Tianshan Mountain Range and Sayram Lake

The Relics of Empire: Resource Extraction and the Making of Modern Xinjiang

Tianshan Mountain Range and Sayram Lake

The Tianshan range towers over Sayram Lake (Salimu Hu), in northern Xinjiang. Throughout the twentieth century, geological expeditions and explorers targeted the Tianshan, the traditional dividing line between the steppe of northern Xinjiang and the desert oases of the south. But Sayram Lake itself was also aggressively surveyed by Soviet planners. The resource-rich region around the lake was one of five targeted for intensive investigation by the Soviet Union’s geological administration in 1941. That year, three Soviet geologists were stationed there semi-permanently, alongside twenty-one local laborers.