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11-01-10, 03:07
David D. Wang. under the Soviet Shadow: The Yining Incident
Journal article by Linda Benson; China Rev
iew International, Vol. 9, 2002
Journal Article Excerpt

David D. Wang. under the Soviet Shadow: The Yining Incident.

by Linda Benson

Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 1999. viii, 577 pp. Paperback $38.00, ISBN 962-201-831-9.

This book by David Wang offers an account of events that unfolded in China's northwestern province of Xinjiang in the 1940s when the region's predominantly Muslim population attempted to oust the Chinese and establish an independent state, the East Turkestan Republic. In this lengthy treatment of the subject, the author asserts his deeply held conviction that these events were not a rebellion or a "revolution," as the current Chinese government has labeled them, but rather an "incident" engineered by the Soviet Union to give Stalin advantages in his dealings with both the Western powers and the Chinese government at the end of World War II.

Among the many issues that have occasioned debate regarding these events is the role played by the Soviet Union. In my own book on this subject, I focused on Guomindang policy and on the local Turkic Muslim's aspirations for their own state--a factor that is downplayed or discounted in Chinese accounts. (1) In contrast, publications from both Taiwan and the People's Republic of China (PRC) hold that outside interference was--and, in the PRC view, still is--the major problem in Xinjiang, not religious or ethnic differences and not Chinese malgovernance, despite considerable evidence to the contrary. This view that outside forces contrived to separate the region from China by fomenting discord or even by inciting rebellion serves the greater political purpose of bolstering Chinese claims to this Central Asian region and is not, therefore, likely to be revised any time soon.

Wang's book fails in step with this political position. He asserts that new sources prove that the entire "Yining Incident" was planned, instigated, and carried out by the USSR, but documentation of such a sensitive episode clearly remains a challenge. In his introduction, Wang acknowledges the difficulties: archives in the former USSR (which could prove or disprove the Soviet role) are not yet open on this sensitive subject; in China, only "authorized scholars" are allowed to see archival materials; and very few written sources in the languages of the Uighur and other Muslim groups are available to give a local view of events. Nonetheless, Wang explains that it is finally possible to prove his thesis, in large measure because he once worked in Xinjiang, where he was given some access to new information and was able to interview various informants.

Ultimately, any account rests on the validity of its sources, and in this regard Wang's study is a disappointment. Although his introduction suggests he will be citing new primary sources, his numerous footnotes show a preponderance of published PRC accounts, interspersed with published Taiwan sources dating from the 1980s, rather than archival materials. Although many documents are among the sources listed in the lengthy, multilingual bibliography (pp. 463-545), these are rarely cited. Instead, some of the chapters are wholly reliant on PRC-published memoirs and autobiographies of men who later held high positions in the CCP.

Among those upon whom he relies for "hard evidence" of the USSR's role are men like Burhan Shahidi, for example, who appears to have worked all sides throughout his long career in Xinjiang and who ended up with a CCP sinecure. While his memoirs contain provocative details on the events of the 1940s, it is not very surprising that they fully support the PRC version of events.

Wang also cites the autobiographies of Saifudin and Zhang Zhizhong, both of whom shifted allegiance to the CCP in 1949 and were rewarded with high positions in the government. These, too, are accounts of great interest, but most scholars of modern Chinese history use such Party-line books judiciously rather than build a thesis on what are still unverifiable accounts. Without corroboration from other sources, these remain interpretive accounts of events rather than solid proof.

Other sources repeatedly cited and accepted at face value include PRC-approved articles and general histories authored by editorial groups. Although in his introductory chapter Wang indicates his awareness that at least some PRC sources have been edited to remove sensitive content (p. 7), much of the book nonetheless relies heavily on such materials. This is evident beginning in chapter 2 where the standard PRC history of the Uighur people is cited to show that northwestern China has been Chinese territory from Han times onward, a notion with which a number of authorities take issue. The numerous rebellions of the region's Muslim peoples following ...