Overheating Seminar: The Bulldozer State - Chinese socialist development in Xinjiang

Ildikó Bellér-Hann

Associate Professor, University of Copenhagen


Chris Hann

Director, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology/Senior Researcher, Overheating


This paper explores ongoing modernization processes in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). In recent years this region has been frequently labelled by the Western media as China’s “restive region” or “most troublesome province”. Situated in the northwest and constituting the largest administrative unit of the PRC, the XUAR has long been characterized by interethnic conflict between the Han Chinese and the Turkic speaking Muslim Uyghurs.

De-collectivisation and the introduction of a market economy in the 1980s were initially accompanied by certain freedoms and privileges for the recognized minorities. This economic liberalization, however, has been accompanied by increasing political restrictions.  In 2000, in an attempt to redress the economic backwardness of the western provinces relative to the rapid development of East China and thereby to contain the discontent of the vast borderlands inhabited mostly by ethnic minorities, the ‘Develop the West’ campaign was launched. This intensification of the modernization strategy initiated in the last decades of the twentieth century is viewed by the Uyghurs with a great deal of suspicion, since in the tense political climate all top-down policies are seen through the prism of ethnic polarization.

It is against this general background that the paper will explore the cultural embeddedness of the complex relationship between state, space and power.  Using the metaphor of the ‘bulldozer state’, various spatial strategies employed by the Chinese state in the oasis centre of Qumul will be considered, showing how state directives realized in acts of demolition, construction, preservation and re-classification reflect the often ambivalent and wavering policies of the centre towards its Uyghur periphery.

Published June 6, 2013 11:36 AM - Last modified June 14, 2013 9:53 AM