Lying in the mountain basin at the east of the Tianshan Mountain in the central-eastern part of Xinjiang, Turpan has been the transportation hub linking the Central Plains with Central Asia, as well as southern Xinjiang with northern Xinjiang since ancient times. Naturally Turpan has always been an important town on the ancient Silk Road.
Human activities started in the Turpan area as early as during the Neolithic Age some six thousand to seven thousand years ago. According to Historical Records, the Turpan Basin area was called “Gushi” during the Qin and the Han Dynasty period. During the Han Dynasty, Turpan was controlled by the Former Cheshi Kingdom. Between 99B.C. to 72B.C., wars frequently broke out between the Western Han and the Huns to compete for the control of the Western Regions. With the ultimate failure of the Huns, Former Cheshi surrendered to the Han Dynasty and was formally incorporated into the Han Dynasty map. In 68 B.C., Zheng Ji, a senior imperial guard of the Western Han Dynasty lead his troop to reclaim land at Former Cheshi. In 60 B.C., Western Han set up the Western Regions Frontier Command in Wulei(present-day Luntai Country) to manage all political and military issues pertaining to the Western Regions. Western Han also divided the Former Cheshi territory into eight countries and ruled them separately.Former Cheshi was allocated the Turpan Basin area . Since then Turpan became an independent kingdom, with Jiaohe as its capital city. According to records, Jiaohe city had about one hundred households with six thousand population. In 48 B.C., the Western Han imperial court introduced the post of Wuji administrator in Gaochang, to be responsible for land reclamation matters. This was a landmark event marking the beginning of the formal settlement of Han Chinese from the Central Plains in the Turpan region. Along with their settlement, the Han also brought to the Turpan region advanced production technologies and the Han Chinese culture.
During the Early Liang Period(320-376), Gaochang and Tiandi Country were set up in the Turpan region under Shazhou City (present-day Dunhuang). During the Northern Wei Period, Rouran people established the Gaochang Kingdom. In 450, when Northern Liang’s remnant forces eliminated the Former Cheshi Kingdom, Gaochang city became the political, economic and cultural center of the Tarim Basin. In 640, the Tang Dynasty unified Gaochang, Jiaohe, Liuzhou, Tianshan and Puchang.
Since the Han and Tang dynasties, Turpan region has served as the juncture between the Central Plains and Central Asia and Europe. Economic and trade activities have been very active. Some religions of the world entered the inland via Gaochang. When the Tang Dynasty master monk Xuanzang traveled along the Silk Road to ancient India to study Buddhism, he stopped over in Gaochang where he preached Buddhism and sworn brothers with Gaochang King, leaving a touching story for later generations. Until today, Turpan is still the place where the eastern and western cultures and religions met and integrated. Turpan hosts the most ruins of the Silk Road with more than two hundred heritage sites such as the ancient city, the grotto temple, the beacon towers, the tombs, the mural paintings,etc. Of the cultural relics on the Silk Road from the Western Han to the Tang Dynasty kept at the Xinjiang History Museum, more than 80% came from Turpan.
Turpan region is also one of the centers of the Uygur culture. Ancestors of the Uygurs were ancient Uighurs, who entered the Western Regions in the 9th century and settled down in the Turpan region first. Many aspects of the Uygur life exude unique charm such as their music, dance, costumes, religion, rituals, food, customs, and even architectural styles. The most typical Turpan song and dance are not only very popular in the Xinjiang region, but have become a symbol of the Uygur style.