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Frontier Encounters

Frontier Encounters: Knowledge and Practice at the Russian, Chinese and Mongolian Border

Franck Billé
Grégory Delaplace
Caroline Humphrey
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Open Book Publishers
Pages: 291
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  • Book Info
    Frontier Encounters
    Book Description:

    China and Russia are rising economic and political powers that share thousands of miles of border. Yet, despite their proximity, their practical, local interactions with each other — and with their third neighbour Mongolia — are rarely discussed. The three countries share a boundary, but their traditions, languages and worldviews are remarkably different. Frontier Encounters presents a wide range of views on how the borders between these unique countries are enacted, produced, and crossed. It sheds light on global uncertainties: China’s search for energy resources and the employment of its huge population, Russia’s fear of Chinese migration, and the precarious economic independence of Mongolia as its neighbours negotiate to extract its plentiful resources. Bringing together anthropologists, sociologists and economists, this timely collection of essays offers new perspectives on an area that is currently of enormous economic, strategic and geo-political relevance. This collective volume is the outcome of a network project funded by the ESRC (RES-075-25_0022) entitled "Where Empires Meet: The Border Economies of Russia, China and Mongolia”. The project, based at the Mongolia and Inner Asia Studies Unit (University of Cambridge), ran from 28 January 2010 to 27 January 2011. That project formed the foundation for a new and ongoing research project "The life of borders: where China and Russia meet" which commenced in October 2012. More information about both projects and Frontier Encounters is available here.

    eISBN: 978-1-906924-89-8
    Subjects: Anthropology, History, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Contributors
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. 1. A Slightly Complicated Door: The Ethnography and Conceptualisation of North Asian Borders
    (pp. 1-18)
    Grégory Delaplace

    This book presents a collection of ethnographic essays on the border region, in North Asia, where the territories of China, Russia and Mongolia meet across the contrasted landscapes of the Siberian taiga, in the northwest, and the Manchurian plains, in the south and the east.¹ The aim of the present volume is two-fold. On the one hand, it seeks to provide fresh material to a field of research still heavily dominated by studies of the United States and Mexico border. On the other, it intends to challenge a tendency in anthropological research to frame analysis in terms of ʺcultureʺ and...

  5. 2. On Ideas of the Border in the Russian and Chinese Social Imaginaries
    (pp. 19-32)
    Franck Billé

    Following Liberation and the installation of a communist government in 1949, China set out to resolve numerous border disputes with neighbouring countries. Between 1960 and 1963, China settled outstanding territorial disagreements with North Korea, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan and Afghanistan. A number of other border disputes have been resolved more recently, particularly with territories formerly included in the Soviet Union. In 1991, China signed the Sino-Soviet Border Agreement, which brought to an end longstanding territorial disputes with Russia and led to a final agreement in October 2004 (Foucher 2007: 33). Delimitation agreements have also been signed over the last two...

  6. 3. Rethinking Borders in Empire and Nation at the Foot of the Willow Palisade
    (pp. 33-54)
    Uradyn E. Bulag

    Every year, on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, i.e. the traditional Duanwu Festival (also known as Dragon Boat Festival or Double Fifth Festival), people in Wangsiyingzi and the neighbouring village Sifangtai, just about one and half kilometres to the south, would climb atop a small mountain that lies between the two villages. Instead of racing dragon-headed boats as is the practice in south China, where the tradition first started more than two thousand years ago, people in these two villages, and their supporters from as far as Shenyang city, threw stones at each other. In this annual...

  7. 4. Concepts of “Russia” and their Relation to the Border with China
    (pp. 55-70)
    Caroline Humphrey

    If one thinks about what is distinctive about the Russian eastern border with China in comparison to other international borders, two elements are striking: first, that this is a centuries-old border between two post-imperial states with markedly different cultures; and secondly, that the peoples indigenous to the frontier regions, such as Buryats and Evenki, belong to the respective large ʺcivilisationsʺ only by a process of (incomplete) incorporation. In many respects they have more in common with their fellows immediately across the border than they do with the metropolitan centres (see Namsaraeva, this volume). One task therefore would be to characterise...

  8. 5. Chinese Migrants and Anti-Chinese Sentiments in Russian Society
    (pp. 71-88)
    Viktor Dyatlov

    A border is much more than merely a line of contact between state sovereignties. It always constitutes a special form of human ties and relationships, a meeting place for people of different languages and cultures, a ground and resource for their aspirations, life strategies and practices. In this sense, cross-border migrations and migrants constitute a vital component of border conditions and phenomena. Bringing the border with them, as well as within themselves, migrants embody the very situation of contact and conflict.

    It is no accident that the well-known Japanese scholar Akihiro Iwashita named his book about the Sino-Russian border4,000...

  9. 6. The Case of the Amur as a Cross-Border Zone of Illegality
    (pp. 89-110)
    Natalia Ryzhova

    This chapter concerns poaching and other illegal fishing activities in the Amur, the border river separating Russia and China. Both Russian and Chinese citizens take part in these activities, which have greatly reduced the number of fish in the river.¹ Other factors have also significantly contributed to a reduction of fish stocks, such as industrial development on areas adjacent to the river, outdated technology, deforestation and generally poor environmental conditions. However, reports issued by Russian officials and media sources lead readers to believe that Chinese poachers have a particularly negative impact on the river and other natural resources.

    The aim...

  10. 7. Prostitution and the Transformation of the Chinese Trading Town of Ereen
    (pp. 111-136)
    Gaëlle Lacaze

    Since the 1990s, a large part of the informal trade conducted by Mongols from China to Russia by way of Mongolia has followed the trans-Mongolian railway, in existence since 1956 as the main transit route for commercial exchanges between Beijing and Moscow. It was reopened in 1992 (Peopleʹs Daily Online2005). It then became the Mongolian ʺsuitcaseʺ tradersʹ privileged path, compelling the Mongolian and Chinese governments to regulate the number of people crossing their common border. According to the people who were there during the 1990s, Ereen hot (ʺEreen cityʺ) was then a very small city, with few asphalt streets,...

  11. 8. Ritual, Memory and the Buriad Diaspora Notion of Home
    (pp. 137-164)
    Sayana Namsaraeva

    In recent years there has been a rapid growth in the number of studies exploring transnational, transborder and diasporic lives, some of which reflect on trans-state processes after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The emphasis is on the increase in trans-border mobility and especially on cross-border contacts between different segments of one ethnic people, those living outside the homeland in diasporas and those who constitute what I call the ʺthe kin-majorityʺ in the historical or national homeland (Diener 2003; Safran 2004; Kosmarskaya 2006; Markowitz 2004; Shami 2007; Sanders forthcoming). With the dramatic political and economic changes in post-socialist countries,...

  12. 9. Politicisation of Quasi-Indigenousness on the Russo-Chinese Frontier
    (pp. 165-182)
    Ivan Peshkov

    In the changing world of the Russian-Chinese borderland, the Argun River basin has been stable since 1689 when the Treaty of Nerchinsk created a modern institutional basis for Russo-Chinese relations. Unlike the ʺlostʺ border with Chinese Turkestan and the relatively modern section of the border in the Far East, the Argun River borderland has been a long-standing frontier of Russian cultural and economic expansion and the place where the Chinese and Russian civilizations clashed. Russian-Chinese relations before 1917 were based on Russiaʹs demographic and military domination in the borderland area and its regular attempts to transform Chinese Inner Asia into...

  13. 10. People of the Border: The Destiny of the Shenehen Buryats
    (pp. 183-198)
    Marina Baldano

    The border between Russia and China is far more than simply a geopolitical boundary, a barrier, or a line of interaction and contact between two powerful nations. Its formation and the dynamics of its status represent complex sets of human relationships, networks, control mechanisms and economic, social and cultural practices. The border is not merely a dividing line between two states – it epitomises the interrelations between individuals, groups of people and states while encapsulating what people think about the border, and how they conceptualise it. Essentially, the border is at the crossroad of institutions, contacts, conflicts and interests.


  14. 11. The Persistence of the Nation-State at the Chinese-Kazakh Border
    (pp. 199-210)
    Ross Anthony

    Within the social sciences today there is a wide-spread understanding that boundaries are not simply lines dividing territorial and cultural entities. Studies that view ethnic boundaries and nation state boundaries as constructed (Barth 1969; Turner 1967; Anderson 1991; Gellner 1983; Gupta and Ferguson 1992) now contend with the assertion that states are a set of overlapping institutional practices (Sharma and Gupta 2006; Mitchell 2002). With the advent of globalisation and the discourses which sustain it, flows of capital, labour and media are viewed as re-organising the territorial dividing lines of nation-states as we know them (Appadurai 2000; Giddens 1999). Additionally,...

  15. 12. Neighbours and their Ruins: Remembering Foreign Presences in Mongolia
    (pp. 211-234)
    Grégory Delaplace

    This chapter addresses Mongolian peopleʹs relationship with their two gigantic neighbours: the Federation of Russia and the Peopleʹs Republic of China, on the basis of two ethnographic situations. The first one, which will be the point of departure and form the core of this discussion, concerns the discourses and practices surrounding the abandoned Russian mining town of Mardai. The second one deals with a rumour regarding Chinese ghosts, reported to haunt the places where they used to live in Mongolia. I will argue that these two sets of data reveal two very different ways in which Mongols might relate to...

  16. Appendix 1: Border-Crossing Infrastructure: The Case of the Russian-Mongolian Border
    (pp. 235-244)
    Valentin Batomunkuev
  17. Appendix 2: Maps
    (pp. 245-248)
  18. Bibliography of Works Cited
    (pp. 249-270)
  19. Index
    (pp. 271-280)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 281-283)