Published online by Cambridge University Press: 18 September 2020
Chapter 1 analyses how historical contexts of empire, nationalism, and ethnic relations shape identity and security narratives in contemporary nation-building practices in Xinjiang. The chapter shows that China historically understood Xinjiang through imperial geopolitical prisms, which ambivalently shifted towards cultural nationalism and included Uyghur identity as a security concern. The first section builds on nationalism literature and analyses Chinese nation-building as historically contingent processes of cultural governance of relations between Han and non-Han on the frontier. It shows how mid-twentieth century articulation of territorially bounded nationhood matter co-exists with imperial, pre-modern framings of difference between civilisation and barbarians. The second section uses official Chinese sources and secondary literature on Xinjiang history to analyse how Xinjiang’s position shifted from imperial vassal to a central component in struggles to build a modern, multi-ethnic Chinese national identity. The final section uses official Chinese sources and secondary literature on ethnic relations to explore how nation-building conceptualises and organises ethnicity. Chinese nation-building produces ethnic boundaries in Xinjiang by articulating and securitising hierarchical relations between Han majority and ethnic minorities. The chapter shows how Xinjiang’s ambivalent inclusion as an exotic frontier and indivisible component of a territorial state reflects and produces tensions in China’s national narratives.