Sparks from the friction of terrain: Transport animals, borderlands, and the territorial imagination in China

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Representations of the friction of terrain play a significant role in the production of the territorial imagination in contemporary China. As infrastructure and its attendant promises are rolled out to once-remote corners of the nation, the state has sought to memorialize the heroic experience of the friction of terrain during the Chinese Revolution and subsequent projects of territorial incorporation in Inner Asia, before the proliferation of durable infrastructure. At the same time, even as the Chinese state deploys increasingly high-tech, disembodied means to police its borders, representations of charismatic transport animals used to patrol select sections of these borders have circulated in various media. This article argues that the mobility of animal bodies is deployed to produce a distinctive form of territorial imagination in China, one which foregrounds the friction of terrain at certain sites, and conjures up state fantasies of interspecies relations as/and interethnic friendship. While much recent scholarly literature focusses on the collocation of infrastructure and state power, this article calls for attention to the ways in which states can also mobilize representations of selected sites of roadlessness, and concomitant animal-based mobilities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)433-450
Number of pages18
Issue number3
Early online date3 Jul 2023
Publication statusPublished - 2023

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