"Hu" Non-Chinese as They Appear in the Materials from the Astana Graveyard at Turfan

by Wu Zhen

Since ancient times the Chinese language has had different words for the various peoples of the north and the west that distinguished them from the main population of Ran Chinese. These terms have varied over time. Before and after the unification of China in 221 B.C. the word "hu" 胡 referred exclusively to the Xiongnu, but during the Han dynasty usage broadened to include both the Xiongnu and other peoples of the north and the west. In the Six Dynasties, Sui, and Tang dynasties the term "hu" came to refer to the people of deep eye-sockets and high noses who lived in the far western regions of modern China. Most of non-Chinese who appear in the Turfan records came from Sogdiana (the Persian-speaking region near modern Samarkand, in Uzbekistan), Tashkent, Tokharistan (Badakhshan in northern Afghanistan), Karashahr (Yanqi in Xinjiang), Kuche (also in Xinjiang), and the other small kingdoms south of the Tianshan Mountains in modern Xinjiang.

This article begins with a brief survey of artifacts that reveal how contemporary artisans depicted the non-Chinese. We will then divide the non-Chinese in Turfan into two groups: those residing there and those traveling through on business. The article proceeds in chronological order, starting with the fourth and fifth centuries, when many Chinese settlers arrived. The Gaochang Kingdom, although ruled by the local Qu family, embraced many Chinese customs and ruled from 500 to 640, when the invading Tang armies conquered Turfan. Finally we will examine several disputes involving non-Chinese both residing in and traveling through Turfan for what they reveal about the multicultural society that thrived at Turfan during the seventh and eighth centuries.