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Melting pot of world religions
2009-11-25 source:China Daily
Online Dictionary 

The city of Kashgar is soaked in the culture of the Uygur people. 

As the main passageway and hub for economic and cultural exchanges between the East and West in ancient times, Xinjiang has always been a region where a number of religions have happily coexisted.

Before Islam was introduced into Xinjiang, there had already been believers in Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Taoism, Manichaeism and Nestorianism. These had spread to Xinjiang along the Silk Road and thrived together with the local primitive religions. After the introduction of Islam, the coexistence of diverse religions continued to be the order of the day, to be joined later by Protestantism and Catholicism.

The ancient residents originally believed in native primitive religions, from which Shamanism evolved. Even today, some minority groups in Xinjiang still adhere to some of the concepts and customs characteristic of these beliefs.

Around the 4th century BC, Zoroastrianism, or Fire Worship as it was popularly called, was introduced into Xinjiang from Persia. It was particularly popular in the Turpan area. The Gaochang state of that time set up a special organ and appointed special officials to strengthen its control over the religion.

Around the 1st century BC, Buddhism, born in India, spread into Xinjiang through Kashmir. Soon after, it became the main religion in the region thanks to efforts made by the local rulers to promote it.

At its peak, Buddhist temples mushroomed in the oases around the Tarim Basin with large numbers of monks and nuns. Yutian, Shule, Qiuci and Gaochang were all centers of Buddhism. In Xinjiang, Buddhist culture reached a very high level, leaving a precious cultural heritage of statues, paintings, music, dancing, temples and sacred grottoes, greatly enriching the cultural and art treasury of China and the whole world.

Taoism was introduced into Xinjiang by Han migrants from inland China around the 5th century. However, it was limited mainly to the Turpan and Hami areas, where Han people were concentrated. It was not until the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) that Taoism became widespread throughout Xinjiang.

Around the 6th century, Manichaeism reached Xinjiang from Persia. In the middle of the 9th century, when the Uygur, who were believers in Manichaeism, moved west to Xinjiang, they promoted the development of the religion in the region. They built temples, dug grottoes, translated scriptures, painted frescoes and spread the Manichaeist creed and culture in the Turpan area.

Around the same time, Nestorianism, an earlier sect of Christianity, was introduced into Xinjiang, but it was not widespread in the early years. It flourished only when large numbers of the Uygur accepted it during the Yuan Dynasty (1206-1368).

In the late 9th century and the early 10th century, Islam spread to the south of Xinjiang through Central Asia. In the middle of the 10th century, the Islamic Karahan Kingdom waged a religious war against the Buddhist kingdom of Yutian, which lasted for more than 40 years. It conquered Yutian in the early 11th century, and introduced Islam to Hotan.

In the middle of the 14th century, under the coercion of the Qagatay Khanate (a subservient state created by Qagatay, the second son of Genghis Khan), Islam gradually became the main religion for the Mongolian, Uygur, Kazak, Kirgiz and Tajik people in that region.

In the early 16th century, Islam finally became the main religion in Xinjiang, replacing Buddhism. After that, Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism and Nestorianism, the main religions of the Uygur and other ethnic groups, gradually disappeared in Xinjiang, but Buddhism and Taoism continued to make themselves felt.

Beginning in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Tibetan Buddhism grew in Xinjiang into a major religion on a par with Islam. In the late 17th century, Apak Hoja, chief of the Aktaglik sect of Islam, wiped out the forces of his political enemy Hoja of the Karataglik sect, by dint of Tibetan Buddhist forces, and destroyed the Yarkant Khanate (a regional regime established by Qagatay's descendants between 1514 and 1680, with modern Shache as its center). This shows how powerful Tibetan Buddhism was at that time.

Around the 18th and 19th centuries, Protestantism and Catholicism spread to Xinjiang, their followers being mainly among the Han people.

Historically, the dominance of a particular religion has kept changing from time to time in Xinjiang, but the coexistence of multiple religions following the introduction of outside religious faiths has never changed. The major religions in Xinjiang today are Islam, Buddhism (including Tibetan Buddhism), Protestantism, Catholicism and Taoism. Shamanism still has considerable influence among some ethnic groups.