Written by Theodore H. White and beautifully photographed by William Vandivert, LIFE claims this expedition in the 1940’s to be “The first accurate report on this mysterious land, since Owen Lattimore in 1927”. Besides offering a visual history of the people and places of interest in Xinjiang (which is referred to in this magazine by its former English name ‘Sinkiang’), what struck me most were some of the ways in which the region was described.
Kirghiz: “They are shepherds of upland pastures, are an attractive and civilized people”
Tartars:“They have high social rating, many are rich”
Kazaks: “They are nomads and bandits and consume huge quantities of kumiss liquor”
Uzbeks: “…are as exclusive as the Tartars”
White Russians: “They are mostly peasants and laborers but include some clerks”
Chinese: "Sinkiang’s merchant and ruling class…most Chinese are refugees from Manchuria"
Uighur: “[They] are the chief landowners. They have been here since year 800”
During their visit in the 1940’s, the total population of Xinjiang was only 3,700,000. Of this number, 2,700,00 of them were Uyghur while only 182,000 were Chinese.
To compare, the latest census shows that Xinjiang is home to nearly 22 million people and is split almost 50/50 between the Uyghur and Han Chinese.