A new collection of Soviet documents now available, in translation and original, on the Wilson Center Digital Archive promises to invigorate the study of Xinjiang in the 1930s and 1940s. These records will help put to rest some of the speculation surrounding Soviet involvement in the political and military turmoil which shook Xinjiang during this period. There is considerable detail about military campaigns waged by Ma Zhongying, the establishment of the East Turkestan Republic, Stalin’s views on Governor Sheng Shicai, and Sino-Soviet diplomacy over this massive territory.
One of my favorite finds so far is Generalissimo Stalin’s ridiculing of Governor Sheng. As he wrote to a subordinate in July 1934,
Sheng Shicai’s letter made a depressing impression on our comrades. Only a provocateur or an hopeless “leftist” having no idea about Marxism could have written it. What could have happened that Sheng, having such an adviser as you, could have written us (me, Molotov, and Voroshilov) such a letter?
27 July 1934
Previously, most information about Soviet activities in Xinjiang was drawn from two books by V.A. Barmin, especially Sin’tszian v sovetsko-kitaikikh otnosheniiakh, 1941-1949 gg. Синьцзян в советско-китайских отношениях 1941-1949 гг (Sino-Soviet Relations and Xinjiang, 1941-1949). The problem? A lot of people studying Xinjiang in the United States–including myself–cannot read Russian that well and therefore could only use the easily extractable information from Barmin’s work. Having direct access to the Soviet primary sources, in English translation, will make the scholarship better. I know of at least three authors which are already using these documents for their forthcoming books on Xinjiang in the twentieth century.