Russia, China, and Journeys in Between
A vivid account of everyday encounters in the Russia–China borderlands.
Mirrorlands is a journey through space and time to the meeting points of Russia and China, the world’s largest and most populous countries. Charting an unconventional course southeast through Siberia, Inner Mongolia, the Russian Far East and Manchuria, anthropologist and linguist Ed Pulford sketches a rich series of encounters with people and places unknown not only to outsiders, but also to most residents of the capital cities where his journey begins and ends.
What Russia and China have in common goes much deeper than their status as authoritarian post-socialist states or perceived menaces to Western hegemony. Their shared history can only fully be appreciated from an intimately local, borderland perspective. Along remote roads, rivers and railways, in cosmopolitan cities and indigenous villages of the northeast Asian frontiers, Pulford maps the strikingly similar ways in which these two vast empires have ruled their Eurasian domains, before, during and after socialism.
With great cultural nuance, Mirrorlands thoughtfully evokes the diverse daily interactions between residents of the Russia–China borderlands, and their resulting visions of ‘Europe’ and ‘Asia’. It is a vivid portrait of centuries of cross-border encounter, mimicry and conflict, key to understanding the global place and identity of two leading world powers.
Ed Pulford is a Cambridge-trained linguist and anthropologist who has spent several years working, studying and travelling throughout China, the Russian Far East, the Koreas and Japan. He speaks Chinese and Russian, and currently works as a researcher in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Amsterdam.
‘[Pulford’s] exchanges – with market stallholders, passengers on the train or bus, receptionists and anyone else who will talk to him – form the core of his book. He intersperses them with snippets of history, all scrupulously accurate, and with descriptions of the cities he visits.’ — Times Literary Supplement
‘[Mirrorlands is] fascinating and enlightening’. — Foreign Affairs
‘Mirrorlands is a collage of historical, anthroposociological, and geographical explanations that incorporates the observations and worldviews of dozens of residents who routinely interact along the border areas. This book is strongly recommended, as it will surely help readers understand the role borderlands play elsewhere.’ — Choice
‘Pulford is an articulate scholar and a talented linguist [and his] training as a social anthropologist is pervasive in his writing … the richness of Mirrorlands is in the portraits of characters Pulford meets along the way.’ — Asian Affairs
‘[Mirrorlands] offers a fascinating account of a region that is of strategic interest but remains poorly known … [the book] is unique in its deft winding in and out of the border, uncovering human stories from both sides.’ — The China Quarterly
‘[Mirrorlands] provides an enchanting account of places and peoples of the remote crossroads connecting these two worlds.’ — The Muslim World Book Review
‘[The] reader comes away enormously enriched and grateful for having been allowed to travel ‘piggyback’ on Pulford’s shoulder and profit from his diverse and unexpected encounters.’ — The Heythrop Journal
‘Mirrorlands is the story of Pulford’s journey, on buses and trains, from Moscow all the way to Beijing as he tries to understand the cultural exchanges and confrontations between two of Asia’s sprawling countries. The mirrorlands he refers to are not so much the countries themselves but the borderlands he travels through’. — Full Stop
‘As sparkling as it is informative, Ed Pulford’s wonderful book shines a rare light on the borderlands of the Far East between Russia and China.’ — Peter Frankopan, author of The Silk Roads
‘A journey into the dizzying interaction between Russia and China—from street market traders to high politics—each illuminating the other. A must-read to understand and enjoy the dynamic between two vast powers.’ — Peter Pomerantsev, author of Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible
‘Calm and informative, Mirrorlands refuses to endorse the politics of either Russia or China, preferring to chart how lives and landscapes have been transformed by their experiments with industry, urbanity, socialism and capitalism.’ — Owen Hatherley, author of The Adventures of Owen Hatherley In The Post-Soviet Space
‘Pulford brings the reader to one of the weirdest and least reported corners of the world. This book is both academically rigorous and a rollicking fun adventure story.’ — Barbara Demick, author of Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
‘Everything from history to economics makes it hard to disentangle Russia from China. In this lively, insightful and readable book, Ed Pulford travels through the two countries, looking for the myriad and often unexpected ways they connect and collide.’ — Mark Galeotti, author of The Vory: Russia’s Super Mafia