Khotan or East Turkestan is Larger than Western Europe and has a very long history of carpet weaving. It is historically known as East Turkestan and comprises China’s province of Xinjiang.
It is hard to get to and surrounded by mountains from north, west and south and desert from the east.
However, it has always attracted settlers because of being on the Silk Road. This created a mix of cultures, which can clearly be seen in East Turkestan’s rugs.
About 1500 to 1000 BC, the earliest agricultural settlers began settling into East Turkestan, which at the time was dominated by Turkic nomads. These were Indo-Europeans who were the same people of greater Persian. They settled in the town and became Buddhist.
The exact date when weaving started is not known but fragments dated to the 3rd century AD were found in 1900.
While it has been overrun by different armies through out its history but their culture has been maintained throughout. However, the first real changes came about when Turkic conquests began in the 9th century. They forced Islam on East Turkestan and imposed their language and created East Turkestan as we know it now.
Rug Expert Hans Bidder writes in his book Carpets from Eastern Turkestan:
“Iconoclastic Islam, which spread into the oases from middle of the 10th Century was indeed able to subdue the religious art of Buddhism, but the new faith proved incapable of gaining any hold upon individual arts and crafts, which had their roots in the traditional customs and economic existence of the oases.
The old carpet weaving craft in Khotan, for example, whose precious fund of designs had been influenced by ten centuries of Indo-Grecian art, freely continued its own path of natural development.
The coffered gul design, so characteristic of Khotan, dates back to either the Gandhara Buddhism period, or to an even earlier epoch. The Khotan modification of Turkoman Gul is Indian influenced. ”
Another major influence in design was the pattern on Chinese silk that passed through the trade routes.
Turkic rulers patronized the carpet workrooms of this area and with markets in India, Central Asia and Persia the carpet trade flourished.
With the occupation of the whole of East Turmenistan in the 1750s by China, things changed radically. They had no interest in pile carpets. Also by incorporating it into China its economic connections with the west were cut. Weavers were cut off from importing dyes from India and other suppliers and their markets in Europe, which was fast growing in the 19th century.
Those carpet that made their way to the west were via mountains into the Russian Empire and the Samarkand market. Consequently by the time they reached Europe their known as “Samarkands”. If they went through art dealers in Beijing, they were called Kanju after one of the provinces they passed through.
Today the weaving there is not of note. However, it is still important that weaving has not been forgotten there.