YARKAND (Yarkend; Modern Uighur Yärkänd; Chinese Shache, the same characters can also be read as Suoche), a town in Chinese Turkestan, at the southwestern end of the Tarim Basin (38°27' N, 77°16' E; alt. 1,190 m). Yārkand is located in a fertile oasis on the banks of the river of the same name; it is accessible from Khotan via Karghalik by the road going along the southern edge of the Taklamakan Desert and from Kāšḡar situated to the northwest. Through the mountains to the west of Yārkand, one can proceed to Sarykol and then to the Pamirs and the Oxus Basin, or towards the upper course of the Indus (the route of the modern Karakorum Highway). This location gave Yārkand high importance for the Silk Road trade route.

The territory of Yārkand is for the first time mentioned in the Hanshu (1st century BCE), under the name Shache (Old Chinese, approximately, *s³a(j)-ka), which is probably related to the name of the Iranian Saka tribes. At the time of the Han expansion into the “Western Regions,” Yārkand was larger than the neighboring kingdoms, being reported to have 3,049 soldiers. Later it began to expand still more, and between 29 and 61 CE, under the ruler Xian, it controlled the Tarim Basin. Afterwards, Buddhism became dominant in Yārkand, and several monasteries were observed by Xuanzang, although some of them were already in ruins at the time of his visit to the area (around 630 CE). Unlike the neighboring oases, however, no remains of Buddhist monuments have been found in Yārkand as yet (for Chinese records about pre-Islamic Yārkand see Rhie, pp. 255-57; Litvinskiĭ, p. 241; Hulsewé and Loewe, pp. 139-41).

Yārkand was conquered by the Qarā-khanids (see ILAK-KHANIDS) in the 10th century, and its population converted to Islam. From the 11th century onwards, we encounter its present name, which can probably be derived from Turkic yar ‘cliff, gorge’ and känd ‘town’ (ultimately an Iranian lexeme). This name is mentioned by Mah³mud Kāšḡari (1005-1102), and it is found on coins and in a number of land-ownership documents written in Arabic and Turkic (the latter in both Uighur and Arabic script), which date back to the 11th-12th centuries. The legal style of these documents is already purely Islamic, although many names are Turkic; a Jewish population seems to be mentioned as well. Subsequently, Yārkand (like the neighboring settlements) passed to Küčlüg (the usurper of the Qarā-khitay throne), then to the Mongols Qaydu and Čaḡatāy. In 1274, Marco Polo visited Yārkand and noted some Christians living there. Later, the Chaghatayid dynasty ruled over Yārkand (as well as over all the Tarim Basin), and in 1514 Yārkand became its capital. New city walls were subsequently erected, canals dug, and gardens laid out. In this period, the Naqshbandi Ḵᵛājas of Yārkand began to amass power into their hands, and in 1678 they replaced the old dynasty. Yārkand became one of their capitals along with Kāšḡar. In 1758, the Tarim Basin was captured by the Chinese Qing Empire, and initially Yārkand was regarded as the capital city of the new province. However, after the revolt of Yaʿqub-beg, who also considered Yārkand his capital, Kāšḡar replaced it in this function. In mid-2000s, Yārkand/Shache had a population of about 373,000 inhabitants, most of whom were Uighurs.



O. F. Akimushkin, ed., Tarikh-i Kāšḡar. Anonimnaya tyurkskaya khronika vladeteleĭ Vostochnogo Turkestana po konets XVII veka (Tāriḵ-e Kāšḡar. An anonymous Turkic chronicle of the owners of the Eastern Turkestan up until the end of the 17th century), St. Petersburg, 2001.

C. E. Bosworth, “Yārkand,” EI² XI, 2002, pp. 286-88, with bibliography.

Šāh-Maḥmud Čurās, Khronika (Tāriḵ), ed. and tr. O. F. Akimushkin, Moscow, 1976. A. F. P. Hulsewé and M. A. N. Loewe, China in Central Asia, the Early Stage, 125 B.C.–A.D. 23, Leiden, 1979.

B. A. Litvinskiĭ, ed., Vostochnyĭ Turkestan v drevnosti i rannem srednevekov’e: ocherki istorii (Eastern Turkestan in antiquity and early Middle Ages: essays in history), Moscow, 1988. Ma Dazheng, “The Tarim Basin,” in History of Civilizations of Central Asia, vol. V, ed. Ch. Adle, I. Habib, and K. M. Baypakov, Paris, 2003, pp. 181-208.

M. M. Rhie, Early Buddhist Art of China and Central Asia, vol. I, Leiden, Boston, and Köln, 1999, p. 255-57.

February 20, 2009

(Pavel Lurje)

Originally Published: February 20, 2009

Last Updated: February 20, 2009

Cite this entry:

Pavel Lurje, “YARKAND,” Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2009, available at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/yarkand (accessed on 20 September 2016).