Khotan ［于闐・和田］ ( Uten or Hōtan): An oasis city in Central Asia, located in the present Sinkiang Uighur Autonomous Region of China. The oasis of Khotan lies on the southern edge of the Takla Makan Desert, which forms the greater part of the Tarim Basin at the foot of the northern slope of the Kunlun Mountains. The Chinese knew Khotan in the time of the Former Han dynasty (202 b.c.e.–c.e. 8) as Yü-t’ien, and China occupied it for a time around c.e. 70. Khotan flourished as a trading center on routes connecting China and India, and China and regions to the west.
Along with Kucha, which was on the road along the northern edge of the Takla Makan Desert, Khotan played a major role in the transmission of Buddhism from India to China and prospered as a center of Buddhism from the fifth to the eighth century. When Fa-hsien and Hsüan-tsang went to Khotan in the early fifth and mid-seventh centuries, respectively, Khotan was a center of Mahayana Buddhism and home to a number of great monasteries where tens of thousands of monks resided. It is known from Buddhist and other texts discovered in Khotan that, from the sixth through the tenth century, the people of Khotan spoke Khotanese, a Middle Iranian language of the Indo–European language family.
The Chinese occupied Khotan again in the seventh century under the T’ang dynasty, but left when they were defeated by the Arabs and driven out of Central Asia in the eighth century. In the tenth century the Qarakhanids, a Turkish dynasty, occupied the neighboring state of Kashgar to the west; as a result, Khotan came under the influence of the Qarakhanids, and people began to convert to Islam, bringing about the decline of Buddhism. Finally, the Qarakhanids conquered Khotan during the late tenth and early eleventh centuries. It was occupied by the Karakitai dynasty, rivals of the Qarakhanids, in the twelfth century, and then by the Mongols in the thirteenth century.
In the following centuries, Khotan fell under the domination of different kingdoms, and in the mid-eighteenth century, it came under the control of China again under the Ch’ing dynasty (1644–1912). Archaeologist Aurel Stein (1862–1943) carried out excavations in Khotan and discovered valuable Buddhist and other artifacts there. Khotan has long been famous as a source of jade, and is well known for its silks and rugs.