The expeditions of foreign explorers and archaeologists along China's borderlands during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries have long been a lightning rod for debates over cultural sovereignty, imperialism, and nationalism. This study attempts to move beyond such cultural and moral glosses by placing the expeditions of Aurel Stein and Sven Hedin to the northwestern province of Xinjiang back into the domestic geopolitical context of the Nanjing Decade (1927–37). Newly available archival material demonstrates how the discourse of cultural sovereignty, far from sabotaging such expeditions, instead became the handmaiden of domestic geopolitical competitors who attempted to turn Stein and Hedin into exploitable resources for their own agendas. The logistical pragmatism revealed in these sources relegates principled nationalist intellectuals and their imperialist targets to the background, and shows how a new approach to a familiar topic can help paint a fuller portrait of some of the most contested episodes of transnational cultural interactions throughout Eurasia.

You do not currently have access to this content.