Greater interest in what is happening in the northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang in recent years has generated a proportional need for context, and especially insights into the politics and policies being enacted there and how these interface with local perspectives. For this reason and many others, David Tobin’s Securing China's Northwest Frontier (Cambridge UP, 2020) is a vital contribution to our understanding of the PRC state-building and narrative-creation efforts which justify projects like the region’s vast network of detention camps. More than this, the book also delves into the lives of ordinary residents of Urumqi, the region’s capital, and how they respond to state efforts to craft a hegemonic vision of Chinese state- and nationhood.
Moving smoothly from the promotion and performance of discourses of ethnic unity, to discussion of how Xinjiang’s Uyghur population is officially constructed simultaneously as integral to a process of ethnic “fusion” and irreconcilably “Other”, the book draws on textual analysis and fieldwork in the region to reveal a textured picture of a place and populations under immense stress. Urumqi residents of different backgrounds, Tobin shows, have differential abilities to voice alternative views of what identity and security mean, which in turn cut to the very heart of what “China” means and represents for its own citizens and, perhaps, for those beyond its borders too.
Ed Pulford is a Lecturer in Chinese Studies at the University of Manchester. His research focuses on friendships and histories between the Chinese, Korean and Russian worlds, and northeast Asian indigenous groups.