2 Dec 2013 2:00pm - 4:00pm SG1, Alison Richard Building


Due to unforeseen circumstances this event has had to be cancelled.


Dr Franck Billé (Social Anthropology) presents at the CRASSH Postdoctoral Research Seminar.

The event is free to attend but registration is required.  Please click on the link at the right hand side of the page to book your place.


Since the border between Russia and China opened in the early 1990s, after three decades of hermetic and militarised closure, several towns have mushroomed on the Chinese side. Typically positioned right opposite another city on the Russian side, the Chinese cities of Manzhouli, Heihe and Suifenhe have capitalised on Russian consumers' demand and grown into sizeable towns.

Given their Russian focus, it is not surprising that these Chinese cities have developed a distinctly Russian flavour. Their street signage includes Russian in addition to Chinese and English and most residents are at least commercially proficient in the Russian language. Manzhouli includes Russian architectural features such as onion-domed roofs and European-style façades. Heihe's urban furniture is similarly Russian-themed: statues and bears dot the city, and trashcans are in the shape of matrioshkas.

If Russians living along the border interpret these developments as strategies specifically tailored to attract them, Russian symbolism in Chinese border cities is far more multivalent. Indeed, in addition to their Russian customer base, these cities have also emerged as centres of tourism for the domestic market – primarily for Chinese would-be tourists without an international passport. The reproduction and appropriation of foreign symbols recalls the process of 'mimetic condensation' discussed by Rykwert (2004:150) whereby remote and sacred places were replicated for pilgrims who could not afford to leave home. The mimetic process witnessed in Chinese border cities is however more complex insofar as it does not merely seek to reproduce but also to surpass. With its claim to the world's largest matrioshka, Manzhouli in fact closely resembles Las Vegas where world symbols (Egyptian pyramids, Eiffel Tower…) are appropriated for commercial reasons. In fact, Manzhouli's decision to incorporate global symbols such as Disney characters, Hollywood celebrities and international brands clearly indexes its claim to global status. The cities of Heihe and Manzhouli are thus model cities in the two senses of the word: models as three-dimensional representations of an original structure, but also models as examples to follow and emulate.

About Franck Bille

Franck Billé is a post-doctoral researcher in the Division of Social Anthropology, Cambridge, and coordinator of an ESRC-funded project (2012-2015) entitled 'Where Rising Powers meet: China and Russia at their north Asian border.' He previously carried out research in Mongolia where he investigated the prevalence of anti-Chinese sentiments. His manuscript Spectral Presences: Anxiety, Excess and Anti-Chinese Speech in Postsocialist Mongolia is currently under review, and his second book project, Epidermic Nations: Cartography, Geobodies, Bodily Integrity is in progress.


For further information about the programme please go to CRASSH Postdoctoral Researcher Forum.

For administrative enquiries please contact Michelle Maciejewska.


Tel: +44 1223 766886
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