Museum of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps and Army Land Reclamation

During the Qing Dynasty and Republican China, Xinjiang’s connection with the central government and China proper was weak. It obtained provincial level status in 1884 and, when the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) arrived in 1949, less than ten percent of its population was the Han ethnic group (Bachman). The Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps 新疆生产建设兵团 (XPCC) was founded on October 9, 1954 by Wang Zhen 王震 (1908-1993), the military commander who led his 359th Brigade to cultivate land near Yan’an between 1941 and 1942 to supply food to the Communist base area. Largely in the tradition of “agricultural garrisons” and “military colonies” in pre-modern China (Erickson), the XPCC’s “missions were to carry out both production and militia duties, and cultivate and guard border areas” (Information Office). Therefore it has been viewed as essential to “integrating Xinjiang economically, militarily, and politically into a modernizing Chinese state” (Bachman 156).

When the XPCC was founded, it was a “ragtag force of about 175,000 people,” including the PLA soldiers, Nationalist army forces, young civilians from coastal areas as well as former military forces of the interwar East Turkestan Republic (1933-34) (Olesen, Erickson). In 1956, its 300,000 troops were put under the control of the new State Farms and Land Reclamation Ministry. The XPCC was dissolved in 1975 and then resumed in 1981. In 1998, the XPCC was given a bureaucratic status equal to that of the government of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. By 2003, it has 14 divisions (reclamation areas) with a total population of about 2 million (Information Office). 

The XPCC has not only created outposts in China’s western frontier, it is also a vast farming militia with a military-style organizational structure (Olesen). A documentary titled The Battle Hymn of Army Land Reclamation军垦战歌 was made in 1965, available on China’s video-sharing platform Bilibili.

Picture 1. The poster of the Battle Hymn of Army Land Reclamation (1965)

The XPCC reclaimed farmland, established regimental agricultural and stock raising farms; and developed a “multi-sector industrial system.” Now the XPCC has grown into a hybrid of state-owned enterprise and bureaucracy whose employees are overwhelmingly Han Chinese. It is highly dependent on central government for financial and political support. As a militia, it works with the PLA and the local police to maintain internal stability, or “fighting terror” (Olesen, Bao, 3-4).

With its developmentalist mentality, China’s official report states that the XPCC has contributed to the development of Xinjiang in terms of infrastructure, investment, and technical knowhow, and hopes that Xinjiang’s urbanization can attract the Turkic-speaking, Muslim Uighurs, but the latter tend to feel dispossessed of their own land and resources. In their perception, the XPCC system facilitates the Han people to migrate into Xinjiang (Olesen)

The Museum of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps and Army Land Reclamation is located in the city of Shihezi 石河子市新疆生产建设兵团军垦博物馆. A sub-prefecture-level city in northern Xinjiang, Shihezi had developed from a military base constructed by the PLA soldiers. It is the birthplace of the XPCC in 1954 and has remained a major XPCC base till today. 

The museum was preceded by the Museum of Shihezi Army Land Reclamation 石河子军垦博物馆, which was founded in 1988 and open to the public in 1995. It is the first museum thematizing the history of army land reclamation in China. Renovated and expanded in 2004 and then in 2009, the current museum was reopened in 2010, covering a total area of 9703 m², with more than 4700 m² of exhibition areas and 1300 m² of collection storage space. The museum consists of a Preface Hall, Regular Exhibits, a 3D Screening Room and a Diorama Exhibition (Qin).

The museum boasts more than 5,000 historical artefacts, 29 of which are classified as Grade 1 revolutionary relics 一级革命文物. 

Picture 2. The tour guide is telling the story about a “military uniform with 296 patches,” donated by Wang Deming who entered Xinjiang as a PLA soldier in 1949 

The museum uses artefacts, texts, paintings and photos, silicon statues, and dioramas to mediate the history of the XPCC reclaiming land in adverse conditions of Xinjiang (Qin). The ethnic relations are presented as harmonious and the hardship is interpreted in terms of work ethics, heroism, and patriotism of the XPCC. 

Picture 3. A screenshot from a vlog on Biblibili, which shows various means of exhibition (photos, interviews, and statues) combine to reconstruct how primary school education was like in the early years of the XPCC.

In 2005, the museum was selected as one of the One Hundred Red Tourism Destinations and national-level Base for Patriotic Education.

List of Pictures

Featured image: Jiandu jiancha si 监督检查司 (2014): “Xinjiang shengchan jianshe bingtuan junken bowuguan 新疆生产建设兵团军垦博物馆 (Museum of the XPCC and Army Land Reclamation)” In: Zhonghua renmin gongheguo guojia minzu shiwu weiyuanhui 中华人民共和国国家民族事务委员 (August 12).

Picture 1. Villegas (2015, upload): The poster of The Battle Hymn of Army Land Reclamation (1965). Douban 豆瓣 (December 1).

Picture 2: Wang Xueying 王雪迎 (2021): “ Tamen cong ‘siwang zhi hai’ zoupai 他们从‘死亡之海’走来 (They Came out of the ‘Sea of Death’).” In: Zhongqing zaixian中青在线  (August 12).

Picture 3: Ningjiao qiongzhi tang 凝胶琼脂糖 (2021): Vlog “Canguan xin zhuangxiu hou de junken bowuguan 参观新装修后的军垦博物馆 (Visiting the Newly Renovated Museum of the XPCC and Army Land Reclamation).” In: Bilibili (August 22).

Bibliography

Bachman, David (2005). “Making Xinjiang Safe for the Han? Contradictions and Ironies of Chinese Governance in China’s Northwest.” In: Governing China’s Multiethnic Frontiers. Ed. Morris Rossabi. Seattle: University of Washington Press. pp.155-185.

Bao, Yajun (2018): “The Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps: An Insider’s Perspective.” Blavatnik School of Government (BSG) Working PaperSeries.

Erickson, Andrew S. (2009): “People’s Liberation Army: Military Enterprises and Industry Since 1949.” In: David Pong, ed., Encyclopedia of Modern China, Vol. 3. New York: Scribner. pp. 112-15.

Information Office of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China (May 2003): “History and Development of Xinjiang.” 

Olesen, Alexa (2014): “China’s Vast, Strange, and Powerful Farming Militia Turns 60.” Foreign Policy (Oct. 8).

Qin Junwei 秦俊伟 (2021): “Bingtuan lishi de jianzhengzhe 兵团历史的见证者—记新疆兵团军垦博物馆 (The Witness of the History of the XPCC: on the Museum of the XPCC and Army Land Reclamation).” Bingtuan wang 兵团网 (June 16). 


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