The Hanification of Xinjiang, China: The Economic Effects of the Great Leap West

Amy H. Liu and Kevin Peters, “The Hanification of Xinjiang, China: The Economic Effects of the Great Leap West,” Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism 17, no. 2, October 2017: 265–280.


In The Hanification of Xinjiang, China: The Economic Effects of the Great Leap West, the authors examine the relationship between PRC leadership in Beijing and the Uyghur people in Xinjiang during the Great Leap West. This project began in the late 1990s as an economic initiative to open up the Northwestern region of China and better integrate Uyghurs into the economy. The paper points out the disconnect between the two groups as China deemed the Great Leap West as a success in land and economic development whereas Uyghurs and other groups in the region viewed the project as further proof of colonial efforts from the government. With these new economic developments, officials encouraged Han citizens to move to the Northwest region of China. Over time this began to change the demographics of Xinjiang making the region more ethnically fragmented. This migration of people reinforced the belief of ethnic minorities in the region that development projects, especially those funded by the PRC government, were an extension of colonialism.


“In 1999, the Chinese government launched the Great Leap West – an ambitious economic undertaking to develop China’s western frontier. The strategy was to use increasing wealth to abate historical ethnic tensions. And while provinces like Xinjiang have experienced impressive growth, relations between the Han-dominated Beijing and the Uyghurs in Xinjiang have remained unchanged, if not worsened. The former claims the economic benefits have been enjoyed by all – regardless of ethnicity – and have aided regional development. In contrast, the latter alleges the growing riches have primarily benefited the Hans. This article examines these two arguments. Using original data, we find evidence to support both claims – with some qualifications. While the Han migrants have benefited immensely from the Great Leap West, it seems the Uyghurs have also enjoyed growing wages. The implications suggest that while Beijing is not necessarily wrong to invest heavily in Xinjiang, the government needs to exercise more consideration of local cultures.”

Keywords: Chinese History, Economics, Ethnic Studies