According to legend, the foundation of Khotan occurred when Kushtana, said to be a son of Asoka, the Mauryan emperor, settled there about 224 BCE.
However, it is likely to have existed much earlier than this. As early as 645 BCE, the Yuezhi (known later as the Kushans) was mentioned as supplier of the famous nephrite jade from the region to China, and the excavations of Shang dynasty (1600–1046 BCE) tomb of Fu Hao, showed that all the jade originated from the oases area of Khotan. The first habitants of the region were Indo-Europeans from the west, and well-preserved mummies of European origin have been found in the Tarim area.
In the second century BCE a Khotanese king helped the famous Kushan Emperor Kanishka to conquer the key town of Saketa in Middle India :
“ Afterwards king Vijaya Krīti, for whom a manifestation of the Ārya Mañjuśrī, the Arhat called Spyi-pri who was propagating the religion (dharma) in Kam-śeṅ [a district of Khotan] was acting as pious friend, through being inspired with faith, built the vihāra of Sru-ño. Originally, King Kanika, the king of Gu-zar [Kucha] and the Li [Khotanese] ruler, King Vijaya Krīti, and others led an army into India, and when they captured the city called So-ked [Saketa], King Vijaya Krīti obtained many relics and put them in the stūpa of Sru-ño. ”
— The Prophecy of the Li Country.
According to Hanshu ('History of the Former Han', covering the period from 125 BCE to 23 CE), Khotan had 3,300 households, 19,300 individuals and 2,400 people able to bear arms.
The town grew very quickly after China opened the Silk Routes to the West. By the time of the Han conquest, the population had more than quadrupled. The Hou Hanshu (Book of the Later Han, covering 6 to 189 CE) says:
“ The main centre of the kingdom of