——————————————————- its amazing how something so innocuous caused so much trouble
Wild West China, The Taming of Xinjiang
By Christian Tyler
Published by John Murray
To borrow a title that conjures images of gunfighters and wild tribesmen might seem a clever commercial sales trick for a general history of Xinjiang that rounds up in the present day. In his defence however, the author, a former Financial Times correspondent, draws frequent allusion to the Wild West of America, and the fate of its native people. The similarities are striking, both in the story itself and the attitudes of the peoples who played a part in it.
Xinjiang is China’s westernmost province. Its native population, now almost equaled in numbers by Han Chinese, is a Turkic people, the Uighurs. There are also large communities of Mongols, Kyrgyz, and Kazakhs. Over their turbulent past, the deserts, mountains and oases of Xinjiang have been subject to invasion or attack by Tibetan imperialists, Mongol hordes, armies of rebel Dongans – Chinese Muslims – and even the occasional foray by White Russians looking for a war to fight. But since 60 BC, Xinjiang has been claimed as part of China, even though it has only been directly controlled for 500 out of the last 2,000 years.
As well as being rich in art and culture – the shifting sands of the Taklamakan Desert cover a vanished Buddhist civilization – Xinjiang is rich in natural resources, oil, gas, and minerals. Over the past fifty years those resources have been tapped for the benefit of China as a whole.
Tyler has traveled extensively in Xinjiang, and also tracked down prominent members of the Uighur diaspora, many of whom live in Turkey. His book provides the most comprehensive picture to date of a people and a place whose lives and history have been subject to as many shifts in local policy and world politics as the famous ‘wandering river’ in the Gobi Desert which perplexed geographers for centuries. It was the explorer Sven Hedin who solved that riddle in the early 1900s. Tyler’s book will not solve the modern day riddle, how the Uighurs and Han Chinese can coexist in harmony. In fact he pointedly avoids offering a solution. But this excellent book will leave its readers with a clearer understanding of the problem.