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Staking claims to China's borderland : oil, ores and statebuilding in Xinjiang Province, 1893-1964


My dissertation focuses on the state campaigns to gain access to the mineral wealth of China's westernmost province of Xinjiang in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This approach helps reveal the important connections that exist between natural resources and the expansion of the state. The early twentieth century German economist Erich Zimmerman once argued that the earth's minerals only become "resources" through socio-political processes that pinpoint, extract and transport them, noting that "natural resources are not, they become." In a similar way, frontiers too are in the process of "becoming, " and in the case of Xinjiang, the transformation of minerals into natural resources paralleled the transformation of this imperial frontier into a component part of the modern Chinese nation-state. My work finds that the campaigns to pinpoint, extract, and control the distribution of mineral wealth led to extensive mapping of the province, helped attract necessary capital for large- scale infrastructural projects, and served as a high wage incentive for destitute settlers from eastern and central China to migrate to this border region. Focusing on the links between state power and natural resource extraction in Xinjiang, my dissertation recasts the narrative of state building in China's west. The integration of Xinjiang into the Chinese nation-state was not simply the product of military conquest or Han Chinese ethno-cultural subjugation as many Western scholars have suggested, nor was it merely the outcome of a triumphal Chinese manifest destiny as asserted in the Chinese language scholarship. Instead, state building in this region long squeezed uncomfortably between China and Russia (later the Soviet Union) was a far more complex process, as various actors battled for control of Xinjiang's rich natural resources. Chinese leaders including Sun Yatsen, Chiang Kai-shek and later Mao Zedong all struggled to stake a claim to Xinjiang's mineral wealth in the face of competing claims from the Soviet Union and an assortment of provincial governors not particularly inclined to kowtow to Beijing, Nanjing or to Moscow

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