Silk Road People: The Uyghurs of China

Swirling patterns, strumming music, scents of melded spices and steaming naan bread...
Uyghur celebrations are an assault on your senses and an inspiration to your heart.


Uyghur, also spelled Uighur, Uygur, or Uigur

Chinese: 维吾尔族

Uyghur: ئۇيغۇر

Uyghurs number between 10 and 15 million in China.

Most Uyghurs live in Xinjiang province, northwest China. Small groups also live in cities throughout China. Outside China, Uyghur communities can be found in central Asia and in the Middle East.

Uyghur is related to Turkish and is written in Arabic script. Many Uyghurs are not fluent in Mandarin Chinese, the national language of China. This can make it difficult for them to find good jobs.

Today’s Uyghurs are most likely descended from several different Turkic groups who lived in parts of Central Asia, Xinjiang and Mongolia. Uyghur followed a mixture of religions, including Christianity and Buddhism, until they gradually converted to Islam between the 14th and 17th Centuries.

Traditionally, Uyghurs have been farmers and traders. They are skillful entrepreneurs, and often prefer to set up their own small businesses rather than work for others. Many Uyghurs who speak good Chinese work in civil service.

Uyghur is a culture with vibrant traditions. Music, dancing, rich literature, food and hospitality are all integral parts of Uyghur culture. Uyghurs place a high premium on relationships, especially with family and friends.

Uyghurs maintain a deep commitment to their Islamic customs and to their family. Many Uyghur live in underdeveloped rural areas, which makes finding a good job to provide for their family difficult. The Uyghur language, cultural and religious festivals, and even daily habits are quite different from the majority Han Chinese people. It is a real challenge for the two communities to understand each other.

Stories from the Silk Road