Pahtakli People's Commune, Xinjiang, China
IT was as if an ancient rite were being performed. As grapes drooped in dusty bunches from the pergola, Ismayil Urayim intoned the vital statistics of the Pahtakli People's Commune: 2,335 families, 1,600 hectares under cultivation, 700 washing machines, 2,000 new houses, 260 tape recorders, five motorbikes, four trucks. . . .
Less than 125 miles from the Soviet border, in the Pahtakli People's Commune in the remote Chinese region of Xinjiang, the ''minority'' races of Turkish origin are carrying out the policies their political leaders decided 2,700 miles away in Peking.
Ismayil Urayim, the director of the flourishing commune, is obviously proud of his statistics and the lead his commune is playing in developing China's great northwest.
All the washing machines, motorbikes, and economic reforms are part of Peking's drive to develop China's most remote and sparsely populated provinces: Xinjiang, Qinghai, and Gansu.
Among them, the three provinces account for more than one-quarter of the Chinese landmass. They are populated by less than 4 percent of the country's 1 billion people. The northwest remains the largest underdeveloped area in China, lacking modern industries, skilled personnel, and the capital to properly exploit its natural resources.
The Chinese leadership has declared that this area is to be the focus of China's economy by the end of the century. But it will not be simple: The isolated northwest's administration has been one of the slowest to accept the reforms of Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping and shake off the conservative influence of the ''leftism'' that ruled Mao Tse-tung's China.
In Gansu, for example, the ''responsibility system'' - the cornerstone of Mr. Deng's reforms, which link a peasant's effort to his income - was introduced only last year and is being practiced by a mere 11 percent of the province's rural households. This contrasts with the nearly universal acceptance elsewhere in China.