Go West Young Han: Minority Rebellion and Militarized Farmers
This paper provides evidence from China that states resettle militarized farmers of the politically dominant ethnic group to troubled regions when the threat of minority rebellion and budget constraint on sustaining a large standing army are high. This is because with self-sufficient food production, militarized farmers provide a cheap way for states to engage in discriminate counterinsurgency through the encirclement of potential rebels, without causing extensive inter-ethnic strife with the civilian locals. Using a historical subregional panel dataset in Xinjiang and a difference-in-differences design, I show that the outbreak of minority rebellion in 1949 prompted the fiscally-struggling Chinese state to resettle Han Chinese militarized farmers (bingtuan) in areas of strategic importance to encirclement -- counties near natural obstacles such as the Tianshan-Kunlun mountains. Using a contemporary cross-sectional dataset based on over 100 georeferenced maps of these settlements, I show that Xinjiang counties with more bingtuan settlements are associated with lower levels of minority violence and this relationship is mediated by the settlements' formation of encirclement around county capitals, which suggests that militarized farmers likely mitigated minority violence through the blockage of potential rebel movement. The paper helps us understand why states seeking to consolidate their frontiers with population transfer may integrate military functions with a civilian, agrarian population rather than sending national army and civilian population as separate personnel. It also shows that the specific institutional design of resettlement schemes matters for the onset of inter-ethnic violence.