11 books directly related to Xinjiang 📚

All 11 Xinjiang books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

Eurasian Crossroads: A History of Xinjiang

By James Millward,

Book cover of Eurasian Crossroads: A History of Xinjiang

Why this book?

Eurasian Crossroads is an essential resource for anyone seeking to learn about the complex historical context of the genocide taking place in Xinjiang today. James Millward, who is widely regarded as the leading historian of Chinese Central Asia, provides an accessible-yet-thorough examination of the various peoples and empires that have called the region home. 


Typhoon: A Novel

By Charles Cumming,

Book cover of Typhoon: A Novel

Why this book?

When Charles Cumming published Typhoon in 2009, China's Xinjiang province was a festering wound for the Chinese Communist Party, with the local Uyghur population sporadically resisting subjugation by their Han overlords. Now it is a full-blown police-state with mass Uyghur detention camps that amount to genocide, according to many human rights groups. Cumming shrewdly chose Xinjiang tensions as the spark for a rogue CIA scheme to destabilize the Beijing regime. Knowing what is currently happening in Xinjiang, it is hard for me now to re-read the novel with the same sense of nostalgia for the authentically rendered places in the cities I know (or knew) well: Urumqi, Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong. These gems have all been deprecated by the Party, but they are partially preserved in Cumming's meticulous prose.


Down a Narrow Road: Identity and Masculinity in a Uyghur Community in Xinjiang China

By Jay Dautcher,

Book cover of Down a Narrow Road: Identity and Masculinity in a Uyghur Community in Xinjiang China

Why this book?

This book is an ethnographic account of Uyghur suburban life in the mid-1990s, which might sound very far removed from the political and humanitarian crisis going on in the region today. Yet the portrait it offers of Uyghur family life, market trading, informal socializing, and forms of religious devotion has arguably never been more important, given that the Chinese state has been targeting precisely these benign, everyday practices and beliefs in recent years by separating children from their parents, sending officials to live with Uyghur families, and destroying traditional Uyghur homes. Reading it is an immersive, often funny, experience, which should make people understand the consequences of the state-sponsored violence these communities have been subjected to.


Oil and Water: Being Han in Xinjiang

By Tom Cliff,

Book cover of Oil and Water: Being Han in Xinjiang

Why this book?

Since 1949 the demographics of Xinjiang have been altered radically by waves of migration of Han Chinese, initially with the paramilitary bingtuan organisation, but in recent decades by economic migrants. Cliff’s book is an important reminder of how their presence functions in a neo-colonial fashion, and the influence that their needs and concerns have on official policy in the region – which to put it simplistically, is to keep them happy. Though he emphasises that Han in Xinjiang are far from a homogenous social group – something that often gets forgotten or obscured – the common viewpoints and concerns that emerge from his interviews are a sobering reminder of the difficulties in finding common ground between Han and Uyghur in the region.


Central Asia: A New History from the Imperial Conquests to the Present

By Adeeb Khalid,

Book cover of Central Asia: A New History from the Imperial Conquests to the Present

Why this book?

Since the 19th-century control over Central Asia has been split between Russia and China. This makes it extremely difficult for historians to write a coherent narrative of the region as a whole, but Khalid has pulled it off. His book is aimed at general readers while drawing on sources in multiple languages, including Uzbek and Uyghur. Khalid considers comparative imperialism and modernization.


The Compensations of Plunder: How China Lost Its Treasures

By Justin M. Jacobs,

Book cover of The Compensations of Plunder: How China Lost Its Treasures

Why this book?

A good deal is known about the Westerners who dug up ancient artifacts in Central Asia (China’s Far West) in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, not least because these explorers were great self-promoters. This book tells the story from the Chinese side, and it is a lot more interesting and complicated than you might expect. It is only with the birth of Chinese nationalism that the tens of thousands of artifacts now found in the museums and collections of the West came to be defined as Chinese and their loss defined as imperialist looting. By academic standards, this book is a page-turner.


China's Forgotten People: Xinjiang, Terror and the Chinese State

By Nick Holdstock,

Book cover of China's Forgotten People: Xinjiang, Terror and the Chinese State

Why this book?

This book provides the most accessible account of the relationship between the Chinese Communist Party and the native peoples of Xinjiang. Holdstock draws on his own experience living in Xinjiang to show how the CCP’s failure to recognize the genuine grievances of the native peoples of the region helped to drive the terrorism problem that the CCP claims to be addressing today through its genocidal policies.


The War on the Uyghurs: China's Internal Campaign Against a Muslim Minority

By Sean R. Roberts,

Book cover of The War on the Uyghurs: China's Internal Campaign Against a Muslim Minority

Why this book?

Roberts is one of the foremost authorities on the ‘terrorism’ issue in Xinjiang. The strong argument of this book is that the Chinese government has opportunistically used the US-led War on Terror as an excuse to repress all forms of dissent in the region by grossly exaggerating the threats they faced, which eventually became a self-fulfilling prophecy. In his view, the concentration camps, destruction of mosques, attacks on Uyghur intellectuals, and attempts to marginalise the Uyghur language amount to a ‘cultural genocide’. The book provides a concise and forceful recapitulation of Chinese policy in the region over the last two decades.


China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia

By Peter C. Perdue,

Book cover of China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia

Why this book?

Peter C. Perdue gives an exhaustive account of the Qing Dynasty’s conquest of Xinjiang - which, according to many historians, was the first time a Chinese Dynasty consolidated its rule over the whole of the region. This history has important implications for claims regarding the legitimacy of Chinese rule over Xinjiang.


Prisoner 13498: A True Story of Love, Drugs and Prison in Modern China

By Robert H. Davies,

Book cover of Prisoner 13498: A True Story of Love, Drugs and Prison in Modern China

Why this book?

Xinjiang Province was a very different place mere decades ago when it was China’s Wild West and all kinds of foreign characters were drawn to the region like a magnet. Englishman Robert Davies ran bars and tourism ventures and married an Uyghur woman, a love affair passionately recounted in his memoir, before being arrested for hashish smuggling on trumped-up charges (a drug native to the Uyghurs, who openly sold it in Xinjiang restaurants in Beijing as late as the 1990s) and sent to a Shanghai prison for eight years. Davies and those busted with him were the first such group of foreigners to be made an example of (and survive with mind intact). His account is highly readable, chock full of vivid detail, and an excellent general introduction to Chinese culture and society of the 1980s—from within the belly of the beast. I was most impressed by Davies’ fearless embrace of the culture in his taboo love affair with a Uyghur and his illegal hashish running: you can’t get deeper into the local scene than that.


In the Camps: China's High-Tech Penal Colony

By Darren Byler,

Book cover of In the Camps: China's High-Tech Penal Colony

Why this book?

Byler’s concise book is a vital read because it foregrounds the experiences of people detained in the camps, stories that overlap and cohere into a raw portrait of systematic brutality and dehumanising routines. Into these are woven an account of the digital surveillance technologies that underpin the network of detention, many of which are not unique to China, the difference between its use of them and many Western countries’ being only a matter of scale. The book also offers an important section on the increasing role of forced labour in Xinjiang, emphasising the need for greater scrutiny and accountability of supply chains that potentially rely on goods and labour from the region.