Bille, Franck and Caroline Humphrey. On the Edge: Life along the Russia-China Border.

Date01 September 2023
AuthorWang, Linda

Bille, Franck and Caroline Humphrey. On the Edge: Life along the Russia-China Border. Cambridge, MA & London, UK: Harvard University Press, 2021. xiii + 376 pages.

On the Edge is a comprehensive study of the geography, history, culture, and economy in the Russia-China borderlands. Through juxtaposed comparative lenses, Bille and Humphrey presented a panoramic landscape that showcases primarily the disparate natural and cultural tapestries on each side of the border, but also some discernable signs of cross-border integration. Drawing from their rich field observations and interviews, Bille and Humphrey unravel the varied interpretations of national interests that register the political tides of Moscow and Beijing, focusing on the Russia-China borderlands.

Bille and Humphrey distinguished the operational differences in the similarly centralized political systems in Russia and China. In the hyper-centralized and personalized Russian system, Moscow extends direct rule to the peripheries leaving little room for flexibility short of a top-down extension of Moscow's will. By comparison, the Chinese system is nestled in an extensive bureaucratic system. While Beijing controls the policy decisions, it does not necessarily have full control over how the policies are implemented away from Beijing, therefore leaving sufficient possibilities for local flexibility and ingenuity, especially in the remote peripheries.

Bille and Humphrey noted that following the Soviet Union's devolution in the early 1990s, the close-down of the military bases, national factories, and research facilities in its borderlands resulted in the loss of government subsidies that once sustained the border communities. Responding to such dramatic economic deterioration is the rapid population exodus from the borderlands to western Russia. Those that remained, largely the indigenous populations, are left with few alternatives. Many begin to explore new ways to sustain themselves, leading to the mushrooming of illicit underground cross-border economic endeavor. This is made possible by the concurrent economic take-off in China that has rippled through its border towns. Russian consumers are pursued as a source of their economic growth. In addition, the Chinese are hungry for the rich resources of fauna, flora, minerals, gemstones in Siberia. Before Moscow could recover full control over its border trades with China, the locals have already developed informal networks of cross-border...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT