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The Ili Kazak Autonomous Prefecture is west of Mongolia, south of Russia and east of Kazakhstan. Its foreign boundary is 2,000 km. (The Bortala Mongol Autonomous Prefecture interrupts the border with Kazakhstan for several km.) The upper course of the Ili River and that of Irtysh (Ertix) flow through the prefecture.

Geographically, Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture can be divided into two parts. Altay Prefecture and Tarbagatay Prefectures, together with the city of Kuitun, occupy most of the Dzungarian Basin in northern Xinjiang, north of the Borohoro Range. The rest of the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture is located entirely within the Ili River Basin, between Borohoro and the main range of Tian Shan. This latter region is exactly coterminous with the historical area that in the past was often called by Russians and Westerners as Kulja or Kuldja or Ili.

Tacheng (Chuguchak) was among the towns that suffered grievously during the fighting in 1865 Pre-Qing
Before the Qin Dynasty, Ili was occupied by the Ussuns, a tributary of the Hun. The Ussuns were driven away in the 6th century A.D. by the northern Xiongnu, who established Western Turk Khanate in 552. Later the Kulja territory became a dependency of Dzungaria. During the Tang Dynasty, the khanate was Anxi Daduhufu of the Tang Empire.

The Uyghurs, and in the 12th century the Kara-Khitai, took possession of it in turn. Genghis Khan conquered Kulja in the 13th century, and the Mongol Khans resided in the valley of the Ili. It is supposed that the Oirats conquered it at the end of the 16th or the beginning of the 17th century.

Qing Dynasty
The Oirats, or more precisely Dzungars, controlled both Dzungaria and the Ili Basin it until 1755 as Jagatai Khanate, when Qianlong's Manchus annexed it. Having defeated Dzungars in the Dzunagrian and Ili Basins, as well as the Ishāqī khojas in Kashgaria, the Manchu Qing Empire decided to make the Ili basin the main base of their control in Xinjiang.

Huiyuan Cheng, as the seat of the Ili Governor General (Chinese: Yili Jiangjün), who was the chief commander of the Qing troops in entire Xinjiang, became the administrative capital of the region. It was provided with a large penal establishment and strong garrison. This city was called New Kulja, Manhcu Kulja, Chinese Kulja, or Ili by the Russians and Westerners, to distinguish it from Nigyuan/Yining, known as Old Kulja or Taranchi Kulja.

The first Ili Governor General was Ming Rui. The Qing tradition, not broken until the days of Zuo Zongtang in the 1870s, was to only appoint Manchus as officials in Xinjiang.

During the insurrection of 1864 the Dungans and the Taranchis formed here the Taranchi Sultanate. Huiyuan (Manchu Kulja) was the last Qing fortress in the Ili Valley to fall to the rebels. The insurgent Dungans massacred most of Manchu Kulja's inhabitants; Governor General Mingsioi (Ming Xü) assembled his family and staff in his mansion, and blew it up, dying under its ruins.

The sultanate led to the occupation of the Ili basin (Kulja, in contemporary Western terms) by the Russians in 1871. Ten years later the territory was restored to China, and its boundary with Russia was assigned in accordance to the Treaty of Saint Petersburg (1881).

After Chinese authority was restored, the "Manchu Kuldja" was rebuilt, now as the city of Suiding (today's' Shuiding), some 8 km north of the old Huiyuan site.

On January 7, 1912, Yang Cuanxu of Ili occupied Huiyuan and shot the last Qing Governor General of Ili, Zhi Rui.

Republic of China
In July 1945, Chingil, Bole and Quanxi of Ili were made into a new autonomous prefecture now not part of Ili: Bortala.

People's Republic
In 1949, Ili was made a special area of Xinjiang, with one city and 9 counties, and was upgraded to a city in 1952. On November 27, 1954, the Ili Autonomous Prefecture was established to include the prefectures of Ili, Altay, and Tacheng. The Ili Prefecture was abolished in 1955. Its 1 city and 9 counties are now under the direct control of the autonomous prefecture.


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