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Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

Rooms 8 & 9, Faculty of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies
Event date: 
Wednesday, 23 January, 2019 - 17:00 to 18:30

China Research Seminar Series talk given by Dr Sayana Namsaraeva, Mongolian and Inner Asian Studies Unit, University of Cambridge

Following the ancient Greek and Roman traditions, other accounts of imaginary beasts were added in medieval European bestiaries mostly to talk allegorically about immorality of the non-Christian Pagan world by depicting them as wild beasts, non-human or half-human creatures. On the contrary, China also has developed its own symbolic system to depict the China-centred cosmology tianxia (all under heaven) as being divided between those who lived according “Chinese ways” and those who didn’t follow “Chinese ways”, and live in beast-like condition in “barbaric” peripheries of Chinese civilization. However, the myth of monstrous creatures inhabiting borderlands is still strongly pervasive, and the Sino-Russian border is a vivid example how human-animal mythology produces new fantastic beasts at the borders of modern states.

Based on Georgio Agamben’s concept of “anthropological machine” (2004), my presentation analyses dehumanising narratives and new “bestiary” vocabulary developed by Chinese and Russians involved in border trade in a border city Manzhouli to talk about race, ethnicity, social stratification and status. Who are these “shaved pigs”, “old cats”, “old half-cats”, “camels” and “half-camels”, “devils”, “werewolves”, ‘snakes’ and “dogs” the border society comprises of here? And why border politics as an “anthropological machine” contrasts humanity and animality, and divides border society into humans and less-humans ? As Newt Scamander (a fictitious British magizoologist), I will open my case to introduce you this crossborder enclosure of irrational beastliness.

Dr Sayana Namsaraeva is a Research Associate at Mongolia & Inner Asia Studies Unit (MIASU), University of Cambridge. Her research focuses on border regions shared by China, Russia and Mongolia in North Asia from perspectives of history and social anthropology. She conducted extensive fieldwork in local communities of border traders and ethnic minorities that straddle the border. As a part of the larger project ‘Sinophone Borderlands: Interaction at the Edges’ (funded by ERC 2018-20), she examines border cities Manzhouli and Zabaikalsk located right on the Russia-China border along the Transsiberian railway, a social shape of the bordercity spaces, and the experiences of the unique, multi-ethnic and multilingual border society formed here. 

Her recent publications on the Sino-Russian border include: 

  • Namsaraeva, Sayana. 'Déjà vu of Distrust in the Sino - Russian Borderlands' in Trust and Mistrust in the Economies of the China-Russia Borderlands (Caroline Humphrey ed.). Amsterdam University Press (2018). DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt22zmbb1.5 Open Access at
  • Namsaraeva, Sayana. 'Border language: Chinese Pidgin Russian with a Mongolian accent'. Inner Asia 2014(1). DOI: 10.1163/22105018-12340006.