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Countries described in Zhang Qian's report. Visited countries are highlighted in blue.

Kangju or K'ang-chü (Chinese: 康居) was the Chinese name of an ancient people and kingdom in Central Asia. It was a nomadic federation of unknown ethnic and linguistic origin which became for a couple of centuries the second greatest power in Transoxiana after the Yuezhi.[1]

The ethnicity of the Kangju people was initially thought to be Turkic by Shiratori Kurakichi (c. 1925), based on textual studies.[2] Recent scholars tend to consider them Iranian or Tocharian in origin,[3][4] but sometimes still Turkic.[5][6][7]


Kangju was mentioned by the Chinese traveller and diplomat Zhang Qian who visited the area c. 128 BCE:

"Kangju is situated some 2,000 li [832 kilometers] northwest of Dayuan. Its people are nomads and resemble the Yuezhi in their customs. They have 80,000 or 90,000 skilled archers. The country is small, and borders Dayuan (Ferghana). It acknowledges sovereignty to the Yuezhi people in the South and the Xiongnu in the East.[8]

By the time of the Hanshu (which covers the period from 125 BCE to 23 CE), Kangju had expanded considerably to a nation of some 600,000 individuals, with 120,000 men able to bear arms. Kangju was clearly now a major power in its own right. By this time it had gained control of Dayuan and Sogdiana in which it controlled “five lesser kings” (小王五).[9]

The kingdom of Yancai (lit. "Vast Steppe"), strategically centered near the northern shore of the Aral Sea straddling the northern branch of the Silk Route, and which had 100,000 "trained bowmen," had become a dependency of Kangju.[10]

The biography of the Chinese General Ban Chao in the Hou Hanshu says in 94 CE that the Yuezhi were arranging a marriage of their king with a Kangju princess. The Chinese then sent "considerable presents of silks" to the Yuezhi successfully gaining their help in pressuring the Kangju to stop supporting the king of Kashgar against them.[11]

The account on the 'Western Regions' in the Hou Hanshu, based on a report to the Chinese emperor c. 125 CE, mentions that, at that time, Liyi 栗弋 (= Suyi 粟弋) = Sogdiana, and both the "old" Yancai (which had changed its name to Alanliao and seems here to have expanded its territory to the Caspian Sea), and Yan, a country to Yancai's north, as well as the strategic city of "Northern Wuyi" 北烏伊 (Alexandria Eschate, or modern Khujand), were all dependent on Kangju.[12]

The 3rd century Weilüe states that Kangju was among a number of countries that "had existed previously and neither grown nor shrunk," but by then the kingdoms of Liu, Yan and Yancai/Alan were no longer vassals of Kangju.[13][14]

Kangju maintained its independence and continued sending envoys to China up until the end of the 3rd century CE. Shortly after, its power began to wane and it was absorbed into the Hephthalite empire.[15]

Some scholars believe that Kangju/Kangui state was polyethnic, consisting of four chief peoples - late Saks (Saka), the Huns, Asian Sarmatians and Kangjus themselves. Two lifestyles - nomadic and sedentary coexisted there.[16]


"Kangju 康居 = the Talas basin, Tashkent and Sogdiana. It is not clear whether the Chinese name 康居 Kangju was intended to transcribe an ethnic name, or to be descriptive. 居 ju can mean: ‘to settle down,’ ‘to take up one’s abode,’ ‘residence,’ or ‘to occupy (militarily).’. . . The term, therefore, could simply mean “the abode of the Kang,” or “territory occupied by the Kang.”. . . . However, the character kang 康 literally means ‘peaceful,’ ‘happy,’ so Kangju could alternatively be translated as the: ‘Peaceful Land,’ or ‘Abode of the Peaceful (people).’. . . Even if the name Kangju was originally an attempt to transcribe a foreign name, it would have at least carried some sense of it being a peaceful place to Chinese speakers, and the name Kang would have had overtones of a peaceful people."[17]

Kangju was referred to as the State of Kang (康国) during the Sui and Tang dynasties, though by that time the area was ruled by the Göktürk Khaganate.[18] This adds weight to the theory that the "kingdom" was known after the name of a people known to the Chinese as the Kang.


Some important inscriptions were discovered recently that provide information about the Kangju and their contacts with China.

Firstly, a dozen wooden slips with Chinese writing were found at the Xuanquan site in Dunhuang, China. They are dated to the late Western Han Dynasty (206 BCE-24 CE).

Also, there's a set of Sogdian inscriptions from Kultobe in Kazakhstan; they were analyzed and deciphered by Nicholas Sims-Williams. They complement the existing Chinese historical records about the Kangju. Sims-Williams also assigned a likely date to these inscriptions.[19]

There are also several fragmentary Sogdian inscriptions discovered by A. N. Podushkin in his excavations at Kultobe. They contain archaic features which shed light on the development of the Sogdian script and language.


  1. ^ "The Nomads of northern Central Asia," p. 463. Y. A. Zadneprovsky in: History of civilizations of Central Asia Volume II: The development of sedentary and nomadic civilizations: 700 B.C. to A.D. 250. Editor: János Harmatta. UNESCO publishing. Paris. ISBN 92-3-102846-4.
  2. ^ Shiratori Kurakichi. Shiratori Kurakichi Zenshü (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1970), 48. Originally published in Tōyō Gakuhō 14, no. 2 (1925).
  3. ^ Sogdians and Buddhism, p. 5. Mariko Namba Walter. (2006) Sino-Platonic Papers No. 174. November 2006. Dept. of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Pennsylvania.
  4. ^ Central Asiatic Journal, Volumes 21-22. O. Harrassowitz, 1977. p.195.: "According to the Chinese sources the area was inhabited by Ch'iang- ch'u or K'ang-chu, in Pulleyblank's opinion very likely of Tokharian origin."
  5. ^ Awelkhan Hali, Zengxiang Li, Karl W. Luckert: "Kazakh traditions of China". University Press of America, Incorporated, 1998. p.30.: "The Kangju spoke a Turkic language."
  6. ^ Asian Folklore Studies, Volume 65. Asian Folklore Institute. 2006. p.175.: " The Kang-ju are Turkic nomadic herders in Central Asia mentioned in the annals of the Han and Wei periods."
  7. ^ Journal of Turkish Studies: Türklük bi̇lgi̇si̇ araştirmalari, Volumes 10-11. Harvard University Printing Office., 1986: "... authors identify Kangha/K'ang-chu with the Turkish Kangli and point to the Kengeres tribes among the Peceneg Turks."
  8. ^ "Records of the Great Historian, Han Dynasty II", Sima Qian, translated by Burton Watson, Revised edition (1993) Columbia University Press, p. 234. ISBN 0-231-08167-7
  9. ^ Hulsewé, A.F.P. (1979) China in Central Asia: The Early Stage (123 B.C.–A.D. 23). Leiden, E.J. Brill. ISBN 90-04-05884-2, pp. 126, 130-132.
  10. ^ Hulsewé, A.F.P. (1979) China in Central Asia: The Early Stage (123 B.C.–A.D. 23). Leiden, E.J. Brill. ISBN 90-04-05884-2, p. 129, n. 316.
  11. ^ "Trois généraux chinois de la dynastie des Han orientaux," by Édouard Chavannes, p. 230. In: T'ouang pao 7 (1906)
  12. ^ Hill (2009), pp. 377-383.
  13. ^ Hill (2004),
  14. ^ Hill (2009), p. 383.
  15. ^ "The Nomads of northern Central Asia," p. 463. Y. A. Zadneprovsky in: History of civilizations of Central Asia Volume II: The development of sedentary and nomadic civilizations: 700 B.C. to A.D. 250. Editor: János Harmatta. UNESCO publishing. Paris. ISBN 92-3-102846-4.
  16. ^ Daniel Shemratov, What wedge writings say Gazeta.kz, 29.09.2004
  17. ^ Hill (2009), p. 171.
  18. ^ Tangshu chapter 221b, p. 1, translated (into French) by Édouard Chavannes in Documents sur les tou-kiue [turcs] occidentaux, pp. 132-147. Paris. (1900).
  19. ^ New Evidence from Dunhuang, China and Central Asia for the Kangju nyu.edu


  • Hill, John E. (2009) Through the Jade Gate to Rome: A Study of the Silk Routes during the Later Han Dynasty, 1st to 2nd Centuries CE. BookSurge, Charleston, South Carolina. ISBN 978-1-4392-2134-1.
  • Hill, John E. 2004. The Peoples of the West from the Weilüe 魏略 by Yu Huan 魚豢: A Third Century Chinese Account Composed between 239 and 265 CE. Draft annotated English translation.[1]
  • Liu, Xinru: Migration and Settlement of the Yuezhi-Kushan. Interaction and Interdependence of Nomadic and Sedentary Societies in: Journal of World History, 12 (No. 2) 2001, p. 261-292. See [2]
  • The Tarim Mummies: Ancient China and the Mystery of the Earliest Peoples from the West. J. P. Mallory and Victor H. Mair. Thames & Hudson. London. (2000), ISBN 0-500-05101-1