1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Khotan

KHOTAN (locally Ilchi), a town and oasis of East Turkestan, on the Khotan-darya, between the N. foot of the Kuen-lun and the edge of the Takla-makan desert, nearly 200 m. by caravan road S.E. from Yarkand. Pop., about 5000. The town consists of a labyrinth of narrow, winding, dirty streets, with poor, square, flat-roofed houses, half a dozen madrasas (Mahommedan colleges), a score of mosques, and some masars (tombs of Mahommedan saints). Dotted about the town are open squares, with tanks or ponds overhung by trees. For centuries Khotan was famous for jade or nephrite, a semi-precious stone greatly esteemed by the Chinese for making small fancy boxes, bottles and cups, mouthpieces for pipes, bracelets, &c. The stone is still exported to China. Other local products are carpets (silk and felt), silk goods, hides, grapes, rice and other cereals, fruits, tobacco, opium and cotton. There is an active trade in these goods and in wool with India, West Turkestan and China. The oasis contains two small towns, Kara-kash and Yurun-kash, and over 300 villages, its total population being about 150,000.

Khotan, known in Sanskrit as Kustana and in Chinese as Yu-than, Yu-tien, Kiu-sa-tan-na, and Khio-tan, is mentioned in Chinese chronicles in the 2nd century B.C. In A.D. 73 it was conquered by the Chinese, and ever since has been generally dependent upon the Chinese empire. During the early centuries of the Christian era, and long before that, it was an important and flourishing place, the capital of a kingdom to which the Chinese sent embassies, and famous for its glass-wares, copper tankards and textiles. About the year A.D. 400 it was a city of some magnificence, and the seat of a flourishing cult of Buddha, with temples rich in paintings and ornaments of the precious metals; but from the 5th century it seems to have declined. In the 8th century it was conquered, after a struggle of 25 years, by the Arab chieftain Kotaiba ibn Moslim, from West Turkestan, who imposed Islam upon the people. In 1220 Khotan was destroyed by the Mongols under Jenghiz Khan. Marco Polo, who passed through the town in 1274, says that “Everything is to be had there [at Cotan, i.e. Khotan] in plenty, including abundance of cotton, with flax, hemp, wheat, wine, and the like. The people have vineyards and gardens and estates. They live by commerce and manufactures, and are no soldiers.”[1] The place suffered severely during the Dungan revolt against China in 1864–1875, and again a few years later when Yakub Beg of Kashgar made himself master of East Turkestan.

The Khotan-darya rises in the Kuen-lun Mountains in two headstreams, the Kara-kash and the Yurun-kash, which unite towards the middle of the desert, some 90 m. N. of the town of Khotan. The conjoint stream then flows 180 m. northwards across the desert of Takla-makan, though it carries water only in the early summer, and empties itself into the Tarim a few miles below the confluence of the Ak-su with the Yarkand-darya (Tarim). In crossing the desert it falls 1250 ft. in a distance of 270 m. Its total length is about 300 m. and the area it drains probably nearly 40,000 sq. m.

See J. P. A. Rémusat, Histoire de la ville de Khotan (Paris, 1820); and Sven Hedin, Through Asia (Eng. trans., London, 1898), chs. lx. and lxii., and Scientific Results of a Journey in Central Asia, 1899–1902, vol. ii. (Stockholm, 1906).  (J. T. Be.) 

  1. Sir H. Yule, The Book of Ser Marco Polo, bk. i. ch. xxxvi. (3rd ed., London, 1903).