Rising Powers and Interdependent Futures

russian doll on china border

Where Rising Powers Meet: China and Russia At Their North Asian Border

Project details

Discipline: Social Anthropology
Funded Period: September 2012 – August 2015
Rising powers: China, Russia
Additional countries: Mongolia


The ‘Where Rising Powers Meet’ project aims to investigate what the Russian-Chinese border can reveal about the differing political economies of the two countries and their trajectories in the post-1991 era. Since each state exercises full sovereignty right up to their mutual border, there is no better place to compare the two remarkably dissimilar ways that economic development, the rule of law, citizen rights, migration, and inequality are managed. Yet state policies encounter volatile, more or less independent activities across this border. An important question the project will address is: how stable is this situation and what do the trends visible today indicate about the future of the two ‘rising powers’?

This project, based at Cambridge but working in collaboration with colleagues in China, Russia, Mongolia, France and Denmark, is both multidisciplinary and multi-sited. The research team, composed of anthropologists, sociologists and economists, will be carrying out research at various sites along the border, from Mongolia in the west to Vladivostok in the east. The project has obtained the ethical approval of the University of Cambridge.

Project team

Principal Investigator

Professor Caroline Humphrey, University of Cambridge (ch10001@hermes.cam.ac.uk).

Based at the University of Cambridge, Professor Humphrey has worked in Russia, Mongolia, China, India, Nepal and Ukraine. She has researched a wide range of themes including Soviet and post-Soviet provincial economy and society; Buryat and Daur shamanism; Jain religion and ritual; trade and barter in Nepal; environment and the pastoral economy in Mongolia and the history and contemporary situation of Buddhism, especially in Inner Mongolia. Her recent research has concerned urban transformations in post-Socialist cities.

Other members of the core team

Franck Billé, Project Coordinator, University of Cambridge (fb265@cam.ac.uk).

Franck is Research Associate in the Department of Social Anthropology, and member of the Mongolia and Inner Asia Studies Unit, University of Cambridge. His current project focuses on representation and mimicry in the twin cities of Blagoveshchensk and Heihe, on the Sino-Russian border. He previously carried out research in Mongolia where he investigated the prevalence of anti-Chinese sentiments. His book Sinophobia: Anxiety, Violence, and the Making of Mongolian Identity is forthcoming with the University of Hawai’i Press.

Dr Sayana Namsaraeva, University of Cambridge (sn444@cam.ac.uk).

Sayana is Research Associate in the Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge. Previously she was a lecturer at the Institut für Religionswissenschaft, Bern University. During her recent post-doctoral research at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology she conducted extensive fieldwork on border regions of the Russian, Chinese and Mongolian territories. She is currently working on her book on Qing imperial representatives (ambans and jiangjuns) to the Inner Asian frontier with Russia is forthcoming with the Oriental Literature Publishing House (Moscow).

In addition to the core team an overview of associated researchers is availiable on the North Asian Borders Network website.

Talks and presentations
  • Billé, Franck, Caroline Humphrey & Grégory Delaplace. 2012. Frontier Encounters: Knowledge and Practice at the Russian, Chinese and Mongolian Border. Cambridge: Open Book Publishers.
  • This book presents a wide range of views on how the borders between these countries are enacted, produced, and crossed. It also 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. The volume is available in hardback, paperback and e-book. It can also be read for free on the publisher’s website using the link above.
  • Billé, Franck. 2015. Sinophobia: Anxiety, Violence, and the Making of Mongolian Identity. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press
  • Billé, Franck. 2014. “Surface Modernities: Open-Air Markets, Containment and Verticality in Two Border Towns of Russia and China”, Ekonomicheskaya sotsiologia No. 15:2 (March), pp. 154-172. Published simultaneously in Russian as “Sovremennost’ v prostranstvennom izmerenii: otkrytie rynki, germetichnost’ i vertikal’nost’ v dvukh prigranichnykh gorodakh Rossii i Kitaya” pp. 76-95
  • Billé, Franck. 2014. “Nationalism, Sexuality and Dissidence in Mongolia”. Routledge Handbook of Sexuality Studies in East Asia, ed. Mark McLelland and Vera Mackie. London: Routledge.
  • Billé, Franck. 2014. “Territorial Phantom Pains (and Other Cartographic Anxieties)”, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 31:1, pp. 163-178
  • Humphrey, Caroline.2014. “Interstitial groups and kinship tensions: The Tsongol at the Russian-Qing Border”. Inner Asia, volume 16:1.
  • Namsaraeva, Sayana. 2013. “Migratsii vo Vnutrennei Azii tsinskogo perioda: diaspory kontaktnoi zony Kiakhta-Maimachen”. Vestnik BGU, pp. 21-46
  • Namsaraeva, Sayana. 2014. “Border language: Chinese Pidgin Russian with Mongolian ‘Accent’ “, Inner Asia, volume 16:1.
  • Peshkov, Ivan. 2014. “Usable past for a Transbaikalian borderline town.”Disarmament” of memory and geographical imagination in Priargunsk”. Inner Asia, volume 16:1.
  • Urbansky, Sören. 2014. “Tokhtogo’s mission impossible. Russia, China, and the quasi-independence of Hulunbeir”. Inner Asia, volume 16:1.
  • Ryzhova, Natalya. 2014. “Using and leasing Farm Land in the Russian Border Regions: Politics, Discourses and Practices”. Eurasian Border Review, Volume 5:1.
  • Ryzhova, Natalya. 2013. “Zemlya i Vlast’: Neformal’noe zempepol’zovanie kitaiskikh fermerov v rossiiskikh prigranichnykh regionakh”. Zhurnal sotsiologii I sotsial’noi antropologii, №5.
  • Ryzhova , Natalya. 2013. Economicheskaya integratsiya prigranichnykh raionov. Khabarovsk: IEI DVO RAN.
  • Safonova, Tatiana – Santa, Istwan. 2013.Culture Contact in Evenki Land. Cybernetic Anthropology of the Baikal Region. Global Oriental/Brill. Boston- Leiden.

Principal investigator Professor Caroline Humphrey discusses the project 'Where Rising Powers Meet: China and Russia At Their North Asian Border'.

Life on the divide: the Buriad people and the world's longest border. A video from the project 'Where Rising Powers Meet: China and Russia At Their North Asian Border'.