Written by Stanley Toops.

In this entry, I profile the spatial pattern of minzu (ethnicity) and population of the 2010 census of Xinjiang. The 2010 census shows Xinjiang as having 21.82 million people; the 2000 census registered 18.46 million. The population is concentrated in two segments, the corridor on the northern foothills of the Tengri Tagh (Tian Shan) and the arcs of oases to the south of the Tengri Tagh. In both cases the roads and now railroads linking the settlements have proved to be the major paths for migration. In terms of ethnicity (minzu /millet) the Uyghur are still in the south and the Kazak are in the north. The Han are migrating in a steady stream into the central area and following paths of migration to the other urban centres. The demographic trends also show a population that is becoming less ethnically diverse with more Han migrants. That is the future of Xinjiang’s demography.

Xinjiang’s Demographic Landscape.

Population issues in China are wide ranging. Chan and Fan examined the issue of hukou (household registration) and migration in China. Fan discussed the 2000 census, while Hvistendahl, Peng, Wines and LaFraniere analysed the 2010 census. Demographic issues in Xinjiang pose interesting questions for the researcher. Yuan examined the population development in Xinjiang between the 1950s and the 1980s. China encouraged migration from other parts in China during the 1950s and 1960s. Pannell and Ma discussed urban issues in the 1990s. Toops (2000, 2004) showed that the railroads and the Xinjiang Production Construction Corps are further engines of change bringing migration into areas beyond the cities. Hopper and Webber and Howell and Fan both surveyed Uyghur and Han migrants into Urumqi. In general their surveys showed that young migrants do better financially than older migrants. This corresponds with level of education. Ma and Liu examined Kashgar and other cities, which have experienced migration from other provinces as well as Uyghur migration from the countryside.  This entry brings up to date the population issues discussed in Toops.

Population patterns.

The 2010 Census showed Xinjiang with 21.82 million people. Northern Xinjiang has 46.56% (the northern municipalities account for 18.24% of the total), southern Xinjiang has 47.96%, and eastern Xinjiang has 5.48%. So there is a good balance between north and south. The focus of migration has been into northern Xinjiang. Figure 1 shows a general map of the region.

Major population centres are in Urumqi (over 3 M), Shihezi (over 600,000),  Korla (over 500,000), Ghulja (Ili) (over 450,000), Aksu (over 450,000), Kashgar (over 450,000) and Hami (over 400,000). The north is more urban with Urumqi, Shihezi and Ili compared to the south (Korla, Aksu, Kashgar). Urumqi and Shihezi have the greatest population density. While Xinjiang has quite a bit of space, much of the land is desert and mountains. The limiting factor is water not land in Xinjiang. Global climate change means that there are fewer water resources in Xinjiang. More of the population in Xinjiang has been tapping into the aquifers of water for irrigation much faster than the aquifers are naturally replenished.


(Figure 1.1 – Xinjiang 2010 Census, 2012, p2-4).

Minzu (Ethnicity).

Ethnicity (China minzu, Uyghur millet) is another important factor to consider in demography. If one ethnic or national group is much better off than another, then there are inequalities in the society. The population growth rate of the ethnic groups varies also due to regional factors and also government policies. China’s population planning policy varies according to urban (one child), rural (second child possible, if first is a girl) and minority nationality (two in the city and three in the countryside).  The impact of this variable population planning policy shows up in the numbers. In the 2010 census, ethnic minorities account for 8.35%.

In the Xinjiang 2010 census, Uyghur account for 45.84%, Han 40.48%, Kazakh 6.50%, Hui 4.51% and the rest account for 2.67%.  In 2010 all ethnic minority groups amount to 59.52%. The only region in China that has a higher percentage of ethnic minorities is Tibet.

Where are the minzu (ethnic) groups located? See figure 2. Xinjiang has distinctive ethnic concentrations.  The Han population is located in the northern corridor, Hami, Urumqi, Changji, Shihezi, Karamay, and Bortala with southern branches in Bayangol. Han populations match up well with urban and transportation linkages, roads and railroads; migrants tend to follow transportation lines. Han live in the wealthier urban corridor of the north. The Uyghur are located in the south (which is the poorest area), Kashgar, Hotan, Kizilsu, Aksu, Turpan, and north, Ili. The Kazakh are located in the north, Altay, Tacheng, and Ili. The Hui are located in Ili, Changji, and Urumqi. The Kirghiz are located in the south, Kizilsu. The Mongol are located in Bayangol and Bortala. The new municipalities Wujiaqu (outside of Urumqi), Alar (Aral in Uyghur) (formerly part of Aksu), and Tumshuk (formerly part of Kashgar) are mostly Han. Highest levels of Han population are in municipalities such as Shihezi, Kuytun, Wujiaqu, and Alar.

Population by Ethnicity_2_Stacked (1)

(Figure 2 – Xinjiang 2010 Census, 2012, p34-73).

What are the prospects for population growth? Population growth continues in Xinjiang, as does the migration to the region from other parts of China. If anything, the migration seems to be increasing in recent years, particularly with the addition of the floating population. This migration will ensure a larger percentage of Han in the region. Han may be a plurality in the future if not a majority. The focus for the Han population will continue to be northern and central Xinjiang around Urumqi. With improved transportation linkages, the Han proportion of the population in southern Xinjiang will increase as well. China’s Silk Road Economic Belt policy will probably add to the Han migration into Xinjiang.

Dr Stanley Toops is an Associate Professor at Miami University. His research interests are in the international aspects of development, culture, ethnicity, and tourism with a particular focus on the interplay of culture and development. Image Credit: CC by Peter Morgan/Flickr.


  1. This is a very useful study! This webpage should be reformatted to allow “full-size” printing. The content can be printed – using Adobe Acrobat – only if shrunk to 45%. That makes the result very hard to read.

  2. A very misleading article.

    The 1.4 billion people in China are composed of 56 ethnic groups that occupy a country the same physical size as the United States.

    The Han Ethnic group by far makes up majority, 92% or 1.3 billion people. Virtually none of the Han Group are Christians or Muslim.

    The Zhuang ethnic group is the second largest ethnic group in China with just over 1 percent or 17 million people making up this ethnic group.

    The Zhuang ethnic group lives mostly in Guangxi Autonomous Region and the province of Yunnan. By definition this ethnic group is neither Christian nor Muslims. Their religion is Shigongism (ancestor worship).

    The remaining 54 ethnic groups are divided more or less equality across the remaining 7 percent of the 1.4 billion Chinese people (divided more or less equality across 100 million people).

    The article is misleading on several levels. First and foremost the author fails to point out that the total Muslim population in China is estimated at just 0.7 percent of the total population or about 13 million people spread out across the country, a country the size of the USA!

    Hui Muslims are the most numerous and they are mostly concentrated in XinJiang Province but these Muslims migrate easterly into China over 100s of years.

    The author also fails (deliberately?) to explain that the Sunni Muslims make up about ten of the other ethnic groups in China and these Sunni ethnic groups have migrated easterly into regions of Ningxia, Gansu and Qinghai Provinces again over many generations and many centuries.

    Meanwhile, over a 5,000 year history the Chinese people of Han origins (the vast majority of the Chinese population) had already occupied the region the western world has only known for 500 years and knows today as China. China a western world of perhaps from Portuguese origins in the 16th century.

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