Year of Award


Document Type

Thesis - Campus Access Only

Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name


Department or School/College

Department of Geography

Committee Chair

Jeffrey Gritzner

Commitee Members

Ulrich Kamp, Terry Weidner


University of Montana


China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region is a province of challenging topography, extreme aridity, and limited water sources. The central problem that this study examines lies in the impact of modern industrial development upon centuries-old farming and grazing traditions practiced by Xinjiang’s indigenous people. Through an interdisciplinary methodology including historical, ethnographic, quantitative, and qualitative accounts, this study’s corpus of data includes pre-industrial observations from fifteen Western and Chinese researchers along with historical research, contemporary news reports, and peer-reviewed journals. This study’s results show that Turkic-speaking tribes now known as the Uyghurs, as well as other Central Asian and non-Chinese populations, maintained an indigenous presence in the region as early as the first-century B.C. and absorbed numerous external religious, cultural, and political influences since then. These groups maintained a pre-industrial economy based upon indigenous practices of farming, grazing, and regional trade, and adapted to environmental challenges through agricultural techniques including: the construction and maintenance of underground aqueduct systems, seasonal crop rotation, diversified farming, and commerce with other Central Asian regions to the west though centuries-old trade routes now known as the silk road. However, aridity, shrinking pasturelands, and tribal conflict constrained these efforts. China’s progressive industrialization in the twentieth century led to a rapidly- increased commercial development campaign by the year 2000, called the Go West campaign. The Go West campaign transformed Xinjiang through the rapid in-migration of non-indigenous Han-Chinese and expansion of industrial infrastructure and production. As this study concludes, the campaign worsened both the ecological and social constraints that challenged farming, agriculture, and trade in the pre-industrial era. Industrialization displaced the existing economy and exacerbated these constraints through rapid Han-immigration, imbalanced growth and development, water depletion, administrative dysfunction, and by creating social unrest and domestic instability.

This record is only available
to users affiliated with
the University of Montana.

Request Access



© Copyright 2009 James Robert Harper