As public knowledge grows of the Chinese state’s subjugation of the central Asian region of Xinjiang, many may find themselves wondering what Beijing’s interest in this distant region is in the first place. Judd Kinzley
’s new book Natural Resources and the New Frontier: Constructing Modern China’s Borderlands
(University of Chicago Press, 2018) goes a long way to answering this and many other related questions, discussing both why and how the Chinese state has today managed to make itself so forcefully present so far from the country's heartlands.
Kinzley's fascinating new resource-centric perspective on the state incorporation of Xinjiang retrains our eyes on the material and physical dimensions to politics, showing how treasured items from oil to tungsten have attained a totemic political role as “a critical but largely overlooked factor in shaping the region’s connections to China, regional neighbours and indeed the world” (p.7). Deftly handling its multilingual and multi-perspectival scholarship, Natural Resources and the New Frontier
accounts for how successive ‘layers’ left by state and non-state actors - Chinese and Russian as well as British - have institutionalised the presence of outside actors in Xinjiang over time. These dynamics, Kinzley shows, also underlie much of the discord evident between Han Chinese immigrants and indigenous Turkic groups in this troubled region today.
Ed Pulford is a postdoctoral researcher at the Slavic-Eurasian Research Center, Hokkaido University. His research focuses on friendships and histories between the Chinese, Korean and Russian worlds, and northeast Asian indigenous groups.