Xinjiang is a province of China, with the statute of ‘Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region’ under control of the central Chinese government. It is very Chinese and at the same time it seems not Chinese at all. Xinjiang borders Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. It has a climate that is barely appropriate for human life with temperatures of minus 30 to plus 48, with strong dessert winds that regularly cover everything in dust and sand. It is one of the areas on earth furthest away from the sea.

In 2008 – after 20 years of residing on and off in China and crossing most of the country several times – Jeanne Boden visited Xinjiang for the first time. She discovered an area with a rich diversity that seems to be little known to the world. It felt like a melting pot of cultures at the end of the world.

Not only the position of Xinjiang bordering Central Asia and Russia, but also the desserts full of oil and gas turn Xinjiang into a strategic area for China. Han-Chinese, Kazakh, Uyghur, Mongol, and many other ethnic groups live close together. It is fascinating but not easy. 

Reading about the history of this area one comes to realize that there might never be peace and quiet here. Media coverage of Xinjiang is limited to bomb explosions and ethnical clashes. In contrast to Tibet - also located in the West of China - westerners seem to show very little interest in Xinjiang.
Xinjiang is an area as large as Great Britain, France, Spain and Germany added together and still to many of us a blind spot. Since 1978 China opened its doors resulting in rocket speed economic development. The economic development of China was first executed in the East of the country. Since the end of the 1990s the central government also decided to develop the west: Tibet and Xinjiang. Roads and railroads have been built and are still being built. Cars and trains have replaced the camel caravans and worn out busses of not so long ago.
Infrastructure brings economic development. Most of the inhabitants of Xinjiang are very happy with that. If economic development of the West of China would lag behind of the rest of the country, the Chinese government would doubtlessly meet with a lot of criticism. Therefore it is a good decision to also develop the West of China economically.

But economic development has a flipside. Economic development puts pressure on the smaller ethnic groups in the area, the so-called ‘minorities’ in China.

The changed global position of the Islam after 9/11 also plays a role in what is happening in Xinjiang today. Many of Xinjiang’s minorities like the Uyghur, Hui, Kazakh are Muslim.

This project tries to give a view of the complexity of the area.

Jeanne Boden

Over the past 20 years Jeanne Boden has studied and conducted research in China, and she has worked in China in several functions: lecturing, training, guiding, coaching and project management.
A working grant of € 5.535 allocated on 07/09/2009.

 Blog on Knack.be - from 30/12/2009 - 31/03/2010

Book (only in Dutch)
The Chinese province Xinjiang in northwestern China covers an area the size of Great Britain, France, Spain and Germany together and still it is a blind spot to most of us. Xinjiang borders on Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tadzjikistan, Pakistan, Afghanistan and India. It is one of the globe’s remotest areas, far away from any sea. Interfering and overlapping cultures cause the area to be historically explosive.

Now and then Xinjiang is in the media: in 2008 with the bombing in Kashgar, in 2009 with ethnic clashes between Uyghur and Han Chinese in Urumqi, in 2010 with explosions in Korla. Ethnic tensions arise from the complexity of many factors and cannot be reduced to a bipolar clash between Uyghur and Han or to a growing Islam extremism.
Xinjiang - De nieuwe grens van China (Xinjiang: the new border of China) highlights this complex, exotic, remote, explosive area where Han-Chinese, Uyghur, Kazakh, Russians, and many other people search for equilibrium and identity.
This book is the continuation of the blog the author wrote for Knack magazine in 2010. It invites the reader to a fascinating mix of investigative journalism, a cultural and social analysis of the area, a compelling travel report and field notes.

Subtitle: De nieuwe grens van China
Eitor: ASP editions
ISBN: 978905487745
Pages: 192
Date of publication: 16/10/2010