Under a coating of theory about empires and ethnic groups, this book tells the blood-soaked story of three Chinese governors who ruled the turbulent territory of Xinjiang in the first half of the twentieth century. Left to their own devices by a weak central state, and facing the challenges of local nationalism and Soviet intervention, the governors kept a precarious grip as they shifted from the traditional strategy of alignment with local ethnic leaders to a new strategy, borrowed from the Soviets, of expropriating local elites on the pretext of modernizing a backward people. As other scholars have pointed out, China was the only great modern empire to enter the postcolonial era with most of its territory intact. But the price of this achievement has been harsh rule over resistant minorities. China today, Jacobs argues, is not a nation-state but a “national empire,” still struggling to integrate subject peoples into a modern state.