The fact that the vast border between China and Russia is often overlooked goes hand-in-hand with a lack of understanding of the ordinary citizens in these much-discussed places, who often lose out to larger-than-life figures like Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping. A book that combines a look at the history of the Sino-Russian border with a focus on the experiences of everyday borderlanders is thus very valuable, and this is exactly what is offered by Sören Urbansky’s Beyond the Steppe Frontier: A History of the Sino-Russian Border
(Princeton University Press).
Meticulously researched and lucidly written, Urbansky’s book draws most of its insights from a particular region of steppe – the Argun river basin – around the point where today Russia and China also converge with the eastern end of Mongolia. As well as giving a sense of the border’s formation over 300 years, Urbansky’s biperspectival look from both Russian and Chinese sides shows how the inter-state boundary took shape as a result of actions by local people, whose lives have in turn been transformed by existence next to a geopolitical faultline.
is a research fellow at the German Historical Institute in Washington, DC.
Ed Pulford is a Lecturer in Chinese Studies at the University of Manchester. His research focuses on friendships and histories between the Chinese, Korean and Russian worlds, and northeast Asian indigenous groups.