One of the most frustrating realities for any Xinjiang enthusiast or activist is the relative obscurity of the province and its Uyghur people. Unlike their Tibetan neighbors to the south, international understanding of Uyghur culture is tainted by the only kind of news that makes it out of the province: bad news.
In the book Silken Threads from the Past: Uyghur People & Their Culture, photographer Aphra Pia travels along the Silk Road to capture the heartbeat of Xinjiang through her camera lens.
The more I look critically at this collection of Xinjiang photos, I am reminded about how odd some of these scenes must be to somebody who has never experienced Xinjiang:
- An old man carrying a back-breaking load down a dirt road.
- Young girls with the most bizarre haircut (shaved everywhere except the bangs).
- A mode of public transportation I affectionately refer to as the “trog” (part truck, part hog) and all 20 people who pile onto it!
- A teenager who works the family business, oblivious to all of the dead lamb carcasses hanging around her.
All common scenes within the province, yet unique to anybody outside – even most Han Chinese. Aphra Pia gathered her most poignant photos of both the province and the people so that everyone has the opportunity to see past the negative news clips into what makes this place so special.
Uyghur people are like no other group that I’ve ever met, but that’s a very difficult sentiment to form into words. Silken Threads from the Past offers a wonderful collection of photographs giving more insight into Uyghur people than most any article or China travel book I’ve read.
I would like to note one mistake, however, that is common among many travelers to the Xinjiang province. While the Uyghur people do constitute the largest minority group in the province, they are not alone here. In a book whose subtitle reads “Uyghur People and Their Culture”, it was interesting to find a few pictures of Hui, Tajik, and I believe I saw one Kazakh. It’s a difficult distinction to make, I admit, but it’s something I wanted to point out.
Further Xinjiang Reading
If this photo book interests you, you might also like to check out examples from these other Xinjiang books:
- Wonderful Xinjiang (Review): a photo publication by Reader’s Digest
- Expressing the Orient (Review): another expat shares his beautiful photos of China, Xinjiang included.
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