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China and inner Central Asia, 7th–13th-century migrations

Migration A–Z


  1. Dirk Hoerder

Published Online: 4 FEB 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9781444351071.wbeghm121

The Encyclopedia of Global Human Migration

The Encyclopedia of Global Human Migration

How to Cite

Hoerder, D. 2013. China and inner Central Asia, 7th–13th-century migrations. The Encyclopedia of Global Human Migration. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 4 FEB 2013


“China proper” – the region south of the Great Wall to the South China Sea – emerged as an imperial entity in 221 bce. In the north and west it bordered on Inner Asia's three ecologically different segments. The west, the Tibetan highlands and the deserts and steppes north of them, consisted of “population islands” – cities, towns, and oases – inhabited both by highly organized mobile groups and, in the steppes, by pastoral nomadic peoples; from Turkestan's Tarim and Dzungaria basins sedentary agriculture could provision caravans and cities and export cotton as far as China. The north, Mongolia, consisted of deserts which made habitation difficult and which were the arena of the Mongols. The northeast, Manchuria, accommodated sedentary agriculturists and was the realm of the Khitans, Jurchens, and many other nomadic, highly mobile, semi-sedentary or sedentary groups. Inner Asia comprises the regions east of the Pamirs and south of the Altai Mountains to the Pacific Ocean and includes Tibet, Turkestan, Xinjiang, the Mongolias, Manchuria, and the north of “China proper.” Central Asia stretches from the Caspian Sea to regions north of the Pamirs and west of the Altai and includes Sogdiana, Bactria, Transoxania, Fergana, and other regions. Inner Asia, twice the size of China proper, held a total of perhaps five million people, compared to China's 80 million about 600 ce. In China the largest ethnocultural group were the Han, a sedentary agricultural population originally concentrated in the north along the Huang He or Yellow River. The northern “Chinese” rulers had emerged from intermarriage and cultural métissage and were no Han Chinese, though they were sometimes constructed as such by later official imperial historiography, which was often hagiography.


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