An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Gaochang 高昌 (Türkic name Kočo, Astana)

Oct 23, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald

The kingdom of Gaochang 高昌 (Türkic name Kočo, other name Astana) was located in the eastern part of the Turfan Depression. It does not belong to the antique city states of the Silk Road, yet is was located in the place of the ancient kingdom of Fore Cheshi 車師前國 and was a garrison during the Han 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE) and Jin 晉 (265-420) periods.

There was a commandery (jun 郡) of Gaochang set up during the Former Liang dynasty 前涼 (314-376). The name Gaochang, also written Gaochang 高敞, is already mentioned during the Han period as a fortified place, but the regional commander (xiaowei 校尉) resided in Wuji 戊己, where he oversaw the military agro-colonies (tuntian 屯田) that ensured the military supply of the Han armies in the Western Territories (Xiyu 西域). It was then part of the commandery of Dunhuang 敦煌 in the province of Liangzhou 涼州.

In 327, the regional commander Zhang Zhen 張貞 rebelled against the ruler of the Former Liang, Zhang Jun 張駿 (r. 323-345). Zhang conquered Gaochang and established the commandery, with the two districts (xian 縣) of Gaochang and Tiandi 田地. Gaochang was the last stronghold of the Northern Liang empire 北涼 (398-460). In 460 the last ruler of the Northern Liang, Juqu Anzhou 沮渠安周 (r. 444-460), was killed by the steppe federation of the Rouran 柔然, and the emperor of the Northern Wei 北魏 (386-534) enthroned Kan Bozhou 闞伯周 (r. 460-ca. 477) as king of Gaochang.

From that point of time on, Gaochang was an independant kingdom. Kan Bozhou was succeeded by his two sons. In 491 the throne was occupied by Zhang Mengming 張孟明 (r. 491-496) who came from Dunhuang 敦煌. He was killed by people from Gaochang and replaced by Ma Ru 馬儒 (r. 496-499). Ma Ru died during a military campaign and was replaced by his senior scribe (zhangshi 長史) Qu Jia 麴嘉 (r. 499-640) who founded the dynasty of Qu 麴. In 640 Qu Zhisheng 麴智盛 (r. 610-640) was captured by the Chinese Commander-in-chief (da zongguan 大總管) Hou Junji 侯君集, and Gaochang became part of the Tang empire 唐 (618-907), as district of Gaochang in the prefecture of Xizhou 西州 (see also Turfan).

The inhabitants of the kingdom of Gaochang were mainly descendants of Chinese colonists, but among them were also Non-Chinese peoples, like the Indo-Iranian Soghdians. The administrative system of the state of Gaochang was largely copied from those of the Chinese empires, but there were also some local differences. The population mostly believed in Buddhism, but there were also adherents of Manicheism and Zoroastranism. The most important local products of Gaochang were red salt, white salt, grapes, wine, honey, "white grains", cotton and silk. Gaochang was an important entrepot on the new northern route of the Silk Road.

Table 1. Kings of Gaochang 高昌 (531-640)
name reign reign motto
Kan Bozhou 闞伯周 (r. 460-ca. 477)
Kan Yicheng 闞義成 (r. c. 477-478)
Kan Shougui 闞首歸 (r. 478-491)
Zhang Mengming 張孟明 (r. 491-496)
Ma Ru 馬儒 (r. 496-499)
Qu dynasty 麴 (499-640)
Qu Jia 麴嘉 (r. 499-640)
Qu Jian 麴堅 (r. 531-548) Zhanghe 章和 (531-548)
Qu Xuanxi 麴玄喜 (r. 548-550) Yongping 永平 (549-550)
Qu N. 麴□ (r. 550-554) Heping 和平 (551-554)
Qu Baomao 麴寶茂 (r. 554-560) Jianchang 建昌 (555-560)
Qu Qiangu 麴乾固 (r. 560-601) Yanchang 延昌 (561-601)
Qu Boya 麴伯雅 (r. 601-613) Yanhe 延和 (602-613)
Qu N. 麴□ (r. 613-619) Yihe 義和 (614-619)
Qu Wentai 麴文泰
(Qu Zhisheng 麴智盛)
(r. 619-640) Chongguang 重光 (619-623)
Yanshou 延壽 (623-640)
Li Kai 李愷 (1994). "Gaochang wangguo 高昌王國", in Xue Li 雪犁, Li Kai 李愷, Qian Boquan 錢伯泉, ed. Zhongguo sichou zhi lu cidian 中國絲綢之路辭典 (Ürümqi: Xinjiang renmin chubanshe), 22.
Wang Su 王素 (1992). "Gaochang 高昌", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), 244.
Zhongguo lishi da cidian bianzuan weiyuanhui 《中國歷史大辭典》編纂委員會, ed. (2000). Zhongguo lishi da cidian 中國歷史大辭典 (Shanghai: Shanghai cishu chubanshe), Vol. 2, 3327, 3329, 3331.