The rise of the private sector in Xinjiang (Western China): Han and Uyghur Entrepreneurship

Marika Vicziany and Guibin Zhang, “The rise of the private sector in Xinjiang (Western China): Han and Uyghur Entrepreneurship15th Biennial Conference of the Asian Studies Association of Australia, August 2004.


This peer-reviewed paper was presented at the 15th Biennial Conference of the Asian Studies Association of Australia in Canberra in June 2004. Focusing on the rise of the private sector in Xinjiang, the paper explores different categories of ventures that exist in Xinjiang, particularly the growth of minority-owned businesses against the backdrop of Beijing’s post-Maoist economic reforms. The paper also addresses the brewing discontent among Uyghur populations in response to policies discriminating against minority entrepreneurship in Xinjiang, including more than usual bureaucratic hurdles and being forced to employ Han workers.


The present paper builds on the work of Vicziany and Zhang (2003 and 2004) by focusing on the rise of the private sector in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, in the far west of China. The first part of the paper examines the contours of the growth of the private sector and this is followed by a discussion of the different kinds of entrepreneurs and firms that have developed during the last two decades. The second half of this paper addresses the question of minority entrepreneurship, in particular, the question of how the Uygur business groups have fared during the new reform era. This is an important question for a number of reasons. First, the Uygur constitutes about 49 percent of the population of Xinjiang. Second, the government of the PRC has policies to promote economic opportunities for national and ethnic minorities and sees these policies as a critical ingredient for its western development strategy. Third, Uygur discontent with the development processes in Xinjiang has been rising during the reform era. Fourth, Xinjiang has a long history of political separatism and so the possible alienation of the Uygur business classes constitutes a serious political issue beyond the mere economics of development

Keywords: Economics, Development, Discrimination, Entrepreneurship