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The Buddhist stupa of Gaochang ruins
Gaochang is located in Bayingolin
Shown within Bayingolin
LocationXinjiang, China
Coordinates42°51′10″N 89°31′45″E / 42.85278°N 89.52917°E / 42.85278; 89.52917Coordinates: 42°51′10″N 89°31′45″E / 42.85278°N 89.52917°E / 42.85278; 89.52917
Site notes
ConditionIn ruins

Gaochang[1] (Chinese: ; pinyin: Gāochāng; Old Uyghur: Qocho), also called Karakhoja, Qara-hoja, Kara-Khoja or Karahoja (قاراغوجا in Uyghur), was a ruined, ancient oasis city on the northern rim of the inhospitable Taklamakan Desert in present-day Xinjiang, China. The site is also known in published reports as Chotscho, Khocho, Qocho or Qočo. During the Yuan dynasty and Ming dynasty, Gaochang was referred to as "Halahezhuo" () (Qara-khoja) and Huozhou.

The ruins are located 30 km southeast of modern Turpan,[2] at a place called Idykut-schari or Idikutschari by local residents. (see the work of Albert Grünwedel in the external links below). Artistic depictions of the city have been published by Albert von Le Coq. Gaochang is considered in some sources to have been a "Chinese colony",[3][4] that is, it was located in a region otherwise occupied at the time by West Eurasian peoples.

A busy trading center, it was a stopping point for merchant traders traveling on the Silk Road. It was destroyed in wars during the 14th century and old palace ruins and inside and outside cities can still be seen today. Along with other sites along the historic Silk Road, Gaocheng was inscribed in 2014 on the UNESCO World Heritage List as the Silk Roads: the Routes Network of Chang'an-Tianshan Corridor World Heritage Site.[5]

Near Gaochang is another major archeological site: the Astana tombs.


Gaochang's location (close to Turpan) on the Silk Road

Jushi Kingdom and early Han Chinese rule[edit]

The earliest people known to have lived in the area were the Jūshī (also known as the Gushi). The region around Turfan was described during the Han dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE) as being occupied by the Jūshī, while control over the region swayed between the Han Chinese and the Xiongnu.

Gaochang was built in the 1st century BC, it was an important site along the Silk Road. It played a key role as a transportation hub in Western China. The Jushi leaders later pledged their allegiance to Han dynasty. In 327, the Gaochang Commandery (jùn) was created by the Former Liang under the Han Chinese ruler Zhang Jun. The Chinese set up a military colony/garrison and organized the land into multiple divisions. Han Chinese colonists from the Hexi region and the central plains also settled in the region.[6]

After the fall of the Western Jin Dynasty, Northern China split into multiple states, including the Central Asian oases.[7] Gaochang was ruled by the Former Liang, Former Qin and Northern Liang as part of a commandery. In 383 The General Lu Guang of the Former Qin seized control of the region.[8]

In 439, remnants of the Northern Liang,[9] led by Juqu Wuhui and Juqu Anzhou, fled to Gaochang where they would hold onto power until 460 when they were conquered by the Rouran Khaganate. Another version of this story says that in 439 a man named Ashina led 500 families from Gansu to Gaochang. In 460, the Rouran forced them to move to the Altai. They became the Ashina clan that formed the Gokturk Khaganate[10]

Six Dynasties Turfan tombs contained dumplings.[11][12]

Gaochang Kingdom[edit]

Manichaean priests, writing at their desks. Manuscript from Qocho. 8th/9th century

From the mid-5th century until the mid-7th century, the Gaochang Kingdom was successively controlled by the Kan, Zhang, Ma and Qu clans.

At the time of its conquest by the Rouran Khaganate, there were more than ten thousand Han Chinese households in Gaochang.[13] The Rouran Khaganate, which was based in Mongolia, appointed a Han Chinese named Kan Bozhou to rule as King of Gaochang in 460, and it became a separate vassal kingdom of the Khaganate.[14] Kan was dependent on Rouran backing.[15] Yicheng and Shougui were the last two kings of the Chinese Kan family to rule Gaochang.

At this time the Gaoche () was rising to challenge power of the Rouran in the Tarim Basin. The Gaoche king Afuzhiluo () killed King Kan Shougui, who was the nephew of Kan Bozhou.[3][16] and appointed a Han from Dunhuang, named Zhang Mengming (張孟明), as his own vassal King of Gaochang.[17][18] Gaochang thus passed under Gaoche rule.

Later, Zhang Mengming was killed in an uprising by the people of Gaochang and replaced by Ma Ru (). In 501, Ma Ru himself was overthrown and killed, and the people of Gaochang appointed Qu Jia () of Jincheng (in Gansu) as their king. Qu Jia hailed from the Zhong district of Jincheng commandery (金城, roughly corresponding to modern day Lanzhou, Gansu)[16] Qu Jia at first pledged allegiance to the Rouran, but the Rouran khaghan was soon killed by the Gaoche and he had to submit to Gaoche overlordship. During Qu rule, powerful families established marriage ties with each other and dominated the kingdom, they included the Zhang, Fan, Yin, Ma, Shi and Xin families. Later, when the Göktürks emerged as the supreme power in the region, the Qu dynasty of Gaochang became vassals of the Göktürks.[19]

While the material civilization of Kucha to its west in this period remained chiefly Indo-Iranian in character, in Goachang it gradually merged into the Tang aesthetics.[20] In 607 the ruler of Gaochang Qu Boya paid tribute to the Sui Dynasty, but his attempt at sinicization provoked a coup which overthrew the Qu ruler.[21] The Qu family was restored six years later and the successor Qu Wentai welcomed the Tang pilgrim Xuanzang with great enthusiasm in 629 AD.[20]

The Kingdom of Gaochang was made out of Han Chinese migrants and ruled by the Han Chinese[22][23] Qu family which originated from Gansu.[24] Jincheng commandery 金城 (Lanzhou), district of Yuzhong 榆中 was the home of the Qu Jia.[25] The Qu family was linked by marriage alliances to the Turks,[26] with a Turk being the grandmother of King Qu Boya's.[27][28]

Tang rule[edit]

However, fearing Tang expansion, Qu Wentai later formed an alliance with the Western Turks and rebelled against Tang suzerainty. Emperor Taizong sent an army led by General Hou Junji against the kingdom in 640 and Qu Wentai apparently died of shock at news of the approaching army.[20] Gaochang was annexed by the Chinese Tang dynasty and turned into a sub-prefecture of Xizhou (西州)[29][30] and the seat of government of Anxi (安西).[19][20] Before the Chinese conquered Gaochang, it was an impediment to Chinese access to Tarim and Transoxiania.[31]

Gaochang was populated by Han people and Shanxi (Hedong) was the original home of the royal family at the time of the Tang dynasty's annexation. The Tang dynasty accepted arguments at court who said that because Gaochang was Han populated that they needed to annex it.[32]

Under Tang rule, Gaochang was inhabited by Chinese, Sogdians and Tocharians.[citation needed]

7th or 8th century old dumplings and wontons were found in Turfan.[33]

Tang dynasty became greatly weakened due to the An Lushan Rebellion and in 755, the Chinese were forced to pull back their soldiers from the region. The area was first taken by the Tibetans, then finally by the Uyghurs[34][35][36][37] in 803, who called the area Kocho (Qocho).

Uyghur princesses, cave 9, wall painting from Bezeklik caves
Man of Gaochang (高昌國, Turfan) in 番客入朝圖 (937-976 CE)

Uyghur Kingdom of Qocho[edit]

After 840 Gaochang became occupied by remnants of the Uyghur Khaganate fleeing Yenisei Kirghiz invasion of their land.[38] The Uyghurs established the Kingdom of Qocho (Kara-Khoja) in 850. The inhabitants of Qocho practiced Buddhism, Manichaeism and Christianity. The Uyghurs converted to Buddhism and sponsored building of temple caves in the nearby Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves where depictions of Uyghur sponsors may be seen. The Buddhist Uyghur kings, who called themselves idiquts, retained their nomadic lifestyle, residing in Qocho during the winter, but moved to the cooler Bishbalik near Urumchi in the summer.[39]

Qocho later became a vassal state of the Kara-Khitans. However, In 1209, the idiqut Barchuq offered Genghis Khan the suzerainty of his kingdom, and went personally to Genghis Khan with a sizeable tribute when demanded in 1211.[40] The Uyghurs thus went into the service of the Mongols,[41] who later formed the Yuan Dynasty in China. The Uyghurs became bureaucrats (semu) of the Mongol Empire and their Uyghur script was modified for Mongolian. As far south as Quanzhou, preponderance of Gaochang Uyghur in Church of the East inscriptions of the Yuan period attests to their importance in the Christian community there.[42]

The Gaochang area was conquered by the Mongols of the Chagatai Khanate (not part of Yuan Dynasty) from 1275 to 1318 by as many as 120,000 troops.


Buddhism spread to China from India along the northern branch of the Silk Road predominantly in the 4th and 5th centuries as the Liang rulers were Buddhists.[43] The building of Buddhist grottos probably began during this period. There are clusters close to Gaochang, the largest being the Bezeklik grottos.[2]

Gaochang ruling families[edit]

Armoured soldier from Gaochang, 8-9th century

Rulers of the Kan Family[edit]

Name Pinyin Durations of reigns Era names and their according durations
Chinese convention: use family name and given name
闞伯周 Kàn Bózhōu 460–477 Did not exist
闞義成 Kàn Yìchéng 477–478 Did not exist
闞首歸 Kàn Shǒugūi 478–488?
Did not exist

Rulers of the Zhang Family[edit]

Name Pinyin Durations of reigns Era names and their according durations
Chinese convention: use family name and given name
張孟明 Zhāng Mèngmíng 488?–496
Did not exist

Rulers of the Ma Family[edit]

Name Pinyin Durations of reigns Era names and their according durations
Chinese convention: use family name and given name
馬儒 Mǎ Rú 496–501 Did not exist

Rulers of the Qu Family[edit]

Name Pinyin Durations of reigns Era names and their according durations
Chinese convention: use family name and given name
麴嘉 Qú Jiā 501–525
麴光 Qú Guāng 525–530 Ganlu (甘露 Gānlù) 525–530
麴堅 Qú Jiān 530–548 Zhanghe (章和 Zhānghé) 531–548
麴玄喜 Qú Xuánxǐ 549–550 Yongping (永平 Yǒngpíng) 549–550
Unnamed son of Qu Xuanxi 551–554 Heping (和平 Hépíng) 551–554
麴寶茂 Qú Bǎomào 555–560 Jianchang (建昌 Jiànchāng) 555–560
麴乾固 Qú Qiángù 560–601 Yanchang (延昌 Yánchāng) 561–601
麴伯雅 Qú Bóyǎ[44] 601–613
Yanhe (延和 Yánhé) 602–613

Zhongguang (重光 Zhòngguāng) 620–623
Unnamed usurper 613–619 Yihe (Yìhé 義和) 614–619
麴文泰 Qú Wéntài 623–640 Yanshou (延壽 Yánshòu) 624–640
麴智盛 Qú Zhìshèng 640 did not exist


See also[edit]



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  2. ^ a b "The Silk Road". Archived from the original on March 15, 2016. Retrieved September 21, 2007.
  3. ^ a b Louis-Frédéric (1977). Encyclopaedia of Asian civilizations, Volume 3. the University of Michigan: L. Frédéric. p. 16. Retrieved May 17, 2011.
  4. ^ Jacques Gernet (1996). A history of Chinese civilization. Cambridge University Press. p. 253. ISBN 0-521-49781-7. Retrieved May 17, 2011.
  5. ^ "Silk Roads: the Routes Network of Chang'an-Tianshan Corridor". UNESCO World Heritage Centre. United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. Retrieved April 17, 2021.
  6. ^ Ahmad Hasan Dani, ed. (1999). History of civilizations of Central Asia, Volume 3. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 304. ISBN 81-208-1540-8. Retrieved May 17, 2011.
  7. ^ Jacques Gernet (1996). A history of Chinese civilization. Cambridge University Press. p. 186. ISBN 0-521-49781-7. Retrieved May 17, 2011.
  8. ^ Society for the Study of Chinese Religions (U.S.), Indiana University, Bloomington. East Asian Studies Center (2002). Journal of Chinese religions, Issues 30-31. the University of California: Society for the Study of Chinese Religions. p. 24. Retrieved May 17, 2011.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  9. ^ Susan Whitfield; British Library (2004). The Silk Road: Trade, Travel, War and Faith. Serindia Publications, Inc. pp. 309–. ISBN 978-1-932476-13-2.
  10. ^ Christian, History of Russia, Central Asia and Mongolia, page 449, citing 'Sui annals' and Baumer, History of Central Asia, vol 2, page 174
  11. ^ "Archaeologists Discover Ancient Dumplings in China". February 16, 2016.
  12. ^ "YUM! Archaeologists discover that people in Xinjiang were snacking on dumplings 1,700 years ago". February 15, 2016.
  13. ^ Ahmad Hasan Dani, ed. (1999). History of civilizations of Central Asia, Volume 3. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 305. ISBN 81-208-1540-8. Retrieved May 17, 2011.
  14. ^ Tatsurō Yamamoto, ed. (1984). Proceedings of the Thirty-First International Congress of Human Sciences in Asia and North Africa, Tokyo-Kyoto, 31st August-7th September 1983, Volume 2. Indiana University: Tōhō Gakkai. p. 997. Retrieved May 17, 2011.
  15. ^ Albert E. Dien; Jeffrey K. Riegel; Nancy Thompson Price (1985). Albert E. Dien; Jeffrey K. Riegel; Nancy Thompson Price (eds.). Chinese archaeological abstracts: post Han. Vol. 4 of Chinese Archaeological Abstracts. the University of Michigan: Institute of Archaeology, University of California, Los Angeles. p. 1567. ISBN 0-917956-54-0. Retrieved May 17, 2011.
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  20. ^ a b c d Rene Grousset (1991). The Empire of the Steppes:A History of Central Asia. Rutgers University Press. pp. 98–99. ISBN 0813513049.
  21. ^ Jacques Gernet (1996). A history of Chinese civilization. Cambridge University Press. p. 253. ISBN 0-521-49781-7. Retrieved June 6, 2012.
  22. ^ Baij Nath Puri (1987). Buddhism in Central Asia. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 78–. ISBN 978-81-208-0372-5.
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  25. ^ Roy Andrew Miller (1959). Accounts of Western Nations in the History of the Northern Chou Dynasty [Chou Shu 50. 10b-17b]: Translated and Annotated by Roy Andrew Miller. University of California Press. pp. 5–. GGKEY:SXHP29BAXQY.
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External links[edit]