Frontiering the Chinese “West”: a Closer Look

Page 7

Beyond Subsistence

(1) The role of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC) in Crop Experiment and Yield Enhancement
(2) Development of Cotton as a “third” leg and key to domestic (inter-regional) exports and import substitution – can this work in a cotton glut (demand falloff) market?
(3) Struggling for an agro-trade relationship with “Inner/Central [Moslem] Asia

The “opening”/state-development of Xinjiang as an agricultural colony begins almost from its re-annexation in 1950, with the primary goal being to make this borderland settlement reliably self-sufficient in the supply of staple foodstuff “farm” commodities, thus reduce any possibility of import dependence in that same category. It was not until ca. 1990 that this goal was obtained for primary food crops (wheat and maine), after which government attention begins to turn under the delayed impetus of the Deng-ist “liberalization” (gaige kaifang) program to finding a place for extra-colonial cash-earning crops.

Perhaps ironically, the flexibility and experimental diversification of crop choices and yield/output targets (as well as reductions), though ushered in as “policy” in 1981, has from the start been guided by a public sector – in fact PLA implanted – agroproduction organization of very considerable size and budget, reporting via the PLA directly to the Beijing State apparatus, not the Ministry of Agriculture or the Xinjiang “Territory” government: the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (jianshe bingtuan, XPCC) – hereafter simply “The Corps”.

Its original mission, which commenced in 1954, was literally to (re) colonize or populate the Territory (lit., qu, as in zizhiqu) with Han Chinese cultivators, on the assumption that planned (re?-) expansion of cropland was something the aboriginal (mainly Uighur) population could not reliably be counted on to grasp or implement on its own. Conceptually, the settlement program was self-consciously linked to the very ancient tradition of 屯垦戍边settling defending soldiers, after frontier (re) conquest, directly onto conqueror-reclaimed plots stripped away from the new(ly) (re) gained territory on a scale slightly larger than what feeding a colonizing army might need, and with initial capital (seed, draft animals) sufficient to secure the front end of the “planting” process.

Something akin to it had formed the core of early and mid-Qing (dynasty) efforts to regain or rather stabilize control in the wake of Muslim invasions from the borders or even beyond the Territory itself, which had been the object of the above-mentioned 1757-9 Ili and Tarim campaigns conducted by Green Standard soldiers (ethnically Han legions, but akin in assumed reliability to the fudai 譜代大名 fudai-daimyō of the bakufu). (Another analogy might be with the string of forts and reservations constructed by the US Army to “seed” settlements in just-cleared former Indian territories, not yet densely enough populated for statehood). Such “colonies” or settlements however, because essentially military-defensive in nature, tended to dissolve or evolve into feudal headmanships using paid or involuntarily conscripted indigenes to handle insurrections. Though the model was still being honored or at least urged again as late as the 1870s after the (Kokandian) Jaqub Beg had seized the Territory during the Taiping rebellion.

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