Shanshan (Chinese: 鄯善; pinyin: Shànshàn; Uyghur: پىچان, ULY: Pichan, UYY: Piqan?) was a kingdom located at the north-eastern end of the Taklamakan Desert near the great, but now mostly dry, salt lake known as Lop Nur. It was previously known as Loulan Kingdom, but was renamed Shanshan after the king of Loulan was assassinated by a Chinese envoy in 77 BCE, and thereafter existed intermittently as a puppet state of China.
The kingdom of Shanshan included the strategic walled town of Loulan (or Kroran) near the northwest corner of Lop Nur, next to the then outflow of the Tarim River into Lop Nur (40° 9’ N, 89° 5’ E). The site of Loulan covered about 10.8 hectares (27 acres) with a Buddhist pagoda about 10 metres (33 feet) high, numerous houses, and irrigation ditches. It also include Charklik which is located near the modern town of Ruoqiang to the south-west of Lop Nur. It also includes the kingdoms of Qiemo (Shanshan has been suggested as the origin of the name "Cherchen," now Qiemo), as well as Niya further to the south-west.
Because of its position on what became the main routes from China to the West, controlling both the Southern Route between Dunhuang and Khotan, and the main Silk Route from Dunhuang to Korla Kucha and Kashgar during the Former Han and Later Han; control of the kingdom was regularly contested between the Chinese and the Xiongnu. The Xiongnu repeatedly contested the Han Chinese for control of the region until well into the 2nd century CE.
In 77 BCE, the Chinese envoy Fu Jiezi was sent to kill the Loulan king, named Chang Gui or An Gui (嘗歸 or 安歸), after several Han envoys were killed or kidnapped. He arrived on the pretext of carrying gold and valuables to the outer states and intending to give a presentation to the king, but stabbed the Loulan king to death while he was drunk. The king's younger brother Wei-tu-qi (尉屠耆) was then installed as the king of Loulan by the Han ruler, and the kingdom was renamed Shanshan.
The newly installed king requested the presence of Han forces in Yixun (伊循), due to his fear of retribution from the sons of the assassinated king in Loulan. Chinese army officers were therefore sent to colonise the area, and an office of commandant was established at Yixun.
Buddhism in Shanshan
An inscription in the Kharoṣṭhī script was found at Endere, originally written around in the middle of the 3rd century CE. The inscription describes the king of Shanshan as a follower of Mahāyāna Buddhism — one who has "set forth in the Great Vehicle." The king who this refers to was probably Aṃgoka, who was the most powerful king of Shanshan. According to Richard Salomon, there is every reason to believe that Mahāyāna Buddhism was prominent in Shanshan at this time and enjoyed royal patronage.
More evidence of official adoption of Mahāyāna Buddhism in Shanshan is seen in a letter inscribed in wood which dates to several decades later. The letter describes the Great Cozbo Ṣamasena as one who is, "beloved of men and gods, honoured by men and gods, blessed with a good name, who has set forth in the Mahāyāna."
Three Kingdoms period
A military colony of 1,000 men was established at Loulan in 260 CE by the Chinese General So Man. The site was abandoned in 330 CE due to lack of water when the Tarim River, which supported the settlement, changed course and the military garrison was moved 50 km south to Haitou. The fort of Yingpan to the northwest remained under Chinese control until the Tang Dynasty.
Jin Dynasty to early Tang
Chinese rule continue continued into the Western Jin Dynasty and intermittently in later centuries. It was recorded that in 283 the son of the king was sent as a hostage to the Chinese court during the reign of Emperor Wu of Jin Dynasty. In the 5th century, the Northern Wei installed a Chinese king in Loulan and called the city the Shanshan Fort. Then at the end of the 6th century, the Sui Dynasty established the city state of Shanshan at Loulan.
The Chinese pilgrim monk, Faxian, stayed about a month in Shanshan after a 17-day journey from Dunhuang in 399 CE. He described the country as "rugged and hilly, with a thin and barren soil. The clothes of the common people are coarse, and like those worn in our land of Han, some wearing felt and others coarse serge or hair. ... The king professed (our) Law, and there might be in the country more than four thousand monks, who were all students of the hînâyana (Hinayāna). ... (The monks) ...were all students of Indian books and the Indian language."
From the 5th century onwards, however, the land was frequently invaded by nomads such as Tuyuhuns, the Rourans, and the Dingling, and the area became gradually abandoned. In the spring of 442 CE, Loulan was invaded by Juqu Anzhou and its king fled to Jumo (Cherchen), and Shanshan then came to be ruled from Qiemo.
At around 630 (at the beginning of the Tang Dynasty period), the remaining Shanshan people, led by Shan Fu Tuo (鄯伏陁), migrated to Hami in the Northern area. The Buddhist pilgrim Xuanzang passed through this region in 644 on his return from India to China, visited a town called Nafubo (納縛波, thought to be Charklik) of the Loulan country, and he also wrote of Qiemo: "A fortress exists, but not a trace of man".
In 2011, the local government decided to undertake a large-scale development aimed at positioning Shan Shan as "The Desert Tourism City" to attract a larger number to tourists to the area. Tourism and attraction development consultant Leisure Quest International (USA) was retained to develop a master plan and conceptual design for the development. The plan includes development of a themed destination which would include a walled city reminiscent of ancient Loulan, desert facing hotels, shops and restaurants as well as a themed residential development.
A county is named after Shanshan (Piqan County) in modern Xinjiang, although it lies outside of the historical area of Shanshan.
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- Hulsewé (1979), p. 81.
-  Draft annotated translation of the Weilüe by John Hill
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- Hill (2015) Vol. I, p. 3 and nn.
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- Hulsewé (1979), pp. 90-91.
- Hulsewé 1979, p. 91-92
- Walser, Joseph. Nāgārjuna in Context: Mahāyāna Buddhism and Early Indian Culture. 2005. p. 31
- Walser, Joseph. Nāgārjuna in Context: Mahāyāna Buddhism and Early Indian Culture. 2005. p. 32
- Baumer (2000), pp. 125-126, 135-136.
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- Makiko Onishi and Asanobu Kitamoto. "Hedin, the Man Who Solved the Mystery of the Wandering Lake: Lop Nor and Lou-lan". Digital Silk Road.
- Legge (1896), pp. 12-14.
- Hill (2015) Vol. I, p. 90.
- Weishu Original text: 真君三年，鄯善王比龍避沮渠安周之難，率國人之半奔且末，後役屬鄯善。 Translation: In the third year of Zhenjun, the Loulan king Bilong, so as to avoid troubles from Juqu Anzhou, led half his countrymen and fled to Qiemo, which later controlled Shanshan.
- Da Tang Xiyu Ji Original text: 从此东行六百余里至折摩驮那故国。即涅末地也。城郭岿然人烟断绝。复此东北行千余里至纳缚波故国。即楼兰地也。
- Baumer, Christoph. (2000). Southern Silk Road: In the Footsteps of Sir Aurel Stein and Sven Hedin. Bangkok, White Orchid Books.
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- Stein, Aurel M. 1921. Serindia: Detailed report of explorations in Central Asia and westernmost China, 5 vols. London & Oxford. Clarendon Press. Reprint: Delhi. Motilal Banarsidass. 1980. 
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- Watson, Burton, trans. (1993). Records of the Grand Historian: Han Dynasty II - Revised Edition. Columbia University Press, New York. ISBN 0-231-08166-9 and ISBN 0-231-08167-7 (pbk)
- Silk Road Seattle (The Silk Road Seattle website contains many useful resources including a number of full-text historical works)
- Soka Gakkai Dictionary of Buddhism: Lou-lan
- Downloadable article: "Evidence that a West-East admixed population lived in the Tarim Basin as early as the early Bronze Age" Li et al. BMC Biology 2010, 8:15.