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Insights into border area studies in China

Author  :  LI SHANGYING     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2017-05-08


Borderland Studies in Contemporary China (1949-2014)

Author: Ma Dazheng

Publisher: China Social Sciences Press

It is quite exciting to see the publication of Ma Dazheng’s new book, Borderland Studies in Contemporary China (1949-2014). This book provides an accessible way for readers to understand the general landscape of Chinese border studies.

In the prologue, Ma said he attempted to pursue three goals in the book: first, to provide as much information as possible on China’s border research results; second, to describe in as much detail as possible the evolution and development trends of China’s frontier research; and finally, to elaborate on the academic stances on border studies and the historical responsibility that lies behind the contemporary situation facing frontier researchers.

Using concise and bright language, Ma analyzed some specific questions concerning the three key areas in academic research, such as the evolution of the Chinese nation from diversity to integration, the development stage, trends and historical characteristics of China’s frontiers and territory, theories, policies, strategies and lessons of the ancient and modern management of the border areas, and issues related to the boundaries between China’s border areas and inner territory in modern times.

Ma argues that China’s border studies since the 1950s represented the third peak in centuries of frontier exploration. The first peak was triggered by the interaction of social and academic development during the reign of emperors Jiaqing (r. 1796-1820), Daoguang (r. 1821-1850) and Xianfeng (r. 1851-1861) in the Qing Dynasty. During this time, when border problems led to national crisis, there emerged a golden age for frontier studies, namely the rise of the history and geography of the northwest China. At this time, there were a number of outstanding experts dedicated to frontier political, historical, geographical, national, cultural, military and extraterritorial studies. They compiled a lot of enduring works, which mainly reflected the social conditions and environments of border areas, while failing to give enough attention to the boundary between China and other countries, as well as extraterritorial issues.

The second peak came after the 1920s. With the increasing national crisis, Chinese frontier researchers sensed their obligation to shoulder social responsibility and care about the real world. During this period, scholars conducted research on historical and geographical conditions of border areas, the evolution and crises of these areas, and social and economic conditions of border areas from various levels, perspective and scopes, bringing about many research areas, publications, books, papers, study reports, and travel notes.

Ma and other scholars again promoted the research after 1983. This time it brought about two “breakthroughs”: It broke the narrow study scope in previous research, while it also formed new research pattern focusing on the history of ancient Chinese territory, the history of Chinese boundary evolution and the history of China’s border studies. Also, it combines the historical and current conditions of Chinese border areas, yielding many reality-based research achievements with intensive topics.

Editor: Yu Hui

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