Networks of Support in the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps

The Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (Bingtuan) is located in China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. It is a unique “party-government-army-enterprise unit’” whose members mostly originate in other provinces. They migrated to Xinjiang in different periods since the establishment of the People’s republic, under the direct control of the government. The Corps has a total population of 2.6 Million, of whom over 85% are Han (while minorities form about 60% of the region’s overall population).It is sometimes described as a “state within a state” and is subject to central power leaders in Beijing rather than to the regional government. This project will not engage with these political issues, but investigate how different generations of migrants in the Bingtuan deal with uncertainties, and how their social support networks and strategies have changed through time.

The emphasis is on:
• The narrative construction of migration histories, paying close attention to the political, economic and social conditions prevailing in different eras and their implications for social support.
• Generational and gender identities, and how these have affected the experiences of migration and resettlement.
• The mobilization of kinship and other social relations to obtain material and emotional support, in addition to support from the state, e.g. pensions and other social welfare transfers.
• How practices, ideas and models of help, care and community have changed over time.
• Interaction between Han immigrants and local minorities, both inside and outside Bingtuan, and how boundaries are being modified and crossed in the current Reform era.

The major hypotheses of the project are:
• Different generations have different support networks, in accordance with shifting social, cultural, economic, and political environments.
• Even in the same generation, people’s social support networks vary according to gender, place of birth, nature of the migrations (voluntary or otherwise), education and of “laoxiang” (which refers to a common hometown).
• Interaction between Han Chinese in the Bingtuan and local minorities has increased following the Reforms, especially after the Open Up the West Programme was launched in 1999.

These hypotheses will be explored through the daily practices of households. Fieldwork in Xinjiang will take place between August 2012 and October 2013. The project employs basic anthropological methods, including a quantitative survey, qualitative interviews that make use of the Biographic Narrative Interpretive Method, and participant observation.

The project will complement previous Bingtuan studies with a bottom-up perspective and shed fresh light on a distinctive Han Chinese community created by the socialist government during the process of state building in a peripheral region.

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