Caught Between Spectacles: Migrant “Clean-ups,” Gendered Performance, and the State in a China–Russia Border Town
- Anthropological Quarterly
- George Washington University Institute for Ethnographic Research
- Volume 95, Number 1, Winter 2022
- pp. 35-63
- Additional Information
On a background of increasingly draconian state policies targeting trans-national migrants across the world, anthropologists and other scholars have documented the insidiously discriminatory operation of controls over movement of people. Often focused on Europe and the United States, this work has revealed how migrant crackdowns amount to “spectacles of illegality” (per De Genova 2013) in which processes of illegalization and racialization proceed hand-in-hand: a migrant’s lack of legal status is made to stand in for traits against which it would be impolitic to discriminate, particularly race and class. These critiques, often framed in universalizing terms, carry considerable weight when levelled at polities which, at least on paper, claim not to differentiate on the basis of such differences. But authoritarian and postsocialist states such as the People’s Republic of China present a different case: official approaches to ethnic minority and “low-end” members of the populace show that systematic and explicitly articulated differentiation on the basis of ethnicity, race, and class is central to the operation of the state itself. As this article demonstrates by focusing on a Russian community in northeast China, migrants to China have recently been subjected to enforcement measures mirroring those in Euro-America. However, unusually for a group of racialized migrants, Russian involvement in illegalizing “spectacles” collides with their participation in an entirely different more valorizing performance, a gendered staging of their Russianness to celebrate the “Friendly” state-state relationship between China and Russia. Russians are caught between two kinds of spectacle which operate along parallel lines of racializing differentiation. Their situation thus offers anthropologists and others new insights into how the PRC’s inward and outward-facing approaches to difference intersect, in turn shedding light on broader questions of ethnic and racial privilege, and the limits to universalizing critiques of state migratory enforcement.