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Moghulistan in 1490
Central-East Asia at the beginning of 1450 AD. The Moghuls controlled Moghulistan, Alti-Shahr, and Turfan.

Moghulistan or Mughalistan (from the Persian: مغولستان‎), also called the Eastern Chagatai Khanate (Chinese: 东察合台汗国; pinyin: Dōng Cháhétái Hànguó), is a historical geographic area north of the Tian Shan mountain range,[1] on the border of Central Asia and East Asia. That area today includes parts of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and northwest China (Xinjiang). A khanate nominally ruled over the area from the mid-14th century until the late 17th century, although it is debatable whether it was a continuation of the Chagatai Khanate, an independent khanate, or a tributary state to Ming Dynasty China.

In actuality, local control rested with local Mongol Dughlats or Sufi Naqshbandi in their respective oases. Although the rulers enjoyed great wealth from the China trade, it was beset by constant civil war and invasions by the Timurid Empire, which emerged from the western part of the erstwhile Chagatai Khanate. Independence-minded khans created their own domains in cities like Kashgar and Turfan. Eventually it was overcome by the Kyrgyz, Kazakhs, and Oirats.


"Moghul" envoys seen in Beijing in 1656 by Johan Nieuhof, who took them for representatives of the Moghuls of India. However, Luciano Petech later thinks they are visitors from Turfan in Moghulistan.[2]

"Moghulistan" simply means "Land of the Moghuls," or Mongols (the term Mughal is Persian for Mongol) in reference to the eastern branch of the Turco-Mongolian Chagatai Khans who ruled it.[3] The term "Moghulistan" is mostly used in Soviet historiography, while Chinese historiography mostly uses the term "East Chagatai Khanate" (Chinese: 东察合台汗国; pinyin: Dōng Cháhétái Hànguó), which contrasts Moghulistan to the Timurid Empire. The Moghul Khans considered themselves heir to Mongol traditions and called themselves Mongghul Uls, from which the Persian term "Moghulistan" comes. Ming Dynasty Mandarins called the Moghuls "the Mongol tribes (Chinese: 蒙古部落; pinyin: Ménggǔ Bùluò) in Beshbalik". The Timurid exonym for Moghulistan was Ulus-i Jatah.[1]

When the Mongols conquered most of Asia and Russia in the 13th century (for details see Mongol Empire), they were minorities in many of the regions they had subdued, such as Iran and China. As a result, the Mongols in these regions quickly adopted the local culture. For example, in the Persian Ilkhanate the Mongol khans adopted Islam after less than half a century, while the khans of the Yuan Dynasty embraced Chinese court customs. In contrast, the Mongols and their subordinates who settled in what came to be known as Moghulistan were in origin the steppe nomads from Mongolia.[4] Because of this, they were much more resistant to changing their way of life; they retained their primarily nomadic lifestyle for several centuries and were among the last of the Mongols that converted to Islam to do so. During the 14th century its inhabitants were known as "Jats" and the area they occupied was called "Jatah." This term is also used by numerous people in South Asia in Pakistan and parts of western India.


Since the Moghuls were nomads of the steppe, the boundaries of their territories seldom stayed the same for long. Still, Moghulistan in the strictest sense was centered in the Ili region. It was bounded on the west by the province of Shash and the Karatau Mountains, while the southern area of Lake Balkhash marked the northern limit of Moghul influence. From there the border gradually sloped in a southeastern direction until it reached the eastern portion of the Tian Shan Mountains. The Tian Shan then served as the southern border of Moghulistan. Besides Moghulistan proper, the Moghuls also nominally controlled modern-day Beijiang (northern Xinjiang, including the Turpan Depression) and Nanjiang (southern Xinjiang, including the Tarim Basin). Besides Moghulistan, Nanjiang, and Beijiang, several other regions were also temporarily subjected to Moghul rule at one time or another, such as Tashkent, Ferghana and parts of Badakhshan. Moghulistan proper was primarily steppe country and was where the Moghuls usually resided. Because of the Moghuls' nomadic nature, the towns of Moghulistan fell into decline during their rule, if they managed to remain occupied at all.

Aside from the towns which were at the foot of the mountains, nearly all of Nanjiang was desert. As a result, the Moghuls generally stayed out of the region and it was a poor source of manpower. The Dughlat amirs or leaders from the Naqshbandi Islamic order administered these towns in the name of the Moghul khans until 1514.[3] The Moghuls more directly governed Nanjiang after they lost Moghulistan itself. The capital city of Nanjiang was usually Yarkand or Kashgar. A contemporary Chinese term for part of the Nanjiang area was "Southern Tian Shan route" (Chinese: 天山南路; pinyin: Tiānshān Nánlù), as opposed to the "Northern" route, i.e. Dzungaria.[5]

A later Turki word "Alti-Shahr", meaning "Six Cities", came into vogue during the rule of the 19th century Tajik warlord Yaqub Beg, which is an imprecise term for certain western, then Muslim oasis cities.[6] Shoqan Walikhanov names them as Yarkand, Kashgar, Hotan, Aksu, Uch-Tufpan, and Yangi Hisar; two definitions by Albert von Le Coq substitute Bachu (Maralbishi) for Uch-Turfan or Yecheng (Karghalik) for Aksu. During Yaqub's rule, Turfan substituted for Uch-Turfan, and other informants identify seven, rather than six cities in "Alti-shahr".[6] The borders of Alti-Shahr were better defined than those of Moghulistan, with the Tian Shan marking the northern boundary, the Pamirs the western, and the Kunlun Shan the southern. The eastern border usually was slightly to the east of Kucha.

The Buddhist kingdom in Beijiang centered around Turfan was the only area where the people were identified as "Uyghurs" after the Islamic invasions.[7] The broader Turfan area was bordered by Nanjiang to the west, the Tian Shan to the north, the Kunlun Shan to the south, and the principality of Hami. In 1513 Hami became a dependency of Turfan and remained so until the end of Moghul rule. As a result, the Moghuls became direct neighbors of Ming China. Although the term "Uyghurstan" was used for the Turfan city-state, the term is confused in Muslim sources with Cathay. The Uyghur khans had voluntarily become Mongol vassals during the reign of Genghis Khan and as a result were allowed to retain their territories. As the Mongol Empire was split up in the middle of the 13th century, the Xinjiang region was assigned to the Chagatayids. The power of the Uyghur khans slowly declined under Mongol rule until the last recorded khan was forcibly converted to Islam in the 1380s or 90s. After the 15th it seems to have been subjected to direct Moghul rule, and a separate Moghul Khanate was established there in mid-15th century. After the Islamization of Turfan, the non-Islamic term "Uyghur" would disappear until the Chinese Nationalist leader Sheng Shicai, following the Soviet Union, introduced it for a different, Muslim population in 1934.[7]


Arguments about succession resulted in the breakup of the Mongol Empire in Asia into the Chagatai Khanate in Central Asia, Yuan Dynasty (1279–1368) in China, Ilkhanate in Persia, and Golden Horde in Russia, which waged destructive wars with one another. After the Han Chinese united and expelled the Mongols from China, establishing the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), Yuan Mongol refugees, principally of the Borjigin clan, migrated to the eastern Chagatai Khanate.[8] Those Mongols allied with the nomadic Buddhist, Christian and Shamanist rebels of the Issyk Kul and Isi areas against the Chagatai Khan Tarmashirin in the 1330s upon his conversion to Islam. This Khan and his heirs ruled a region of nomadic tribesmen and oasis-dwellers from the 14th to the 17th century. Moghulistan, which had formed the eastern portion of the Chagatai Khanate, became independent in 1347 under the Chagatayid named Tughlugh Timur. There is no accepted date for the dissolution of the Chagatai Khanate, although some historians mark it with the ascendance of Tughlugh. There were few contemporary histories of Moghulistan, in contrast to the well-documented Timurid Empire; most of modern knowledge about the region comes from the Tarikh-i-Rashidi.[1]

Tughlugh Timur also later converted to Islam, whose concepts of ummah, ghazat (holy war), and jihad inspired his territorial expansionism into Transoxiana. The conversion was also politically convenient in that he branded the dissident princes which he killed as "heathens and idolaters".[1] Conversion amongst the general population was slow to follow. Timur appointed his son, Ilyas Khoja, Khan, who was killed in 1368 by Qamar-ud-din Khan Dughlat. This takeover provoked a period of near-constant civil wars, because the tribal chiefs could not accept that Qamar ud-din, a "commoner", could accede to the throne. Opposition to Qamar within his own Dughlat tribe compromised the unity of Moghulistan, as Mirza Abu Bakr Dughlat took control of Kashgar.[1]

In the late 14th century Tamerlane sent at least five victorious expeditions to Moghulistan, seriously weakening Qamar ud-din's regime. The Moghuls had sent an unsuccessful supplication to China's Emperor Hongwu pleading for help, as Tamerlane had also wanted to conquer China.[1] Although a military alliance did not result, the Ming Dynasty opened up caravan trade to Moghulistan, greatly enriching the Moghul rulers who collected zakat (tax) on the lucrative Silk Road trade.[8] This trade ushered in an era of economic and cultural exchange with China, in exchange for the state accepting (what the Ming saw as) tributary status to the Ming.[3] During the 15th century the Moghuls had to deal with several enemy incursions by the Oirats, Timurids and Uzbeks. Yunus Khan (1462-1487) profited from the weakness of his neighbors and took Tashkent in 1482. Towards the end of Yunus' reign, his son Ahmad Alaq founded a breakaway Khanate in greater Turfan.

In the mid-16th century Moghulistan came under increasing pressure from the Kyrgyz and Kazakhs. Although the Moghul Khans did their best to maintain order, eventually the Kyrgyz and Kazakhs became the dominant forces in the region. Henceforth the Moghul khans were mostly restricted to the Tarim basin. In the late 16th and 17th centuries power in the Moghul states gradually shifted from the Khans to the khojas, who were influential religious leaders in the 16th century of the Sufi Naqshbandi order. At the same time the Kyrgyz began to penetrate into Alti-Shahr as well. The Khans were finally overthrown in the late 17th century, bringing an end to Chagatayid rule in Central Asia, and by the time Moghulistan was overrun by the Dzungar Mongol wave they had also become fully Muslim.

See also[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f Kim, Hodong (2000). "The Early History of the Moghul Nomads: The Legacy of the Chaghatai Khanate". In Amatai-Preiss, Reuven; Morgan, David. The Mongol Empire & Its Legacy. Brill. pp. 290, 299, 302–304, 306–307, 310–316. 
  2. ^ Lach, Donald F.; Van Kley, Edwin J. (1994), Asia in the Making of Europe, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, ISBN 978-0-226-46734-4 . Volume III, "A Century of Advance", Book Four, "East Asia", Plate 315. Lach and van Kley's source is Luciano Petech, "La pretesa ambascita di Shah Jahan alla Cina", Revista degli studi orientali, XXVI (1951), 124-127
  3. ^ a b c Starr, S. Frederick (2004). Xinjiang: China's Muslim Borderland. M.E. Sharpe. pp. 45–47. ISBN 0-7656-1317-4. 
  4. ^ Uighurs ruled Uighur Khaganate of Mongolia in 8-9th centuries. The nomadic Mekrin or Bekrin are considered Turco-Mongols.
  5. ^ Lansdell, Henry (1894). Chinese Central Asia; a ride to Little Tibet 1. Charles Scribner's Sons. p. 318. 
  6. ^ a b Canfield, Robert Leroy (2010). Ethnicity, Authority, and Power in Central Asia: New Games Great and Small. Taylor & Francis. p. 45. 
  7. ^ a b Gladney, Dru (2004). "The ethnogenesis of the Uyghur". Dislocating China: Muslims, Minorities, and Other Subaltern Subjects. University of Chicago press. pp. 213–214, 217. 
  8. ^ a b Upshur, Jiu-Hwa; Terry, Janice J; Holoka, James P; Cassar, George H; Goff, Richard (2011). World History: Before 1600: The Development of Early Civilizations 1. Cengage Learning. p. 431-432.