This article examines the formation of the Open Up the West policy from the 1980s to the present. Focusing on the dynamic interaction between central party-state and provincial-level players, it analyses the various ideological and pragmatic factors that have shaped the policy over time. The campaign to Open Up the West is decribed as a “soft policy” to highlight a very diffuse decision-making process which has produced a highly diverse set of agendas and instruments. Due to the amorphous nature of the policy, the article finds, its realization depends to a great extent on the specific interpretations and arrangements of the provincial jurisdictions involved.
In June 1999 in the ancient city of Xi'an, Comrade Jiang Zemin made the appeal to the whole party and the people of the whole country on the great development of the western region. Three years have gone by, and the roads have become passable, the lights have become lit, the mountains have become green, the rivers have become clear and the travelling traders have become abundant. One after another, wonderful stories about the homeland of the western region have been circulated and sung.