Xinjiang (Uyghur: شىنجاڭ, SASM/GNC: Xinjang, Chinese: 新疆, pinyin: Xīnjiāng), officially the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (XUAR), is the largest and westernmost first-level administrative division of China, with Ürümqi as its capital and largest city. It is an autonomous region, as the majority of the population consists of non-Han Chinese.
The province is made up of two regions: the northern Dzungaria and the southern Tarim Basin, with the Tian Shan mountains serving as their natural barrier. Dzungaria is steppe and mountain country and was mainly inhabited by nomads of the Eurasian Steppe until recently, whereas the Tarim Basin — containing the fertile oases surrounding the extremely arid Taklamakan Desert — has a long history of being settled by sedentary agriculturalists. The primary cities of the Tarim include Kashgar, Khotan, and Yarkent.
Xinjiang is site of the most-well known route of The Silk Road, historically making it a hotly contested territory. In the 1st millennium BCE, it was home to several Indo-European tribes, whose Caucasian features (blond hair, blue eyes, etc.) were noted by the ancient Chinese. They sold precious metals to the Chinese, notably jade. In the 200s BCE, the Xiongnu invaded the region and pushed some tribes to Central Asia, triggering a chain reaction that eventually led to another IE people, the Iranian Saka, to settle in the southern rim of the Tarim, where it established the Khotan Kingdom. By then, the region had been a part of the Han dynasty's Protectorate of the West, following the defeat of the Xiongnu. In the 2nd century CE, the Kushans of Bactria introduced Buddhism to the Saka. Through it, the religion was further introduced to East Asia. According to records, the Tocharian people started to appear in the northern rim of the Tarim around the same time and was likewise Buddhist. The Tocharians is of great interest to IE linguists, since its existence destroyed the commonly held belief that the IE family is divided into a "Western" (centum) and "Eastern" (satem) branch, with the dividing line somewhere in Eastern Europe. This is because the Tocharians spoke centum languages, even though it was the easternmost IE civilization in the ancient period.
During the second half of the 1st millennium, Xinjiang was a battleground between the Chinese, Tibetans, and nomads. In Dzungaria, the Turkic Uyghurs prevailed, assimilating the Tocharians and pledging vassalage to the Khitan dynasty. Meanwhile, the southern Tarim was invaded in the 10th century by the Kara-Khanid Khanate, who Islamized and Turkified the Saka. Following the conquest of Genghis Khan, Xinjiang as a whole was allotted to the family of his second son, Chagatai, and henceforth known as the Chagatai Khanate. The Chagatai (and its successor, the Moghulistan Khanate) subjugated the Uyghurs and Islamized parts of Dzungaria. Note that during that period, "Uyghurs" and "Muslim Turks of Xinjiang" did not mean the same thing. The old Uyghurs mainly adhered to Manichaenism and spoke a language from a different Turkic subgroup (Siberian) than the Muslim Turks (Karluk). The appellation of the Muslim Turks as "Uyghur" only began with the nationalist movement of the early 20th century; before then, as with other Central Asian Turks, they were identified based on their occupation and place of origin.
In the 17th century, the Dzungars, an Oirat Mongol tribe, displaced Moghulistan as ruler of Xinjiang with the help of Les Collaborateurs from the Tarim Basin. It picked fights with tribes from the Mongolian heartland, who asked Qing China for help. The Qing invaded and razed Dzungaria in 1758, which indirectly completed Xinjiang's Islamization, as Turks of the Tarim were brought in to repopulate the region. Han Chinese settlers were also brought in, albeit to a lesser extent compared to today; by 1933, they constituted less than 10% of the population, a far cry from today, where their numbers evenly match the Uyghurs. Under the Qing, Xinjiang was site of the Dungan Rebellion, bringing the Qing into conflict with Tsarist Russia.
The fall of the Qing dynasty in 1912 brought chaos to the region. A series of rebellions arose in the province during the early 1930s after the governor, Yang Zengxin, was assassinated, with a short lived First East Turkistan Republic being declared in Kashgar, before the Nationalist Chinese army brought it down the next year and executed the two Emirs of the Republic, Abdullah Bughra and Nur Ahmad Jan Bughra. The Soviets then invaded Xinjiang, and the entire province was taken over by northeast Han warlord Sheng Shicai during the Xinjiang War, who ruled it the next decade with close support from the Soviet Union, with the Soviets maintaining a military base there and having several military and economic advisors deployed in the region, and many of whose ethnic and security policies Sheng instituted in Xinjiang.
In 1944, the current President and Premier of China, Chiang Kai-shek, was informed of Shicai's intention of joining the Soviet Union by Soviets, and decided to shift him out of Xinjiang to Chongqing as the Minister of Agriculture and Forest. The Soviets weren't so eager on giving up their attempts to take Xinjiang, however, and backed Uyghur separatists to create the Second East Turkistan Republic in Ili region while Xinjiang was under Republic of China Kuomintang control. The People's Liberation Army then entered Xinjiang in 1949, and the province was surrendered to them by the then Kuomintang commander Tao Zhiyue and the governments chairman Burhan Shahid, with the province later being replaced by the autonomous region on October 1st, 1955.
Nowadays, Xinjiang is China's largest natural gas-producing region, and abundant oil and mineral reserves have been located there. However, occasional clashes between the government and Uyghur separatists cause unrest in the region, as well as ethnic clashes and attacks by radical Islamists. The region has also caught international attention and infamy for what can only be described as an ethnic cleansing of the Uyghurs by the Chinese government, with concentration camps for them being set up there. We won't go into any more details, but you can look them up for yourself.
Anime, Manga, & Light Novels
- The final act of Canaan takes place in Xinjiang, in an area close enough to the Afghanistan border that a U.S. Army helicopter squadron is able to interfere with Canaan and the Snakes' battle.
- Are You Lost shows that one of Homare's flashbacks took place in the Taklamakan Desert as part of her survival adventures with her father, when their guides abandoned them and stole their camels.
- The second season of Code Geass sees Lelouch toppling the Chinese Federation to hunt down the Geass Order, and their headquarters turns out to be in the far western regions of China in the Taklamakan Desert.
- In Get Backers, Emishi Haruki is a descendant of the long-forgotten Kingdom of Lóulán deep within the Xinjiang region. His signature whip is made out of the woven hairs of many women of Lóulán who dedicated their locks as weapons of war.
- In Night Raid 1931, one episode involves Takachiho Isao kidnapping Victor Bulwer-Lytton and taking him to the Taklamakan Desert, the "Desert of Death," to demonstrate a brand new weapon he has developed as a warning to the British government.
- The 2015 movie Dragon Blade starring Jackie Chan, John Cusack, and Adrien Brody takes place in the far Western Regions of the Han Dynasty, about a hypothetical clash between an Imperial Roman legion and a Han Chinese army.
- Journey to the West takes its main character through this region as they are heading to the far west of China.
- Part of Judge Dee's career takes place along the northern border of China, where possible Uighur invasion is a constant threat and a sizable Uighur population causes problems due to their alien (to the Chinese) mindset.
- Episode 8 of The Brave occurs in the northern reaches of China in the Altai Mountains near the Mongolian, Russian, and Kazakh borders. Unlike most other depictions of Xinjiang, which take place in the harsh western deserts, the Altai region is a beautifully lush and heavily forested area.
- Episode 9 of SEAL Team takes place in the far western region, as Bravo Team must find two Russian defectors who have crash-landed and get them across the border to a U.S. Army convoy in Afghanistan before they are discovered by Russian or Chinese forces.
- In Metal Gear Solid, Liquid Snake orders Revolver Ocelot to set the first target of Metal Gear REX's nuclear railgun as Lop Nur, China to destroy a hidden nuclear weapons facility out there that will force the U.S. and China into secret negotiations that will end up with the U.S. disclosing the existence of REX to the Chinese government.
- The fourth episodes of Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus and Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves, "Fire in the Sky" and "A Cold Alliance" respectively, take place in the Kunlun Mountains in this region, home to the Panda King of the Fiendish Five.
- In Terranigma, the city of Louran is found within this region, which is where the real life ruins of Lóulán are located.
The East Turkestan flag