Michael R. Drompp
The people who called themselves Türk (Chinese Tujue突厥) appear in historical records only a few years before they overthrow their political masters in the middle of the 6th century CE and create a powerful steppe empire that stretched at its height from Manchuria to the Black Sea. These early Türks are sometimes called “Kök” (Old Turkic “Blue,” referring particularly to the color of the sky but also indicating the East) Türks to distinguish them from other peoples who spoke Turkic languages and called themselves by various names, some of which included the term Türk. The Kök Türks dominated much of Inner Asia for most of the period from the mid-6th to the mid-8th centuries; during that era their polity waxed and waned in strength and did not always enjoy political unity. Nevertheless, they exercised authority throughout much of Eurasia for some two centuries; Türk military, diplomatic, and economic interactions with their neighbors, including the Chinese, Persians, and Byzantines, are an important component of their historical significance. They created Inner Asia’s first native script and first known examples of historiography, and promoted the international exchange of goods and ideas on an unprecedented scale. The expansion of Türk power and culture helped shape the Inner Asian world in which the Mongols later established their empire.
Throughout more than two millennia, the extensive droughty areas in East Asia were occupied by pastoral nomads. A long history exists of hybridity between steppe and agricultural areas. The ancient nomads had a specific pastoral economy, a mobile lifestyle, a unique mentality that assumed unpretentiousness and stamina, cults of war, warrior horsemen, and heroized ancestors that were reflected, in turn, in both their verbal oeuvre (heroic epos) and their arts (animal style). They established vast empires that united many peoples. In the descriptions of settled civilizations, the peoples of the steppe are presented as aggressive barbarians. However, the pastoral nomads developed efficient mechanisms of adaptation to nature and circumjacent states. They had a complex internal structure and created different forms of social complexity—from heterarchical confederations to large nomadic empires. The different forms of identity in pastoral societies (gender, age, profession, rank) are presented in this article. Special attention is given to how ethnic identity is formed from small groups. The ethnic history of the ancient nomads of East Asia is described, particularly for such pastoral societies as the Xiongnu, the Wuhuan, the Xianbei, and the Rouran.
Beatrice Forbes Manz
The Timurid dynasty was founded in 1370 by the Turkic warlord Temür, usually known in the west as Tamerlane (Temür the lame). Rising to power within the realm of Chinggis Khan’s second son Chaghadai, Temür established his capital at Samarqand and embarked on a career of conquest throughout the former Mongolian Empire and the Central Islamic lands. While his campaigns ranged from Delhi almost to Moscow and from the eastern Turkestan to western Anatolia, Temür established an administration only over the central regions, including Iran and Transoxiana; these were largely settled and Persian-speaking territories. Temür and his followers were Turks loyal to the Mongol tradition, but they were also Muslim and well acquainted with Perso-Islamic culture. The dynasty lasted three more generations—those of Shāhrukh (1409–1447); Abu Sa`īd (1451–1469); and Sulṭān Ḥusayn Bayqara (1469–1506). During this time, the Timurid state shrank in size but gained fame for its wide-ranging cultural patronage and sophisticated styles in architecture, literature, and the arts of the book. In 1507, the Uzbek Shibani Khan overthrew the Timurid dynasty and took over its eastern territories. The Timurid prince Babur Mirza retreated from his region of Ferghana to Kabul and then in 1526 conquered Delhi and founded the Mughal or Later Timurid dynasty.
Ali Gibran Siddiqui
The Khwājagān (lit. “Masters”) were a constellation of Ṣūfīs in 13th- to 16th-century Mawara an-Nahr and Khurasan. The Naqshbandīyya were Ṣūfīs from among the Khwājagān who followed the teachings of their shaykh, or Ṣūfī master, Khwāja Bahāʾ ad-Dīn Naqshband (1318–1389). Given the eventual emergence of a more centrally organized Naqshbandī order among the otherwise unorganized Khwājagānī tradition by the mid-15th century, later Naqshbandī hagiographers have retroactively combined the development of both traditions under a single linear narrative. While such hagiographies from the 16th century onward portray the Khwājagān as a monolithic group, united in beliefs and rituals, and tracing its silsila (lit. “chain”) or spiritual lineage back to the first caliph Abū Bakr (r. 632–634), there is little evidence from the 13th and 14th centuries to buttress these claims. A study of earlier sources from this time period instead suggests that there was considerable variation among the attitudes and beliefs espoused by individual Khwājagānī Ṣūfī masters and that a loosely defined common identity among the Khwājagān grew out of aversion to the practices of more established Ṣūfī traditions that included ascribing particular importance to spiritual lineages and public displays of devotion. Thus, this Khwājagānī current spread across Central Asia in the form of local Ṣūfī communities, which sought to challenge traditional understandings of Sufism. Part of the Khwājagānī aversion to ostentatious modes of worship by more traditional forms of Sufism led to an increased preference for silent forms of dhikr (lit. remembrance) or the ritualistic recitation of sacred names and phrases, as opposed to more vocal and public forms. By the 15th century, this proclivity toward silent dhikr had become a hallmark of the Khwājagānī-Naqshbandī tradition.
The term Khwājagān is the plural of the Persian word khwāja, which literally means “master” and often reserved for persons of distinction. As an honorific term, originally reserved as a title of prestige for prominent members of Persianate societies, Ṣūfī murīds or disciples used the title “khwāja” to refer to their masters or teachers with respect. In Naqshbandī sources written from the 16th century onward, hagiographers such as ʿAlī b. Ḥusayn Kāshifī Ṣafī have consistently referred to all members of the Khwājagānī and the Naqshbandī tradition by the epithet “khwāja.” Consequently, these Naqshbandī hagiographers have used the term Silsila-ye Khwājagān or the Chain of the Khwājas to refer to both the Naqshbandī silsila and its predecessors among the Ṣūfī masters of 12th-, 13th-, and 14th-century Central Asia.
The Ismailis are one of the largest Muslim minority populations of Central Asia, and they make up the second largest Shiʿi Muslim community globally. First emerging in the second half of the 8th century, the Ismaili missionary movement spread into many areas of the Islamic world in the 10th century, under the leadership of the Ismaili Fatimids caliphs in Egypt. The movement achieved astounding success in Central Asia in the 10th century, when many of the political and cultural elites of the region were converted. However, a series of repressions over the following century led to its almost complete disappearance from the metropolitan centers of Central Asia. The movement later re-emerged in the mountainous Badakhshan region of Central Asia (which encompasses the territories of present-day eastern Tajikistan and northeastern Afghanistan), where it was introduced by the renowned 11th-century Persian poet, philosopher, and Ismaili missionary Nasir-i Khusraw. Over the following centuries the Ismaili movement expanded among the populations of Badakhshan, reaching a population of over 200,000 in the 21st century. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the Ismailis suffered a series of severe repressions, first under local Sunni Muslim rulers and later under the antireligious policies of the Soviet Union. However, in the decades since the end of the Soviet period, the Ismailis of the region have become increasingly connected with the global Ismaili community and its leadership. While many aspects of the history of Ismailism in the Badakhshan region remain obscure and unexplored, the discoveries of significant corpuses of manuscripts in private collections since the 1990s in the Badakhshan region have opened up wide possibilities for future research.
Scott C. Levi
Contrary to long-held notions that gunpowder weapons technologies were devised in the West and gradually transmitted eastward into Asia, more recent scholarship indicates that innovations flowed in both directions. Scholars have also come to recognize that there was no uniformity in the ways that states implemented gunpowder weapons, and that multiple factors relating to environment, demographics, and cultural preferences informed decisions about when and how to embrace the new technology. The major Asian agrarian states of the Ottomans, Safavids, and Mughals (the so-called Gunpowder Empires) and the Ming and Qing dynasties in China implemented gunpowder weapons differently. The Ottomans were the most aggressive in this regard, the Mughals preferred a hybrid force, and the Safavids long favored cavalry. Chinese militaries employed hybrid forces to great effect, but in later years a lengthy peace during the Qing era slowed the implementation of new technologies. In Central Asia and other places where rulers could rely on large numbers of well-trained, fast-moving mounted archers and a nearly endless supply of horses, they found little reason to rush to embrace what for several centuries represented an expensive, slow, and unreliable technology.
Xinjiang is a 642,800-square-mile area about the size of Iran, comprised of two different ecological zones (northern steppe and southern oases) in the heart of Eurasia. After subjugating the Zunghar Mongols, based in the area, in 1754–1759, the Qing stationed 25,000–45,000 troops there. The empire transferred 850,000–4,000,000 taels of silver from China annually for the financial support of the troops. The Qing also encouraged migration of Han and Muslim Chinese (Tungan) merchants and colonists to develop the underpopulated north, and they relied on oasis Muslim (or “Uyghur”) landlords (beg) to do the same in the south. For the first sixty years, the region witnessed the unprecedented expansion of local economy and the rise of a new regional identity. However, the Qing faced stiff challenges to their authority from the 1820s to the 1860s, as the former ruler of the area of southwestern oases, the Islamic saintly family (khwaja) that lived in exile in Central Asia after the Qing conquest, invaded Kashgar and Yarkand, often supported by the opportunistic ruler of the neighboring Khoqand khanate. The Qing was eventually able to fend off the khwaja challenge. However, the discontinuation of the silver transfer from China during the Taiping Rebellion (1851–1864) led to the fall of Qing rule in 1864. Tungans and native Muslims rose in revolt in the name of holy war, which culminated in the formation of an independent Islamic state presided over by the Khoqandi general Ya’kūb Beg. After the Qing empire reconquered Xinjiang in 1877, the Qing transformed Xinjiang into a Chinese province (sheng) in 1884, largely in response to the increasing activities of the Russia empire, driven by its commercial and territorial ambition. However, the subsequent opening of numerous “treaty ports” across Xinjiang, where extraterritorial condition prevailed, rendered the Qing government’s territorial control over the region incomplete.
Nomadic warfare in the Eurasian steppes centered on a mobile horse-archer whose composite bow was surpassed by firearms only in the 17th and 18th centuries. Until the rise of effective firearms, pastoral nomadic horse-archers were the most dominant element on the battlefield. Even after the advent of firearms, nomads remained effective. The horse-archer’s bow possessed comparable accuracy, range, and a more favorable rate of fire than slow-loading harquebuses. As early firearms tended to be slow and inaccurate, they were not decisive against nomads until cannons became sufficiently mobile to disrupt formations of swift moving horse-archers. Even then, it was still necessary for states to have well-developed logistical systems in order to support sedentary-firearms-based armies in the steppes. These armies still found it necessary to have suitable numbers of nomads to serve as scouts and to protect their flanks. While massed firearm-wielding infantry, accompanied by cannons, could defeat nomadic armies, they remained vulnerable in transit.
The success of nomadic warfare prior to firearms was dependent not only on technological factors such as the composite bow and lamellar armor, but also factors such as tactics that became a standard part of steppe warfare, including the feigned retreat and encirclements. The strategic and tactical level of steppe warfare reached its zenith during the period of the Mongol Empire, which also ushered in a revolution in steppe warfare. Other factors also played a part, including the training for warfare through hunting and herding. Combined with a vigorous and often harsh lifestyle on the steppes, sedentary observers often viewed the pastoral nomadic warrior as if bred for war.
Much has been said and written about the “Silk Road” since Ferdinand Freiherr von Richthofen coined the phrase in 1877. Fostered by spectacular discoveries by so-called explorers such as Sir Aurel Stein, Paul Pelliot, Sven Hedin, and others, the Silk Road soon became the subject of countless articles, books, museum exhibitions, and even legends. In times when almost any location—virtual or real—is but one mouse click away, the catchphrase Silk Road has not lost any of its original appeal. On the contrary, the term is almost constantly present in all kinds of media. Yet, it is never quite clear what exactly the Silk Road concept really entails. When was it established? Was it even formally established? What was its purpose? Was there but one function? And, more importantly, how useful is it as an analytical concept in the first place?
These are the main questions this article seeks to answer. Its arguments are based on an analysis of the earliest available sources: archaeological finds from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous region, indigenous documents written in Kharosthi script, and early Chinese historiography. The article will argue that the history of the early Silk Road (and its so-called prehistory) was considerably more complex than generally claimed. For instance, we can certainly not pinpoint a fixed date on which the Silk Road was established; neither were the intercontinental land routes primarily traveled (and populated) by traders. China’s initial forays into Central Asia in the 2nd century
The Khojas of Kashgar name a Sufi lineage, which became a ruling dynasty in eastern Turkestan or present-day Xinjiang in western China. Founded by the Samarkandi spiritual master Ahmad Kāsānī (d. 1542), a member of the Naqshbandiyya Sufi order strongly implicated in politics, the lineage divided into two competing branches, one led by Ishāq Khoja (d. 1599) and the other by Āfāq Khoja (d. 1694). Both leaders were influential at the court in Yarkand and engaged in frequent proselytizing missions among Turkic, Mongol, Tibetan, and Chinese populations. Yet, only Āfāq Khoja and his group of followers, the Āfāqiyya, with the support of Zunghar Mongols, created a kind of theocracy whose religious capital was Kashgar, and which was based on Sufi organization, practice, and ideology. Venerated as Sufi saints (īshān), the Khojas embodied a politico-religious form of Islamic sanctity (walāya) while promoting a doctrine of mystical renunciation. Paradoxically, although the regime did not survive internecine conflicts and the Qing conquest in 1759, the Khojas of Kashgar, including the Ishāqiyya sublineage, continued to be very active in the long run. They conducted insurrections throughout the Tarim basin and created short-lived enclaves until their complete neutralization in 1866 with the forced exile of the last great Khoja, Buzurg Khān Töre (d. 1869). In Xinjiang, the Khojas have remained venerated figures of the past until now, although collective memory kept a contradictory picture of them, oscillating between holy heroes and feudal oppressors. Descendants of the exiled Khojas in eastern Uzbekistan and southern Kazakhstan formed communities that still preserve relics and oral as well as written traditions.