I am a lifelong devotee to the field of history and a lover of cartography. In this book, I have chosen to merge my two passions by retelling the history of Xinjiang Province with the use of ancient maps.

In Ancient China, people believed that the heavens were round, and the Earth was square; therefore, they used the character yu — which originally meant the square chassis of a cart — to refer to the Earth. Maps — whether they depicted topography, water systems, or cities — were called yu tu, or "square images".

These "square images" are important primary resources that comprise a wealth of geographical and ethnological information about Ancient China. Where widespread education is concerned, maps have the merit of being more intuitive, concrete and concise than the vast corpus of extant ancient Chinese texts, which are notoriously dense and difficult to decipher. These merits make maps an effective yet under-utilized tool for sharing knowledge about our national history. This book is my attempt in this direction — to use maps as a means of retelling the story of Xinjiang.

So, then, what is the "story of Xinjiang"? This question comprises two aspects, the first being the matter of how to define Xinjiang. For the purposes of this book, "Xinjiang" globally refers to the region under the jurisdiction of the General of Ili following the unification of China under Emperor Qianlong of Qing, much of which overlaps with the Xinjiang of today. Meanwhile, "story" refers to all events of the past that have made Xinjiang what it is today.

In its retelling of Xinjiang's history, this book will, above all else, place an emphasis on accuracy. This emphasis is related to my academic background: in the field of history, we are taught that every conclusion, no matter how big or small, must be backed up by evidence. Therefore, readers can rest assured that every detail cited in this book (whether it be an event, date, population number, or name of a person or place) is corroborated by historical sources. This book is not an academic text and doesn't conform to academia's conventions surrounding the gradual citation of sources. However, I have placed a bibliography of important references at the end of each article out of respect for prior scholars and their contributions to research. Should readers develop an interest for a particular aspect or era of Xinjiang's history, this list will quench their thirst for further knowledge.

In addition to ancient maps, this book will also illustrate the history of Xinjiang with the aid of old photos, portraits, stone rubbings and other media. Over 100 images have been collected within the covers of this book, where they serve as important visual accompaniments to textual recounts. In this way, readers whose time is limited may still gain small insights into Xinjiang by simply consulting some of the pictures. Of course, consulting both the images and the text is the best way to develop a comprehensive understanding of the subject. 

Allow me to reiterate: this is not an academic text, but rather my attempt to write an accessible recount of Xinjiang's history.

Although I am originally from Shandong Province, I earned my academic qualifications and based my career in Beijing. I have not lived in Xinjiang Province for an extended period of time. Every time I travel to Xinjiang for work, it's for a month at most — and sometimes, for no longer than a week. My knowledge about Xinjiang is primarily derived from ancient texts, modern research and my own personal reflections. Consequently, this book merely depicts Xinjiang as I understand it — as a region of great hybridity and diversity.

This diversity is comparable to a kaleidoscope — colorful and ever-changing — or like the night sky, with its myriad of celestial bodies. Since ancient times until today, Xinjiang has always contained multitudes.

Xinjiang's complex topography has granted it deserts, oases, glaciers, and grasslands. On these striking backdrops live a total of 13 different peoples, including the Han, Uyghur, Kazak, Hui, Mongol, Xibe and Manchurian ethnic groups. These 13 groups speak different languages (11 in total) and have different religious beliefs: some are Buddhist, some are Muslim, and others are Christian. In this way, the people of Xinjiang as diverse and vibrant as the landscapes they share.

What I hope to convey to my readers through this book is the plurality of Xinjiang, which extends far beyond simplistic and clichéd descriptions of "bountiful fruit harvests and beautiful dancing women" such as those found in folk songs like The Girls of Daban City.

—How did Michel Benoist, the French missionary who participated in the design of the Yuanming Palace's "Zodiac Fountain", become involved in drawing the map of Xinjiang during the reign of Emperor Qianlong?

—What famous legend involves Emperor Qianlong, the "western territories" and a "fragrant concubine"? Did Emperor Qianlong take a concubine from the Western reaches of China? Is the Fragrant Concubine a real person?

—What did Zhang Mu, who drew maps of Xinjiang, experience in his lifetime? Why was he disqualified from obtaining an official rank and title, and what led him to devote himself to the history and geography of China's northwestern reaches?

—How did Qi Shiyi get his peculiar name, which literally means "Seventy-One"? What can his book The Sights and Sounds of the West, teach us?

—Why is it that the Comprehensive Map of Xinjiang, which was drawn and released in bookstores during the reign of Emperor Guangxu, bears an authorial seal from the reign of Emperor Kangxi?

—From her home on the Bailiwick of Jersey in the English Channel, how would Lady Catherine Macartney, the wife of British consul Sir George Macartney, reflect on her experiences as a young woman living in the town of Kachgar in south Xinjiang for 17 years (between the ages of 21 and 28)? Her husband was half-Chinese — in his veins ran the blood of a woman who fought in the Taiping Rebellion. What adversities did he face?

—What can Xinjiang's fangshen temples, the "Temples of Emperor Guan" all throughout the Tianshan mountain ranges, and the Swedish missionary who tirelessly protected Kachgar for 46 years, all tell us about the importance of beliefs?

—What was the significance of historical events such as the "Defense of the West" in the Tianshan mountain ranges by tens of thousands of Eight Banner soldiers; the migration of the Xibe soldiers from Northeast China to Xinjiang, and the Torgut people's invasion of Ili via the Volga River?

—Faint traces of ancient cities, once-busy roads that lay in disrepute, and stone monuments that stand proud on Gedeng Mountain — what violent stories loom under these artefacts?

… One by one, the answers to each of these questions shall be revealed.


Chapter One: Ancient Maps and the Imperial Rule

Emperor Qianlong of Qing, the Jesuit missionaries, and land surveying

The legend of the Emperor's "fragrant concubine" from the western territories

The tumultuous journey of the Map of Hami

Chapter Two: Ancient Maps and Scholars

Zhang Mu, Maps of the Western Territories, and a forum of frontier scholars

The Manchurian Pilgrimage to the West: Qi Shiyi and his Sights and Sounds of the West

Not just a tale of the Han Dynasty: Li Guangting and the Visual Appraisal of the Western Territories

The "Insouciant Disciple", the "Gengxu year", unscrupulous merchants and the Complete Atlas of Xinjiang

Chapter Three: Ancient Cartography and the West

An ever-changing exotic realm: Kashgar through the eyes of Lady Catherine

The story of Chini-Bagh and its proprietor

The story behind a simple book tag: Arthur W. Hummel and the Library of Congress' Complete Atlas of Xinjiang

Chapter Four) Ancient Maps and Folk Beliefs

The martyr Huang Guifang and the "Fang deity" temples of Xinjiang

"Guardian of Xinjiang": the "Guan Gong temples" of Xinjiang

Reaping what one sows: the Swedish missionaries of Kashgar

Chapter Five) Maps and Ethnicities

The warriors of Xinjiang: garrison soldiers of the Eight Banner Army on the western frontier

The western migration of the Xibe people: protecting the western frontier for the sake of the emperor

The Torghut tribe's return to the east: a Mongolian cavalry's migration from the Volta River to the Kaidu River

Chapter Six) Maps and Geography

A visual representation of Xinjiang's major cities

A tale of twin cities: the new and old settlements of Aksu

A desolate ancient path winding through the western Tianshan ranges: the Illustrated Recount of the Expedition along Nalin River from Ili to Kashgar

Immortalizing the Qing Empire's achievements: the stone tablet on the Complete Atlas of Xinjiang