Ethnic Integration and Development in China

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This paper pursues an inquiry into the relationship between ethnicity and development in the largest authoritarian country in the contemporary world, the People's Republic of China. It engages the theoretical literature on ethnic diversity and development in general, but also pays special attention to political economy logics unique to authoritarian systems. Focusing on the western part of China over a decade since the launch of China's Western Development Program (xibu da kaifa) in 2000, this paper utilizes the data from two censuses (2000 and 2010) together with nighttime streetlight imagery data to analyze the overall relationship between ethnicity and development provision. It also analyzes changes in such a relationship during this period. The paper finds that ethnic minority concentration negatively correlates with economic development in both the years 2000 and 2010 across the western provinces. It also finds that counties in non-autonomous provinces, which are historically more integrated with the rest of China than autonomous provinces, have a positive and systematic correlation between changes in ethnic minority concentration and changes in development during the 10-year period. The counties in autonomous provinces, on the other hand, show the opposite trend. Using three case studies of Tibet, Inner Mongolia, and Xinjiang, the paper concludes that although there is in general a tendency for ethnic minority concentrated areas to be less developed, ultimately which groups prosper more or less depends upon specific economic development and which political control logics the Chinese state implements.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)31-42
Number of pages12
JournalWorld Development
StatePublished - May 1 2017


  • China
  • East Asia
  • authoritarian regimes and development
  • authoritarian regimes and ethnicity
  • ethnicity and development
  • western development program

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics and Econometrics


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