Who are the Uyghur People?

A Uyghur Pottery Store in Kashgar, China. Editorial credit: AlexelA / Shutterstock.com.
A Uyghur Pottery Store in Kashgar, China. Editorial credit: AlexelA / Shutterstock.com.

The Uyghur people are Turkics found in East and Central Asia. Turkic people are an ethnolinguistic group of people found in Asia, Europe, and North America who share to a certain extent, common ancestry, cultural traits, and historical background and also speak languages belonging to the Turkic language family. The Uyghurs are mainly found in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China. They are one of China’s officially recognized ethnic minority groups. There are approximately 11.3 million Uyghurs in China and about 1.6 million in other parts of the world. Apart from Xinjiang, they are also found in large numbers in Taoyuan County. Uyghurs are also found in Turkey, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. Most of the Uyghur people practice Islam.


Before the Turkic people moved to the Tarim Basin, the native people spoke different languages including Tocharian, Saka, and Gandhari. When the Turkics moved into the region, at about the 9th century, they brought with them their languages which slowly replaced the original languages. By the 11th century, Uyghurs spoke a pure Turkic language. The language spoken by the modern Uyghur is classified under a branch of a Turkic language family called Karluk. The word order of the Uyghur language is always subject-object-verb. The language also has a vowel harmony and verb and noun cases but lacks gender distinction form. The Uyghurs have also used other scripts like Chagatay alphabet (from Arabic script) for their languages.

Music and Dance

The musical style of the Uyghurs is known as Muqam. The style was developed by the Uyghurs in northwestern China and Central Asia. The 12 Muqams were recorded by traditional performers and edited into a more systematic system. This classical musical style has been designated by UNESCO as a part of Intangible Heritage of Humanity. The traditional folk dance of the people is known as Sanam, mainly danced at weddings, parties, and festive occasions. The dance is performed alongside musical accompaniments and singing.


The food of the Uyghurs is a mix of both Chinese and Central Asian cuisine. The most popular dish is the pilaf or polu, a common dish throughout Central Asia. This dish is prepared by first frying mutton and carrots with onion in oil then adding water and rice. Other dishes include kawaplar and leghmen. Most of the dishes are characterized by mutton, chicken, beef, carrots, onions, and pepper. Guests are normally treated with tea and fruits before they are served the main dish.


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