Living Otherwise: Buddhist Photography on the New Silk Road

Colony Settlers

Tian Lin’s family came from an eastern Chinese province called Anhui in the 1950s. Like many other families they were following the call of Mao Zedong and the Communist Party to secure the borderlands and protect the region from Soviet aggression. More specifically, they came to find a better life. They were moving from deep rural poverty into what they imagined would be a secure life in a government farming colony (bingtuan) on the Chinese frontier. During these decades the Han population of the province rose sharply from 4 percent to nearly 40 percent. By the end of the Maoist era in the late 1970s a generation of Han farmers had come to see the area as their homeland.

But the political and economic reforms of the 1980s brought a new uncertainty to both Han settler life and to the Uyghur homeland. In the 1990s, for the first time, millions of Han migrants were encouraged to move into Uyghur oasis cities to build up the oil and natural gas infrastructure. By the mid-1990s the state had instituted a new Develop the West campaign that sought to transform pre-modern Uyghur cities into modernist Chinese cities. State planned urbanization using Han migrant labor was seen as a way to alleviate poverty in the province and integrate the nation. 

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