As authorities in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) send ethnic Uyghurs to other parts of the country to work in factories, a quasi-military organization is luring Han Chinese settlers to the region’s south as part of a policy experts say amounts to demographic engineering.
Several videos recently posted to Chinese social media platform Douyin show Han migrants arriving by bus and train to cities built by the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC), or “bingtuan,” and being ushered to new homes, where they are provided with free utilities and plots of land.
In some of the videos, Han migrants say that any single person below the age of 35 who moves to the sub-prefecture-level cities of Aral (in Chinese, Ala'er) in Aksu (Akesu) prefecture or Tumshuk (Tumushuke) in Kashgar (Kashi) prefecture will be provided with a house and a job, while a family of three will receive a two-bedroom home, free utilities for a year, and 40 mu (6.5 acres) of land, tax-free.
Those over 45 who migrate to the XUAR with families of between three and five people will be entitled to a three-room home and 70 mu (11.5 acres) of land, according to the videos, and are also eligible for insurance and other benefits, while their children can receive 15 years of free education, as opposed to the state-mandated nine.
Other videos, published on public accounts, serve as advertisements by Han “agents” encouraging other Hans to move to the region.
The migration is being facilitated by the XPCC, which has played a central role in attracting Han settlers to the XUAR since the region was first established in 1955.
The XPCC has also expanded its presence in southern Xinjiang—where the population is primarily Uyghur—since 2010, when a government policy was set in place to build new cities with populations of more than 500,000 people as part of a “Xinjiang Management Plan.”
The plan led to the creation of such cities as Kurumkash in Hotan (Hetian) prefecture, Bash’egim in Bayin’gholin Mongol (Bayinguoleng Menggu) Autonomous Prefecture, Tumshuk, and Aral.
Aral was built by the XPCC on an existing Uyghur village beginning in the 1950s and as of 2015, 167,697 of the city’s 179,214 residents were Han, while 6,036 were Uyghur, and 5,481 were from other ethnic groups, according to the XUAR’s Bureau of Statistics.
RFA’s Uyghur Service recently discovered a job announcement posted to the Tumshuk Communist Party Committee website on March 31 seeking 40 new employees from outside of the XUAR.
Li Wei, whose telephone number appears at the bottom of the advertisement, told RFA that the posts are “only for people from the interior of China,” and that the application period lasts from April 1 to May 1.
“The salary for civil servants at the regular office management level begins at 5,000 yuan (U.S. $710) [per month],” he said.
“They are provided with a house and don’t have to make payments on it for five years, and they can bring their entire family with them.”
“Other preferential policies” are explained in the advertisement, Li added.
Benefits for Hans
Another document on the webpage of the Production and Development Area of the 41st Unit of the 3rd Division of the XPCC in Tumshuk provides further information about what it calls a “2020 Resettlement Policy.”
In a notice entitled “Preferential Policies for Newly Employed Settlers,” authorities state clearly that these policies are only for people from outside of the XUAR, including it as the number one item on a list of prerequisites for program participation.
The document also says that families should be no smaller than three and that any husband and wife who meet all the criteria for moving to the XUAR will be provided with a 65-square-meter (700-square-foot) home. Those who do not wish to buy the home after one year has passed can rent it for a low monthly fee.
It also says that children in these families will be entitled to 12 years of free schooling, while households will receive subsidies for children under the policy of “two concessions, one supplement.”
Migrants who want to buy homes independent of those provided by the XPCC are entitled to 50,000 yuan (U.S. $7,075), as well as 40,000 yuan (U.S. $5,660) for housing-related costs, the notice says, adding that each new employee will receive a monthly bonus of 1,000 yuan (U.S. $140) in addition to a 4,000 yuan (U.S. $565) “supplement,” and insurance.
RFA recently spoke to a Han woman named Yang Jie who has posted videos about the preferential policies on her Douyin account, encouraging other Hans to move to the region.
“Six of us moved here to Aral city from the northeast last year, and now I’m advertising the resettlement policies,” Yang said.
“It’s easier to make money in Xinjiang than it is in inner China … [but] do you think I’d be doing it if the government weren’t giving me money?”
Yang said she spent none of her own savings to relocate to the XUAR, and described the ease with which Hans can move there—noting that applicants only need to send images of their required documentation “via telephone” and the approval process takes a mere two weeks.
“[Migrants] start benefiting from preferential policies before they’ve even arrived in Xinjiang,” she said.
“The government pays their moving and travel fees. Each person is given 1,200 yuan (U.S. $170) for their travel costs and another 500 yuan (U.S. $70) is distributed for move-in costs. The government also provides money for round-trip travel to their home regions to visit family. They haven’t spent a cent [of their own money] by the time they arrive here.”
Yang told RFA that she easily makes between 7,000 yuan (U.S. $990) and 9,000 yuan (U.S. $1,275) a month in Aral, where she was also given a 40-mu pear orchard upon her arrival. By comparison, the average monthly wage in Aksu prefecture was 5,274 yuan (U.S. $748) in 2017.
“Everyone who is coming to Aral is Han—there are no Uyghurs here and they can’t move here even if they want to,” she said, adding that “it’s a requirement that [people coming here] are Han.”
“Aral is safe. There are checkpoints every 500 meters (1,640 feet). Additionally, Aral is a place that leader Xi Jinping is specially developing. Safety is good here. If we call the police, they arrive in just one minute.”
Rian Thum, a professor of history at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom, told RFA China’s government has been moving Hans to the XUAR “as a matter of policy” for nearly seven decades, but recently shifted the focus of its resettlement program.
“Up until, say, the last decade, the vast majority of Han settlers moved to the Northern part of the administrative unit, centers like [XUAR capital] Urumqi and [the sub-prefecture-level city of] Shihezi, and others,” he said.
“But what we’ve seen more recently is an effort to move Han Chinese people into the southern part of the region, which is the part where historically a vast majority of the population is Uyghur. We see this most notably, I think, in the very large new cities that have been built in the desert by the bingtuan.”
Thum said the new focus has had “a pretty serious effect” on the demographic balance in the XUAR, adding that anecdotal evidence—including the recent Douyin videos—suggests authorities are “increasing the number of people and intentionally trying to change the population balance in southern Xinjiang.”
Meanwhile, he said, Uyghurs are being sent to work in factories in other parts of China under the auspices of an allegedly voluntary “poverty alleviation” scheme, further shifting the demographics of the XUAR.
“Of course, we know that the environment in the Uyghur Region today does not really allow for Uyghur consent,” Thum said, noting that members of the ethnic group live under the constant threat of being arbitrarily sent to one of the region’s vast network of internment camps, where authorities have detained up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities since April 2017.
“So, on the whole, what we see is the continuation of a massive program of demographic engineering through settler policy being connected now to a program of forced migration of Uyghurs out of their homeland,” he said.
“And it looks certainly like over the last 10 years we’re seeing a shift in those areas that are really a part of the historical heartland of the Uyghur region in favor, or in the direction, of more presence of Han settlers.”
Stanley Toops, a professor of geography at Miami University of Ohio, said that relocating so many people to the southern XUAR places a tremendous strain on regional resources, such as water, that are in relatively short supply.
“As people move into southern Xinjiang … there’s not going to be enough water for [places like] Aksu,” he said.
“To build a new city around Alar or Tumshuk, there’s only so much water in the Tarim [River], and if it’s going to Alar, it’s not going to Aksu city … They will all have to try to get water another way.”
Toops said that local officials are digging deep wells on a large scale, “but there’s only so much water there.”
“If they find a lot of water, maybe the water will last 100 years, maybe it will last 50 years, but then it’s gone,” he said.
“[This is a] big problem along the Tarim Basin [and] the Tarim River.”
Uyghurs now constitute roughly 45 percent of the XUAR’s population of 24 million, or around 10.5 million, while the Han component went from 5 percent in 1947 to above 40 percent now.
Reported by Gulchehre Hoja for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Elise Anderson. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.