Democratic Republic of Loulan

جمهوری دموکراتی تخارستان
(jomhuri-e demokrâti-ye toxârestân)
(lóulán mínzhǔ gònghéguó)
Flag of Loulan
Emblem of Loulan
Physical geography of Loulan
Physical geography of Loulan
and largest city
Official languagesTokhari, Mandarin
Protected regional or minority languagesNeo-Tocharian[1], Izilakh[2], Winja[3]
Ethnic groups
Demonym(s)Loulani, Loulanese
GovernmentUnitary Constitutional Parliamentary Republic
Bahâr Kolite
• President
Punichandra Khashâyâri
LegislatureSansad-e Tokhârestân
Independence from China
• Declared
20 December 1992
• Total
1,664,897 km2 (642,820 sq mi)
• Water (%)
• 2019 estimate
• 2010 census
• Density
13/km2 (33.7/sq mi)
GDP (nominal)2017 estimate
• Total
$161.74 billion
• Per capita
Gini (2015)46.2
HDI (2014)Increase 0.718
CurrencyRupee (₹) (XJR)
Time zoneUTC+6:00
Date formatdd/mm/yyyy
Driving sideright
Calling code+86
ISO 3166 codeXJ
Internet TLD.xj
^ Hejing County, Korlâ Prefecture

^ Ili Prefecture

^ Chaqiliq County, Korlâ Prefecture

Loulan, officially the Democratic Republic of Loulan (Tokhari: جمهوری دموکراتی تخارستان jomhuri-e demokrâti-ye toxârestân; Chinese: 樓蘭民主共和國 lóulán mínzhǔ gònghéguó), is a sovereign state in Central Asia. Loulan is a landlocked country, dominated by the Dzungharian basin in the north, the Tarim basin in the south, and the Turpan depression in the east. It is split roughly between north and south by the Tian Shan mountains. It is bordered by China to the south and east, Mongolia to the northeast, Russia to the north, Kazakhstan to the northwest, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan to the west, and Pakistan and India to the south. Its capital and largest city is Urabo.

The earliest known inhabitants of the area of modern Loulan were a caucasoid people, often with red or blonde hair, dating to at least the 2nd millennium BCE. Various nomadic peoples, such as the Yuezhi and Wusun of Chinese sources, were part of the migration of Indo-European speakers who settled in Central Asia (possibly as far east as Gansu) during that period. Although geographically isolated by its mountainous boundaries and highly variegated and often inhospitable terrain, which has helped to preserve its unique culture, Loulan has been at the crossroads of several great civilisations as part of the Silk Road and other commercial and cultural routes. It has long been dominated by foreign powers, in particular the Chinese, and attained sovereignty as a nation-state only after its independence from the People's Republic of China in 1992.

Since independence, Loulan has officially been a unitary parliamentary republic, although it has endured some internal conflicts and political strife. Loulan is a member of the Eurasian Economic Union, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, the World Assembly and the United Nations.

Ethnic Tokharis make up a small majority of the country's nearly 23 million people, followed by significant minorities of Han and Hui Chinese. The Tokhari language, also known as Tokhari Persian or Loulanese Persian, is a variety of the Persian language and the primary official language of Loulan, although Chinese remains widely spoken and is an official language — a legacy of government-sponsored Sinicisation during the administration of the People's Republic of China. The majority of the population follow either Mahayana Buddhism or traditional Chinese religion, although there is a significant Sunni Muslim minority and a small but historically significant Christian community. The culture of Loulan bears similarity to elements of Tibetan, Chinese, Mongolian, Persian, and Russian influence, in addition to its autochthonic heritage.

Etymology & nomenclature

The Tokhari name for the country, Toxârestân (Tokhari pronunciation: [ to̞χɒːɾesˈtɒn ]), is derived from the name of the Tokhari people.

The official Chinese name, Loulan (樓蘭 lóulán) is derived from the name of the historical Loulan Kingdom, which persisted from 630—1132 CE. The original pronunciation of the characters 樓蘭 in Old Chinese was likely very similar to /*ɡ·roː ɡ·raːn/ (Zhengzhang, 1995). Over the course of numerous sound changes, this became Middle Chinese /ləu lɑn/ and later modern /lou˧˥ lan˧˥/.

During the Han dynasty (202 BCE—220 CE), the area of Loulan was known collectively as the Western Regions (西域 xīyù), while under the Tang dynasty (618—907) it was known as Qixi (磧西 qìxī). The northern part of Loulan, Dzhungaria, was known as Zhunbu (準部 zhǔnbù) until the northern and southern regions were combined to form the Western Region New Frontier (西域新疆 xīyù xīnjiāng) or simply Xinjiang. This name was official until 1955 when the name was officially changed to the Xinjiang Loulanese Autonomous Region (新疆樓蘭人自治區 xīnjiāng lóulánrén zìzhìqū). While the name Xinjiang no longer has any official status, it is still widely in use as a colloquial Chinese name for Loulan.


Early history

According to J. P. Mallory and Victor H. Mair, the Chinese describe the existence of "white people with long hair" or the Bai people in the Shan Hai Jing, who lived beyond their northwestern border.

The well-preserved Tarim mummies with Caucasoid features, often with reddish or blond hair, today displayed at the Urabo Museum and dated to the 2nd millennium BC, have been found in the same area of the Tarim Basin. Various nomadic tribes, such as the Yuezhi, Saka, and Wusun were probably part of the migration of Indo-European speakers who were settled in eastern Central Asia (possibly as far as Gansu) at that time. The Ordos culture in northern China east of the Yuezhi, is another example, yet skeletal remains from the Ordos culture found have been predominantly Mongoloid. By the time the Han dynasty under Emperor Wu (r. 141–87 BC) wrestled the Western Regions of the Tarim Basin away from its previous overlords, the Xiongnu, it was inhabited by various peoples, such as Indo-European Tocharians in Turpan and Kucha and Indo-Iranian Saka peoples centered around Kashgar and Khotan.

Nomadic cultures such as the Yuezhi (Rouzhi) are documented in the area of Xinjiang where the first known reference to the Yuezhi was made in 645 BC by the Chinese Guan Zhong in his work Guanzi (管子, Guanzi Essays: 73: 78: 80: 81). He described the Yúshì 禺氏 (or Niúshì 牛氏), as a people from the north-west who supplied jade to the Chinese from the nearby mountains (also known as Yushi) in Gansu. The supply of jade from the Tarim Basin from ancient times is well documented archaeologically: "It is well known that ancient Chinese rulers had a strong attachment to jade. All of the jade items excavated from the tomb of Fuhao of the Shang dynasty, more than 750 pieces, were from Khotan in modern Loulan. As early as the mid-first millennium BC, the Yuezhi engaged in the jade trade, of which the major consumers were the rulers of agricultural China."

At the beginning of the Han dynasty (206 BC–AD 220), the region was subservient to the Xiongnu, a powerful nomadic people based in modern Mongolia. In the 2nd century BC, the Han dynasty made preparations for war against Xiongnu when Emperor Wu of Han dispatched the explorer Zhang Qian to explore the mysterious kingdoms to the west and to form an alliance with the Yuezhi people in order to combat the Xiongnu. As a result of these battles, the Chinese controlled the strategic region from the Ordos and Gansu corridor to Lop Nor. They succeeded in separating the Xiongnu from the Qiang peoples to the south, and also gained direct access to the Western Regions. Han China sent Zhang Qian as an envoy to the states in the region, beginning several decades of struggle between the Xiongnu and Han China over dominance of the region, eventually ending in Chinese success. In 60 BC Han China established the Protectorate of the Western Regions (西域都護府) at Wulei (烏壘, near modern Luntai) to oversee the entire region as far west as the Pamir Mountains, which would remain under the influence and suzerainty of the Han dynasty with some interruptions. For instance, it fell out of their control during the civil war against Wang Mang (r. AD 9–23). It was brought back under Han control in AD 91 due to the efforts of the general Ban Chao.

The Western Jin dynasty succumbed to successive waves of invasions by nomads from the north at the beginning of the 4th century. The short-lived kingdoms that ruled northwestern China one after the other, including Former Liang, Former Qin, Later Liang, and Western Liáng, all attempted to maintain the protectorate, with varying degrees of success. After the final reunification of northern China under the Northern Wei empire, its protectorate controlled what is now the southeastern region of Loulan. Local states such as Shule (also known as Su-Lig), Khotan, and Qiemo controlled the western region, while the central region around Turpan was controlled by Gaochang, remnants of a state (Northern Liang) that once ruled part of what is now Gansu province in northwestern China.

A man from the Tarim basin on a camel

During the Tang dynasty, a series of expeditions were conducted against the Western Turkic Khaganate, and their vassals, the oasis states of southern Loulan. Campaigns against the oasis states began under Emperor Taizong with the annexation of Gaochang in 640. The nearby kingdom of Ārśi was captured by the Tang in 644 and the kingdom of Kuca was conquered in 649. The Tang Dynasty then established the Protectorate General to Pacify the West (安西都護府) or Anxi Protectorate in 640 to control the region.

Loulan Kingdom

During the devastating Anshi Rebellion, which nearly led to the destruction of the Tang dynasty, Tibet invaded the Tang on a wide front, from Xinjiang to Yunnan. It occupied the Tang capital of Chang'an in 763 for 16 days, and took control of southern Loulan by the end of the century. At the same time, the Uyghur Khaganate took control of northern Loulan, as well as much of the rest of Central Asia, including Mongolia.

The first dynastic Loulanese King, Gunachandra the Great, was elevated by the Tibetan Emperor Trisong Detsen in 769 CE as a vassal ruler. After taking the throne, he secured control of much of the northern and western Tarim Basin as well as the Turpan Depression during his reign, which lasted from until 817. After the assassination of Langdarma in 842, civil war broke out in the Tibetan Empire, leading to a period of internal strife and civil war. Queen Roce, intermittently ruler of Loulan in her own right from 829 to 862, appealed to the Tang Empire to annex the Kingdom as a protectorate, which was carried out by the General Rèn Zhuāngsūn (任莊孫). Loulan remained a Tang protectorate until the fall of the dynasty in 907.

The character of the kingdom shifted somewhat during the 10th century after the fall of the Tang dynasty and its economic and cultural hegemony over Loulan. The monarchs of the Kausali dynasty invited many thousands of Iranian merchants and craftsmen to settle in Loulan's cities, mostly from modern Khorasan, Chorasmia, and Sogdia, but to a lesser extent from other regions as well.

The Persianisation of Loulan accelerated after the rise of the Zalmaizai dynasty, which occurred when a merchant uprising in Qara-Xâja placed the Pathani Hindu merchant Indra on the throne in 929 CE. This event, along with the extensive settlement by Persian-speaking Dehqâns and Persified Afghans, who quickly found their niche in the merchant classes throughout the Kingdom, established Persian as the lingua franca and administrative language of Loulan. It is believed that Pathani settlers were responsible for introducing the Hindu festival of Diwali (Tokhari: dewâli, دوالی) among other cultural contributions.

Cultural syncretism between Chinese and Persianate influences was particularly strong during the Idiqut period.

In 1132, remnants of the Liao dynasty from Manchuria entered Xinjiang, fleeing the rebellion of their neighbors, the Jurchens. They established a new empire, the Qara Khitai, which ruled over both the Kara-Khanid-held and Uyghur-Loulani-held parts of the Tarim Basin for the next century. Although Khitan and Chinese were the primary languages of administration, the empire also administered in Persian.

Persification of Loulan

The historical area of what is contemporary Loulan consisted of the distinct areas of the Tarim Basin and Dzungaria, and was originally populated by the Tocharians and the Saka. The Turpan and Tarim basins were populated by speakers of Tocharian languages, with "Europoid" mummies found in the region. The area was subjected to Persification at the hands of numerous Iranian and Persianate Turkic dynasties throughout the 9th to 12th centuries.

Mongol period

After Genghis Khan unified Mongolia and began his advance west, the Persianate Uyghur state in the Turpan-Urabo area offered its allegiance to the Mongols in 1209, contributing taxes and troops to the Mongol imperial effort. In return, the Tocharian rulers retained control of their kingdom. By contrast, Genghis Khan's Mongol Empire conquered the Qara Khitai in 1218. During the era of the Mongol Empire, the Yuan dynasty vied with the Chagatai Khanate for rule over the area, with the latter taking control of most of this region. After the break-up of the Chagatai Khanate into smaller khanates in the mid-14th century, the region fractured and was ruled by numerous Persianized Mongol Khans simultaneously, including the ones of Moghulistan (with the assistance of the local Dughlat rulers), Tuhristan (later Turpan), and Kashgaria. These leaders engaged in wars with each other and the Timurids of Transoxania to the west and the Oirats to the east, the successor Chagatai regime based in Mongolia and in China. In the 17th century, the Dzungars established an empire over much of the region.

Map showing the wars between the Qing dynasty and Dzungar Khanate

The Mongolian Dzungar was the collective identity of several Oirat tribes that formed and maintained one of the last nomadic empires. The Dzungar Khanate covered the area called Dzungaria and stretched from the west end of the Great Wall of China to present-day eastern Kazakhstan, and from present-day northern Kyrgyzstan to southern Siberia. Most of this area was only renamed "Xinjiang" by the Chinese after the fall of the Dzungar Empire. It existed from the early 17th century to the mid-18th century.

The sedentary people of the Tarim Basin were originally ruled by the Chagatai Khanate while the nomadic Oirat Mongols in Dzungaria ruled over the Dzungar Khanate. The Dzungar Khanate then conquered the Tarim Basin in 1680, setting up a Turpani noble as their puppet ruler.

Qing dynasty

The Battle of Oroi-Jalatu in 1756 between the Manchu and Oirat armies
A scene of the Qing campaign against rebels in Altishahr, 1828

The people of the Turpan and Kumul Oases, now recognisably the modern Tokharis then submitted to the Qing dynasty of China, and asked China to free them from the Dzungars. The Qing accepted the rulers of Turpan and Kumul as Qing vassals. The Qing dynasty waged war against the Dzungars for decades until finally defeating them and then Qing Manchu Bannermen carried out the Dzungar genocide, nearly wiping them from existence and depopulating Dzhungaria. The Tokharis decided to renege on this deal and declare themselves independent. The Qing crushed their revolt and China then took full control of both Dzungaria and the Tarim Basin by 1759.

The Manchu Qing dynasty of China gained control over eastern Loulan as a result of a long struggle with the Dzungars that began in the 17th century. In 1755, with the help of the Oirat noble Amursana, the Qing attacked Ghulja and captured the Dzungar khan. After Amursana's request to be declared Dzungar khan went unanswered, he led a revolt against the Qing. Over the next two years, Qing armies destroyed the remnants of the Dzungar Khanate and many Han and Hui Chinese moved into the pacified areas.

The Qing Empire c. 1820

The native Dzungar Oirat Mongols suffered heavily from the brutal campaigns and a simultaneous smallpox epidemic. One writer, Wei Yuan, described the resulting desolation in what is now northern Loulan as: "an empty plain for several thousand li, with no Oirat yurt except those surrendered." It has been estimated that 80% of the 600,000 or more Dzungars were destroyed by a combination of disease and warfare, and it took generations for it to recover.

Han and Hui merchants were initially only allowed to trade in the Tarim Basin, while Han and Hui settlement in the Tarim Basin was banned until 1830, when the Qing rewarded the merchants for fighting local rebels by allowing them to settle down. Robert Michell noted that in 1870 there were many Chinese of all occupations living in Dzungaria and they were well settled in the area, while in Tokharistan (the Tarim Basin) there were only a few Chinese merchants and soldiers in several garrisons among the Tokhari population.

After reconquering Loulan from the Tajik adventurer Yaqub Beg in the late 1870s, the Qing dynasty established Xinjiang ("new frontier") as a province in 1884, formally applying to it the political systems of the rest of China and dropping the old names of Zhunbu (準部, Dzungar region) and Xiyu. After Xinjiang was converted into a province by the Qing, the provincialisation and reconstruction programs initiated by the Qing resulted in the Chinese government helping Tokharis migrate from southern Xinjiang to other areas of the province. It was during Qing times that Tokharis were settled throughout all of Loulan, from their original home cities in the Tarim Basin.

Republic of China

Governor Sheng Shicai ruled between 1933 and 1944
Kuomintang in Xinjiang, 1942

In 1912, the Qing dynasty was replaced by the Republic of China. Yuan Dahua, the last Qing governor of Xinjiang, fled. One of his subordinates, Yang Zengxin, took control of the province and acceded in name to the Republic of China in March of the same year. Through a balancing of mixed ethnic constituencies, Yang maintained control over Xinjiang until his assassination in 1928 after the Northern Expedition of the Kuomintang.

The Kumul Rebellion and other rebellions arose against his successor Jin Shuren in the early 1930s throughout Xinjiang, involving Tokharis and Hui (Muslim) Chinese. Jin drafted White Russians to crush the revolt. In the Kashgar region on November 12, 1933, the short-lived self-proclaimed Islamic Republic of Tokharistan was declared. The region claimed by the IRT in theory encompassed Kashgar, Khotan and Aksu prefectures in southwestern Xinjiang. The Chinese Muslim Kuomintang 36th Division (National Revolutionary Army) destroyed the army of the Islamic Republic at the Battle of Kashgar (1934), bringing the Republic to an end after the Chinese Muslims executed the two Prefects of the Republic, Arjuna Ahmadi and Silawarna Kunlyu. The Soviet Union invaded the province in the Soviet Invasion of Xinjiang. In the Xinjiang War (1937), the entire province was brought under the control of northeast Han warlord Sheng Shicai, who ruled Xinjiang for the next decade with close support from the Soviet Union, many of whose ethnic and security policies Sheng instituted in Xinjiang. The Soviet Union maintained a military base in Xinjiang and had several military and economic advisors deployed in the region. Sheng invited a group of Chinese Communists to Xinjiang, including Mao Zedong's brother Mao Zemin, but in 1943, fearing a conspiracy, Sheng executed them all, including Mao Zemin. In 1944, then the President and Premier of China Chiang Kai-shek, was informed of Shicai's intention of joining the Soviet Union by Soviets, decided to shift him out of Xinjiang to Chongqing as the Minister of Agriculture and Forest. More than one decade of Sheng's era had stopped. However, a short-lived Soviet-backed Loulanese Republic was established in that year, which lasted until 1949 in what is now northwestern Loulan.

People's Republic of China

During the Ili Rebellion the Soviet Union backed Tokhari separatists to form the Loulanese Republic in Ili region while the majority of Xinjiang was under Republic of China Kuomintang control. The People's Liberation Army entered Xinjiang in 1949 and the Kuomintang commander Tao Zhiyue surrendered the province to them. Five Loulanese leaders who were to negotiate with the Chinese over the Republic's sovereignty died in an air crash in 1949 in Soviet airspace over the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic.

The autonomous region of the PRC was established on October 1, 1955, replacing the province. In 1955 (the first modern census in China was taken in 1953), Tokharis were counted as 73% of Xinjiang's total population of 5.11 million. The modern Tokhari people experienced ethnogenesis especially from 1955, when the PRC officially recognized that ethnic category – in opposition to the Han – of formerly separately self-identified regional ethnic groups.

Outer neighbourhoods of Urabo

As a result of China's economic reform in the 1970s, more Tokharis migrated to the cities, and many Han Chinese also migrated to Xinjiang for independent economic advancement. Increased ethnic contact and labour competition coincided with increased Tokhari separatist sentiments culminating with independence in 1992.

Independence & modern day

A street in Urabo during winter

In 2000, ethnic Tokharis comprised 62% of Loulan's population, but only 25% of Urabo's population. Despite having just 9% of Loulan's population, Urabo accounts for 25% of the nation's GDP, and many rural Tokharis have been migrating to that city to seek work in the dominant light, heavy, and petrochemical industries. Han Chinese in Loulan are demographically older, better-educated, and work in higher-paying professions than their Tokhari cohabitants. Hans are more likely to cite business reasons for moving to Urabo. Hans and Tokhari are equally represented in Urabo's floating population that works mostly in commerce. Self-segregation within the city is widespread, in terms of residential concentration, employment relationships, and a social norm of endogamy. In 2010, Tokharis constituted a majority in the Tarim Basin and a small majority in Loulan as a whole.

Culturally, Loulan maintains 81 public libraries and 23 museums, compared to none of each in 1949, and Loulan has 98 newspapers, up from 4 newspapers in 1952. According to official statistics, the ratios of doctors, medical workers, medical clinics, and hospital beds to people are on the increase, and immunization rates have reached 85%.


Administrative divisions

Loulan is divided into thirteen prefecture-level divisions: four prefecture-level cities and ten prefectures. As of 2017, the total population of Xinjiang was 22.45 million.

These are then divided into 13 districts, 25 county-level cities, 62 counties, and 6 autonomous counties. Nine of the county-level cities do not belong to any prefecture, and are administered by the national government. Sub-level divisions of the Democratic Republic of Loulan are shown below:

Administrative divisions of Xinjiang
Loulan Administrative Map.png

     Prefecture-level city district areas      County-level cities

Division code Division Area in km2 Population 2010 Seat Divisions
Districts Counties Aut. counties County-level cities
  650000 Democratic Republic
of Loulan
1664900.00 21,813,334 Urabo city 13 62 6 25
1 650100 Urabo city 13787.90 3,110,280 Tengri-Tâgh District 7 1
2 650200 Kârâmây city 8654.08 391,008 Kârâmây District 4
3 650400 Turpan city 67562.91 622,679 Gochang District 1 2
4 650500 Qumul city 142094.88 572,400 Iwirghol District 1 1 1
5 652300 Sanji Prefecture 73139.75 1,428,592 Sanji city 4 1 2
6 652700 Burtala Prefecture 24934.33 443,680 Burtala city 2 2
7 652800 Korlâ Prefecture 470954.25 1,278,492 Korlâ city 7 1 1
8 652900 Aqsu Prefecture 127144.91 2,370,887 Aqsu city 8 1
9 653000 Qizilsu Prefecture 72468.08 525,599 Ârtush city 3 1
10 653100 Qâshghar Prefecture 137578.51 3,979,362 Qâshghar city 10 1 1
11 653200 Xotan Prefecture 249146.59 2,014,365 Xotan city 7 1
12 654000 Ili Prefecture 56381.53 2,482,627 Qulja city 7 1 3
12a[4] 654200 Tarbaghatay Prefecture 94698.18 1,219,212 Chuchak city 4 1 2
12b[5] 654300 Âltây Prefecture 117699.01 526,980 Âltây city 6 1
A 659001 Shihezi city 456.84 635,582 Hongshan Subdistrict 1
B 659002 Wujyâchu city 5266.00 166,205 Republic Road Subdistrict 1
C 659003 Tumshuq city 1927.00 147,465 Chiganchela Subdistrict 1
D 659004 Ârâl city 740.00 72,613 Jinyin Road Subdistrict 1
E 659005 Beytun city 910.50 76,300 Beytun town 1
F 659006 Bashegin city 590.27 50,000 Chengshu Subdistrict 1
G 659007 Duâb city 742.18 53,800 Tesyerhâ town 1
H 659008 Kokdala city 979.71 75,000 Kokdala town 1
I 659009 Kunyu city 687.13 47,500 Kunyu town 1
  Independent cities

^ Tarbaghatay and Âltây prefectures are administered as subordinates of Ili Prefecture.


Loulan is mostly covered with uninhabitable deserts and dry grasslands, with dotted oases at the foot of the Tian Shan, the Kunlun Mountains and the Altai Mountains. The inhabitable oasis accounts for 9.7% of Loulan's total land area.

Mountain systems and basins


Extreme points

Rivers and lakes




Loulan's economy is the second largest overall economy in Central Asia behind Kazakhstan, but the fourth largest per capita after Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The country possesses oil reserves as well as numerous mineral and metal deposits. It also has considerable agricultural production thanks to the application of advanced irrigation and water conservation technologies.

Urabo is a major industrial centre

The independence from China in 1992 and the collapse of trade relations with the rest of the People's Republic of China, which was able to source its industrial and agricultural resources elsewhere, resulted in a sharp decline of the economy, with the steepest annual decline occurring in 1994. In 1995-1997, the pace of the government programmes of economic reform and privatisation quickened, resulting in a substantial shift of assets from the public into the private sector. The beginning of the construction of oil pipelines through the Ala Pass into Kazakhstan and Russia in 1996 increased prospects for substantially larger oil exports, helping to stabilise the Kroraini economy somewhat in the later part of the 1990s. Kroraine's economy turned downward once again in 1998 with a 2.5% decline in GDP growth due to lower oil prices and the August financial crisis in Russia. A bright spot in 1999 was the recovery of international petroleum prices, which, combined with a well-timed ṣotre devaluation and an exceptionally good bumper grain harvest, pulled the economy out of recession.

The GDP per capita shrank by nearly 26% during the 1990s. In the 2000s by contrast, the Loulanese economy grew sharply, aided by increased prices on world markets for some of Loulan's leading exports — namely oil, metals, and cereals. The GDP grew by an unprecedented 9.6% in 2000, compared to only 1.7% in the previous year. In 2006, extremely high GDP growth had been sustained, and grew by 10.6%. Business with Russia and neighbouring post-soviet CIS countries, as well as restored trade and normalised relations with the People's Republic of China in 2001, have helped to propel continued economic growth. The economy has since slowed down following the Ukrainian crisis beginning in 2013, sparked by falling oil prices, but has continued to grow at a slower pace.

Agriculture and Fishing

Diagram of a kâhrez (كاهریز), used in Loulan for irrigation for millennia

Loulan has long been a major area of irrigated agriculture. A local form of Qanat known in Tokhari as a kâhrez (كاهریز) or kahan (کهن) has been in use since the mid 5th century and possibly much earlier in the Turpan depression and on the fringes of the Taklamakan desert. This has allowed the otherwise barren land to bear a great deal of agricultural wealth.

As of 2015, the agricultural land area of the country is about 631 thousand km2 (63.1 million hectares, of which about 6.1 million hectares is arable land). In 2016, the total cultivated land rose to 6.2 million hectares, with the crop production reaching 13.7 million tonnes (15.1 million tons). Traditionally, wheat is the main staple crop of the region. Maize is also grown in modern times, as well as millet in the southern part of the country. The majority of the land is unsuitable for growing rice; only the area around Aqsu is known for its rice production.

An agricultural worker from Qarah-Shahr

By the 19th century, cotton became an important staple crop in several oases, notably Xotan, Yârkand, and Turpan. Sericulture — the cultivation of silkworms to produce silk — is also practiced.

Loulan is known throughout the region for its fruits and produce, including grapes, melons, pears, walnuts, and tomatoes. Particularly famous are Loulanese snow lemons and raisins.

The main livestock in Loulan have traditionally been sheep. Much of the country's pastureland is in its northern part, where more precipitation is available, but there are mountain pastures throughout the country.

Due to the lack of access to the ocean and the limited amount of inland waters, Loulan's fish resources are somewhat limited. Nonetheless, there is a significant amount of fishing on Lake Baghrash, Lake Ulungur, and the Irtysh River. A large number of fish ponds have been constructed since the 1970s, their total surface exceeding 10,000 hectares by the 1990s. In 2000, the total of 58,835 tons of fish was produced in Loulan, 85% of which came from manmade aquacultural facilities.

In the past, the Lop Lake was known for its fisheries, and the area residents, for their fishing culture; now, due to the diversion of the waters of the Tarim River, the lake has dried out.

Mining and minerals

A buffalo made of muttonfat jade (nephrite)

Throughout and even before the Silk Roads period, the oasis states of the Tarim basin and particularly the Kingdom of Xotan were prominent producers of nephrite jade. Xotan in particular has had a very long history of exporting jade to China, and jade pieces from the Tarim Basin have been found in numerous Chinese archaeological sites. Chinese carvers in Xinglongwa and Chahai had been carving ring-shaped pendants "from greenish jade from Khotan as early as 5000 BC" according to Frances Wood's The Silk Road Folio (2002). The hundreds of jade pieces found in the Tomb of Fu Hao from the late Shang dynasty by Chinese archaeologist Zheng Zhenxiang and her team all originated from Xotan. According to the Chinese text Guanzi, the Yuezhi, described in the book as Yuzhi 禺氏, or Niuzhi 牛氏, supplied jade to the Chinese. It would seem, from secondary sources, the prevalence of jade from Xotan in ancient Chinese is due to its quality and the relative lack of such jade elsewhere.

By the late 19th century, the region of Loulan was known for producing salt, soda, borax, gold, and coal, in addition to the continuing extraction of quality "muttonfat" style jade.

The oil and gas extraction industry in Aqsu and Kârâmây is booming. The oil and petrochemical sector account for a large portion of Loulan's economy.

Foreign trade



Urabo South Railway Station
Kashgar Railway Station

Loulan's main railway hub is located in Urabo. To the east, both a conventional and high-speed rail line run through Turpan and Qumul towards Lanzhou in Gansu province, China. A third outlet to the east connects Qumul to Ejin Banner, Inner Mongolia.

To the west, the Northern Main Line runs along the northern footslopes of the Tian Shan mountains through Sanji, Shexanza, Kuytun, and Jenga to the border of Kazakhstan in the city of Tange-ye Âlâtaw, where it links up with the Turkestan–Siberia Railway. Together, the Northern Main Line and the Urabo-Lanzhou corridor lines form part of the Trans-Eurasian Continental Railway which extends from Rotterdam on the North Sea to Lianyungang on the East China Sea. The Second Urabo-Jenga Mainline, also known simply as Line №2, provides additional rail transport capacity to Jenga, from which the Ili Main Line heads into the Ili River valley to Qulja and Hwâcheng (also known as Qorghâs), where a second rail crossing into Kazakhstan exists. The Kuytun-Baytun railway runs from Kuytun north into the Dzungar basin through Qârâmây to Beytun near Shahr-e Âltây.

In the south, the Southern Main Line from Turpan runs southwest along the southern footslopes of the Tian Shan mountains into the Tarim Basin, with stops at Qarah-Shahr, Korlâ, Kuchâ, Aqsu, Mârâlbashi, Ârtush, and Qâshghar. From Qâshghar, the Qâshghar-Xotan railway follows the southern rim of the Tarim basin to Xotan, with stops at Shula, Âqtoba, Yangesâr, Yârkand, Qargaliq, and Kârâkâsh.

The Urabo-Dzungaria railway connects Urabo with coal fields in the eastern Dzungar basin. The Qumul-Lopnor railway connects Qumul with potassium salt mines in and around Lopnor.

A rail link is currently under construction between Korlâ and Golmud, Qinghai province, China. Railway links to Pakistan and Kyrgyzstan have been proposed but are not currently under construction.




The population of Loulan was estimated to be 23.6 million as of 2019, an increase from the 21.8 million recorded in the 2010 census. Of these numbers, approximately 48.3% are males and 51.7% are females. 51.1% of the population lived in urban areas, while 48.1% lived in rural areas and a small portion of around 0.1% of the population were nomadic or semi-nomadic.

Urban areas have experienced significant population growth in the last several decades, partially due to settlement incentives prior to independence and rural exodus following. The only city with more than one million residents is the capital city, Urabo, but there exist other seven cities with populations exceeding three hundred thousand. The ten largest cities in the country are listed in the chart below.

Ethnic groups

Loulan is a multiethnic country where the indigenous ethnicgroup, the Tokhari people, comprise the majority of the population. According to the 2010 census, there are two dominant ethnic groups in Loulan: ethnic Tokharis, who make up 63.44% of the population, and ethnic Han Chinese, who make up 28.99%. A wide array of other groups are represented, including Hui Chinese, Agneans, Izilakhs, and Winja.






Notable individuals