The Introduction outlines the main themes–Migration, Empire, and Time–and describes the context and methodology. The theme of Migration is concerned with social and spatial mobility, or how people got to where they are. Mobility is shaped by the structures of state and society, human agency, and chance. The theme of Empire is concerned with the core-periphery relationship. Based on a survey of past imperial practices, the book characterizes the Chinese nation-building project in Xinjiang as a “colonial endeavour.” The role of culture is of primary significance: integration through cultural expansion–“normalisation” of the periphery–appears to be the deep motive of this colonial endeavour, as many before it. The theme of Time is concerned with the patterns of the past, present and future. The frontier is both ahead and behind, a place of genesis as well as a place of stagnation. Although they span decades and the breadth of China, the life-histories are revealing of a specific time, place, and context, because all stories are told for present purposes. Visual images, being central to human memory and aspiration, and thus to the stories we tell, are essential to the “argument of images” advanced in Oil and Water.
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