Xinjiang: A vast cauldron of humanity

Source: China Daily [15:54 July 14 2009]

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Once a upon a time, a great sea of blue water spread across the land of what is today China's Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.

As the Earth's plates moved and squeezed into each other, three great mountain ranges, the Tianshan, the Altay and the Kunlun, soared. With the seawater receding, the onetime seabeds turned into two huge basins.

Meanwhile, the giant mountain ranges also formed an almost full U, blocking the way in the north, south and west. In contrast, the flat Gobi desert stretches far into the east, allowing the earliest settlers in the region and the people and communities living in the east to interconnect with each other.

Over the decades, local archaeologists have unearthed a lot of relics across the region that dated back more than 5,000 years.

According to Tian Weijiang, director of History Research Institute of Xinjiang Academy of Social Sciences, stone tools and pots shared similar shapes, colors and decoration with those found in Gansu, Inner Mongolia and Ningxia.

"The similarities in economic and social life indicate that the ancient people in those areas had some cultural links with each other," Tian wrote in his book, History of Xinjiang.

Classical Chinese literature before the era of the first Chinese emperor (who had the terracotta warriors made to guard his tomb) described in detail the landscape of Xinjiang. One of the pre-Qin kings even toured the Western region around the 11th century BC.

More than 2,200 years ago, with the Han Dynasty (206 BC - AD 220) extending its rule throughout China, silk production enjoyed an unprecedented boom, thus giving a boost to the trade along the Silk Road. The Han Dynasty rulers began to establish local administrative outposts while migrants from the heartland of the Middle Kingdom started to farm in the oasis there.

During the Han Dynasty, silk reached as far as the Mediterranean Sea and Rome. A Han Dynasty envoy and his entourage even went on the journey to Byzantine in the year of AD 97. However, he didn't make it to Byzantine and was stopped at what was then Persia.

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