Special Zone Amnesia: Re/forming the China-Vietnam Borderlands

seminar presented by Dr Juan Zhang, Sociology UNE
3-4.30pm Thursday 26 March 2015
Oorala Lecture Theatre, UNE

Since the early 1990s, the borderlands of China have suddenly emerged as new zones of prosperity and suspicion stimulated by the momentum of China’s “opening up” policies and economic reforms. In this talk, I use China as an example to trace the emergence of borderland “special zones” as new terrains of frontier reform. I pay particular attention to borderland zoning technologies as “re/form” technologies at various scales, and explore how remote peripheries are “modernized” and “governed” by the state, international actors and local agents who share strong developmental agendas and the will to reform.

As borderland special zones turn into a development spectacle, they are also habituated by “special zone amnesia” and become a land of forgetfulness. Based on fieldwork in the China-Vietnam borderland — a place completely devastated by the bitter Sino-Vietnamese Border War and quickly transformed into lucrative special zones boasting neoliberal flexibility and tremendous population flows — I examine how and why “forgetting” is instrumental for frontier re/form. Special zones of the borderland add a new twist to the national and local politics of making exceptions and crafting speculations at the nation’s edge. As new zones of development unbridled by past memories, they are full of hope for a rosy future to come.

Launch the seminar recording