20 Books about Xinjiang & Uyghur - Reviewed & Ranked

20 Books about Xinjiang and Uyghur [Reviewed & Ranked]

May 12 | 5 Comments

A stack of books on Xinjiang and UyghurLooking for a book on Xinjiang, either for your own personal use or as a gift for somebody else? It struck me recently that I’ve reviewed a lot of Xinjiang books here on FarWestChina over the last few years…but I’ve never listed them all on one, comprehensive page. So here’s my list of the top 20 books related to Xinjiang, separated into category (Xinjiang Travel, Regional History, Uyghur, Entertainment & Language) and ranked them.

Note: For those books which I have reviewed on this site, I have put a link to that review next to the Amazon link. If you feel that I am missing one of your personal favorites, please suggest it in the comments below and I’ll try to get a review copy.

Enjoy!

Xinjiang Travel Books

  1. Xinjiang: China’s Central Asia (full review) – as far as traveling to Xinjiang goes, this Odyssey guide by Jeremy Treddinick is by far the best thing you can buy to help prepare and plan your trip. The beautiful photos are backed by a well-researched historical context that will help you truly appreciate what you will be seeing.
  2. Lonely Planet Xinjiang – this is just one downloadable chapter out of the massive Lonely Planet China book, but it works well if you only plan on traveling to Urumqi, Turpan or Kashgar. It’s not nearly as comprehensive as the Odyssey guide above, but the advantage is that it is an ebook and it covers all the big tourist places you might want to visit here.
  3. Silk Road | Insight Guides – If Xinjiang is just one stop on your entire journey along the Silk Road, I recommend you check out this great guide by Insight Guides. Not only does it cover China and all the ‘Stans (Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, etc), it also marches you into Iran, Turkey, Syria and other such countries on the western end of the famed Silk Road. It’s a hefty 2 pound book, but that beats buying a Lonely Planet for each country you’re going to visit.

Regional History

  1. Eurasian Crossroads: A History of Xinjiang (full review) – If you are interested in Xinjiang history, there is no better book than this one written by James Millward, a recognized expert on the region. It’s incredibly detailed, which can at times be hard to follow but in the end gives you an appreciation for the diversity of the region. I have a copy of this book on my shelf that I always keep on hand for reference.
  2. Silk Road: Monks, Warriors & Merchants – for a more broad view of Silk Road history, this Odyssey book by French historian Luce Boulnois was a fun read for me. Combining this book with Millward’s Eurasian Crossroads mentioned above I felt equipped me with historical context not just for the Xinjiang region but for all the regions and countries surrounding it.
  3. Wild West China (full review) – if you don’t have the patience or time to read through either of the above two history books (which are over 400 pages each), this shorter book by Christian Tyler is an acceptable alternative. It presents Xinjiang’s history in more of a story format, which provides an entertaining read but I feel like the author also takes liberty to hint at his own political agenda. In other words, enjoy the book but read with caution.
  4. Foreign Devils on the Silk Road (full review) – before anybody travels to Xinjiang I suggest they grab a copy of this book by Peter Hopkirk. Why? Hopkirk is a master storyteller and does an amazing job piecing together the story of the Great Game and how that played out here in Xinjiang. You’ll appreciate Urumqi, Kashgar and especially Dunhuang so much more if you read this book before you visit.*
  5. Xinjiang: China’s Muslim Borderland – like Eurasian Crossroads, this is a book that feels more like a textbook than something you sit down and read on the airplane. Despite this and early publication date, I still enjoyed how this book brought together the foremost experts on Xinjiang to help paint an accurate picture of the region.
  6. The Mummies of Urumchi – one of the most interesting pieces of history unearthed in Xinjiang are the numerous mummies you find in the museums across Xinjiang. This book attempts to unravel the mystery of who they are and where they came from.

Uyghur Books

  1. Under the Heel of the Dragon (full review) – as part of his doctoral thesis, Blaine Kaltman conducted over 217 interviews with Han and Uyghur here in Xinjiang to get their perspective on the tension here. The results – and the quotes – are eye-opening.
  2. The Uyghurs: Strangers in Their Own Land – Author Gardner Bovington is another highly respected member of the academic community covering Xinjiang. I found this book to be quite insightful, nodding my head in agreement quite often, covering every topic from from politics to religion.
  3. Down a Narrow Road: Identity and Masculinity in a Uyghur Community – diving into a bit of ethnography here, this book by Jay Dautcher could be considered a more unbiased, academic view of the Uyghur people.
  4. Living Shrines of Uyghur China – this book of photographs by Lisa Ross is interesting not only because it offers a glimpse into a part of Uyghur culture we rarely see, but also because it includes related essays by a Uyghur folklorist and a French historian of Central Asia.

Entertaining Books on Xinjiang

  1. The Gobi Desert – The Adventures of Three Women Travelling Across the Gobi Desert in the 1920s – anybody who studies Xinjiang’s history over the last century will run across two names: Cable Mildred and Francesca French. They were the first English women to cross the Gobi Desert and this is their fascinating travelogue of the journey.
  2. News from Tartary: An Epic Journey Across Central Asia – Many people are familiar with Peter Fleming, famous journalist, writer and explorer. In this book he recounts his journey from Peking (Beijing) to Kashgar – all 3,500 miles of it. Fascinating read!
  3. English: A Novel (full review) – one of the few novels I’ve ever read set entirely in Xinjiang, this is an award-winning novel that was first written in Mandarin but has since been translated into many different languages.
  4. The Horse that Leaps Through Clouds (full review) – author Eric Enno Tamm takes a journey following the footsteps of Mannerheim, a Finnish explorer from the early 1900’s. There were parts of the book I didn’t particularly enjoy or agree with, but it was entertaining none-the-less.
  5. Drinking and Driving in Ürümqi – this unusually short non-fiction book by American author Andrew Demetre is a brief glimpse into life here in Urumqi. I’m not a huge fan of people who visit Xinjiang for a short period of time and then write about it, but since that’s really the only literature available, it will do for now.

Learning the Uyghur Language**

  1. Uyghur: An Elementary Textbook (full review) – published in late 2013, this textbook is an excellent first step into the Uyghur language, although it is aimed primarily at the classroom learner not the solo polyglot.
  2. Beginning Uyghur for English Speakers – this is the text that many people here in Xinjiang use to learn Uyghur and it has stood the test of time. It’s an excellent supplement to a Uyghur tutor.

NOT Books…But Still Interesting

So the following aren’t books but since they’re still incredibly interesting and related to Xinjiang, I thought you might find them useful for me to mention here.

  • On a Tightrope (DVD) – this award-winning documentary on orphans-turned-tightrope walkers is a beautiful, visual introduction to Uyghur culture and the practice of tightrope walking.
  • The Silk Road: A Musical Caravan – produced by Yo-Yo Ma, this music CD could easily be the soundtrack for your journey through Xinjiang and the Silk Road.

What Xinjiang books have you found interesting, enjoyable or useful?

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*Note: there are many other valuable books written by explorers like Le Coq, Stein, Hedin and others which are not listed here. I believe that Hopkirk does a great job summarizing most of them in his book.

**Note: for a more comprehensive look at the Uyghur language resources available, you need to check out this comprehensive guide.

About Josh Summers

Josh is a writer, musician and entrepreneur who currently resides in Urumqi, capital of China's western province of Xinjiang. He has been traveling and writing about this region since 2006 and has no plans to stop in the near future.

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  1. Talking about demographics, does anyone know where to find the results of the 2010-11 census for Xinjiang? The only datum I’ve found is about the total population (21,813,334), but no clue about the nationality breakdown (no pun intented).

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  2. Thanks, a very helpful listicle!

    May I suggest as well “Under the Heel of the Dragon” and “Oasis Identities”…though these two books bear obvious Uighur sympathies, they also seem quite honest about the history (some fascinating facts: “Uighur” is a revived label, revived by the Chinese state on the advice of their Soviet sponsors [this is almost like categorizing today’s New Yorkers as “Algonquins”]; there exist so-called Yellow Uighurs or Yugurs maintain that they are the true Uighurs, being still Buddhist; Han migrants in Xinjiang just as often perform menial labor for Uighur bosses as they do for Han ones)….

    Oh yeah, hope you and yours are well in these increasingly “interesting” times!

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