Frontier Fieldwork
240 pages, 6 x 9
16 b&w photos, 2 maps
Release Date:01 May 2023
Release Date:15 Oct 2022
Release Date:15 Oct 2022

Frontier Fieldwork

Building a Nation in China’s Borderlands, 1919–45

UBC Press

The centre may hold, but borders can fray. In the early twentieth century, the threat of imperialism loomed large in the Sino-Tibetan borderlands, bringing China’s frontier to the heart of political debates about the future of the country.

Frontier Fieldwork explores the work of social scientists, agriculturists, photographers, students, and missionaries who took to the field on China’s southwestern border at a time when foreign political powers were contesting China’s claims over its frontiers. While other nations extended their authority using military power, China employed fieldworkers to undertake a nation-building exercise by uniting a disparate, multi-ethnic population at the periphery of the country. Their presence there raised crucial questions about the meaning of China at a time when border areas were far removed from the minds of the vast majority of the population. Ultimately, the fieldworkers saw themselves as a vanguard force, foreshadowing the policies of social development and intervention that would be pursued during the Cold War decades later.

Drawing on both Chinese and Western materials, Andres Rodriguez exposes the transformative power of the fieldworkers’ efforts, which went beyond creating new forms of political action and identity. His incisive study demonstrates that despite a range of agendas, fieldworkers converged to issue a rallying call that placed China’s margins at the centre of its nation-making process and race to modernity.

Historians, anthropologists, and scholars of Asian studies and borderland studies will find this engaging work an indispensable contribution to their libraries.

Frontier Fieldwork offers a detailed and lively study of the significance of fieldwork in redefining modes of intervention in the Sino-Tibetan borderlands. It is a useful and timely contribution. Stéphane Gros, editor of Frontier Tibet: Patterns of Change in the Sino-Tibetan Borderlands
Rodriguez’s pioneering study vividly demonstrates the centrality of scholarship and fieldwork to the Chinese Republic’s unsuccessful nation-building project on its southwestern frontiers, which paved the way for the People’s Republic’s later successes. Stevan Harrell, School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, University of Washington
This book's strength and originality are that it brings together many different ways of describing and analyzing China's borderlands. Rodriguez integrates travel literature and accounts of warfare with ethnography and botany. Diana Lary, editor of The Chinese State at the Borders

Andres Rodriguez is a lecturer in modern Chinese history at the University of Sydney, Australia.


1 Soldiers and Scholars on the Frontier

2 Missionary Explorers in the Field: The West China Border Research Society, 1922–37

3 Frontier Fever: Reporting from the Field

4 Chinese Anthropologists at War: Frontier Reconstruction in the Field, 1937–45

5 Service in the Field: Wartime Students and the Frontier, 1940–45


Glossary; Notes; Bibliography; Index

Find what you’re looking for...
Stay Informed

Receive the latest UBC Press news, including events, catalogues, and announcements.

Read past newsletters

Free shipping on online orders over $40

Publishers Represented
UBC Press is the Canadian agent for several international publishers. Visit our Publishers Represented page to learn more.