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Domesticating the Belt and Road: rural development, spatial politics, and animal geographies in Inner Mongolia

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White, Thomas 


China’s Belt and Road Initiative has led to an efflorescence of interest in the heritage of the “Silk Road,” both in China and abroad. In this article, I approach the BRI and its associated “Silk Road fever” ethnographically, discussing its effects on a particular region of China. What was once characterized in official discourse as a “remote border region” is now recover- ing its history of camel-based connectivity, and using this to imagine its future development. I situate this Silk Road dis- course within the context of the politics of land, ethnicity, and the environment in a Chinese border region. Drawing on 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork in this region, and analysis of local publications, the article shows how this discourse provides ethnic Mongol elites in the west of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region with resources to defend pastoralist livelihoods threatened by the state’s recent grassland conservation policies. I thus show how the BRI’s spatial imaginary is “domesticated” in a particular part of China, and shine a light on the spatial politics which this imaginary – and the nonhumans involved in it – affords.



4406 Human Geography, 44 Human Society, 15 Life on Land

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Eurasian Geography and Economics

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Informa UK Limited


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