The China Quarterly


Charting the Course of Uyghur Unrest

Justin V. Hastingsa1

a1 University of Sydney. Email:


What explains the course of Uyghur-related violence in Xinjiang and Central Asia since 1990? Using data derived from a variety of sources, I argue that the locations and types of violent incidents were influenced by a combination of Chinese government policies and the political geography of Xinjiang. Specifically, 1990 to 1996 were dominated by logistically complex incidents in a low-level violent campaign in Xinjiang. The Strike Hard campaign in 1996 brought about an increase in logistically simple incidents in Xinjiang and some violence in Central Asia as Uyghur separatists had trouble moving people, information and weapons across the well-guarded, difficult terrain of Xinjiang's borders. China's rapprochement with Central Asian countries in the late 1990s led after 2001 to a dramatic decrease in Uyghur-related violence in general, but also signalled the appearance of logistically creative attacks that required little planning or materials. My findings suggest that Uyghur rebels will have a difficult time mounting a large-scale violent campaign as long as China retains even minimal control of Xinjiang.


  • Uyghur;
  • Xinjiang;
  • resistance;
  • violence;
  • geography

Justin V. Hastings is a lecturer in the department of government and international relations, University of Sydney. His latest book is No Man's Land: Globalization, Territory, and Clandestine Groups in Southeast Asia (Cornell University Press, 2010).