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Sinophobia: Anxiety, Violence, and the Making of Mongolian Identity

Franck Billé
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 311
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Sinophobia is a timely and groundbreaking study of the anti-Chinese sentiments currently widespread in Mongolia. Graffiti calling for the removal of Chinese dot the urban landscape, songs about killing the Chinese are played in public spaces, and rumors concerning Chinese plans to take over the country and exterminate the Mongols are rife. Such violent anti-Chinese feelings are frequently explained as a consequence of China’s meteoric economic development, a cause of much anxiety for her immediate neighbors and particularly for Mongolia, a large but sparsely populated country that is rich in mineral resources. Other analysts point to deeply entrenched antagonisms and to centuries of hostility between the two groups, implying unbridgeable cultural differences. Franck Billé challenges these reductive explanations. Drawing on extended fieldwork, interviews, and a wide range of sources in Mongolian, Chinese, and Russian, he argues that anti-Chinese sentiments are not a new phenomenon but go back to the late socialist period (1960–1990) when Mongolia’s political and cultural life was deeply intertwined with Russia’s. Through an in-depth analysis of media discourses, Billé shows how stereotypes of the Chinese emerged through an internalization of Russian ideas of Asia, and how they can easily extend to other Asian groups such as Koreans or Vietnamese. He argues that the anti-Chinese attitudes of Mongols reflect an essential desire to distance themselves from Asia overall and to reject their own Asianness. The spectral presence of China, imagined to be everywhere and potentially in everyone, thus produces a pervasive climate of mistrust, suspicion, and paranoia. Through its detailed ethnography and innovative approach, Sinophobia makes a critical intervention in racial and ethnic studies by foregrounding Sinophobic narratives and by integrating psychoanalytical insights into its analysis. In addition to making a useful contribution to the study of Mongolia, it will be essential reading for anthropologists, sociologists, and historians interested in ethnicity, nationalism, and xenophobia.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-4783-8
    Subjects: History, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    In 2009, a video on YouTube went “viral” in Mongolia. It showed a young woman’s hair being shorn, a culpable-looking man sitting by her side, his head in his hands. The aim of the video, posted by the extreme nationalist group Dayaar Mongol (All Mongolia), was to publicly humiliate the young woman, who had allegedly had sexual relations with a Chinese man—presumably the man sitting next to her. While the video was extremely shocking for the majority of viewers, it did not come as a complete surprise. Over the previous couple of years, in a series of newspaper articles...

  5. 1 Rumors, Anxiety, Violence
    (pp. 17-45)

    In 1991–1992, a world globe, produced in Taiwan and sold in a number of European toy shops, had the particularity that it did not feature Mongolia; instead Mongolia was included within the borders of China (Baabar 2006, 164). This story, familiar to anthropologists working in Mongolia and to some extent to people who have traveled to the country, has an old genealogy and has surfaced regularly in the Mongolian media (Doolin 1965, 18; Sanders 1982). For Mongols, the existence of such Chinese globes and maps is the graphic trace of an unresolved issue, the crystallization of nagging suspicions that...

  6. 2 Sinophobia and Excess
    (pp. 46-68)

    In May 2007, among the numerous articles on the nationalist groups Dayaar Mongol and Höh Mongol featured in the dailies, a few began mentioning the existence of an ultranationalist bar located on one of the main roads of the capital (Jargalant 2007; Tsolmon 2007). According to them, the Tse bar, with its large swastika painted on the entrance floor and the Nazi uniforms and paraphernalia adorning its walls (figure 2.1), was the haunt and meeting place of Mongolian nationalists. The story was later picked up by the English-speaking press and made its way into journalistic reports further afield (Moxley 2009)....

  7. 3 The Spectral Figure of the Chinese
    (pp. 69-94)

    The unquantifiable Chinese presence within Mongols themselves is, I suggested earlier, precisely what elicits so much antagonism and violence vis-à-vis the Chinese. I have shown that in the socialist period, these anxieties were regularly tapped for political motives. Facilitated by the Mongols’ lack of direct knowledge about their southern neighbor, the figure of the Chinese served as a catchall enemy category, relativizing the Soviet Union’s shortcomings by exaggerating the danger emanating from China. In the postsocialist period, the figure of the Chinese has similarly been exploited for tactical reasons. According to Mongolian writer Erdembileg (2007, 36), the position of the...

  8. 4 Metaphors and Immanent Tensions
    (pp. 95-120)

    The ethnic scripts previously discussed highlight the central place that performativity plays in the definition of Mongolianness. When my interlocutors and friends spoke to me about Chinese people, the markers offered as examples were often more about how bodies were used: the Chinese spoke loudly, spat, or shuffled along instead of walking like Mongols. At times, these qualifications were also supplemented by physical traits such as lack of muscularity or short stature. In their descriptions of “the Chinese,” my interlocutors did not effect a clear distinction between innate, physical traits such as physiognomic features, and processes and habits inculcated through...

  9. 5 Corporeal Revolutions
    (pp. 121-150)

    The socialist revolution of 1921 ushered in a new era in Mongolian history. It established a socialist government, the second in the world and the first in Asia, which led to dramatic changes that were to be profoundly transformative for Mongolian society. The year 1921 thus marks a radical rupture with the past, to the extent that, by the end of the socialist period, Mongolian society bore little resemblance to its prerevolutionary incarnation. This was particularly true for urban Mongolian culture, which, as discussed in chapter 4, grew increasingly distant from traditional culture as it is imagined to exist in...

  10. 6 Communitas and Performativity
    (pp. 151-163)

    I met Gümbee during a trip to Hövsgöl Lake in July 2007. Through a mutual friend in Ulaanbaatar he had been recommended to me as a reliable guide. As for many people in the region, his work was seasonal. Making most of his annual earnings in the summer through his work as a guide to foreign tourists, in the winter he tried his luck in Ulaanbaatar, working in bars or restaurants. Although usually eager to practice his English with “his” tourists, he was happy to become the teacher for once and often spoke with me in Mongolian. It didn’t take...

  11. 7 Bodies at the Margin
    (pp. 164-191)

    The political position of women within Mongolian society during the socialist period reflected to a large extent a discourse that had originated elsewhere. The waves of female emancipation projects that swept across Russia and the Soviet East during the 1920s and 1930s were intimately entangled in wider webs of discourse of progress and modernity. Throughout Soviet society, female emancipation gradually came to stand as one of the main indexes of social development: identified as a “surrogate proletariat” (Massell 1974), women’s equal participation in the professional arena became a linchpin of social transformation toward communism.

    These narratives also found expression in...

  12. Coda
    (pp. 192-198)

    In the spring of 2010, my friend Otgonhüü came to the United Kingdom to visit her brother who lives and works in London. As we chatted over coffee one afternoon, she recounted to me a family incident that had occurred a few days earlier. Her five-year-old nephew had come back from school and told his parents someone had called him Chinese. Very upset, he had proudly responded that he was not Chinese, he was Mongolian! Otgonhüü had been somewhat surprised by the force of her nephew’s reaction. “My brother and his wife haven’t taught him to think badly of the...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 199-216)
  14. Glossary
    (pp. 217-218)
  15. References
    (pp. 219-248)
  16. Index
    (pp. 249-256)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 257-263)