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Yarkand, 1868, showing city walls and gallows
Yarkant (Yarkand) County (lit. earthen
city, probably referring to the earthen walls; altitude about
1,189 m or 3,900 ft, population 373,492 in 2003), is a county in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China, located on the southern rim
of the Taklamakan desert in the Tarim Basin. It is one
of 11 counties administered under Kashgar Prefecture. Yarkant, usually
written Yarkand in English, was the seat of an
ancient Buddhist kingdom on the southern branch of the Silk Road.
The fertile oasis is fed by
River which flows north down from the Kunlun
Mountains known historically as Congling mountains (lit.
'Onion Mountains' - from the abundance of wild onions found there).
The oasis now covers some 3,210 km². (1,240 sq. mi.), but was
likely far more extensive before the period of desiccation began to
afflict the region from the 3rd century CE onwards.
Today, Yarkant is a predominantly Uyghur city. The irrigated oasis farmland
produces cotton, wheat, corn, fruits (especially pomegranates, pears and apricots), and walnuts. Yak and sheep graze in the highlands. Mineral
deposits include petroleum, natural gas, gold, copper,
lead, bauxite, granite and coal.
Yarkant is strategically located about half way between Kashgar and Khotan, at the junction of a
branch road north to Aksu. It also was the terminus for
caravans coming from occupied Kashmir via Ladakh and then over the Karakoram Pass to the oasis of Niya in
the Tarim Basin.
The Xinjiang-Tibet Highway China National Highway 219,
built in 1956 commences in Yecheng/Yarkant and heads south and
west, across the Ladakh
plateau and into central Tibet.
From Yarkant another important route headed southwest via Tashkurgan Town
to the Wakhan corridor from
where travellers could cross the relatively easy Baroghil
Pass into what is now Northern
Pakistan, or head down the valley and into Badakshan.
Street scene in Yarkand in the 1870s
The oasis of Yarkant was undoubtedly known to the Chinese from
at least the 2nd century BCE, but the earliest detailed accounts of
Yarkant that survive appear in the Hou
Hanshu ('History of the Later Han'). They contain some
rare insights into the complex political situations China faced in
attempting to open up the "Silk Routes" to the West in the 1st
century CE. So, it may be of interest here to include some rather
lengthy passages on Yarkant (Yarkand) quoted from the "Chapter on
the Western Regions" of the Hou Hanshu:
- "Going west from the kingdom of Suoju (Yarkand), and passing
through the countries of Puli (Tashkurghan) and Wulei
(centred on Sarhad in the Wakhan), you arrive among the Da
Yuezhi (Kushans). To the east, it is 10,950 li
(4,553 km) from Luoyang.
- The Chanyu (Khan) of the Xiongnu took advantage of the chaos caused by
Wang Mang (9-24 CE) and
invaded the Western Regions. Only Yan, the king of Suoju, who was
more powerful than the others, did not consent to being annexed.
Previously, during the time of Emperor Yuan (48-33 BCE), he was a
hostage prince and grew up in the capital. He admired and loved the
Middle Kingdom and extended the rules of Chinese administration to
his own country. He ordered all his sons to respectfully serve the
Han dynasty generation by generation, and to never turn their backs
on it. Yan died in the fifth Tianfeng year (18 CE). He was awarded
the posthumous title of 'Faithful and Martial King'. His son, Kang,
succeeded him on the throne.
- At the beginning of Emperor Guangwu's reign (25-57 CE), Kang
led the neighbouring kingdoms to resist the Xiongnu. He escorted,
and protected, more than a thousand people including the officers,
the soldiers, the wife and children of the former Protector
General. He sent a letter to Hexi
(Chinese territory west of the Huang He or Yellow River) to inquire about
the activities of the Middle Kingdom, and personally expressed his
attachment to, and admiration for, the Han dynasty.
- In the fifth Jianwu year (29 CE) the General-in-Chief of Hexi,
Dou Rong, following Imperial instructions, bestowed on Kang the
titles of: “King of Chinese Suoju, Performer of Heroic Deeds Who
Cherishes Virtue [and] Commandant-in-Chief of the Western Regions.”
The fifty-five kingdoms were all made dependencies after that.
- In the ninth year (33 CE) Kang died. He was awarded the
posthumous title of “Greatly Accomplished King.” His younger
brother, Xian, succeeded him on the throne. Xian attacked and
conquered the kingdoms of Jumi (Keriya) and Xiye (Karghalik). He
killed both their kings, and installed two sons of his elder
brother, Kang, as the kings of Jumi and Xiye.
- In the fourteenth year (38 CE), together with An, the king of
Shanshan (the Lop Nor
region), he sent envoys to the Imperial Palace to offer tribute.
Following this, the Western Regions were (again) in communication
with China. All the kingdoms to the east of the Congling (Pamirs)
were dependent on Xian.
- In the seventeenth year (41 CE), Xian again sent an envoy to
present offerings [to the Emperor], and to ask that a Protector
General be appointed. The Son of Heaven questioned the Excellency
of Works, Dou Rong, about this. He was of the opinion that Xian,
and his sons and brothers who had pledged to serve the Han were
truly sincere. Therefore, [he suggested that] it would be
appropriate to give him higher rank to maintain order and
- The Emperor then, using the same envoy that Xian had sent to
him, bestowed upon him the seal and ribbon of “Protector General of
the Western Regions,” and gave him chariots, standards, gold,
brocades and embroideries.
"Pei Zun, the Administrator of Dunhuang, wrote saying that foreigners should
not be allowed to employ such great authority and that these
decrees would cause the kingdoms to despair. An Imperial decree
then ordered that the seal and ribbons of “Protector General” be
recovered, and replaced with the seal and ribbon of “Great Han
General.” Xian’s envoy refused to make the exchange, and (Pei) Zun
took them by force.
- Consequently, Xian became resentful. Furthermore, he falsely
named himself “Great Protector General,” and sent letters to all
the kingdoms. They all submitted to him, and bestowed the title of
Chanyu on him. Xian gradually became arrogant making heavy demands
for duties and taxes. Several times he attacked Qiuci (Kucha) and the other kingdoms. All
the kingdoms were anxious and fearful.
- In the winter of the twenty-first year (45 CE), eighteen kings,
including the king of Nearer Jushi (Turpan), Shanshan, Yanqi (Karashahr), and
others, sent their sons to enter the service of the Emperor and
offered treasure. As a result, they were granted audience when they
circulated weeping, prostrating with their foreheads to the ground,
in the hope of obtaining a Protector General. The Son of Heaven,
considering that the Middle Kingdom was just beginning to return to
peace and that the northern frontier regions were still unsettled,
returned all the hostage princes with generous gifts.
- At the same time, Xian, infatuated with his military power,
wanted to annex the Western Regions, and greatly increased his
attacks. The kingdoms, informed that no Protector General would be
sent, and that the hostage princes were all returning, were very
worried and frightened. Therefore, they sent a letter to the
Administrator of Dunhuang to ask him to detain their hostage sons
with him, so that they could point this out to the [king of] Suoju
(Yarkand), and tell him that their young hostage sons were detained
because a Protector General was to be sent. Then he [the king of
Yarkand] would stop his hostilities. Pei Zun sent an official
report informing the Emperor [of this proposal], which he
- In the twenty-second year (46 CE Xian, aware that no Protector
General was coming, sent a letter to An, king of Shanshan, ordering
him to cut the route to the Han. An did not accept [this order],
and killed the envoy. Xian was furious and sent soldiers to attack
Shanshan. An gave battle but was defeated and fled into the
mountains. Xian killed or captured more than a thousand men, and
- That winter (46 CE), Xian returned and attacked Qiuci (Kucha),
killed the king, and annexed the kingdom. The hostage princes of
Shanshan, and then Yanqi (Karashahr) and the other kingdoms, were
detained a long time at Dunhuang and became worried, so they fled
and returned [to their kingdoms].
- The king of Shanshan wrote a letter to the Emperor expressing
his desire to return his son to enter the service of the Emperor,
and again pleaded for a Protector General, saying that if a
Protector General were not sent, he would be forced to obey the
Xiongnu. The Son of
- “We are not able, at the moment, to send out envoys and
Imperial troops so, in spite of their good wishes, each kingdom
[should seek help], as they please, wherever they can, to the east,
west, south, or north.”
- Following this, Shanshan, and Jushi (Turpan/Jimasa) again
submitted to the Xiongnu. Meanwhile, Xian became increasingly
- The king of Guisai, reckoning that his kingdom was far enough
away, killed Xian’s envoy. Xian then attacked and killed him. He
appointed a nobleman from that country, Sijian, king of Guisai.
Furthermore, Xian appointed his own son, Zeluo, to be king of Qiuci
(Kucha). Xian, taking account of the youth of Zeluo, detached a
part of the territory from Qiuci (Kucha) from which he made the
kingdom of Wulei (Yengisar). He transferred Sijian to the post of
king of Wulei, and appointed another noble to the post of king of
- Several years later, the people of the kingdom of Qiuci
(Kucha), killed Zeluo and Sijian, and sent envoys to the Xiongnu to
ask them to appoint a king to replace them. The Xiongnu established
a nobleman of Qiuci (Kucha), Shendu, to be king of Qiuci (Kucha),
making it dependent on the Xiongnu.
- Because Dayuan (Ferghana) had reduced their tribute and
taxes, Xian personally took command of several tens of thousands of
men taken from several kingdoms, and attacked Dayuan (Ferghana).
Yanliu, the king of Dayuan, came before him to submit. Xian took
advantage of this to take him back to his own kingdom. Then he
transferred Qiaosaiti, the king of Jumi (Keriya), to the post of
king of Dayuan (Ferghana). Then Kangju (Tashkent plus the Chu, Talas, and middle
Jaxartes basins) attacked him there several times and Qiaosaiti
fled home [to Keriya] more than a year later. Xian appointed him
king of Jumi (Keriya) and sent Yanliu back to Dayuan again,
ordering him to bring the customary tribute and offerings.
- Xian also banished the king of Yutian (Khotan), Yulin, to be king
of Ligui and set up his younger brother, Weishi, as king of
- More than a year later Xian became suspicious that the kingdoms
wanted to rebel against him. He summoned Weishi, and the kings of
Jumi (Keriya), Gumo (Aksu), and Zihe (Shahidulla), and killed them
all. He didn’t set up any more kings, he just sent generals to
maintain order and guard these kingdoms. Rong, the son of Weishi,
fled and made submission to the Han, who named him: “Marquis Who
Maintains Virtue.” A general from Suoju (Yarkand), named Junde, had
been posted to Yutian (Khotan), and tyrannised the people there who
- In the third Yongping year (60 CE), during the reign of Emperor
Ming, a high official of this country, called Dumo, had left town
when he saw a wild pig. He wanted to shoot it, but the pig said to
him: “Do not shoot me, I will undertake to kill Junde for you.”
Following this, Dumo plotted with his brothers and killed Junde.
However, another high official, Xiumo Ba, plotted, in his turn,
with a Chinese man, Han Rong, and others, to kill Dumo and his
brothers, then he named himself king of Yutian (Khotan). Together
with men from the kingdom of Jumi (Keriya), he attacked and killed
the Suoju (Yarkand) general who was at Pishan (modern Pishan or
Guma). He then returned with the soldiers.
- Then Xian sent his Heir Apparent, and his State Chancellor,
leading 20,000 soldiers from several kingdoms, to attack Xiumo Ba.
[Xiumo] Ba came to meet them and gave battle, defeating the
soldiers of Suoju (Yarkand) who fled, and more than 10,000 of them
- Xian again fielded several tens of thousands of men from
several kingdoms, and personally led them to attack Xiumo Ba.
[Xiumo] Ba was again victorious and beheaded more than half of the
enemy. Xian escaped and fled, returning to his kingdom. Xiumo Ba
advanced and encircled Suoju (Yarkand), but he was hit and killed
by an arrow, and his soldiers retreated to Yutian (Khotan).
- Suyule, State Chancellor [of Khotan], and others, appointed
Guangde, the son of Xiumo Ba’s elder brother, king. The Xiongnu, with Qiuci (Kucha) and
the other kingdoms, attacked Suoju (Yarkand), but were unable to
- Later, Guangde recognising of the exhaustion of Suoju
(Yarkand), sent his younger brother, the Marquis who Supports the
State, Ren, commanding an army, to attack Xian. As he had suffered
war continuously, Xian sent an envoy to make peace with Guangde.
Guangde's father had previously been detained for several years in
Suoju (Yarkand). Xian returned Guangde's father and also gave one
of his daughters in marriage and swore brotherhood to Guangde, so
the soldiers withdrew and left.
Andijani Taifurghis of the Yarkand Governor's Guard. 1870s
- In the following year (61 CE), Qieyun, the Chancellor of Suoju
(Yarkand), and others, worried by Xian's arrogance, plotted to get
the town to submit to Yutian (Khotan). Guangde, the king of Yutian
(Khotan), then led 30,000 men from several kingdoms to attack Suoju
(Yarkand). Xian stayed in the town to defend it and sent a
messenger to say to Guangde: “I have given you your father and a
wife. Why are you attacking me?” Guangde replied to him: “O king,
you are the father of my wife. It has been a long time since we
met. I want us to meet, each of us escorted by only two men,
outside the town wall to make an alliance.”
- Xian consulted Qieyun about this. Qieyun said to him: “Guangde,
your son-in-law is a very close relation; you should go out to see
him.” Xian then rashly went out. Guangde advanced and captured him.
In addition, Qieyun and his colleagues let the soldiers of Yutian
(Khotan) into the town to capture Xian’s wife and children.
(Guangde) annexed his kingdom. He put Xian in chains, and took him
home with him. More than a year later, he killed him.
- When the Xiongnu heard that Guangde had defeated Suoju
(Yarkand), they sent five generals leading more than 30,000 men
from fifteen kingdoms including Yanqi (Karashahr), Weili (Korla),
and Qiuci (Kucha), to besiege Yutian (Khotan). Guangde asked to
submit. He sent his Heir Apparent as a hostage and promised to give
felt carpets each year. In winter, the Xiongnu ordered soldiers to
take Xian’s son, Bujuzheng, who was a hostage with them, to appoint
him king of Suoju (Yarkand).
- Guangde then attacked and killed [Bujuzheng], and put his
younger brother, Qili, on the throne. This was in the third Yuanhe
year (86 CE) of Emperor Zhang.
- At this time Chief Clerk Ban Chao brought the troops of several
kingdoms to attack Suoju (Yarkand). He soundly defeated Suoju
(Yarkand) so it submitted to Han."
In 90 CE the Yuezhi or Kushans invaded the region with an army
of reportedly 70,000 men, under their Viceroy, Xian, but they were
forced to withdraw without a battle after Ban Chao instigated a
"burnt earth" policy.
After the Yuanchu period (114-120 CE), when the Yuezhi or Kushans placed a
hostage prince on the throne of Kashgar:
- ". . . Suoju [Yarkand] followed by resisting Yutian [Khotan],
and put themselves under Shule [Kashgar]. Thus Shule [Kashgar],
became powerful and a rival to Qiuci [Kucha] and Yutian
- "In the second Yongjian year [127 CE] of the reign of Emperor
Shun, [Ban] Yong once again attacked and subdued Yanqi [Karashahr];
and then Qiuci [Kucha], Shule [Kashgar], Yutian [Khotan], Suoju
[Yarkand], and other kingdoms, seventeen altogether, came to
submit. Following this, the Wusun [Issyk Kul, Ili Valley and
Semirechiye], and the countries of the Congling [Pamir Mountains],
put an end to their disruptions to communications with the
In 130 CE, Yarkand, along with Ferghana and Kashgar, sent tribute and
offerings to the Chinese Emperor.
After this, there is very little information on Yarkant's
history for many centuries. There are a couple of brief references
in the Tang dynasty histories, but it seems to
have been of less note then than the oasis of Kharghalik (see Yecheng and Yecheng County) to its south.
One must assume that it was taken by the Muslims soon after they
subdued Kashgar in the early
It apparently became the main base in the region for Chagatai Khan (died
1241), who inherited Kashgaria (and also much of the land
between the Oxus (Amu Darya) and Jaxartes (Syr Darya)
rivers) after his father, Genghis Khan's death in 1227.
describing Yarkant c. 1260, says only that this "province" (of Kublai Khan's nephew,
Kaidu, d. 1301) was, "five days'
journey in extent. The inhabitants follow the law of Mahomet, and
there are also some Nestorian Christians. They are subject to
the Great Khan's nephew. It is amply stocked with the means of
life, especially cotton."
At the end of the 16th century Yarkant was incorporated into the
khanate of Kashgar and became its capital.
The Jesuit Benedict Göez, who was seeking a route from
Empire to Cathay (which,
according to his superiors, may or may not have been the same place
as China), arrived to Yarkant
with a caravan from Kabul in
late 1603. He remained there for about a year, making a short trip
during that time. He reported:
- "Hiarchan [Yarkant], the capital of the kingdom of Cascar, is a mart of much note,
both for the great concourse of merchants, and for the variety of
wares. At this capital the caravan of Kabul merchants reaches its terminus; and a new
one is formed for the journey to Cathay. The command of this caravan is sold by
the king, who invests the chiefs with a kind of royal authority
over the merchants for the whole journey. A twelvemonth passed away
however before the new company was formed, for the way is long and
perilous, and the caravan is not formed every year, but only when a
large number arrange to join it, and when it is known that they
will be allowed to enter Cathay."
The Qing dynasty gained control of the region
in the middle of the 18th century.
Yarkant ladies' summer fashions, 1870s
By the 19th century, due to its active trade with Ladakh occupied Kashmir, and an
influx of foreign merchants, its population outstripped even that
of Kashgar. Mohammed
Yakub (also known as Yakub Beg), 1820-1877 conquered Khotan, Aksu, Kashgar, and neighbouring towns
with the help of the Russians
in the 1860s. The capital was Yarkant, where he received embassies
from England in 1870 and
1873. The Qing dynasty defeated Yakub at Turpan in 1877 and he committed suicide, thus
ending the Kingdom of Kashgaria, and returning the region to Qing
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of Niya in Taklamakan". The Silk Road.
Hill (2009), pp. 39, 41.
Chavannes, Édouard (1906). "Trois généraux Chinois de la dynastie
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Hill (2009), p. 43.
Hill (2009), p. 11.
Hill (2009), p. 168.
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The Travels of Marco Polo. Translated by Ronald Latham.
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Coordinates: 38°25′N 77°15′E / 38.417°N