Development as Localization

Ethnic Minorities in China’s Official Discourse on the Western Development Project

Author: Elena V. Barabantseva


Since China initiated a series of post-socialist transformations in the late 1970s, it has presented itself as a developing country that is pursuing a challenging and ambitious project of socioeconomic construction. It adopted economic development as its primary ideological orientation to complement Marxist thought. China’s recent attempts to develop its western region — specifically in the form of the Western Development Project (WDP) — give the ideology of developmentalism a new meaning. This article’s close examination of the WDP reveals an interesting interdependence between the issues of development and ethnicity: in addition to addressing problems of unequal regional development, solving increasing security concerns, and tackling poverty, official and scholarly writings in China repeatedly ascribe the WDP with minority features. The author exposes and analyzes the ethnic minority label that China’s dominant discourse on development attaches to the WDP and argues that this discourse prevents ethnic minorities from becoming fully recognized participants in the economic transformations taking place in China. It does so by localizing ethnic minorities in one region, China’s West, and by characterizing them in a derogatory fashion.

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