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Natural Resources and the New Frontier

Constructing Modern China’s Borderlands

China’s westernmost province of Xinjiang has experienced escalating cycles of violence, interethnic strife, and state repression since the 1990s. In their search for the roots of these growing tensions, scholars have tended to focus on ethnic clashes and political disputes. In Natural Resources and the New Frontier, historian Judd C. Kinzley takes a different approach—one that works from the ground up to explore the infrastructural and material foundation of state power in the region.
As Kinzley argues, Xinjiang’s role in producing various natural resources for regional powers has been an important but largely overlooked factor in fueling unrest. He carefully traces the buildup to this unstable situation over the course of the twentieth century by focusing on the shifting priorities of Chinese, Soviet, and provincial officials regarding the production of various resources, including gold, furs, and oil among others. Through his archival work, Kinzley offers a new way of viewing Xinjiang that will shape the conversation about this important region and offer a model for understanding the development of other frontier zones in China as well as across the global south.

272 pages | 18 halftones, 8 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2018

Asian Studies: East Asia

History: Asian History, Environmental History


“With Natural Resources and the New Frontier, Kinzley provides a truly transnational and material approach to the history of Xinjiang. This is an outstanding work that gives us new insights on this important region of China, and its argument connects closely with current concerns about China’s position in Central Eurasia and the world.”

Peter C. Perdue, Yale University

“Placing the pursuit of natural resources at the center of his narrative, Kinzley effectively reframes the development of state power in Xinjiang during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Making expert use of Chinese and Russian archives, Kinzley constructs a revelatory account of the layered history of state formation in Xinjiang. He details how Chinese planners, provincial officials, and foreign powers collaborated to survey and exploit this Eurasian crossroads, transforming its political and socioeconomic geography in the process. The book offers a novel way of thinking about state building and economic development in China’s other borderlands, while shedding important light on the material roots of inequality and interethnic tension in contemporary Xinjiang.”

Micah Muscolino, University of Oxford

“Kinzley turns material objects—gold, oil, furs—into subjects around which human actors organized their systems of political economy and infrastructure. What did multiple layers of state and nonstate actors do in Xinjiang over the course of the twentieth century that turned this arid and remote interior of Eurasia into an integrated, productive region in the service of neighboring regimes? And what are the accumulated consequences of these various advanced systems of extraction? This is a groundbreaking work that opens up a new page in the study of China and its frontiers.”

Wen-hsin Yeh, University of California, Berkeley

"Kinzley’s timely book provides an explanation for how and why the Chinese state arrived at these draconian measures. Using a wide array of archival sources from China, Taiwan, the Russian Federation, and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, Kinzley argues for a layered model of state formation in China’s border regions, with broad applications to the borderlands of the Global South. By focusing on how the push to exploit natural resources altered the cultural geography of the region, Kinzley makes an innovative intervention in modern Chinese history and the creation of its borderlands."

Shellen Wu | Technology and Culture

"[An] impressive work...[Natural Resources and the New Frontier] seeks to sort out the role of natural resource extraction in the making of Xinjiang as a Chinese frontier province and its incorporation into the Chinese state." 

NTM Zeitschrift für Geschichte der Wissenschaften, Technik und Medizin

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Resources, Competition, and the Layers of the State
Part I: Lucrative Products and the Pursuit of Profit
Chapter 2: Grain, Agricultural Reclamation, and a New Perspective on Production
Chapter 3: Gold, Oil, and the Allure of Foreign Capital
Chapter 4: Furs, Pelts, Wool, and the Power of Global Markets
Part II: Industrial Minerals and the Transformation of Xinjiang
Chapter 5: Industrial Raw Materials and the Construction of Informal Empire
Chapter 6: Oil, Tungsten, Beryllium, and the Resonances of Soviet Planning
Chapter 7: Petroleum, Lithium, and the Foundations of Chinese State Power
Chapter 8: The Enduring Power of Layers

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