-speaking people living in what is now China
, in what is officially called the Xinjiang
region, but which is called by its native inhabitants either Uyghuristan
or Eastern Turkistan
. (Their name is also seen Uighur, Uigur etc.; and Turkestan as well as Turkistan.)
Before the Turkic peoples moved in, the region was occupied by people of European appearance, possibly related to the Celts, whose mummies and textiles are well preserved.
Like other Turks, the Uyghurs originally practised shamanism. In about the first century Buddhism was introduced, and in 934 they were converted to Islam, under the Karakhanid ruler Satuk Bughra Khan. Some also practised Manichaeism and Nestorian Christianity before that. Under both the Buddhist and the Islamic cultures they were a centre of high civilization. Chinese visitors praised their poetry, architecture, and handicraft. It has even been suggested that they were the originators of acupuncture. The Yellow Uyghur in the Chinese province of Gansu continue to be Buddhists.
Between 104 BCE and 103 CE Chinese forces invaded Uyghuristan a number of times and occupied it for part of the time. There were also several invasions in the middle of the millennium, with equally tenuous success. An Uyghur kingdom separate from other Turkic nations was founded in 744 at Karabalgasun by the khagan (khan) Kutluk Bilge Kul. Finally in 751 the Uyghurs, with Arab and Tibetan allies, defeated the Chinese and were free of them for a thousand years. They were part of the Mongol Empire for part of that time, and once more fell into the Chinese orbit in 1759.
In 1863 they once more declared an independent kingdom, but in 1876-1884 the Manchu dynasty of China conquered the Uyghurs and declared their homeland to be Xinjiang (or Sinkiang in Wade-Giles romanization), meaning 'new province'. The Uyghurs were in perpetual revolt, and in 1933-1936 and again in 1944-1949 managed to establish an independent Islamic republic of East Turkistan (Shärqiy Türkistan). This was finally suppressed by the new communist government of China.
The Uyghurs continue to be severely repressed and discriminated against, like the Tibetans. As with Tibet, there has been a huge influx of Han Chinese settlers to change the demographic facts. The seven million Uyghurs there now are slightly under half the population, down from three-quarters in 1949. All China's nuclear testing is conducted in Xinjiang.
This is derived from several Web sites but the most useful one I found was the Eastern Turkestan FAQ at www.taklamakan.org/uighur-l/et_faq_p1.html