With a combination of historical chronology, travel anecdotes, and political assessment, Chen describes how--in his view--one of the remotest reaches of China has emerged from acute poverty and ethnic tumult to become a prosperous, harmonious area. The author, a Chinese-American journalist who spent twenty years in the People's Republic, visited this extreme northwestern corner of the country in 1957 after decades of reading about its past as an East-West silk and jade route with a remarkable flux of races, religions, and nationalities--including Moslems and ""Aryan"" Uighurs as well as Tartars, Mongols, and Huns. Following an animated, if somewhat over-particularized, sketch of early invasions and conquests, Chen chronicles the never-complete subjection of Sinkiang's nomads, merchants, and peasants to Imperial China, and the inability of either Russia or Britain to turn it from a buffer zone into a colony. During WW II, Sinkiang became a center of Allied-Axis intrigue among local groups as well as the site of revolutionary uprisings (recalled here by veterans), often led by well-to-do Moslems who faced the heavily-armed Kuomintang with iron pikes and a few rifles. Starting in the Fifties, subsidized economic progress was impressive, whether measured by herds, wages, factories, tractors, or mines; in particular, the book credits the Chinese Army's activities in the region and the government's policy of religious freedom and ethnic non-discrimination. A pleasant partisan overview which sometimes strains for color but succeeds in showing how the exotically barren has become the prodigious, whether or not one credits all its claims.