

According to the New Book of Tang, the Uyghurs who founded the Uyghur Khaganate dispersed after the fall of the Khaganate; some went to live amongst the Karluks, and some moved to Turpan and Gansu. These Uyghurs soon founded two kingdoms and the easternmost state was the Ganzhou Kingdom (870–1036), with its capital near present-day Zhangye, Gansu, China. The modern Yugurs are believed to be descendants of these Uyghurs. Ganzhou was absorbed by the Western Xia in 1036.

The second Uyghur kingdom, the Kingdom of Qocho, also known as Uyghuristan in its later period, was founded in the Turpan area with its capital in Qocho (modern Gaochang) and Beshbalik. The Kingdom of Qocho lasted from the ninth to the fourteenth century and proved to be longer-lasting than any power in the region, before or since. The Uyghurs were originally Manichaean, but converted to Buddhism during this period. Qocho accepted the Qara Khitai as its overlord in 1130s, and in 1209 submitted voluntarily to the rising Mongol Empire. The Uyghurs of Kingdom of Qocho were allowed significant autonomy and played an important role as civil servants to the Mongol Empire, but was finally destroyed by the Chagatai Khanate by the end of the 14th century.

In 1912, the Qing Dynasty was replaced by the Republic of China. By 1920, Pan-Turkic Jadidist Islamists had become a challenge to Chinese warlord Yang Zengxin who controlled Xinjiang. Uyghurs staged several uprisings against Chinese rule. Twice, in 1933 and 1944, the Uyghurs successfully gained their independence (backed by the Soviet Communist leader Joseph Stalin): the First East Turkestan Republic was a short-lived attempt at independence around Kashghar, and it was destroyed during the Kumul Rebellion by Chinese Muslim army under General Ma Zhancang and Ma Fuyuan at the Battle of Kashgar (1934). The Second East Turkestan Republic was a Soviet puppet Communist state that existed from 1944 to 1949 in the three districts of what is now Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture during the Ili Rebellion while the majority of Xinjiang was under the control of the Republic of China. Religious Uyghur separatists from the First East Turkestan Republic like Isa Yusuf Alptekin and Muhammad Amin Bughra opposed the Soviet Communist backed Uyghur separatists of the Second East Turkestan Republic under Ehmetjan Qasim and they supported the Republic of China during the Ili Rebellion.

Mao declared the founding of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949. He turned the Second East Turkistan Republic into the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture, and appointed Saifuddin Azizi as the region’s first Communist Party governor. Many Republican loyalists fled into exile in Turkey and Western countries. The name Xinjiang was changed to Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, where Uyghurs are the largest ethnicity, mostly concentrated in the south-western Xinjiang. The Xinjiang conflict is an ongoing separatist conflict in China’s far-west province of Xinjiang, whose northern region is known as Dzungaria and whose southern region (the Tarim Basin) is known as East Turkestan. Uyghur separatists and independence movements claim that the region is not a part of China, but that the Second East Turkestan Republic was illegally incorporated by the PRC in 1949 and has since been under Chinese occupation. Uyghur identity remains fragmented, as some support a Pan-Islamic vision, exemplified by the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, while others support a Pan-Turkic vision, such as the East Turkestan Liberation Organization. A third group would like a “Uyghurstan” state, such as the East Turkestan independence movement. As a result, “[n]o Uyghur or East Turkestan group speaks for all Uyghurs, although it might claim to”, and Uyghurs in each of these camps have committed violence against other Uyghurs who they think are too assimilated to Chinese or Russian society or are not religious enough. Mindful not to take sides, Uyghur “leaders” such as Rebiya Kadeer mainly try to garner international support for the “rights and interests of the Uyghurs”, including the right to demonstrate, although the Chinese government has accused her of orchestrating the deadly July 2009 Ürümqi riots.

Eric Enno Tamm’s 2011 book states that, “Authorities have censored Uyghur writers and ‘lavished funds’ on official histories that depict Chinese territorial expansion into ethnic borderlands as ‘unifications (tongyi), never as conquests (zhengfu) or annexations (tunbing)’ ”

Chinese internment camps

According to a 2018 report by The Economist, Uyghurs in Xinjiang suffer under a “fully-fledged police state” with extensive controls and restrictions upon their religious, cultural and social life. In Xinjiang, the Chinese government has expanded police surveillance to watch for signs of “religious extremism” (such as owning books about Uyghurs or quitting smoking or drinking) and installed cameras in the homes of private citizens.

Further, at least 120,000 (and possibly over 1 million) Uyghurs are detained in mass detention camps, termed “re-education camps,” aimed at changing the political thinking of detainees, their identities, and their religious beliefs. Some of these facilities keep prisoners detained around the clock, while others release their inmates at night to return home. The New York Times has reported inmates are required to “sing hymns praising the Chinese Communist Party and write ‘self-criticism’ essays,” and that prisoners are also subjected to physical and verbal abuse by prison guards. Chinese officials are sometimes assigned to monitor the families of current inmates, and women have been detained due to actions by their sons or husbands.

Uyghurs of Taoyuan, Hunan

Around 5,000 Uyghurs live around Taoyuan County and other parts of Changde in Hunan province. They are descended from Hala Bashi, a Uyghur leader from Turpan (Kingdom of Qocho), and his Uyghur soldiers sent to Hunan by the Ming Emperor in the 14th century to crush the Miao rebels during the Miao Rebellions in the Ming Dynasty. The 1982 census records 4,000 Uyghurs in Hunan. They have genealogies which survive 600 years later to the present day. Genealogy keeping is a Han Chinese custom which the Hunan Uyghurs adopted. These Uyghurs were given the surname Jian by the Emperor. There is some confusion as to whether they practice Islam or not. Some say that they have assimilated with the Han and do not practice Islam anymore, and only their genealogies indicate their Uyghur ancestry. Chinese news sources report that they are Muslim.

The Uyghur troops led by Hala were ordered by the Ming Emperor to crush Miao rebellions and were given titles by him. Jian is the predominant surname among the Uyghur in Changde, Hunan. Another group of Uyghur have the surname Sai. Hui and Uyghur have intermarried in the Hunan area. The Hui are descendants of Arabs and Han Chinese who intermarried, and they share the Islamic religion with the Uyghur in Hunan. It is reported that they now number around 10,000 people. The Uyghurs in Changde are not very religious, and eat pork. Older Uyghurs disapprove of this, especially elders at the mosques in Changde, and they seek to draw them back to Islamic customs.

In addition to eating pork, the Uyghurs of Changde Hunan practice other Han Chinese customs, like ancestor worship at graves. Some Uyghurs from Xinjiang visit the Hunan Uyghurs out of curiosity or interest. Also, the Uyghurs of Hunan do not speak the Uyghur language, instead, they speak Chinese as their native language, and Arabic for religious reasons at the mosque.

The Uyghurs are a Eurasian population with Eastern and Western Eurasian anthropometric and genetic traits. Uyghurs are thus one of the many populations of Central Eurasia that can be considered to be genetically related to Caucasoid and East Asian populations. However, various scientific studies differ on the size of each component. One study, using samples from Hetian (Hotan) only, found that Uyghurs have 60 per cent European ancestry and 40 per cent East Asian ancestry. A further study showed slightly greater European component (52 per cent European) in the Uyghur population in southern Xinjiang, but slightly greater East Asian component (47 per cent European) in the northern Uyghur population. Another study used a larger sample of individuals from a wider area, and found only about 30 per cent European component to the admixture. A study on mitochondrial DNA (therefore the matrilineal genetic contribution) found the frequency of western Eurasian-specific haplogroup in Uyghurs to be 42.6 per cent, and East Asian haplogroup to be 57.4 per cent. A further study shows that the western-Eurasian patrilineal Y-DNA haplogroup in Uyghurs is around 65% to 70%, and east-Asian Y-DNA haplogroup around 30% to 35%.

 

The admixture may be the result of a continuous gene flow from populations of European and Asian descent, or may have been formed by a single event of admixture during a short period of time (the hybrid isolation model). If a hybrid isolation model is assumed, it can be estimated that the hypothetical admixture event occurred about 126 generations ago, or 2,520 years ago assuming twenty years per generation.

According to the paper by Li et al.:

… the western East Asians are more closely related to Uyghurs than the eastern East Asians. … STRUCTURE cannot distinguish recent admixture from a cline of other origin, and these analyses cannot prove admixture in the Uyghurs; however, historical records indicate that the present Uyghurs were formed by admixture between Tocharians from the west and Orkhon Uyghurs (Wugusi-Huihu, according to present Chinese pronunciation) from the east in the 8th century AD. The Uyghur Empire was originally located in Mongolia and conquered the Tocharian tribes in Xinjiang. Tocharians such as Kroran have been shown by archaeological findings to appear phenotypically similar to northern and central Europeans, whereas the Orkhon Uyghur people were clearly Mongolians. The two groups of people subsequently mixed in Xinjiang to become one population, the present Uyghurs. We do not know the genetic constitution of the Tocharians, but if they were similar to western Siberians, such as the Khanty, admixture would already be biased toward similarity with East Asian populations.

The paper further concludes:

… that the Uyghurs’ genetic structure is more similar to East Asians than to Europeans, in contrast to the reports by Xu and Jin, whose work may have been affected by their sparse population coverage. The median line of the Eurasian genetic landscape appears to lie to the west of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China. When we have collected more data on these 34 populations, we should be able to refine these estimates.

The physical features of many Uighurs, characterized by a mixture of European and East Asian characteristics, are considered “exotic” in China; in theatre the use of Uighur actors has become common because they can play the roles of foreign characters while at the same time speaking flawless Mandarin.

The ancient Uyghurs believed in Shamanism and Tengrism, then Manichaeism, Buddhism and Church of the East. People in the western Tarim Basin region began to convert to Islam in significant number early in the Kara-Khanid Khanate period. Modern Uyghurs are now primarily Muslim, and they are the second largest predominantly Muslim ethnicity in China after the Hui.

The majority of modern Uyghurs are Sunnis, although conflicts exist between Sufi and non-Sufi religious orders. While modern Uyghurs consider Islam to be part of their identity, religious observance varies between different regions. In general, Muslims in the southern region, Kashgar in particular, are more conservative. For example, women wearing the full veil (brown cloth covering the head completely) are more common in Kashgar but may not be found in some other cities. There is also a general split between the Uyghurs and the Hui Muslims in Xinjiang, and they normally worship in different mosques. There had been Christian conversions in the late 19th and early 20th centuries but these were suppressed.

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