Til bevillingsoversigt

Connectivity and Disruption: Development, Neighboring, and Livelihoods in China's Belt and Road Borderlands

Carlsbergfondets internationaliseringsstipendier

What

The project will examine local experiences of China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as a development mode in China's borderlands with Myanmar. While BRI infrastructure connects people by revitalizing cross-border trade routes, it also disrupts old livelihoods and creates new social distances. Construction of new infrastructure make some ethnic minority villagers sell their land and abandon farming. While some villagers seize upon BRI connectivities by engaging in cross-border trade, others articulate current development as cultural disruption, and seek to maintain ethnic distinctiveness through distance. The project will study such dynamics of connectivity and disruption through ethnographic fieldwork in a mountain village in the China-Myanmar borderlands populated by ethnic Jingpo.

Why

The BRI drives a China-centered development mode that may reshuffle global, regional, and local orders. Many state leaders welcome Chinese infrastructure investments, but accusations of debt-trap diplomacy, landgrabs, and dispossession of marginalized groups taint China's projection of the BRI as offering universal benefits. While the landlocked, mountainous topography of China-Myanmar borderlands have allowed local ethnic groups to develop unique social and cultural forms, the BRI is transforming these national peripheries into centers for development and change. The project addresses a gap of knowledge about how ethnic minorities in China's borderworlds act upon BRI infrastructural development by theorizing local forms of adaptation and resilience to rapid changes among ethnic Jingpo.

How

The study will be based on ethnographic fieldwork in Banyang village, which is home to 500 ethnic Jingpo. Many Jingpo villagers are selling their land use rights to development companies that construct highways, a railway line, and factories under the auspices of the BRI. Participation in, and observation of village activities, including farming, trade, and social and ritual activities, will be combined with recording of oral histories to document sociocultural changes over a longer time-span, including changing roles of local dongsha shamans. A household survey will map household economies and land use rights, and an ethnographic film will be produced to compare economic lives of villagers who remain farmers versus villagers who sell their land rights for BRI development.

SSR

On-the-ground research is crucial for crafting commercial, political, and ethical responses to the unfolding of China's Belt and Road Initiative. The project will offer timely local perspectives on a Chinese development mode that is currently expanding through the BRI. It will further give voice to villagers from an ethnic group in China that is under-researched in the social sciences.