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China’s extensive western province of Xingiang is home to the Uighurs, one of the oldest Turkic speaking groups, descended from early nomadic tribes. First recorded in the 4th century, they formed their own breakaway republic in 1933–4 and 1944–9. Christian Tyler, author of *Wild West China*, wrote about them in Cornucopia 42, and interviewed Rebiya Kadeer, a champion of the Uighur cause. The region has seen a number of ethnic ascendencies including fair-haired Tocharians who built their Buddhist shrines in some of the many caves on the edge of the Tarim Basin in the Taklamakan Desert, and today nomadic Kazakhs inhabit the high pastures around Urumqui. the region’s capital. Urumqui is, however, mainly a Han city and was an important stop on the Silk Road. Its great commercial hub is centered on the Erdaquaio Market and the vast, newly-built Grand Bazaar. Around here street food is more Middle Eastern than Chinese. The Xinjiang Autonomous Region Museum, recently renovated, is one of the finest in the country.
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