Read this article to find out how Uigur’s helped the Chinese to Re-Establish the Control of Thang Dynasty.
The Uigur Khans:
Kiken or Jigin was the first khan of the Uigurs, who were divided into two parts—the ancient Uigurs and the neo Uigurs.
From the latter half of the 8th century to the end of the 9th they were extremely powerful and were probably the most cultured of the tribes of ancient East Asia. Their capital was Karakoram, but their tribe wandered over a large area and later, Bishbalik was to become their centre.
A large number of Buddhist texts which had been translated into the Uigur tongue have been found in the Taklamkan desert, but they were also influenced by Nestorianism. In 840, their Khan was killed and they were forced to leave their homeland, which is now part of modern Mongolia.
As a result of their contact with the Nestorians they adopted the Suriyana script which has been used by them from the time of Chengiz to the present day.
The chronological history of their dynasty is as follows:
After Jigin his son Bosat became the Khan in 629. The name Bosat, which is derived from Bodhisatva, shows the extent to which they were under Buddhist influence. When Jeli, the heir of Kheli’ Kagan, found that the Uigurs were beginning to advance, he launched a sudden attack on them and Bosat was taken prisoner.
Bosat’s tribe inhabited the Tula valley. In the period of the Thang dynasty, in 629 A. D. Bosat sent presents to the Chinese Emperor. After Bosat, Tumet became Khan of the Uigurs. He defeated the Sayends and absorbed their tribe into his own. But the Sayends soon succeeded in winning their independence. Alarmed by the growing power of the Uigurs under Tumet, the other Terak tribes accepted Chinese suzerainty and it is at this time that we hear of the Khirgiz as one of the Terak tribes.
Their chiefs were well received by the Thang Emperor and they not only became firm allies of the Chinese, but at their request the Chinese built roads and rest-houses for them and the roads that were built ran from the Chinese capital to the centre of the Turkish tribes. Although Tumet, the Uigur Khan, pretended to acknowledge Chinese suzerainty he was actually an independent king with twelve ministers under him who administered the tribe according to the Turkish pattern.
It is not known why the Uigurs ultimately revolted against Tumet and killed him.
Borun, Birut and Tu khe Li, were the son, grandson and great-grandson of Tumet. It was during their rule that Mo Cho, one of the powerful Khans of the Assena Turks, re-conquered the old Turkish territories and drove the Uigurs and other Hun tribes to the South. The Tibetans too began to grow powerful in this period and began their attacks on the entire region from the Terim valley to China. Meanwhile, the Uigurs were in alliance with the Chinese.
In 717, Bukhtewar, the son of Tu Khe Li helped China in the war against Mo Cho. Mo Cho was killed in battle and his son was banished to South China.
When Bukhtewar’s son succeeded to the title, a Chinese Governor had been set up in Urumchi to keep the Uigurs under control. After the murder of Mo Cho’s son by this Governor, the Uigurs killed the Governor. Taking advantage of the fact that the Turkish kingdom had begun to disintegrate after the rule of Merkirin, the Uigurs chief, who had led the revolt, fled for shelter to the Turks and his son, Kutulig Biga derived the greatest benefit from troubles that beset the Turks.
He had to face the challenge of the Karluks, Viras, Basimirs and others and he beheaded the Basimir king, who was claiming the throne and sent word to the Chinese Emperor that he be given the responsibility of maintaining peace over that area. The Chinese made him Prince and set up his seat, in the old capital of the Turks but it was only after he had finally vanquished the Karluks and the Basimirs that the Chinese recognised him as the Khan. After he had inflicted several defeats on the descendents of Merkirin, he received even greater honours from the Chinese Emperor and at the time of his death the entire kingdom of the Huns was under the control of the Uigur Khan.
After the death of Biga, Tegin Kal, known in ancient inscriptions as Moinchura, became Khan of the Uigurs. The struggle with the Turks was continued under the leadership of Amaroshar. At first Amaroshar fought for China against the Khittans and later against the Chinese themselves. Amaroshar also worked as an assistant to Kwozi, the famous general of Moinchura.
At that time the Tibetans had occupied the former provinces of the Yuchis and both the Chinese capitals had fallen to the rebels, but the Uigurs gave the Chinese considerable help in their efforts to re-establish the control of the Thang dynasty over their main cities. -As a reward for their help the Chinese permitted the Uigurs to loot Loyang (Honan-Phu) but when this concession was withdrawn, the Chinese agreed to make an annual payment of ten thousand bales of silk in exchange for it.
In 1909, stone inscriptions in the Runni script were found in upper Silenge which give the following details of the period between the death of Azmish and that of Moinchura (745-759): “When my father died the people chose me as their leader. But some people supported Tai Bilga Kutug and they made him the Khan. I collected my army and fought against him. I came out victorious and the Lord gave the kingdom to me. But I did not oppress the people who had supported Tai or seize their homes. I punished and deposed him only.”
A form of democracy prevailed among the Uigur nomads, but it did not exclude the practice of slavery. War captives were treated as slaves and it was their labour upon which the prosperity of the tribes was built.
It was from the time of Moinchura that the Uigurs replaced the Turks. Moinchura’s father had been a high official under the Turks, but he had revolted against them and made his son a chief. The Takuj Aguz supported him in the revolt. “I rallied the Nau Aguz people to my support,” he says in his inscriptions. “My father Kyul Bilga Kagan went with his army and sent me to the south-west as a commander of a thousand soldiers. From the inscriptions of Mo-Gil-Yan we have come to know that the Turks oppressed the Aguz (Uigurs) for which Moinchura took revenge upon them. He imprisoned Azmish the last of the Turkish Khans, and thus put an end to the Turkish dynasty.”
After Moinchura his second son Yiktin came to the throne (760-777). At that time the Chinese were facing serious troubles from the Tibetans. There were many claimants to the Chinese throne. Yiktin sided with one of them and sacked Shansi and it was only by giving him lavish bribes that the people were able to escape with their lives.
It was with the help of the Uigurs that the Chinese Emperor succeeded in defeating the rebels at home. The Uigur army marched for five hundred miles, ravaging and killing as they went, but despite this they were given rich presents by the Emperor as a reward for crushing the rebels.
In 765, Bukku, one of the generals of Yiktin, made an attempt to loot and plunder the Tibetans and crush them completely on the false plea of a rebellion, but he died before he could execute his plan. Yiktin saved himself by throwing the entire blame on Bukku. He also assured the Chinese Emperor that if Bukku’s son was spared he would again attack the Tibetans.
When the Khatun (princess) died in 768, her younger sister was sent to the Khan as a present from the Emperor together with 20,000 bales of silk. The Uigurs, fully conscious of their superiority, took their horses to the Chinese markets and asked for 40 bales of silk in exchange for each horse. Although their demand was extremely unreasonable the Chinese had no other alternative than to accept the offer.
The Chinese Emperor was anxious to avoid heaping additional burdens on the people who were already groaning under the weight of various taxes, so that he was forced to come to terms. The Uigurs showed such scant respect towards the Chinese that on one occasion, an Uigur killed a Chinaman, he was let off without a trial because his companions rescued him by force.
In 778, the Uigurs started their raids again. The army that was sent by the Chinese Emperor to resist them was defeated suffering a loss of ten thousand men. A second army sent out against them met with a little success, but just at that time the Emperor Tai Chung (636-80) died.
Meanwhile, the Kagan was marching at the head of his entire army towards the Great Wall. Ignoring the advice of his minister, he refused to accept the salutations of the emissary sent to meet him on behalf of the Emperor and as a result his minister rose against him, declared himself “Kutulug Biga Kagan“, and became master of all the Uigurs.
Durmogo Kutulug (779-789), was promptly recognised by the Chinese Emperior as the Khan. The Uigurs consisted of nine tribes, of which that most closely related to the Khan considered itself superior to all the rest.
Sometime after a number of Uigur Chiefs began their journey home with a caravan of camels laden with the property they had accumulated in China. Among the goods they had concealed a number of abducted girls, but the border guards discovered and seized them.
The guilty tribes decided that the only course left open to them was to kill their chiefs and seek the shelter of the Governor of the border province—Chang Kwang Seng. The latter wrote to the Emperor for permission for them to stay, as their segregation would mean that the main Uigur forces would be considerably weakened.
Just about this time a Chinese officer was sent to the uncle of the Uigur Khan to seek an explanation for his misconduct. The Uigur noble flew into rage and ordered the officer to be whipped. But the Chinese army was waiting near and it fell upon the Uigurs and as a result the other Tartars seized a hundred thousand bales of silk and several thousand camels.
The Governor informed the Chinese Emperor of his having been forced to take this step against the Uigurs because they had thrashed a Chinese officer and had tried to seize the territory of Sayer (Modern Mongolia).
Meanwhile the Chinese Ambassador who had been sent to accord recognition to the Uigur Khan, had arrived. He was promptly imprisoned and the Uigur Ministers conferred among themselves as to what other steps could be taken. Finally, Durmogo Khan sent the following message to the Chinese Emperor: “All my people are after our blood. I alone am restraining them. My uncle and all his men have been killed. To kill you now would be to try to wash out blood with blood. This would create bitterness for all time to come. I consider it better to try to wash out blood with water. By this I mean that you should compensate for the loss suffered by my people by sending two million bales of silk.” The Chinese Emperor considered it wise to pay this compensation without further ado.
Three years later the Khan asked for the hand of a Chinese Princess. The Emperor wished to refuse but his ministers persuaded him to accede to the request. In return for the Chinese Princess the Uigur Khan aided the Chinese against the Western Turks.
Sometime after this, Durmogo decided, with the permission of the Emperor, to change the name of his tribe to Huihu. We find later that the word Uigur was used by the Tartars to describe all Mussulmans. This was probably because the Uigurs were the first Mussulmans they had encountered.
Durmogo’s brother Taras became the Khan in 789. By this time the Tibetans had grown so powerful that the entire region from Kansu to Urumchi and Barkul in the Terim valley, was under their control. They also controlled the silk route to the west. The only contact of the Chinese with the Western World was through Uigur territory and the Uigurs took advantage of this to levy prohibitive taxes on all caravans passing across their land.
They tried their utmost to take Urumchi from the Tibetans, but without success. To their west, the Karluks were becoming very powerful in Saptanada so that they could only expand southwards.
After the death of Taras his nephew Acho succeeded to the throne. Acho was obliged to contend against Tibetans as well as the Karluks, both of whom were powerful enemies. He died without issue in 795.
The clan elected Acho’s Minister Kutulug as Khan in his place. He was well received by the Emperor. At this time the Mani religion succeeded in establishing a considerable hold in Karakhoza the capital, and for the next two hundred years the Mani temples continued to exist in the town.
Kau Sang (808-821) was the next khan of the Uigurs and he too asked for the hand of a Chinese Princess. At first the Emperor was inclined to disregard the advice of those of his ministers who argued in favour of such a marriage, because it would keep alive the strife between the Tibetans and the Uigurs. Later, however, as the result of further pressure, the Emperor Mu Chung (821-25) sent his daughter to Kau Sang but in the meantime he had died, so the gift was received by his heir.
Gudulug Jigin (821-24), who succeeded to the title, sent a huge escort for the Chinese Princess and now the Chinese Emperor conferred yet another title on the Khan —”The Great Religious One“.
At this time the Khittan tribe was becoming active on the borders, though it had not yet grown very strong. It was forced to accept the suzerainty of both the Uigurs and the Chinese, but it continued to create trouble.
The year 824 saw the death of both the Kagan and the Chinese Emperor, the former having been murdered. The younger brother of the Kagan, -who became the next khan, met with a similar fate in 832.
The nephew of the murderd Khan was the next to succeed to the title, but when attacks were made on him by a Uigur Chief he committed suicide. The days of the Uigur dynasties were coming to a close. The deaths in quick succession of their Khans had weakened them considerably.
The next Khan who came to the throne in 840, was not even related to his predecessor. To add to their difficulties the Uigurs were already victims of an extraordinarily severe winter which caused the loss of many of their animals. This was followed by a drought which affected their pastures and then came epidemics which destroyed almost all their horses, camels, sheep and goats.
A Uigur chief after conspiring with the Khirgiz killed the Khan and causing severe losses to the royal family took away the Chinese Princess. One of the surviving princes took refuge with some of his kinsmen the Karluks. Others fled for safety into Tibetan territory. Meanwhile a few of the tribes migrated to Shansi’ and elected the Prince Oke as their Khan.
The Uigurs were now beginning to disintegrate. The Khirgiz were planning to send the captive princess back to China, but Oke managed to seize her. After this he tried to capture Kukukhate (modern Tendus), but failed in the attempt. The Chinese Princess requested the Emperor to allow her to become the queen of the new Kagan Oke. (It was probably at this time that the custom, so long in vogue in China of the binding of the feet of women was introduced, so as to prevent them from running off with the Turks).
The Emperor now recognised Oke as the Kagan and accepted him as his son-in-law. Five thousand tons of food-grains were also sent to help his clan out of its troubles. Oke’s prayer that he is permitted to stay in Tai Chu was however not granted nor was his request for the city of Tendus, even as on loan. Oke retaliated by looting the entire province, but a Uigur Chief called Umuz helped the Chinese to suppress the revolt. Thirty thousand Uigurs were taken prisoners, including the Princess. Oke succeeded in escaping and taking refuge with the Khirgiz, but the latter were bribed to kill him.
In 847 Oneyan became the new Khan, but by now the strength of the tribe had dwindled to a mere five thousand. For a while there was an attempt to make Oneyan Khan of the Gheis, but it was foiled as a result of Chinese attacks on the Gheis. The remaining Uigurs took shelter with the Shirvi tribes, but when the Emperor put pressure on them to hand over Oneyan, he fled with his wife^ children and a few selected families to the Karluks.
The Shirvis intended using the remaining Uigurs as their slaves, but the Khirgiz pounced on them and took the Uigurs away to the North of the Gobi desert. From there they split into small groups and ultimately succeeded in joining another branch of the Uigurs which was living in the old Turkish homeland (Kang Chau Phu).