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Department of Social Anthropology

 

Biography

Spanning China and Inner Asia, my research centres on the historical processes whereby Mongols have sought to establish their identity and sovereignty in the course of communist and nationalist revolutions, ideological and cultural transformations, and state-orchestrated violence and pogroms. With a history that encompasses both world conquest and colonial subjugation, Mongolia and the Mongols furnish a rich ground for exploring a range of theoretical and empirical issues, from nation-building and sovereignty, settler colonialism and genocide, statecraft and minority governance in multinational states, to diplomacy and and international relations. As a historical and political anthropologist, I combine local studies with regional, national and global historical/theoretical perspectives and address pressing contemporary political questions.

Research

My research career started with my PhD study of Mongolian identity politics in the early 1990s as the Mongolian People’s Republic (MPR) emerged out of the Soviet shadow both to assert a new identity grounded in democracy and freedom and to reclaim its cultural and historical heritage rooted in nomadism, imperial conquest and Tibetan Buddhism. Exploring pan-Mongolism in relation to a nationalism centring on purity against alleged erliiz or hybrids, a category almost exclusively associated with the Chinese, this study was my initial anthropological foray into international relations, as I tried to chart a road for communication among Mongols divided among three states (The MPR/Mongolia, China and the Soviet Union/Russia). Published as Nationalism and Hybridity in Mongolia (1998), my conclusion that intra-Mongol divisions would militate against pan-Mongolism has proved to be insightful. In a follow-up study published as Ethnicity, National Unity and Law in Mongolia (2020), I found both the entrenchment of the socialist era category of ethnicity (yastan) and the emergent human rights perspective that has rendered numerically smaller groups as powerless in need of protection.

Mongolia’s rejection of pan-Mongolism led me to study the history and ideology that shaped the ethnic identity of the Mongols in Inner Mongolia, China’s oldest minority autonomous region. The Mongols at China’s Edge: History and the Politics of National Unity (2002) was organised around two Chinese hegemonic concepts that define China’s ethnic politics: minzu tuanjie, which has a double meaning of both national unity and inter-ethnic amity or friendship, and minzu fenlie, a charge levied exclusively at minority dissent, not so much a reference to territorial secessionism as refusal to identify with China and the dominant Han Chinese. One of the key findings in this study was the hierarchy post-1990s China aimed to establish by subordinating China’s fifty-six nationalities to the newly imagined Chinese nation (zhonghua minzu). In subsequent studies, I have tried to go beyond the constriction of the majority-minority framework for studying ethnic politics by exploring wider international and ideological contexts and the role of the ‘third party’, be it external countries such as Japan, or internal political rival, such as the Chinese Communist Party. This triangulation allows for understanding what I call ‘the ethnopolitical’, which presents both a new possibility for minority survival through forming alliances and a risk to their existential identities. The concept of ‘collaborative nationalism’ I formulated in this research is an attempt to understand nationalism in friendship as opposed to nationalism in enmity perspective. Published in 2010, Collaborative Nationalism: The Politics of Friendship on China’s Mongolian Frontier won the International Convention for Asian Studies (ICAS) 2011 Social Sciences Book Prize.

My interest in studying socialist ethnic politics is further reflected in my long-term collaboration with TJ Cheng and Mark Selden to record broader issues of ethnic pogrom of the Mongols during the Cultural Revolution. Forthcoming under the title Rebellion and Politicide: China’s Cultural Revolution in Inner Mongolia, this book is our major intervention in Cultural Revolution studies. It explores not only the perspective of the rebels, which, in the wake of Mao’s death, was blamed for the Cultural Revolution era violence and tragedies throughout China, but also invites a full reconsideration of the Chinese approach to minority nationality-Han Chinese relations. Developing a concept of ‘politicide’ as an alternative to ‘genocide’, we have recast understanding of the Cultural Revolution in a new framework of settler colonialism, competing nationalisms, and China’s intensifying ideological conflict with the Soviet Union and the MPR, one that resulted in a pogrom that exacted huge losses of Mongol life with profound implications for contemporary ethnic politics in China. Our conclusion that the Cultural Revolution violence against the Mongols destroyed their capacity and will to organize ‘politically’ is critical for understanding China’s renewed attacks on minorities in the borderlands involving Uyghurs, Tibetans and Mongols in the new millennium.

I have long maintained an active interest in studying Tibet and Tibetans not least because of the historical relationship between the Mongols and Tibetans with Tibetan Buddhism being the national religion of the Mongols. This is an endeavour to promote the Mongolian-Tibetan interface in ways that transcend the area studies approach that has dominated Mongolian and Tibetan Studies, an effort resulting in the publication of The Mongolia-Tibet Interface: Opening New Research Terrains in Inner Asia, co-edited with Hildegard Diemberger in 2006. In 2013, I co-edited with Sampildondov Chuluun The Thirteenth Dalai Lama on the Run (1904-1906): Archival Documents from Mongolia. My continued interest in this area is reflected in my membership in the French National Research Agency (ANR) funded collaborative project ‘Building Nationalism in Inner Asia: The Empowerment of the Tibetan Revolution in the Early Twentieth Century’ (2022-2026).

Another long-term interest of mine is the study of Chinggis Khan and the Mongol Empire, an interest derived from my own identity as a member of Ordos, a special group dedicated to the worship of Chinggis Khan and the imperial family, a tradition dating back to the 13th century. I am currently working on a book manuscript on the afterlife of Chinggis Khan and the Mongol Empire both historically and today, especially in the East Asian context. Central to my account will be the Chinese and Japanese identifications with Chinggis Khan to establish a pan-Asian or pan-Chinese identity vis-à-vis Euromericans, and to chart a Japan- or China- centred ‘world history’. Above all, it critically engages the recent Western celebration of the role of Chinggis Khan and the Mongol Empire for transcending ethnic boundaries to lay the foundation for globalisation, which, nonetheless, ignores the Mongol quest for ‘sovereignty’ as well as the complex ideological, racial and nationalistic politics that continually draws in and excludes the Mongols in the global configuration.

I am now starting a new three-year ESRC funded project from September 2022 (with Liz Fox and Tom White): ‘Trading Mongolia's sovereign meat: the social transformations and everyday politics of the 'livestock revolution’. We will study Mongolia’s intensification of meat production both for export and to revitalise the nation’s rural economy. As China is the main market for Mongolian meat export, and since livestock is constitutionally defined as a ‘national asset under the protection of the State’, we will study sovereignty in its two dimensions, both food and national. In this project, my main concern is the complex legal framework that needs to be established to address issues ranging from land ownership to state support for herders when livestock production is geared for profitable export. The integration of Mongolia’s economy into the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative at a time when the ongoing Covid and Russia-Ukrainian war are threatening Mongolia’s sovereign existence as a liberal democracy landlocked between two giant superpowers hostile to the West, which Mongolia views as its ‘Third Neighbour’, provides a historic moment for studying how Mongolia navigates the treacherous geopolitical and geoeconomic terrains for survival.

Research Interests

East Asia (China, Japan, Taiwan) and Inner Asia (Mongolia, Inner Mongolia, Tibet, Buryatia, Kalmykia); comparative settler/colonialism and imperialism (pan-Asianism; pan-Mongolism; alter/native urbanisation; genocide and politicide); ethnicity and nationalism (sovereignty; national unity; collaboration); (un)sharing cultures and histories (Mongolia-Tibet interface; politics of friendship; national heritage regimes; translingual practices); socialist/post-socialist political forms and imagination (minority revolution; autonomous institutions and laws; ethnocracy and statecraft); international relations (diplomacy; geoeconomics; geopolitics)

Publications

 

Books

2013 Co-editor. Trans-Continental Neighbours: A Documentary History of Mongolia-UK Relations. Cambridge: Mongolia and Inner Asia Studies Unit & Ulaanbaatar: Institute of International Studies and Institute of History, Mongolian Academy of Sciences.

2010 Collaborative Nationalism: The Politics of Friendship on China’s Mongolian Frontier. Rowman and Littlefield.

2006 The Mongolia-Tibet Interface: Opening New Research Terrains in Inner Asia (edited with Hildegard Diemberger). Leiden: Brill.

2003 Janggiya-a Qutughtu: A Mongolian Missionary for Chinese National Identification. (with Yang Haiying). Cologne: International Society for the Study of the Culture and Economy of the Ordos Mongols. (in Japanese)

2002 The Mongols at China’s Edge: History and the Politics of National Unity. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.

1998 Nationalism and Hybridity in Mongolia. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

1995 Haudenosaunee Environmental Restoration: An Indigenous Strategy for Human Sustainability (co-authored on behalf of the Haudenosaunee Six Nations), published in partnership by Indigenous Development International, the United Nations & the University of Cambridge.

 

Select recent articles and book chapters

2012. “Independence as Restoration: Chinese and Mongolian Declarations of Independence and the 1911 Revolutions,” The Asia-Pacific Journal,Vol. 10, Issue 52, No. 3, December 31, 2012.

2012. ‘Rethinking Borders in Empire and Nation at the Foot of the Willow Palisade’ in Franck Billé, Caroline Humphrey & Grégory Delaplace (eds.) Frontier Encounters: Knowledge and Practice at the Russian, Chinese and Mongolian Border. Cambridge: Open Book Publishers, pp. 33-53.

2012 ‘Good Han, Bad Han: The Moral Parameters of Ethnopolitics in China‘. In Thomas S. Mullaney, James Leibold, Stéphane Gros, and Eric Vanden Bussche (eds.) Critical Han Studies: The History, Representation,and Identity of China’s Majority. Berkeley: University of California Press, pp. 92-109; 282-285.

2006 “Going Imperial: Tibeto-Mongolian Buddhism and Nationalisms in China and Inner Asia,” in Joseph W. Esherick, Hasan Kayali, and Eric Young (eds.) Empire to Nation: Historical Perspectives on the Making of the Modern World, Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield.

2006 “The Yearning for ‘Friendship’: Revisiting “the Political” in Minority Revolutionary History in China”. The Journal of Asian Studies. Vol. 64, No. 1. February.

2006 “The Regime of Affection: Inter-Ethnic Adoption and the Emotional Economy of National Unity in Contemporary China”, in David Sneath (ed.) Inner Asian Statecraft & Technologies of Governance. Bellingham: Western Washington Press.

2006 “Municipalization and Ethnopolitics in Inner Mongolia,” in Ole Bruun and Li Narangoa (eds.) Mongolians from Country to City, NIAS & Curzon Press.

2005 “Where is East Asia? Central Asian and Inner Asian Perspectives on Regionalism.” Japan Focus Newsletter (October 17 issue)

2004 “Inner Mongolia: Dialectics of Colonization and Ethnicity-Building”, in Morris Rossabi (ed.), China’s Minority Problems, Seattle: University of Washington Press.

2004 “Mongolian Modernity and Hybridity,” Minpaku Anthropology Newsletter. No. 19, December

2003 “Alter/Native Mongolian Identity: From Nationality to Ethnic Group”, in Elizabeth J. Perry and Mark Selden (eds.) Chinese Society: Change, Conflict and Resistance (2nd edition). London and New York: Routledge.

2003 “Mongolian Ethnicity and Linguistic Anxiety in China”, American Anthropologist, Vol. 105 (4).

2002 “From Yeke-juu league to Ordos municipality: settler colonialism and alter/native urbanization in Inner Mongolia”, Provincial China, Vol.7. No. 2.

2000 “Ethnic Resistance with Socialist Characteristics”, in Elizabeth J. Perry and Mark Selden (eds.) Chinese Society: Change, Conflict and Resistance. London and New York: Routledge.

2000 “Colonial Contradictions of Class and Ethnicity in ‘Socialist’ China”, Cultural Studies, 14 (3/4)
 

Teaching and Supervisions

Teaching: 

SAN2: The foundations of social life: Anthropology and Politics

SAN6: Power, economy and social transformations: Political Economy of Nationalism

SAN4/7: Ethnographic areas: Inner Asia

SAN10: The anthropology of post-socialist societies: Anthropology of Socialism in China

MPhil Seminars: Production and reproduction: Anthropology and the Study of Economics

MPhil Seminars: Systems of power and knowledge: Anthropology and the Study of Politics