One of the “Ten Major Relationship,” outlined by Mao Zedong in his 1956 speech, was, in some senses, a statement of the obvious: that the parts of China occupied primarily by the Han Chinese had many people, but few resources, while the areas occupied by “minority nationalities” – Mongolia, Xinjiang, Tibet, etc – had few people but vast resources. But in fact that observation would have seemed strange in the high Qing; its emergence had required not only on massive efforts to map resources, but a broadly-based re-thinking of what things were “resources” -- chronicled in various recent works of scholarship.
What has been less studied is the extent to which ideas about what valuable resources were located in various frontiers had evolved together with ideas about which sorts of people were best suited to exploit them – ideas that implicated changing notions of class, ethnicity, and the relationship of various kinds of work to changing notions of what it meant to be a good subject/citizen. Those ideas, in turn, powerfully influenced thinking about the political risks of resource mobilization in contested areas, and about the relationship between development efforts and Han immigration. Focusing primarily on Xinjiang, this paper sketches some major developments in thinking about these issues, and their implications for policy in the 1950s and beyond.