Xinjiang (新疆), officially the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, is a provincial-level autonomous region of China in the northwest of the country.
Under the Han dynasty, which drove the Xiongnu empire out of the region in 60 BC, Xinjiang was previously known as Xiyu (西域) , meaning “Western Region”. This was in an effort to secure the profitable routes of the Silk Road. Dzungaria was known as Zhunbu (準部, “Dzungar region”) and the Tarim Basin was known as Huijiang (回疆, “Muslim Frontier”) during the Qing dynasty before both regions were merged and became the region of “Gansu Xinjiang”, later simplified as “Xinjiang”.
Nomadic cultures such as the Yuezhi (Rouzhi) are documented in the area of Xinjiang where the first known reference to the Yuezhi was made in 645 BC by the Chinese Guan Zhong in his work Guanzi (管子).
In 60 BC Han China established the Protectorate of the Western Regions (西域都护府) at Wulei (乌垒, near modern Luntai) to oversee the entire region as far west as the Pamir Mountains, which would remain under the influence and suzerainty of the Han dynasty with some interruptions.
After Genghis Khan unified Mongolia and began his advance west, the Uyghur state in the Turpan-Urumchi area offered its allegiance to the Mongols in 1209, contributing taxes and troops to the Mongol imperial effort.
The Manchu Qing dynasty of China gained control over eastern Xinjiang as a result of a long struggle with the Dzungars that began in the 17th century.
Since 1949, it has been part of the People’s Republic of China following the Chinese Civil War. In 1954, Xinjiang Bingtuan was set up to strengthen the border defense against the Soviet Union, and also promote the local economy. In 1955, Xinjiang was turned into a autonomous region from a province. In the last decades, there have been tensions regarding Xinjiang’s political status and dissident groups are active in exile.
Xinjiang is split by the Tian Shan mountain range, which divides it into two large basins: the Dzungarian Basin in the north, and the Tarim Basin in the south. A small V-shaped wedge between these two major basins, limited by the Tian Shan’s main range in the south and the Borohoro Mountains in the north, is the basin of the Ili River, which flows into Kazakhstan’s Lake Balkhash; an even smaller wedge farther north is the Emin Valley.
Generally, a semi-arid or desert climate prevails in Xinjiang. The entire region is marked by great seasonal differences in temperature and cold winters. During the summer, the Turpan Depression usually records the hottest temperatures nationwide, with air temperatures easily exceeding 40 °C (104 °F). In the far north, and at the highest mountain elevations, however, winter temperatures regularly drop below −20 °C (−4 °F).
Xinjiang has long been a major area of irrigated agriculture. Traditionally, wheat was the main staple crop of the region; maize was grown as well; millet was found in the south, while only a few area (in particular, Aksu) grew rice.
By the late 19th century, cotton became an important crop in several oases, notably Khotan, Yarkand, and Turpan. Sericulture, too, is practiced.
Xinjiang is nationally known for its fruits and produce, including grapes, melons, pears, walnuts. Particularly famous are Hami melons and Turpan raisins.
In the late 19th century the region was noted for producing salt, soda, borax, gold, jade and coal.
The oil and gas extraction industry in Aksu and Karamay is booming, with the West–East Gas Pipeline connecting to Shanghai.
The most well-known route of the historical Silk Road ran through the territory from the east to its northwestern border.
Xinjiang is home to a number of ethnic groups, including the Han, Kazakhs, Tajiks, Hui, Uyghur, Kyrgyz, Mongols, and Russians. More than a dozen autonomous prefectures and counties for minorities are in Xinjiang. Older English-language reference works often refer to the area as “Chinese Turkestan”. Xinjiang is divided into the Dzungarian Basin in the north and the Tarim Basin in the south by a mountain range. Only about 4.3% of Xinjiang’s land area is fit for human habitation.
The historical area of what is modern day Xinjiang consisted of the distinct areas of the Tarim Basin and Dzungaria, and was originally populated by Indo-European Tocharian and Iranic Saka peoples who practiced the Buddhist religion. The area was subjected to Turkification and Islamification at the hands of invading Turkic Muslims.
The major religions in Xinjiang are Islam among the Uyghurs and the Hui Chinese minority, while many of the Han Chinese practice Chinese folk religions, Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism. According to a demographic analysis of the year 2010, Muslims form 58% of the province’s population. Christianity in Xinjiang is the religion of 1% of the population according to the Chinese General Social Survey of 2009.
Edited from Wikipedia