Beyond the Steppe Frontier: A History of the Sino-Russian Border

Sören Urbansky (Author)


A comprehensive history of the Sino-Russian border, one of the longest and most important land borders in the world

The Sino-Russian border, once the world's longest land border, has received scant attention in histories about the margins of empires. Beyond the Steppe Frontier rectifies this by exploring the demarcation's remarkable transformation--from a vaguely marked frontier in the seventeenth century to its twentieth-century incarnation as a tightly patrolled barrier girded by watchtowers, barbed wire, and border guards. Through the perspectives of locals, including railroad employees, herdsmen, and smugglers from both sides, S ren Urbansky explores the daily life of communities and their entanglements with transnational and global flows of people, commodities, and ideas. Urbansky challenges top-down interpretations by stressing the significance of the local population in supporting, and undermining, border making.

Because Russian, Chinese, and native worlds are intricately interwoven, national separations largely remained invisible at the border between the two largest Eurasian empires. This overlapping and mingling came to an end only when the border gained geopolitical significance during the twentieth century. Relying on a wealth of sources culled from little-known archives from across Eurasia, Urbansky demonstrates how states succeeded in suppressing traditional borderland cultures by cutting kin, cultural, economic, and religious connections across the state perimeter, through laws, physical force, deportation, reeducation, forced assimilation, and propaganda.

Beyond the Steppe Frontier sheds critical new light on a pivotal geographical periphery and expands our understanding of how borders are determined.

Product Details

Princeton University Press
Publish Date
January 28, 2020
6.5 X 1.5 X 9.3 inches | 1.55 pounds
BISAC Categories:

Earn by promoting books

Earn money by sharing your favorite books through our Affiliate program.

Become an affiliate

About the Author

Sören Urbansky is a research fellow at the German Historical Institute in Washington, DC. He is the author of Kolonialer Wettstreit: Russland, China, Japan und die Ostchinesische Eisenbahn.


"This is the first comprehensive history of the Sino-Russian border, from the late seventeenth century through to the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Once the longest land border in the world, it is also one of the less studied, making this work an important contribution to the field of border studies. Impressively balancing microhistorical research with the bigger picture of international relations, this is a major work."--Thomas Lahusen, University of Toronto
"Beyond the Steppe Frontier takes a historical look at a little-known region located at the present-day intersection of Russia, China, and Outer Mongolia. Drawing on a wide range of sources, including eyewitness accounts, interviews, and archival materials, Urbansky brings to life the varied and rich experiences of the local inhabitants, from nomadic herdsmen, merchants, artisans, and Cossacks, to border guards and visiting foreigners."--Alfred Rieber, University of Pennsylvania
"Beyond the Steppe Frontier offers a sweeping history spanning three centuries, and an anthropological close-up into the quotidian lives of Chinese and Russians, Mongols and Cossacks. The result is a colorful and vivid account of the Russian-Chinese borderland."--Sebastian Conrad, Free University of Berlin
"This masterly panorama brings history vividly to life. Urbansky does not restrict himself to the empire-centered narratives of Russia and China, but uses meticulous research to bring us the voices of ordinary borderlanders, from communist partisans to smugglers. Beyond the Steppe Frontier is microhistory within macrohistory, a superb feat of sleuthing that introduces a cornucopia of fresh materials while also providing a compelling analysis of the volatile relations between these two giant countries."--Caroline Humphrey, University of Cambridge