Qocho (Chinese: 高昌回鶻; pinyin: Gāochāng Huíhú; lit. 'Gaochang Uyghurs', Mongolian ᠦᠶᠭᠦᠷ Uihur "id."), also known as Idiqut,[5][6][7][8] ("holy wealth"; "glory"; "lord of fortune"[4]) was a Uyghur kingdom created in 843, with strong Chinese Buddhist and Tocharian influences. It was founded by Uyghur refugees fleeing the destruction of the Uyghur Khaganate after being driven out by the Yenisei Kirghiz. They made their summer capital in Qocho (also called Qara-Khoja, modern Gaochang District of Turpan) and winter capital in Beshbalik (modern Jimsar County, also known as Ting Prefecture).[9] Its population is referred to as the "Xizhou Uyghurs" after the old Tang Chinese name for Gaochang, the Qocho Uyghurs after their capital, the Kucha Uyghurs after another city they controlled, or the Arslan (lion) Uyghurs after their king's title.

Qocho Kingdom

StatusSovereign state

Vassal state of the Western Liao
Vassal state of the Mongol Empire
Vassal state of the Chagatai Khanate
(Late 13th to mid 14th century)
CapitalGaochang, Beshbalik
Common languagesTocharian, Middle Chinese, Sogdian, and later Old Uyghur
Manichaeism,[1][2] Buddhism,[3] Nestorianism (Church of the East)
Idiqut (lord of fortune[4] 
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Uyghur Khaganate
Tibetan Empire
Western Liao
Chagatai Khanate
Today part ofChina
Man of Gaochang (高昌國, Turfan) in Fan Ke Ru Chao Tu 番客入朝圖 (937-976 CE)


Uyghur Khagan

In 843 a group of Uyghurs migrated southward under the leadership of Pugu Jun and occupied Karasahr and Kucha from Tibetan Empire.[10]

The land of the Uighurs is very large, so large that to the west it appears boundless. In the fourth and fifth months, all vegetation dries up as if it were winter. The mountains are snow-covered even in summer. When the sun rises it becomes hot, but as soon as it sets, it grows cold. Even in the sixth lunar month (i.e., the peak of summer), people must use wadded coverlets to sleep. It does not rain in summer. The rain only starts to fall in autumn, and then the vegetation begins to sprout. Come winter, the rivers and plains are like our spring, with flowers in full bloom.[11]

Wugusun Zhongduan

In 866, Pugu Jun declared himself khan. The Kingdom of Qocho captured Tingzhou (Beshbalik, or Beiting) and Xizhou (Gaochang) as well as Changbaliq (near Ürümqi) and Luntai (Bugur) from the Guiyi Circuit.[12]

On the southern end of the Altai Mountains is a city of the Uighurs, called Bieshiba (Beshbaliq). There is a Tang-era stele there that identifies it as the former Vast Sea (Hanhai) Military Prefecture. The Vast Sea is several hundred li northwest of this city. In that sea is a small island covered with feathers shed by birds. Over two hundred li west of this city is the county of Luntai, which also has a Tang-era stele. Five hundred li south of this city (Beshbaliq) is Hezhou (Qocho), known as Gaochang in the Tang. It is also known as Yizhou. Three to four thousand li west of Gaochang is the city of Wuduan (Khotan), which was known as the kingdom of Yutian in the Tang. The two rivers that produce black and white jade are located there.[13]

In 869 and 870 the Kingdom of Qocho attacked the Guiyi Circuit but was repelled.[14]

In 876 the Kingdom of Qocho seized Yizhou from the Guiyi Circuit, after which it came to be called Kumul.[14]

By 887 they were settled under an agrarian lifestyle in the region of Qocho.

In 954 Ilig Bilgä Tengri rose to power.[10]

In 981 Arslan Bilgä Tengri ilig rose to power.[10]

In 984 Arslan Bilgä Tengri ilig became Süngülüg Khagan.[10] In the same year a Song dynasty envoy reached Qocho and gave an account of the city:

There is no rain or snow here and it is extremely hot. Each year at the hottest time, the inhabitants dig holes in the ground to live in .... The earth here produces all the five grains except buckwheat. The nobility eat horseflesh, while the rest eat mutton, wild ducks and geese. Their music is largely played on the pipa and harp. They produce sables, fine white cotton cloth, and an embroidered cloth made from flower stamens. By custom they enjoy horseback riding and archery .... They use the [Tang] calendar produced in the seventh year of the Kaiyuan reign (719). They fashion pipes of silver or brass and channel flowing water to shoot at each other; or they sprinkle water on each other as a game, which they call pressing out the sun's heat to chase off sickness. They like to take walks, and the strollers always carry a musical instrument with them. There are over fifty Buddhist temples here, the names inscribed over their gates all presented by the Tang court. The temples house copies of the Buddhist scriptures (da zang jing) and the dictionaries Tang yun, Yupian and Jingyun. On spring nights the locals pass the time milling about between the temples.There's an "Imperial Writings Tower' which houses edicts written by the Tang emperor Taizong kept carefully secured. There's also a Manichaean temple, with Persian monks who keep their own religious law and call the Buddhist scriptures the 'foreign Way' .... In this land there are no poor people; anyone short of food is given public aid. People live to an advanced age, generally over one hundred years. No one dies young.[15]

In 996 Bügü Bilgä Tengri ilig succeeded Süngülüg Khagan.[10]

In 1007 Alp Arsla Qutlugh Kül Bilgä Tengri Khan succeeded Bügü Bilgä Tengri ilig.[10]

In 1024 Kül Bilgä Tengri Khan succeeded Alp Arsla Qutlugh Kül Bilgä Tengri Khan.[10]

In 1068 Tengri Bügü il Bilgä Arslan Tengri Uighur Tärkän succeeded Kül Bilgä Tengri Khan.[10]

In 1123 Bilgä rose to power. He was succeeded by Yur Temur at some point.[10]

In 1128 the Kingdom of Qocho became a vassal of the Qara Khitai.[16]

In 1128, during the reign of Bilge Tekin, the Uighur Kingdom became a vassal state of the Western Liao established by the Khitan. Originally the Western Liao exercised only a loose control over the Uighur state, but soon started to extort excessive taxes and levies in the Uighur lands. In 1209, the Uighur Iduq-qut Barchukh Art Tegin ordered the death of the Khitan magistrate (shangjian) in an attempt to free his people from the rule of the Western Liao. It just so happened that Chinggis Khan's envoys arrived at this juncture, and fearing retaliation from the Liao, he immediately sent envoys to Mongolia to express his willingness to acknowledge allegiance to Chinggis in exchange from protection.[16]

George Qingzhi Zhao

In 1209 the Kingdom of Qocho became a vassal of the Mongol Empire.[4]

I must, however, point out that, although Chinggis Khan adopted the ruler of the Uighur state Barchukh Art Tegin as his "fifth son," the Uighur state never became the "fifth khanate," as has been suggested by some scholars. The Uighur state was not independent, but was part of the Mongol empire. During the early Yuan dynasty, at least before the Princes' rebellions, the Yuan central government exercised a tight control over the Uighur state. Although the Mongol royal family maintained a marriage relationship with the Uighur Idu-qut family for almost a century, the women who were married into Uighurstan were not the daughters of the Yuan emperors, but were mostly descendants of Ogedei Khan who had lost the throne to the descendants of Tolui, his younger brother. At the same time, although the Mongol royal family continued to marry their Princesses to the Uighur Iduqut, not a single one of the Mongol Khans or Yuan Emperors married a Uighur Princess.[17]

George Qingzhi Zhao

In 1229, Barčuq Art iduq-qut succeeded Yur Temur.[10]

In 1242 Kesmez iduq-qut succeeded Barčuq Art iduq-qut.[10]

In 1246 Salïndï Tigin iduq-qut succeeded Kesmez iduq-qut.[10]

In 1253 Ögrünch Tigin iduq-qut succeeded Salïndï Tigin iduq-qut.[10]

In 1257 Mamuraq Tigin iduq-qut succeeded Ögrünch Tigin iduq-qut, who was executed for supporting the Ogodeid branch of the Genghisid family.[10]

In 1266 Qosqar Tigin iduq-qut succeeded Mamuraq Tigin iduq-qut.[10]

In 1280 Negüril Tigin iduq-qut succeeded Qosqar Tigin iduq-qut.[10]

In 1318 Negüril Tigin iduq-qut died.[10] The Kingdom of Qocho became part of the Chagatai Khanate.

In 1322 Tämir Buqa iduq-qut rose to power.[10]

In 1330 Senggi iduq-qut succeeded Tämir Buqa iduq-qut.[10]

In 1332 Taipindu iduq-qut succeeded Senggi iduq-qut.[10]

In 1352 Ching Timür iduq-qut succeeded Taipindu iduq-qut and was the last known ruler governor of the kingdom.[10]

By the 1370s the Kingdom of Qocho ceased to exist.


Painted silk fragments of men in armour, from a Manichaean Temple near Qocho. Turkish, 8th century or 9th century CE. Museum für Asiatische Kunst, Berlin.[18]

Mainly Turkic and Tocharian, but also Chinese and Iranian peoples such as the Sogdians were assimilated into the Uyghur Kingdom of Qocho.[19] Chinese were among the population of Qocho.[20] Peter B. Golden writes that the Uyghurs not only adopted the writing system and religious faiths of the Sogdians, such as Manichaeism, Buddhism, and Christianity, but also looked to the Sogdians as "mentors" while gradually replacing them in their roles as Silk Road traders and purveyors of culture.[21]

The Tang rule over Qocho and Turfan and Buddhism left a lasting legacy upon the Kingdom of Qocho with the Tang presented names remaining on the more than 50 Buddhist temples with Emperor Taizong of Tang's edicts stored in the "Imperial Writings Tower " and Chinese dictionaries like Jingyun, Yuian, Tang yun, and da zang jing (Buddhist scriptures) stored inside the Buddhist temples and Persian monks also maintained a Manichaean temple in the Kingdom, the Persian Hudud al-'Alam uses the name "Chinese town" to call Qocho, the capital city.[22]

The Uyghurs of Qocho continued to produce the Chinese Qieyun rime dictionary and developed their own pronunciations of Chinese characters, left over from the Tang influence over the area.[23]

The modern Uyghur linguist Abdurishid Yakup pointed out that the Turfan Uyghur Buddhists studied the Chinese language and used Chinese books like the Thousand Character Classic and Qieyun and it was written that "In Qocho city were more than fifty monasteries, all titles of which are granted by the emperors of the Tang dynasty, which keep many Buddhist texts as the Tripiṭaka, Tangyun, Yupuan, Jingyin etc."[24]

In Central Asia the Uyghurs viewed the Chinese script as "very prestigious" so when they developed the Old Uyghur alphabet, based on the Syriac script, they deliberately switched it to vertical like Chinese writing from its original horizontal position in Syriac.[25]


While the Uyghur language is a Turkic language, James A. Millward claimed that the Uyghurs were generally "Mongoloid" (an archaic term meaning "appearing ethnically Eastern or Inner Asian"), giving as an example the images of Uyghur patrons of Buddhism in Bezeklik, temple 9, until they began to mix with the Tarim Basin's original, Indo-European-speaking "Caucasoid" inhabitants,[26] such as the so-called Tocharians. Buddhist Uyghurs created the Bezeklik murals.[27]

Religious conflict

Leaf from Manichean book, mid-9th century
Manichean Bema Scene, 8-9th century

Kara-Khanid Khanate

The Uyghurs of Qocho were Buddhists whose religious identity were intertwined with their religion. Qocho was a Buddhist state with both state-sponsored Mahayana Buddhism and Manichaeism. The Uyghurs sponsored the construction of many of the temple-caves in what is now called the Bezeklik Caves. They also moved away from purely Turkic culture and abandoned the Old Turkic alphabet in favor of a modified Sogdian alphabet, which later came to be known as the Old Uyghur alphabet.[28] The Idiquts (the title of the Qocho rulers) ruled independently until they become a vassal state of the Qara Khitai (Chinese: "Western Liao").

They do not cremate their dead, but bury the dead without coffins. They always bury the dead with the head facing west. Their monks do not shave their heads, and there are no painted or sculpted images in their temples. The language of their scriptures is also unintelligible to us. Only in Hezhou (i.e., Gaochang/Qocho) and Shazhou (i.e., Dunhuang) are the temples and images like those of the Central Lands, and in those temples they recite Buddhist scriptures written in the Chinese (Han) script.[29]

Wugusun Zhongduan

The Buddhist Uyghurs frequently came into conflict with their western Muslim neighbors.[30] Muslim Turks described the Uyghurs in a number of derogatory ways. For example, the '"Compendium of the Turkic Dialects" by Mahmud al-Kashgari> states that "just as the thorn should be cut at its root, so the Uighur should be struck on the eye".[31] They also used the derogatory word "Tat" to describe the Buddhist Uyghurs, which means "infidels". Uyghurs were also called dogs.[32][33][34] While al-Kashgari displayed a different attitude towards the Turk diviners beliefs and "national customs", he expressed towards Buddhism a hatred in his Diwan where he wrote the verse cycle on the war against Uyghur Buddhists. Buddhist origin words like toyin (a cleric or priest) and Burxān or Furxan[35][36] (meaning Buddha,[37][38][39] acquiring the generic meaning of "idol" in the Turkic language of Kashgari) had negative connotations to Muslim Turks.[40][41]

The Uyghurs were subjected to attacks by Muslim Turks, according to Kashgari's work.[42] The Kara-Khanid Khanate's ruler Sultan Satuq Bughra Khan razed Qocho's Buddhist temples in the Minglaq province across the Ili region .[43][44][45][46] Buddhist murals at the Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves were damaged by local Muslim population whose religion proscribed figurative images of sentient beings, the eyes and mouths in particular were often gouged out. Pieces of murals were also broken off for use as fertilizer by the locals.[47] The Islamic-Buddhist conflict from the 11th to 12th centuries are still recalled in the forms of the Khotan Imam Asim Sufi shrine celebration and other Sufi holy site celebrations. Bezeklik's Thousand Buddha Caves are an example of the religiously motivated vandalism against portraits of religious and human figures.[48]

According to Kashgari's Three Turkic Verse Cycles, the "infidel tribes" suffered three defeats, one at the hands of the Karakhanids in the Irtysh Valley, one by unspecified Muslim Turks, and one inflicted upon "a city between the Tangut and China.", Qatun Sini, at the hands of the Tangut Khan.[49][50] The war against Buddhist, shamanist, and Manichaean Uyghurs was considered a jihad by the Kara-Khanids.[51][52][53][54] Imams and soldiers who died in the battles against the Uyghur Buddhists and Khotan are revered as saints.[55] It's possible the Muslims drove some Uyghur Buddhist monks towards taking asylum in the Tangut Western Xia dynasty.[56]

There are many varieties of people in that country. Their hair and beards are thick and curly like wool, and vary widely in shade from black to yellow. One sees only the eyes and noses on their faces [because of all the facial hair]. Their tastes and habits are also different from ours. There are Mosuluman (Muslim) Uighurs who are cruel by nature and eat only meat from animals that they have just killed with their own hands. Even when fasting, they drink wine and eat without any sense of unease. There are Yilizhu (Christian) Uighurs who are quite weak and cowardly and dislike killing; when fasting, they do not eat meat. There are Yindu (Indian) Uighurs who have black skin and are simple and honest. There are too many other kinds for me to list them all. Their king selects his eunuchs from those of the Yindu (Indians) who are dark and ugly and uses fire to brand their faces.[57]

Wugusun Zhongduan

Mongol rule

In 1209, the Kara-Khoja ruler Baurchuk Art Tekin declared his allegiance to the Mongols under Genghis Khan and the kingdom existed as a vassal state until 1335. After submitting to the Mongols, the Uyghurs served the Mongol rulers as bureaucrats, providing the expertise that the initially illiterate nomads lacked.[58] Qocho continued exist as a vassal to the Mongols of the Yuan dynasty, and were allied to the Yuan against the Chagatai Khanate. Eventually the Chagatai khan Ghiyas-ud-din Baraq eliminated Yuan influence over Qocho. When the Mongols placed the Uyghurs in control of the Koreans at court, the Korean king objected. Emperor Kublai Khan rebuked the Korean king, saying that the Uyghur king ranked higher than the Karluk Kara-Khanid ruler, who in turn was ranked higher than the Korean King, who was ranked last, because the Uyghurs surrendered to the Mongols first, the Karluks surrendered after the Uyghurs, and the Koreans surrendered last, and that the Uyghurs surrendered peacefully without violently resisting.[59][60] A hybrid court was used when Han Chinese and Uyghurs were in involved in legal issues.[61]

Alans were recruited into the Mongol forces with one unit called the Asud or "Right Alan Guard", which was combined with "recently surrendered" soldiers, Mongols, and Chinese soldiers stationed in the area of the former kingdom of Qocho. In Beshbalik (now Jimsar County), the Mongols established a Chinese military colony led by Chinese general Qi Kongzhi.[62]

Conquest by Muslim Chagatais

The last Buddhist Uyghurs of Qocho and Turpan were converted to Islam by force during a Jihad (holy war) at the hands of the Chagatai Khanate ruler Khizr Khoja (r. 1389-1399).[63] Mirza Haidar Dughlat's Tarikh-i-Rashidi (c. 1540, in Persian) wrote, "(Khizr Khoja) undertook a campaign against Karakhodja [Qocho] and Turfan, two very important towns in China, and forced their inhabitants to become Muslims...".[64] The Chagatai Khanate also conquered Hami, where the Buddhist religion was also purged and replaced with Islam.[65] Ironically after being converted to Islam, the descendants of the Uyghurs in Turpan failed to retain memory of their Buddhist legacy and were led believe that the "infidel Kalmuks" (Dzungar people) were the ones who built Buddhist monuments in their area. The Encyclopaedia of Islam wrote "By then the Turks of the Turfan [...] forgetting all the other highlights of their past, they attributed the Buddhist and other monuments to the "infidel Kalmuks".[66][67]

The Islamic conversion forced on the Buddhist city of Hami was the final blow to Uyghur Buddhism,[51][68][69] although some Buddhist influence in the names of Turpan Muslims still remained.[70] Since Islam reached them much after other cities in the Tarim Basin, personal names of pre-Islamic Old Uyghur origin are still used in Hami and Turpan while Uyghurs to the west use mostly Islamic names of Arabic origin.[71] Cherrypicking of history of Xinjiang with the intention of projecting an image of either irreligiousity or piousness of Islam in Uyghur culture has been done for various reasons.[72]

The Uyghurs of Taoyuan are the remnants of Uyghurs from Turpan from the Kingdom of Qocho.[citation needed]

List of kings (idiquts)

The Kingdom of Qocho's rulers trace their lineage to Qutlugh of the Ediz dynasty of the Uyghur Khaganate. There are numerous gaps in our knowledge of the Uyghur rulers of Qocho prior to the thirteenth century. The title of the ruler of Qocho was idiqut or iduq qut. In 1308, Nolen Tekin was granted the title Prince of Gaochang by the Yuan Emperor Ayurbarwada. The following list of rulers is drawn mostly from Turghun Almas, Uyghurlar (Almaty, 1992), vol. 1, pp. 180–85.[73] Named rulers based on various sources of other languages are also included.[74]

  • 850–866: Pan Tekin (Pangtele)
  • 866–871: Boko Tekin
  • 940–948: Irdimin Khan
  • 948–985: Arslan (Zhihai) Khan
  • 1126–????: Bilge (Biliege/Bilgä) Tekin
  • ????–????: Isen Tomur
  • 1208–1235: Baurchuq (Barchukh) Art Tekin
  • 1235–1245: Qusmayin (Kesmez)
  • 1246–1255: Salun (Salindi) Tekin
  • 1255–1265: Oghrunzh (Ogrunch) Tekin
  • 1265–1266: Mamuraq Tekin
  • 1266–1276: Qozhighar (Qosqar) Tekin
  • 1276–1318: Nolen (Neguril) Tekin
  • 1318–1327: Tomur (Tamir) Buqa
  • 1327–1331: Sunggi (Senggi) Tekin
  • 1331–1335: Taypan (Taipingnu)
  • 1335–1353: Yuelutiemur
  • 1353–????: Sangge

Image gallery

See also


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Further reading