Sinophobia: Anxiety, Violence, and the Making of Mongolian Identity
272pp. November 2014
Sinophobia: Anxiety, Violence, and the Making of Mongolian Identity
Author: Bille, Franck;
Sinophobia is a timely and groundbreaking study of the anti-Chinese sentiments currently widespread in Mongolia. Graffiti calling for the removal of Chinese dot the urban landscape, songs about killing the Chinese are played in public spaces, and rumors concerning Chinese plans to take over the country and exterminate the Mongols are rife. Such violent anti-Chinese feelings are frequently explained as a consequence of China’s meteoric economic development, a cause of much anxiety for her immediate neighbors and particularly for Mongolia, a large but sparsely populated country that is rich in mineral resources. Other analysts point to deeply entrenched antagonisms and to centuries of hostility between the two groups, implying unbridgeable cultural differences.

Franck Billé challenges these reductive explanations. Drawing on extended fieldwork, interviews, and a wide range of sources in Mongolian, Chinese, and Russian, he argues that anti-Chinese sentiments are not a new phenomenon but go back to the late socialist period (1960–1990) when Mongolia’s political and cultural life was deeply intertwined with Russia’s. Through an in-depth analysis of media discourses, Billé shows how stereotypes of the Chinese emerged through an internalization of Russian ideas of Asia, and how they can easily extend to other Asian groups such as Koreans or Vietnamese. He argues that the anti-Chinese attitudes of Mongols reflect an essential desire to distance themselves from Asia overall and to reject their own Asianness. The spectral presence of China, imagined to be everywhere and potentially in everyone, thus produces a pervasive climate of mistrust, suspicion, and paranoia.

Through its detailed ethnography and innovative approach, Sinophobia makes a critical intervention in racial and ethnic studies by foregrounding Sinophobic narratives and by integrating psychoanalytical insights into its analysis. In addition to making a useful contribution to the study of Mongolia, it will be essential reading for anthropologists, sociologists, and historians interested in ethnicity, nationalism, and xenophobia.
"This powerful ethnography offers delicious insights into a fascinating people known largely through myth and legend. Bille's argument, that present-day hostility of Mongols toward Chinese is more symbolic than pragmatic is intriguing, and his explanation that there are new forces promoting social closure among Mongolian peoples is revealing. The author brings to his task an impressive analytical perspective based on his mastery of Mongolian, Russian, and Chinese sources." —William Jankowiak, University of Nevada Las Vegas

“The greatest threat to the prosperity and well-being of our time is intolerance and hatred of others. We urgently need new insights into these processes and their historical development. Billé supplements ethnographic analysis with psychoanalytical insight to bring us a compelling, wide-ranging, and powerful account of the mechanisms of subjectivity and affect that inform and shape national identities and their frequently, and worryingly, violent reinscription.” —Henrietta L. Moore, Cambridge University

Sinophobia is a compelling, lucid, and enormously insightful account of recent anti-Chinese sentiment in Mongolia, and its findings should resonate broadly across both Asian and Eurasian studies. Throughout, Billé combines careful ethnography and instructive analyses of affect, language, desire, and anxiety. The result is a truly novel synthesis, an important contribution to social and cultural theories of violence.” —Douglas Rogers, Yale University

“This is a fascinating book. It is bold, nuanced, and a great contribution to anthropology, Mongolian studies, and the interdisciplinary study of ethnic and national conflict.” —Manduhai Buyandelger, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Author: Bille, Franck;
Franck Billé is a research associate in the Division of Social Anthropology and a member of the Mongolia and Inner Asia Studies Unit at the University of Cambridge