Urumqi, China

In May 2004 I made a business trip to the far west province of Xinjiang in China and stayed in the city of Urumqi. The long flight west from Beijing highlighted just how big China was and how far west the province of Xinjiang was.

Urumqi, abbreviated Wushi, formerly known as Tihwa, is the capital of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in the far northwest of the People’s Republic of China

The largest city in western China, Urumqi has earned a place in the Guinness Book of Records as the most remote city from any sea in the world. It is about 2,500 kilometres (1,600 mi) from the nearest coastline as Ürümqi is the closest major city to the Eurasian pole of inaccessability, although Karamay and Altay, both in Xinjiang, are closer. The city has an administrative area of 10,989 square kilometres (4,243 sq mi) and has an average elevation of 800 metres (2,600 ft).

Although Urumqi is situated near the northern route of the Silk Road, the present city is a relatively young city – although the earliest known settlement in the area can be dated to the 7th century CE, there was no permanent settlement for a long period and it was not known as Ürümqi until the Dzungar Khanate in the 17th century, and the current city dates from the rebuilding started in the 18th century.

During prehistory, the Jushi or Gushi, a nomadic people who lived on the northern slopes of the Tianshan Mountains, inhabited the area. 

Urumqi has been a multi-ethnic city from the time of the Qing conquest; in the early years, the Manchus lived in Gongning Cheng, Han Chinese in Dihua, and various other ethnic groups such as the Hui, Uyghurs and others in the suburban districts. The Muslims settled to the south of the walled-city of Dihua, and although the walls have since been demolished, the Muslims are still concentrated there. A census in 1787 showed that there were 114,348 Hui and Han in the prefectures of Zhenxi (which included Barköl and Hami) and Urumuqi. In Urumuqi city itself, there were 39,000 people in the 1880s, and by the early 20th century, 50,000 people. Urumqi in 1908 was said to have been inhabited by Uyghurs (then called Turkis), Chinese, Manchus and a few Mongols, with the Uyghurs estimated to comprise a quarter of the population

The oldest known settlement in the area, a village called Urabo (or Wulabo), was located about 10 kilometres (6 miles) from the southern suburbs of present-day Ürümqi. Under the name Luntai, the city was established near Urabo by the Tang government during the 22nd year of Emperor Taizong’s reign (648 AD), as part of the Protectorate General to Pacify the West that controlled Xinjiang. It was a seat of local government, and collected taxes from the caravans along the northern route of the Silk Road.

After the Tang retreated from the Western regions, the region came under the control of the Uyghurs of the Khaganate and Gaochang/Qocho. After the Tang until the Qing Dynasty, there was little information about the Ürümqi area, and there appeared to be no permanent settlement here for most of this period. The Mongols referred to the wider area as Bishbalik meaning five cities, referring to the five towns that surrounded the present-day Ürümqi area.

I managed to get access to the hotel roof where I was staying which gave me an opportunity to get a great view over the large city.

In the evening the streets were full of food vendors and it was fascination to wander through here and see the variety of food being prepared.



Passionate Photographer …. Lost in Asia

Stuart Taylor of HighlanderImages Photography has been making images for over 30 years and can offer a diverse range of photo imaging services with a focus on Asia and a documentary/photojournalistic style. These services include planning and executing a photo shoot on location but importantly all the post-processing and image preparation needed for the specific finished media format required by the customer. Stuart’s experience and knowledge in all of these aspects make HighlanderImages Photography a one-stop-shop for a comprehensive and professional image production service.

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2 thoughts on “Urumqi, China

  1. Wow! I was in Urumqi teaching seismic processing to Karamay Oil’s young Geo’s in 1990. The city has changed dramatically! There are so many new skyscrapers and beautiful buildings. Back then, the Uyghurs were plentiful (much more than 25%),but the Han ran everything. If you ever go back, go up the Tianshan Mts and visit the lake… Which I think was called Tianshan Lake or translated to Heaven’s Lake. Thanks for the memory jog!

    1. This photo was in 2004! So just imagine what it is like now. I did visit the lake ….. see tomorrow’s post!!

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