Han Migration to Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region: Between State Schemes and Migrants’ Strategies

Agnieszka Joniak-Lüth, “Han Migration to Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region: Between State Schemes and Migrants’ Strategies,” Zeitschrift für Ethnologie 138, no. 2 (2013): 155-174


Joniak-Lüth traces how the influx of Han labourers over the last few decades has produced spaces in Xinjiang where these migrants interact very little with the region’s indigenous groups. Furthermore, she argues that this long-term process has generated a diverse array of identities among Han migrants, with some identifying more with Xinjiang than their place of origin.


Post-1949 Han migration to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in northwest China is a hotly debated issue among Xinjiang scholars as well as among the population of the region itself. While it is often discussed as a large-scale historical process using statistical data, in this article I argue for a more differentiated view of Han migrants. I demonstrate that in the popular discourse, migrants are distinguished into numerous categories like Bingtuaners, Profit-Driven Migrants, Border Supporters, Qualified Personnel, Educated Youth and others. Accordingly, I argue that Han migrants to Xinjiang should not be understood as a homogeneous category of participants in a singular state project intended to establish state control over the region. High return rates demonstrate that state attempts to make Han migrants settle in Xinjiang are only partly successful and that migrants follow their own strategies when the situation permits, rather than fulfill the government’s plans. Individuals who have migrated since the 1980s are especially careful in their assessment of the economic incentives of settlement and many decide to remain mobile.

Keywords: Han Migration, Bingtuan, Identity