"The Pioneers" Statue in Karamay

The Relics of Empire: Resource Extraction and the Making of Modern Xinjiang

"The Pioneers" Statue in Karamay

These two pictures show “The Pioneers,” a sculpture that sits at the center of the garden of the Xinjiang Oil Geology Exhibition Hall in Karamay. The sculpture depicts Soviet and Chinese oil workers. The term “pioneer” (kaituo) is freighted with developmentalist connotations; in this sculpture, the workers who labor to pull a large piece of machinery are portrayed as engaging in the construction of modern Xinjiang. The idealized outcome of their efforts is clear in the second picture, which shows the back of the same sculpture. Here, two stylized Uyghur women holding baskets overfilled with fruit are connected in a direct line to the efforts of these two oil workers. The idea of a firm connection between extraction and the construction of the state is a central theme in my broader scholarship, even if the outcome of these efforts are not as uniformly rosy as pictured here (Kinzley 2018).

Kinzley, Judd. 2018. Natural Resources and the New Frontier: Constructing Modern China’s Borderlands. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.