Before the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the economy of Xinjiang was a natural economy, with farming and livestock breeding as the mainstay. Industry was underdeveloped, and there were no railways or up-to-the-mark factories or mines. Famines were frequent in some areas, and the people were impoverished. Xinjiang was peacefully liberated on September 25, 1949. On October 1, 1955, the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region was established, opening a new page for historic development in Xinjiang. In the past half century, Xinjiang’s economy and social undertakings have advanced by leaps and bounds.
Fast growth of the economy. The GDP of Xinjiang was 148.548 billion yuan in 2001. Taking price rises into account, this was 42.9 times that of 1952, and an annual growth rate of 8.0%. The per-capita GDP rose from 166 yuan in 1952 to 7,913 yuan in 2001. The autonomous region’s revenues amounted to 17.807 billion yuan in 2001, or 102.9 times the 1955 figure of 173 million yuan. Xinjiang’s industrial structure has been constantly adjusted and optimized. Primary, secondary and tertiary industries accounted for 19.4%, 42.4% and 38.2% of the GDP in 2001, respectively. Compared with 1955, the proportion of primary industry dropped by 35 percentage points, that of secondary industry rose by 16.3 percentage points, and that of tertiary industry rose by 18.7 percentage points.
The overall production capacity of agriculture has risen notably. After 50-plus years of development and construction, and especially since the reform and opening policies were introduced, a complete farmland irrigation network in Xinjiang has been preliminarily formed, and the level of modern farm equipment has risen. By 2001, the total power output of farm machinery came to 8,808,500 kw, the net quantity of chemical fertilizers used for farming was 832,900 tons, and rural power consumption totaled 2.545 billion kwh. Meanwhile, the total sown area was 3,404,120 ha, double the 1955 figure. The total output of food grains, cotton and sugar beet was 7.96 million tons, 1.57 million tons and 4.55 million tons, respectively, or 5.4 times, 62.5 times and 4,551.2 times the figures for 1955, respectively. Turpan grapes, Korla pears and Hami melons, which have long been famous Xinjiang products, sell well on both foreign and domestic markets.
Specialty horticulture and crop planting have leapfrogged in the past few years. Livestock breeding is being promoted with the use of the latest findings in agricultural science and technology. At the end of 2001, the region had 46.0378 million head of livestock, 2.8 times the number in 1955. In addition, Xinjiang has become the largest producer of commodity cotton, hops and tomato sauce, and one of the major livestock breeding and beet-sugar producing centers in China.
Industrial strength rising rapidly. There were only 363 industrial enterprises in Xinjiang, with an annual output value of 98 million yuan, when New China was founded. In 2001, there were 6,287 industrial enterprises at and above the township level, with an added value of 45 billion yuan, and the output of major industrial products has all increased by large margins. In 2001, Xinjiang produced 19.4695 million tons of crude oil, 28.1961 million tons of raw coal, 302,700 tons of cotton yarn and 19.762 billion kwh of electricity — 591.78 times, 43.68 times, 81.8 times and 359.3 times the 1955 figures, respectively. It also produced 419,800 tons of refined sugar, 1.3183 million tons of steel, 9.8129 million tons of cement and 729,000 tons of chemical fertilizer.
The region’s industrial strength has greatly increased and the technological level has notably risen. A modern industrial system of considerable size complete with all necessary departments has taken shape, with the intensive processing of farm and sideline products as its leading industrial sector, backed up by the oil, petrochemicals, steel, coal, electric power, textile, building materials, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, food processing and light industries.
Notable achievements made in water conservancy. On the basis of “oasis ecology and irrigated farmland,” Xinjiang has carried out large-scale farm water conservancy construction. The multi-purpose project to harness the Tarim River has, on four occasions, diverted 1.05 billion cu m of water from Bosten Lake to the lower reaches of the river. A number of modern, large-scale water conservancy projects represented by Kizil Reservoir and the Ulug Ata key water control project in Hotan and large numbers of trunk and branch canals, as well as seepage control projects have been built, thus rapidly increasing the amount of water diverted, the capacity of the reservoirs and the well-irrigated area in the whole region. By 2000, there were 485 reservoirs with a total holding capacity of well over 6.716 billion cu m — 162 times and 200 times the 1949 figures, respectively. The total area of irrigated fields has been expanded to 3.388 million ha. The flood control dykes and dams built in the period totaled 5,129 km — 17.7 times the 1949 figure of 289 km.
Swift expansion of communications and transportation. Draught animals were the chief means of transport in Xinjiang prior to the founding of New China. There was almost no modern transport. In the more than 50 years since then, Xinjiang has witnessed a drastic change in the communications and transport industry. The Lanzhou-Xinjiang Railway reached Urumqi at the end of 1962, bringing railway transport to the region for the first time. The 476-km-long western section of the Southern Xinjiang Railway, from Turpan to Korla, was opened to traffic in 1984. A stretch of 460 km was added to the western section of the Lanzhou-Xinjiang Railway in 1990, reaching the Alatav Pass from Urumqi, thus completing the second Eurasian continental bridge. In 1994, the Lanzhou-Xinjiang Railway was double-tracked and opened to traffic. In 1999, the 975-km section of the Southern Xinjiang Railway was completed, extending from Korla to Kashi, and opened to traffic. By 2001, operating railway lines totaled 3,010.4 km.
In 1949, Xinjiang had only several crudely built highways, with a total length of a mere 3,361 km, but by 2001, the region’s highways had been extended to 80,900 km, including 428 km of expressways, 230 km of Grade 1 highways and 5,558 km of Grade 2 highways. The highway running through the Taklimakan Desert is a long-distance graded highway, the first one in the world built on shifting sands. Now, a highway network covers the whole region, with Urumqi as the center and seven national highways as the backbone linking the region with Gansu and Qinghai provinces to the east, the adjoining countries in Central and West Asia to the west and Tibet to the south. The network is also connected with the region’s 68 provincial highways. Buses now run to all cities, prefectures, counties and townships in the region.
Xinjiang has 11 airports, both newly built and enlarged, with international air routes connecting Urumqi with Alma-Ata, Tashkent, Moscow and Islamabad, as well as chartered flights to Hong Kong. In all, there are 92 air lines radiating from Urumqi to 65 cities in other parts of the country and abroad and to 12 prefectures and cities within the autonomous region. The total length of the air routes is 161,800 km.
The development of telecommunications facilities in Xinjiang has kept pace with the national network. Xinjiang has built digital microwave trunk circuits linking Urumqi with Ili through Kuytun and Bole, linking Kuytun with Altay through Karamay, and from Turpan to Hotan through Korla, Aksu and Kashi. Digital microwave communications link the southern and northern parts of the region, and optical cable trunk lines link Urumqi with Xi’an, Lanzhou, Yining, Korgas checkpoint, Turpan, Korla, Ruoqiang and Mangya. A DDD telephone network now links all the cities and counties in Xinjiang with all other parts of China, and the region’s telephone subscribers have reached the grand total of 2.626 million. The local data communications network and multi-media communications network have developed rapidly, and an ATM wide-band network covers all prefectures and cities. The construction of an IP-based citywide LAN has been started. A mobile phone network with a capacity of 2.924 million users is now in place to cover the whole region.
Rapid growth of foreign trade. Xinjiang’s foreign trade is conducted in multiple flexible ways, including spot trade, border trade, processing with materials supplied by customers, compensation trade, and tourism. By 2001, Xinjiang had trade relations with 119 countries and regions. Nearly 1,000 commodity items in 22 categories were on the export list. Among them, 10 export commodities earned more than US$ 10 million each. The total value of Xinjiang’s exports and imports amounted to US$ 1.77 billion in that year. The export product mix has been constantly improved, from primary bulk products with low added value to electromechanical and precision instruments with high added value. Now, manufactured goods account for 67% of Xinjiang’s exports.
As one of the important autonomous regions (provinces) carrying out the government strategy of opening China’s border areas to the outside world, Xinjiang has gradually formed an omnidirectional, multi-level and wide-range opening pattern by expanding the links with foreign countries and China’s various provinces along the borders, bridges (Eurasian continental bridges) and trunk communication lines to become China’s frontline in opening to the West.
Boom in tourism. With wonderful and rare natural scenery and colorful ethnic customs, Xinjiang has greatly expanded its tourism sector. In 2001, the region hosted 273,000 international tourists, and earned US$ 98.56 million in foreign exchange. It also hosted 8.393 million domestic tourists, and earned 7.18 billion yuan. The region’s capacity for accommodating tourists has greatly expanded in recent years. In 2001, there were 250 hotels for foreign tourists, including 173 star-rated hotels. The tourist trade has become a new economic growth point for economic development in Xinjiang.