Indiana University Bloomington
Choose which site to search

Frontier China: Migrants, Nomads, and Borderland Nobodies


There is a rich China, a beautiful China. And there is a China that is anything but: poor, marginal, and hardscrabble. In our minds, a Great Wall separates the two. High civilization, productivity, and the state lie on one side, crude lawlessness lies on the other. Yet, throughout Chinese history, ordinary people straddled the line between heartland and frontier: settlers, immigrants, merchants, missionaries, runaways, and nomads. What, then, did the Great Wall represent? What dynamics defined the historical relations between settled and mobile communities in China? How was everyday life shaped by these dynamics? What role did the environment play? And was China's frontier experience comparable to those of America, Russia, Africa, or Southeast Asia?

To answer these questions, we will examine different types of historical evidence, from the archaeological record, to written sources, to aerial photography. In the process, we will survey roughly 2000 years of history. Topics covered include the Silk Road, the Mongol empire, the Great Wall, theories of global frontiers, shifting patterns of resource exploitation, and changing conceptions of nation and ethnicity in twentieth-century China.

Regions Covered

Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region
Historical Central Eurasia

When Taught

Fall 2013


Department of History