Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Taphophile Tragics

Apakh Hoja Tomb, Kashgar, Xinjiang region, far western China

In my humble opinion China gets much more interesting the further west you go. Not only does the landscape change to Central Asian hills and desert, the people and culture are completely different to the Han east. You're in Uighur country, a Muslim minority group whose culture the majority Han are doing their best to eradicate by relocating Han to the area in great numbers. I'd like to see it become East Turkestan but that will never happen.

East Turkestan (also Eastern Turkistan, Chinese Turkestan, and other variants) is a controversial political term with multiple meanings depending on context and usage. Historically, the term was invented by Russian Turkologists in the 19th century to replace the term Chinese Turkestan, which referred to the Tarim Basin in the southwestern part of Xinjiang province of the Qing Dynasty. The medieval Arab toponym "Turkestan" and its derivatives were not used by the local population of the greater region, and China had its own name for an overlapping area since the Han Dynasty as Xiyu, with the parts controlled by China termed Xinjiang from the 18th century onward. The historical Uyghur name is Qurighar (西域; today, Qurighar Uyghur is co-used with Shinjang Uyghur by Uyghurs).

Starting in the 20th century, Uyghur separatists and their supporters used East Turkestan (or "Uyghurstan") as an appellation for the whole of Xinjiang, or for a future independent state in present-day Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. They reject the name of Xinjiang because of an allegedly Chinese perspective reflected in the name and prefer East Turkestan to emphasize connection to other westerly Turkic groups. However, even in nationalist writing, East Turkestan retained its older, more narrow geographical meaning. In China, the term has negative connotations because of its origins in European colonialism and present use by militant groups. The government of China actively discourages its use.

That's enough politics. Back to the history of the mausoleum. This quaint text is taken from a Chinese tour company's website.


Apakh Hoja Tomb (or Xiangfei Tomb), 5 kms northeast of Kashgar, an important cultural unit protected by the Xinjiang Autonomous Region. As a tomb group of the descendants of an Islamic missionary, it was built around 1640. The legend has it that seventy-two persons in all of five generations of the same family were buried in the tomb.

The first generation buried here was Yusuf Hoja who was a celebrated Islam missionary. Abakh Khoja, Apak Khoja, or more properly, a great-grandson of the famous Naqshbandi Sufi teacher, Ahmad Kasani (1461 - 1542) (also known as 'the Great Master'), was a religious and political leader in Kashgaria (in modern-day southern Xinjiang). Afaq Khoja was revered as a Sufi teacher in his own right. Among some Uyghur Muslims, he was considered a sayid, who is a relative of the prophet Muhammad.

Afaq Khoja's influence spread far outside of Xinjiang. From 1671-72, he was preaching in Gansu (which then included parts of modern Qinghai province), where his father Muhammad Yusuf had preached before. On that tour, he visited Xining (today's Qinghai province), Lintao, and Hezhou (now Linxia), and was said to convert some Hui and many Salars there to Naqshbandi Sufism.

Accoridng to a legend, Iparhan, granddaughter of Apak Khoja was given to emperor Qianlong as concubine. She was called Xiangfei ( fragrant Imperial Concubine in Chinese) because of the rich delicate fragrance of flower sent forth by her body. After she died for no acclimatization, her remains was escorted back to Kashgar and was buried in the Apak Hoja Tomb. Thus 'the Xiangfei Tomb' was another name the tomb called. But the textual fact is that Xiangfei was actually buried in the East Tombs of the Qing Dynasty in Zunhua County, Hebei Province after she died. There was only her cenotaph in Kashgar Abakh Hoja Tomb group.


The tomb is a group of beautiful and magnificent buildings including the Tomb's Hall, the Doctrine Teaching Hall, the Grand mosque,smaal Mosque beside the gate,the gate tower, a pond and archard. The Tomb's Hall, with a domeshaped top of seventeen meters in diameter and covered with green glazed tiles outside, is twenty-six meters high and thirty-nine meters long at the base. The hall is high, spacious and columnless.

Inside the hall, there is a high terrace on which the tombs are arranged. All the tombs are built of glazed bricks with very beautiful patterns of elegant. Grand mosque is in the west part of the tomb, Ayitijiayi by name, is the place where the Muslim believers conduct service on big days. The Lesser Hall of Prayer and the gate tower are outmost buildings decorated with colorful paintings and elegant brick carvings. Outside the tomb there is a crystal-clear pond lined by tall trees making the place pleasantly quiet and beautiful.

For more taphophilia please visit Julie's Taphophile Tragics.

11 comments:

Joan Elizabeth said...

Ann this is really interesting and you have taken us to another totally different spot.

Jim said...

Amazing architecture.

hamilton said...

This is a fascinating read. And these tombs are indeed so very different than anything we see in North America. Those tiles must look magnificent in the bright sunlight.

Sondra said...

These tombs are magnificent, I really love the tile work on the buildings...very interesting story about Xiangfei!!

Peter said...

I had trouble with the pronunciation but amazing story.

Herding Cats said...

What an interesting post and such a beautiful building.

Julie said...

Not only the tiles, but the beauty and richness of the cloth! Astounding history here, Ann. When did you trip around over there?

One week we are in South America and the next you whiz us off to the west of China.

There is no way that there will be peace, or even self-determination in areas like this where the politics and social divisions have been there for centuries.

I had always thought that Kashgar was in northern India somewhere.

Furthermore, I thought that Muhammad Yusuf was Cat Stevens ... sorry ...

Ann said...

I've done a couple of trips to that area. One along the Silk Road from Beijing to Kashgar, another through Central Asia from Tashkent in Uzbekistan to Islamabad in Pakistan. Have quite a few more from Central Asia.

Isn't Cat Stevens Yusuf Islam?

NixBlog said...

Wow! Amazing series of shots and an interesting read.
And yes, we are covering a lot of territory on our search for weird and wonderful taphophilic peregrinations!

That sounds like quite a trip you took there!

diane b said...

Gosh you have done some interesting travels. This history is very interesting and it is still sad to see that cultural areas are still being "colonised" overtaken by others. The architecture is astounding and the size of the tomb incredible. The colours of the cloths are bright and lively for such a place. very interesting post.
(Its the first time I have never had a charged second battery with me, I left in a hurry for the trip after a 2 hour bush walk and 3 hours of tennis then shower, lunch and go!)

CaT said...

what a building!