From Academic Kids

Yarkand (modern Chinese name 叶城, pinyin: Yèchéng, also Chokkuka, anciently Suoju 莎車 (also written Shache and Suoche), was an ancient Buddhist kingdom located between Pishan and Kashgar on the branch of the Silk Road that ran along the southern edge of the Taklamakan desert in the Tarim Basin. The area lies in present day Xinjiang, China.

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Yarkand, 1868, showing city walls and gallows

The fertile oasis today is watered by the Yarkand River which flows north down from the Congling mountains (lit. 'Onion Mountains' - from the abundance of wild onions found there). The oasis now covers some 3,210 sq. km. (1,240 sq. mi.), but was likely far more extensive before the period of desiccation began to afflict the region from the 3rd century CE onwards.

Yarkand (38° 25' N; 77° 16' E.; alt. about 1,189 m. or 3,900 ft.; pop. about 72,000 in 1990) is strategically located about half way between Khotan and Kashgar, at the junction of a branch road north to Aksu. It also was the terminus for caravans coming from India via Ladakh and then over the Karakoram Pass to the Tarim Basin.

From Yarkand another important route headed southwest via Tashkurghan to the Wakhan corridor from where travellers could cross the relatively easy Baroghil Pass into what is now northern Pakistan, or head down the valley and into Badakshan.

A town of the same name survives today.
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Street scene in Yarkand in the 1870s


The state bordered Kashgar to the northwest, Aksu to the north, and Khotan via Pishan to the southeast.


The oasis of Yarkand was undoubtedly known to the Chinese from at least the 2nd century BCE, but the earliest detailed accounts of Yarkand that survive appear in the Hou Hanshu ('History of the Later Han'). They contain some rare insights into the complex political situations China faced in attempting to open up the "Silk Routes" to the West in the 1st century CE. So, it may be of interest here to include some some rather lengthy passages on Yarkand quoted from the 2004 translation of the "Chapter on the Western Regions" by John E. Hill (for notes on these passages follow the external link in the "References" section below):

"Going west from the kingdom of Suoju (Yarkand), and passing through the countries of Puli (Tashkurghan) and Wulei (centred on Sarhad in the Wakhan), you arrive among the Da Yuezhi (Kushans). To the east, it is 10,950 li (4,553 km) from Luoyang.

The Chanyu (Khan) of the Xiongnu took advantage of the chaos caused by Wang Mang (9-24 CE) and invaded the Western Regions. Only Yan, the king of Suoju (Yarkand), who was more powerful than the others, did not consent to being annexed. Previously, during the time of Emperor Yuan (48-33 BCE), he was a hostage prince and grew up in the capital. He admired and loved the Middle Kingdom and extended the rules of Chinese administration to his own country. He ordered all his sons to respectfully serve the Han dynasty generation by generation, and to never turn their backs on it. Yan died in the fifth Tianfeng year (18 CE). He was awarded the posthumous title of 'Faithful and Martial King'. His son, Kang, succeeded him on the throne.

At the beginning of Emperor Guangwu's reign (25-57 CE), Kang led the neighbouring kingdoms to resist the Xiongnu. He escorted, and protected, more than a thousand people including the officers, the soldiers, the wife and children of the former Protector General. He sent a letter to Hexi (Chinese territory west of the Huang He or Yellow River) to inquire about the activities of the Middle Kingdom, and personally expressed his attachment to, and admiration for, the Han dynasty.

In the fifth Jianwu year (29 CE) the General-in-Chief of Hexi, Dou Rong, following Imperial instructions, bestowed on Kang the titles of: “King of Chinese Suoju, Performer of Heroic Deeds Who Cherishes Virtue [and] Commandant-in-Chief of the Western Regions.” The fifty-five kingdoms were all made dependencies after that.

In the ninth year (33 CE) Kang died. He was awarded the posthumous title of “Greatly Accomplished King.” His younger brother, Xian, succeeded him on the throne. Xian attacked and conquered the kingdoms of Jumi (Keriya) and Xiye (Karghalik). He killed both their kings, and installed two sons of his elder brother, Kang, as the kings of Jumi and Xiye.

In the fourteenth year (38 CE), together with An, the king of Shanshan (the Lop Nor region), he sent envoys to the Imperial Palace to offer tribute. Following this, the Western Regions were (again) in communication with China. All the kingdoms to the east of the Congling (Pamirs) were dependent on Xian.

In the seventeenth year (41 CE), Xian again sent an envoy to present offerings [to the Emperor], and to ask that a Protector General be appointed. The Son of Heaven questioned the Excellency of Works, Dou Rong, about this. He was of the opinion that Xian, and his sons and brothers who had pledged to serve the Han were truly sincere. Therefore, [he suggested that] it would be appropriate to give him higher rank to maintain order and security.

The Emperor then, using the same envoy that Xian had sent to him, bestowed upon him the seal and ribbon of “Protector General of the Western Regions,” and gave him chariots, standards, gold, brocades and embroideries.

Pei Zun, the Administrator of Dunhuang, wrote saying that foreigners should not be allowed to employ such great authority and that these decrees would cause the kingdoms to despair. An Imperial decree then ordered that the seal and ribbons of “Protector General” be recovered, and replaced with the seal and ribbon of “Great Han General.” Xian’s envoy refused to make the exchange, and (Pei) Zun took them by force.

Consequently, Xian became resentful. Furthermore, he falsely named himself “Great Protector General,” and sent letters to all the kingdoms. They all submitted to him, and bestowed the title of Chanyu on him. Xian gradually became arrogant making heavy demands for duties and taxes. Several times he attacked Qiuci (Kucha) and the other kingdoms. All the kingdoms were anxious and fearful.

In the winter of the twenty-first year (45 CE), eighteen kings, including the king of Nearer Jushi (Turfan), Shanshan (the Lop Nor region), Yanqi (Karashahr), and others, sent their sons to enter the service of the Emperor and offered treasure. As a result, they were granted audience when they circulated weeping, prostrating with their foreheads to the ground, in the hope of obtaining a Protector General. The Son of Heaven, considering that the Middle Kingdom was just beginning to return to peace and that the northern frontier regions were still unsettled, returned all the hostage princes with generous gifts.

At the same time, Xian, infatuated with his military power, wanted to annex the Western Regions, and greatly increased his attacks. The kingdoms, informed that no Protector General would be sent, and that the hostage princes were all returning, were very worried and frightened. Therefore, they sent a letter to the Administrator of Dunhuang to ask him to detain their hostage sons with him, so that they could point this out to the [king of] Suoju (Yarkand), and tell him that their young hostage sons were detained because a Protector General was to be sent. Then he [the king of Yarkand] would stop his hostilities. Pei Zun sent an official report informing the Emperor [of this proposal], which he approved.

In the twenty-second year (46 CE Xian, aware that no Protector General was coming, sent a letter to An, king of Shanshan (the Lop Nor region), ordering him to cut the route to the Han. An did not accept [this order], and killed the envoy. Xian was furious and sent soldiers to attack Shanshan. An gave battle but was defeated and fled into the mountains. Xian killed or captured more than a thousand men, and then withdrew.

That winter (46 CE), Xian returned and attacked Qiuci (Kucha), killed the king, and annexed the kingdom. The hostage princes of Shanshan, and then Yanqi (Karashahr) and the other kingdoms, were detained a long time at Dunhuang and became worried, so they fled and returned [to their kingdoms].

The king of Shanshan (the Lop Nor region) wrote a letter to the Emperor expressing his desire to return his son to enter the service of the Emperor, and again pleaded for a Protector General, saying that if a Protector General were not sent, he would be forced to obey the Xiongnu. The Son of Heaven replied:

“We are not able, at the moment, to send out envoys and Imperial troops so, in spite of their good wishes, each kingdom [should seek help], as they please, wherever they can, to the east, west, south, or north.”

Following this, Shanshan (Lop Nor region), and Jushi (Turfan/Jimasa) again submitted to the Xiongnu. Meanwhile, Xian became increasingly violent.

The king of Guisai, reckoning that his kingdom was far enough away, killed Xian’s envoy. Xian then attacked and killed him. He appointed a nobleman from that country, Sijian, king of Guisai. Furthermore, Xian appointed his own son, Zeluo, to be king of Qiuci (Kucha). Xian, taking account of the youth of Zeluo, detached a part of the territory from Qiuci (Kucha) from which he made the kingdom of Wulei (Yengisar). He transferred Sijian to the post of king of Wulei (Yengisar), and appointed another noble to the post of king of Guisai.

Several years later, the people of the kingdom of Qiuci (Kucha), killed Zeluo and Sijian, and sent envoys to the Xiongnu to ask them to appoint a king to replace them. The Xiongnu established a nobleman of Qiuci (Kucha), Shendu, to be king of Qiuci (Kucha), making it dependent on the Xiongnu.

Because Dayuan (Ferghana) had reduced their tribute and taxes, Xian personally took command of several tens of thousands of men taken from several kingdoms, and attacked Dayuan (Ferghana). Yanliu, the king of Dayuan (Ferghana), came before him to submit. Xian took advantage of this to take him back to his own kingdom. Then he transferred Qiaosaiti, the king of Jumi (Keriya), to the post of king of Dayuan (Ferghana). Then Kangju (Tashkent plus the Chu, Talas, and middle Jaxartes basins) attacked him there several times and Qiaosaiti fled home [to Keriya] more than a year later. Xian appointed him king of Jumi (Keriya) and sent Yanliu back to Dayuan (Ferghana) again, ordering him to bring the customary tribute and offerings.

Xian also banished the king of Yutian (Khotan), Yulin, to be king of Ligui and set up his younger brother, Weishi, as king of Yutian.

More than a year later Xian became suspicious that the kingdoms wanted to rebel against him. He summoned Weishi, and the kings of Jumi (Keriya), Gumo (Aksu), and Zihe (Shahidulla), and killed them all. He didn’t set up any more kings, he just sent generals to maintain order and guard these kingdoms. Rong, the son of Weishi, fled and made submission to the Han, who named him: “Marquis Who Maintains Virtue.” A general from Suoju (Yarkand), named Junde, had been posted to Yutian (Khotan), and tyrannised the people there who became indignant.

In the third Yongping year (60 CE), during the reign of Emperor Ming, a high official of this country, called Dumo, had left town when he saw a wild pig. He wanted to shoot it, but the pig said to him: “Do not shoot me, I will undertake to kill Junde for you.” Following this, Dumo plotted with his brothers and killed Junde. However, another high official, Xiumo Ba, plotted, in his turn, with a Chinese man, Han Rong, and others, to kill Dumo and his brothers, then he named himself king of Yutian (Khotan). Together with men from the kingdom of Jumi (Keriya), he attacked and killed the Suoju (Yarkand) general who was at Pishan (modern Pishan or Guma). He then returned with the soldiers.

Then Xian sent his Heir Apparent, and his State Chancellor, leading 20,000 soldiers from several kingdoms, to attack Xiumo Ba. [Xiumo] Ba came to meet them and gave battle, defeating the soldiers of Suoju (Yarkand) who fled, and more than 10,000 of them were killed.

Xian again fielded several tens of thousands of men from several kingdoms, and personally led them to attack Xiumo Ba. [Xiumo] Ba was again victorious and beheaded more than half of the enemy. Xian escaped and fled, returning to his kingdom. Xiumo Ba advanced and encircled Suoju (Yarkand), but he was hit and killed by an arrow, and his soldiers retreated to Yutian (Khotan).

Suyule, State Chancellor [of Khotan], and others, appointed Guangde, the son of Xiumo Ba’s elder brother, king. The Xiongnu, with Qiuci (Kucha) and the other kingdoms, attacked Suoju (Yarkand), but were unable to take it.

Later, Guangde recognising of the exhaustion of Suoju (Yarkand), sent his younger brother, the Marquis who Supports the State, Ren, commanding an army, to attack Xian. As he had suffered war continuously, Xian sent an envoy to make peace with Guangde. Guangde's father had previously been detained for several years in Suoju (Yarkand). Xian returned Guangde's father and also gave one of his daughters in marriage and swore brotherhood to Guangde, so the soldiers withdrew and left.

In the following year (61 CE), Qieyun, the Chancellor of Suoju (Yarkand), and others, worried by Xian's arrogance, plotted to get the town to submit to Yutian (Khotan). Guangde, the king of Yutian (Khotan), then led 30,000 men from several kingdoms to attack Suoju (Yarkand). Xian stayed in the town to defend it and sent a messenger to say to Guangde: “I have given you your father and a wife. Why are you attacking me?” Guangde replied to him: “O king, you are the father of my wife. It has been a long time since we met. I want us to meet, each of us escorted by only two men, outside the town wall to make an alliance.”

Xian consulted Qieyun about this. Qieyun said to him: “Guangde, your son-in-law is a very close relation; you should go out to see him.” Xian then rashly went out. Guangde advanced and captured him. In addition, Qieyun and his colleagues let the soldiers of Yutian (Khotan) into the town to capture Xian’s wife and children. (Guangde) annexed his kingdom. He put Xian in chains, and took him home with him. More than a year later, he killed him.

When the Xiongnu heard that Guangde had defeated Suoju (Yarkand), they sent five generals leading more than 30,000 men from fifteen kingdoms including Yanqi (Karashahr), Weili (Korla), and Qiuci (Kucha), to besiege Yutian (Khotan). Guangde asked to submit. He sent his Heir Apparent as a hostage and promised to give felt carpets each year. In winter, the Xiongnu ordered soldiers to take Xian’s son, Bujuzheng, who was a hostage with them, to appoint him king of Suoju (Yarkand).

Guangde then attacked and killed [Bujuzheng], and put his younger brother, Qili, on the throne. This was in the third Yuanhe year (86 CE) of Emperor Zhang.

At this time Chief Clerk Ban Chao brought the troops of several kingdoms to attack Suoju (Yarkand). He soundly defeated Suoju (Yarkand) so it submitted to Han."

In 90 CE the Yuezhi or Kushans invaded the region with an army of reportedly 70,000 men, under their Viceroy, Xian, but they were forced to withdraw without a battle after Ban Chao instigated a "burnt earth" policy.

After the Yuanchu period (114-120 CE), when the Yuezhi or Kushans placed a hostage prince on the throne of Kashgar (see history section on Kashgar): "Then Suoju (Yarkand) continued to resist (Khotan), and put themselves under Shule (Kashgar). Thus Shule (Kashgar), became powerful and a rival to Qiuci (Kucha) and Yutian (Khotan)."

In 127 CE, "(Ban) Yong once again attacked and subdued Yanqi (Karashahr); and then Qiuci (Kucha), Shule (Kashgar), Yutian (Khotan), Suoju (Yarkand), and other kingdoms, seventeen altogether, came to submit. Following this, the Wusun (Issyk-kol and Semirechiye), and the countries of the Congling (Pamirs), cut communications to the west."

In 130 CE Yarkand, along with Ferghana and Kashgar, sent tribute and offerings to the Chinese Emperor.

After this, there is very little information on Yarkand's history for many centuries. There are a couple of brief references in the Tang dynasty histories, but it seems to have been of less note then than the oasis of Kharghalik to its south.

One must assume that it was taken by the Muslims soon after they subdued Kashgar in the early 11th century.

It apparently became the main base in the region for Chagatai Khan (died 1241), who inherited Kashgaria (and also much of the land between the Oxus (Amu Darya) and Jaxartes (Syr Darya) rivers) after his father, Genghis Khan's death in 1227.

Marco Polo, describing Yarkand c. 1260, says only that this "province" (of Kublai Khan's nephew, Kaidu, d. 1301) was five days' journey in extent; that its inhabitants were mostly Muslim although there were also some Nestorian and Jacobite Christians; and that it had plenty of food and other necessities, "especially cotton."

Benedict Göez, who was seeking a route from India to China, passed from Lahore through Afghanistan to Yarkand, arriving in Yarkand in late 1603. He remained there for about a year, making a short trip to Khotan during that time. He reported:

"Hiarchan [Yarkand], the capital of the kingdom of Cascar, is a mart of much note, both for the great concourse of merchants, and for the variety of wares. At this capital the caravan of Kabul merchants reaches its terminus; and a new one is formed for the journey to Cathay. The command of this caravan is sold by the king, who invests the chiefs with a kind of royal authority over the merchants for the whole journey. A twelvemonth passed away however before the new company was formed, for the way is long and perilous, and the caravan is not formed every year, but only when a large number arrange to join it, and when it is known that they will be allowed to enter Cathay."

At the end of the 16th century it was incorporated into the khanate of Kashgar, and the Chinese regained control of it in the middle of the 18th century.

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Yarkand official. 1870s

By the 19th century, due to its active trade with Ladakh India, and an influx of foreign merchants, its population outsripped even that of Kashgar.

Mohammed Yakub (also known as Yakub Beg), 1820-1877 conquered Khotan, Aksu, Kashgar, and neighbouring towns with the help of the Russians in the 1860s. His capital was Yarkand, where he received embassies from England in 1870 and 1873. The Chinese defeated Yakub at Turfan in 1877 and he committed suicide, thus ending the Kingdom of Kashgaria, and returning the region to Chinese control.


  • Gordon, T. E. 1876. The Roof of the World: Being the Narrative of a Journey over the high plateau of Tibet to the Russian Frontier and the Oxus sources on Pamir. Edinburgh. Edmonston and Douglas. Reprint: Ch’eng Wen Publishing Company. Taipei. 1971.
  • Hill, John E. 2003. "Annotated Translation of the Chapter on the Western Regions according to the Hou Hanshu." 2nd Draft Edition. [1] (
  • Hulsewé, A. F. P. and Loewe, M. A. N. 1979. China in Central Asia: The Early Stage 125 BC – AD 23: an annotated translation of chapters 61 and 96 of the History of the Former Han Dynasty. E. J. Brill, Leiden.
  • Puri, B. N. Buddhism in Central Asia, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited, Delhi, 1987. (2000 reprint).
  • Shaw, Robert. 1871. Visits to High Tartary, Yarkand and Kashgar. Reprint with introduction by Peter Hopkirk, Oxford University Press, 1984. ISBN0-19-583830-0.
  • Stein, Aurel M. 1907. Ancient Khotan: Detailed report of archaeological explorations in Chinese Turkestan, 2 vols. Clarendon Press. Oxford. [2] (
  • 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. [3] (

External links

  • [4] ( (For the Travels of Benedict Göez)
  • Silk Road Seattle ( (The Silk Road Seattle website contains many useful resources including a number of full-text historical works)
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Andijani Taifurghis of the Yarkand Governor's Guard. 1870s
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Yarkand ladies' summer fashions. 1870s

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