Chinese Art & Language Classroom

China Tour -- 002: Turpan, A Bright Pearl On The Ancient Silk Road

Since I was introducing the Yangzhou City Song and also a famous Jiangsu Folk Song--What A Beautiful Jasmine-- I have been thinking to create a tour column to introduce something about those famous Chinese tour sight spots. When I have to mention them in my music, art and language columns and make them to be the culture backgrounds of the Chinese art, music, language and so on. One side to help you to understand what I am talking well. The other side to offer you something helpful to your travel in China some day.

Today, I would like to introduce a wonderful tour in Xinjiang, while I am introducing a Xinjiang Folk, Turpan’s Grape Is Ripe in my music part. And I hope both of them can support each other and give a little bit help to you to know something new about Chinese culture and your trip in China one day.

I do hope you enjoy my new adventure.

"A Bright Pearl" On the Ancient Silk Road

Turpan lies in the Turpan Basin at the southern foot of the Tianshan Range in the eastern part of Xinjang, a key point on the ancient silk road. It is neighboring Gansu, Qinghai provinces and   Tibet Autonomous Region. There is a 400.000 population, 69.700 sq km, the main nationalities are Han and Uygur.

The Most Interesting Natural Characteristics:

1. It is the hottest place in China: the tiptop temperature   is 47C degrees. It also has the Flaming Mountain, which is full of fairytale wonders. People have written a number of very interesting stories around the subject of the Flaming Mountain, thus making the Mountain famous all over the world, attracting an endless flow of tourists from both China and abroad.

2. It is the driest place in China: the low rainfall and but high evaporation and the   turpan's low rainfall high evaporation, long frost-free period and gusty winds have earned it another nickname "storehouse of the winds".

3. It is the Lowest Basin in China: The Aydingkol Lake which is 154 meters below sea level, it is the second lowest point on earth.

4. It has the most wonderful irrigation system: there is the desolately barren Gobi Desert, where no birds fly over, but dotted with oases -- there are the karez, a man-made wonder of irrigation system in which water flows under the surface all the year around...

So, it is a place that is a pleasant blend of "land of fire", "land of wind", "land of sand" and "land of oases".
People call it as a "Museum of Natural" geography and landforms, created by nature, but perfected by men.

It is a grape growing base and the first grape city in China. Grape growing is its major part of agriculture. Vineyards can be seen everywhere. There are about 70 kinds of grape in Turpan. It's raisin is very famous.

Along with the tourism promoted, turpan becomes a favorite place. The local government built grape street, grape corridor, vineyards and grape museum for tourists. So you can taste the fresh grape there...


A Rich Place On Fruit -- Rich of Grape, Hami Melon, Long Staple Cotton

Also it has three treasures of the land. The salt, coal, and mirabillite deposits are plentiful.

A world - History Museum On the Ancient Silk Road

Turpan has a history for about 2000 years.

Just like Dunhuang. There are the ruins of Gaochang and Jiaohe of the Han and Tang dynasties. The Thousand Buddha Caves dug since the Jin and Tang dynasties and the thousand-year old dried corpses of the Astana tombs and unique Islamic architectural wonder of the Sugong Minaret and the unearthed relics. It has the best of historical relics and ruins of an ancient culture.

The ancient city of Jiaohe is located on a lonely island shaped like a willow leaf, about 10 kms to the west of the city of Turpan. It is 1.650 meters long and 300 meters wide. Steep cliffs surrounding the city, renders it a strategic point easy to defend and difficult to attack. A thoroughfare traversing the city from north to south naturally divides the city into two main parts: the East and the West. The northern part of the city is chiefly temples and mosques. Thanks to little rainfall, the ancient official residence, living quarters, pottery kilns, temple's stupas, wells and streets can still be seen. According to historical records, from 108 B.C. to 450 A.D. Jiaohe served as the capital city of the former

Cheshi (a kingdom there). In the first years of the Tang Dynasty (640-658 A.D.), the Commanding Office of Anxi, the highest military and administrative authority of the Western Region, was stationed there. It was in the latter half of the fourteenth century that this thousand-year-old city was destroyed by fire.

The ancient city of Gaochang, a rural township, about 40 kms to the east of the city of Turpan. People can still see the towering city wall reflecting the magnificence of its heyday now. The layout of the ancient city is roughly an irregular square in three levels: the outer city, the inner city and the palace.

At the foundation the wall is 12 meters thick, 11,5 meters high with a circumference of 5 kms. In the first century B.C., the garrisoned troops of the West Han Dynasty were stationed there to open up wasteland and Gaochang gained the status of a prefecture.

Then, Gaochang was included into the map of the Tang Dynasty.

To the north of Gaochang is the famous Burial Ground, where archaeologists have unearthed tens of thousands of cultural relics from over 400 ancient graves. The burial ground was in use around the 3rd to the 8th century. These ancient people in the grave have been dried up but their hair and beards can still be seen and their facial countenance still shows their awe-inspiring majestic bearing.

The Bezkilik Thousand-Buddha Caves are situated in the middle part of the Flaming Mountain’s Wood Valley. 83 grottoes are extant, among which more than 40 have mural paintings inside them. The total area of mural paintings exceeds 1.200 square meters. The mural paintings of the earlier period of Huihe and Gaochang are highly recommended for their strict composition, bold and vigorous lines and plump figures. They represent a continuation of the painting style of the Mogao Grottoes typical of the Tang Dynasty.   
They are some most important, best-preserved and most representative art treasure in Huihe's Buddhist art.


The Emin Minaret (also named Sugong Minaret) stands to the north of the ancient city of Anle. It is the most magnificent and majestic minaret of Xinjiang Islamic architecture. It is 37 meters high, built of bricks and timber. Inside, the minaret has a 72-step spiral stair, that leads directly to the top. Eminhoja was a Uygur leader of Turpan and owing to his outstanding contribution in upholding the unification of China, he was made a prince by the Qing Court.

In the 42nd year during the reign of Emperor Qianlong (1777) of the Qing Dynasty, this minaret was completed when Eminhoja was 83 years old. His official residence was there what is now the Lukeqing Townghip of Shanshan County, i.e. the famous Liuzhong of the Han and Tang Dynasties.In the recent years several surveys of cultural relics and ruins have indicated that in the Turpan Basin there are a total of 175 historical ruins, which can be divided into a number of categories such as: ruins of the Neolithic Age, ruins of ancient cities, signal tower, ancient graves, grottoes with Buddhist carvings, rock paintings, ancient mail posts, ancient ethnic buildings, etc.

For the uniquely favorable natural conditions of sparse rainfall and dry weather, historical relics and ruins both above and underground can be preserved for a very long time. Though many centuries have elapsed, they are still intact and free from decay. When unearthed, the original colors were as good as new. That is why Turpan is granted the title of a "natural museum".

So, a saying goes: "Anyone visiting Xinjiang without seeing Turpan is bound to regret his incomplete tour of the Northwest". So you are welcomed to come to Turpan when you come to China.


If you have any questions, comments and suggestions, please write to shirley@ebridge.cn or shirleyz004@yahoo.com. You are welcomed to publish your opinions in the forum as well.

--Shirley
Written and Edited On Fri, June 9, 2006

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