China is a complicated country, and the closer people look, the more complicated it gets. Take, for example, the latest findings on the mummies of Xinjiang. These well-preserved bodies date back nearly 4,000 years, and are the pride of this “autonomous region,” where Turkic Uighurs and Han Chinese often wrestle over who really has rights to the land. Although priceless historical relics, the mummies have left neither the Uighur minority nor the Han majority pleased, because they indicate that the first people in this part of China weren’t Han or Uighur – they were European:
The New York Times:
The Tarim mummies seem to indicate that the very first people to settle the area came from the west — down from the steppes of Central Asia and even farther afield — and not from the fertile plains and river valleys of the Chinese interior. The oldest, like the Loulan Beauty, date back 3,800 years.
Some Uighurs have latched on to the fact that the oldest mummies are most likely from the west as evidence that Xinjiang has belonged to the Uighurs throughout history.
Scholars generally agree that Uighurs did not migrate to what is now Xinjiang from Central Asia until the 10th century. But, uncomfortably for the Chinese authorities, evidence from the mummies also offers a far more nuanced history of settlement than the official Chinese version.
By that official account, Zhang Qian, a general of the Han dynasty, led a military expedition to Xinjiang in the second century B.C. His presence is often cited by the ethnic Han Chinese when making historical claims to the region.
The mummies show, though, that humans entered the region thousands of years earlier, and almost certainly from the west.
That’s a lot of pressure for a handful of preserved bodies. Even if they are wearing kilts.