Land borders in East Asia have played just as big a role in the region’s social transformations as their more recently debated maritime counterparts, and the boundary between China and Korea offers particularly telling insight into how society, identity and geopolitics have shifted over time. Nianshen Song
’s Making Borders in Modern East Asia: The Tumen River Demarcation, 1881-1919
(Cambridge University Press, 2018) examines a tumultuous period in the history of this vital northeast Asian border, showing how it took shape before and during the era of Japanese empire.
Drawing on a vast trove of multilingual archives in China, Japan, Korea and elsewhere, the book both transports us into the local worlds which overlapped along the Tumen a century ago, and reveals how interactions among them were central to wider questions of sovereignty, borders, memory and ‘modern’ senses of Chinese, Korean and Japanese nationhood which endure to the present day.
Ed Pulford is a postdoctoral researcher at the Slavic-Eurasian Research Center, Hokkaido University. His research focuses on friendships and histories between the Chinese, Korean and Russian worlds, and northeast Asian indigenous groups.