The Medieval Uyghurs of the 8th through 14th Centuries
- Michael C. BroseMichael C. BroseUniversity of Wyoming
The medieval Uyghurs became a political entity in the mid-8th century when they established their steppe empire as the inheritors of the ancient Türk steppe tribal confederation. They ruled their empire for a century from their capital city in the heart of the Mongol steppe. Their empire ended when rival Kirgiz tribes attacked it, and the Uyghur aristocracy fled south into the borderland areas between China and the steppe. Two groups of diaspora Uyghurs built new states in Gansu and the Tarim Basin. The Gansu Uyghurs stayed in that region but never exerted any real power as a state. The Uyghurs who migrated to the Tarim Basin were more successful, building an independent kingdom that maintained a stable rule over the mixed population of city dwellers and nomads who lived in the far-flung oases of the area. The Tarim Basin Uyghurs readily adapted to the sedentary lifestyle and built one of the most highly diverse societies of the age, where Buddhists, Nestorian Christians, Manichaeans, Zoroastrians, and nomads all lived side by side. Even after they became subjects of the Qarakhitai and then the Mongols, the Uyghurs retained some autonomy as political rulers in the Tarim Basin. That ended when Khubilai lost control of the Tarim Basin and most of the Uyghur aristocracy moved to China. The Uyghur diaspora refashioned their identity a third time in China as members of the conquest government and the cultural literati. Their existence as a distinct political entity ended with the eviction from China of the Mongols.