Call for Paper : Between Governance and the Governed: Navigating China’s Borderlands in a Challenging Era

Call for Paper

Between Governance and the Governed: Navigating China’s Borderlands in a Challenging Era

Guest Editor : Tianlong You, Associate Professor, Yunnan University

Deadline for abstracts submission: 4 March 2024

Deadline for papers submission: 6 May 2024

The forces of globalization have undoubtedly imprinted their footprints across the vast expanse of China’s borderlands, which emerge as vibrant arenas where the narratives of economic, social, and political exchanges are being rewritten (Woodworth and Joniak- Lüthi 2020; You and Romero 2022). As a linchpin of global economic synergy, China’s ascendancy in the world stage is intimately entwined with its expansive border regions, catalyzing a dynamic interplay of people, goods, and ideas across the borders between its numerous neighbors (Ptak et al. 2020). These borderlands, once peripheral, have turned into crucibles of transnational engagement, particularly in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, as China is more eager than ever to reopen itself to the world (Paxon 2021; Schindler et al. 2021).

The increased significance of China’s borderlands offers a distinctive prism for analyzing the layered developments that have unfolded in recent decades (Rippa 2020a). Under the influence of China’s burgeoning global presence, these borderlands are transforming from isolated and underdeveloped areas into vital hubs of geopolitical and economic activity (Rippa 2022; Sarma et al. 2023). Such transformation necessitates a shift from a traditional, static view of territorial borders to a dynamic, multifaceted understanding which better reflects the contemporary realities (Saxer and Zhang 2020). China’s redefinition of regional dynamics, especially in its shared borderlands with its neighbors, challenges the conventional understanding of national boundaries (Dean et al. 2022). It underscores the need for substantial theoretical and empirical progression in borderland studies. A nuanced approach is essential to fully comprehend China’s diverse roles as a builder, developer, peacekeeper, facilitator, and regulator, among others (Ptak and Konrad 2021; Dean et al. 2022). Such an approach illuminates the complexities of China’s strategies and their implications for both domestic development and international cooperation (Summers 2019; White 2020). By advocating for a more sophisticated framework within borderland studies, we can begin to appreciate the intricate interplay of forces shaping these regions. This understanding which recognizes the multi-layered functions of China’s borderlands in the global landscape is extremely critical to the future advances of the borderland studies.

Traditional approaches in borderland studies, often characterized by top-down, nation-centric analyses, are increasingly inadequate for comprehending the complex nature of China’s borderlands (Konrad 2020). These areas are not just geopolitical lines; they are tapestries woven with diverse ethnicities, religions, and cultures. This rich complexity is a product of a long history marked by conflicts, Western colonial influences, ideological confrontations, and the forces of economic globalization (Dean 2020; Ho 2022). To truly grasp the nuances of China’s borderlands, it is essential to go beyond macro-level political analyses and incorporate anthropological insights that capture the grassroots dynamics. Such an anthropological approach demands a bottom-up, transnational perspective (Zhang and Tsakhirmaa 2022). It recognizes that the lives and interactions of people living in these borderlands cannot be fully understood through the lens of state-centric politics alone. Instead, there is a pressing need for empirically driven research that prioritizes local experiences and cross-border relationships (Ho 2017). This shift towards ground-level perspectives in borderland studies promises a more authentic and holistic understanding of the region. It highlights the everyday realities of those who navigate these complex spaces, offering insights into how they shape and are shaped by the broader sociopolitical and cultural forces.

In an era marked by de-globalization and a reevaluation of borderland development, the securitization of borderlands has become a global phenomenon, with China’s approach encapsulating the tension between national security and economic openness (Yang and Chan 2023). As the world grapples with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, China has fortified its borders, illustrating a protective yet paradoxical stance within its own brand of globalization (Li 2019). This shift also underscores the necessity for borderland studies to adapt, probing the implications of heightened security on local populations, regional trade, and cross-border relations (Rippa 2018, 2021; Sarma et al. 2023). The dynamic between China’s safeguarding measures and its global economic role invites a crucial reassessment of borderland theories. Scholars must now consider the delicate balance of health policies, security concerns, and the rights of communities living on the edges of nation-states (Rippa 2020b; Speelman 2022). The refinement of borderland studies has become a pressing need, reflecting the imperatives to reconcile national security with the exigencies of global connectivity and community resilience. Therefore, the changing reality once again calls for a theoretical recalibration in borderland studies, which is now an imperative in the face of shifting paradigms of globalization and security in these region.

In light of the fast-evolving discourse on China’s borderlands, a comprehensive approach is paramount (Schindler et al. 2020). To this end, in this special feature, we aim at adopting a triad of methodologies encompassing historical analysis, empirical research, and anthropological inquiry. This integrative strategy will enable a deeper dive into the historical precedents that have shaped these frontiers, while also capturing the present nuances through rigorous empirical study. Anthropological insights will bring to the fore the lived experiences and everyday interactions within the borderlands, illuminating the human dimension often obscured by macro-level analyses. This methodological confluence is poised to reveal the complex interplay between the legacy of the past, the security imperatives of the present, and the transnational interactions that continue to redefine the identity and function of borders in an era of shifting paradigms of global engagement.

We are inviting contributions for a forthcoming special feature focused on the rapidly evolving landscape of China’s borderlands. This special feature aims to explore the complexities of these regions, which stand at the confluence of economic, social, and cultural forces from both China and its neighbors. As vital junctures of transnational engagement, the shared borderlands offer a unique lens through which to examine the interplay of people, goods, and ideas, transcending traditional notions of territorial borders. This special feature seeks to foster a critical reevaluation of borderland studies, advocating for a shift from static, nation-centric analyses to dynamic, multifaceted perspectives which reflect the realities of China’s expanding global influence. We encourage submissions that explore, but are not limited to, the following themes:

  • The transformation of China’s borderlands from underdeveloped regions to hubs of geopolitical and economic activity.
  • The role of China’s border regions in redefining regional dynamics and challenging conventional understandings of national boundaries.
  • Anthropological insights into the diverse ethnicities, religions, and cultures within these areas, emphasizing a bottom-up, transnational perspective.
  • The impacts of increased securitization around the world and China’s approach to balancing security with development in the context of de-globalization trends.
  • Empirical research focusing on local experiences, cross-border relationships, and the everyday realities of communities navigating these complex spaces.
  • Theoretical advancements in borderland studies that address the shifting paradigms of globalization, security, and community resilience.

Submission Guidelines:

For those interested, please send an abstract in English (between 250 and 300 words), as well as a short bio and contact info, to [email protected] before the deadline of 4 March 2024. Authors of selected abstracts will be asked to submit a full paper by 6 May 2024 to the guest editor of the special issue.


Chan, David Y.T., and Chun Yang. 2022. “Institutional Escape and Embeddedness in the Cross-border Production Networks: Relocation of Chinese Electronics Small and Medium-sized Enterprises to Vietnam.” Journal of Contemporary China 31(137): 675-692.

Dean, Karin. 2020. “Assembling the Sino-Myanmar borderworld.” Eurasian Geography and Economics 61(1): 34-54.

Dean, Karin, Jasnea Sarma, and Alessandro Rippa. 2022. “Infrastructures and b/ordering: how Chinese projects are ordering China-Myanmar border spaces.” Territory, Politics, Governance, https://doi.org/10.1080/21622671.2022.2108892

Ho, Elaine L.E. 2017. “Mobilising affinity ties: Kachin internal displacement and the geographies of humanitarianism at the China-Myanmar border.” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 42, 84–97.

Ho, Elaine L.E. 2018. “Interfaces and the politics of humanitarianism: Kachin internal displacement at the China-Myanmar border.” Journal of Refugee Studies 31(3): 407-442.

Ho, Elaine L.E. 2022. “Border governance in Kachin State, Myanmar: Un/caring states and aspirant state building during humanitarian crises.” Modern Asian Studies 56(3), 639-660.

Lammar Christof, and André Thiemann. 2023. “Introduction: Infrastructuring Value.” Ethos, https://doi.org/10.1080/00141844.2023.2180063.

Li, Mingjiang. 2019. “China’s Economic Power in Asia: The Belt and Road Initiative and the Local Guangxi Government’s Role.” Asian Perspective 43(2): 273-295.

Ptak, Thomas, Jussi P. Laine, Zhiding Hu, Yuli Liu, Victor Konrad, and Martin van der Velde. 2020. “Understanding borders through dynamic processes: capturing relational motion from south-west China’s radiation centre.” Territory, Politics, Governance 10(2): 200-218.

Ptak, Thomas, and Victor Konrad. 2021. ““Crossing the River by Feeling the Stones”: How Borders, Energy Development and Ongoing Experimentation Shape the Dynamic Transformation of Yunnan Province.” Journal of Borderlands Studies 36(5): 765-789.

Rippa, Alessandro. 2018. “Cross-Border Trade and “the Market” between Xinjiang (China) and Pakistan.” Journal of Contemporary Asia 49(2): 254-271.

Rippa, Alessandro. 2020a. “Mapping the margins of China’s global ambitions: economic corridors, Silk Roads, and the end of proximity in the borderlands.” Eurasian Geography and Economics 61(1): 55-76.

Rippa, Alessandro. 2020b. Borderland Infrastructures: Trade, Development, and Control in Western China. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.

Rippa, Alessandro. 2021. “Imagined borderlands: Terrain, technology and trade in the making and managing of the China-Myanmar border.” Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography 43: 287-308.

Sarma, Jasnea, Alessandro Rippa, and Karin Dean. 2023. “’We don’t east those bananas’: Chinese plantation expansions and bordering on Northern Myanmar’s Kachin borderlands.” Eurasian Geography and Economics 64(7-8): 842-868.

Saxer, Martin, and Juan Zhang (Eds.). 2020. The Art of Neighboring: Making Relations Across China’s Borders. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.

Schindler, Seth, Jessica DiCarlo, and Dinesh Paudel. 2020. “The new cold war and the rise of the 21st-century infrastructure state.” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 47(2): 331-346.