PROGRESS IN GEOGRAPHY ›› 2017, Vol. 36 ›› Issue (9): 1081-1091.doi: 10.18306/dlkxjz.2017.09.004

• Special Issue: Urban Cultural Sensing and Computing • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Examining festival culture and ethnic identity from the perspective of cross-border mobility:A case study of Huashan Festival at the Sino-Vietnamese borderland

Xueqiong TANG1(), Junxi QIAN2, Xihao YANG3   

  1. 1. School of Landscape, Southwest Forestry University, Kunming 650224, China
    2. Department of Geography, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR 999077, China
    3. Center for Cultural Industry and Cultural Geography, School of Geography, South China Normal University, Guangzhou 510631, China
  • Online:2017-09-27 Published:2017-09-27
  • Supported by:
    National Natural Science Foundation of China, No.41261031, No.51668057;Landscape Architecture as the Key Disciplines at the Provincial Level of Yunnan


Border is a political institution that not only separates political entities as nation-states with territorially based sovereignty, but also creates potentials for encounter, contact, and exchange. This point of view is particularly relevant to ethnic groups that lead cross-border living, whose lifeworlds are crosscut by de jure borders that impose belonging to nation-states and territorially based citizenship. Yet, the control of borders exercised by sovereign states is never complete or absolute. In contrast, cross-border ethnic groups are usually able to devise myriad tactics and strategies to facilitate border crossing. To interpret the geopolitical implications of such border crossing practices is thus an important academic enterprise for scholars interested in analyzing borderscapes from mundane and bottom-up perspectives. So far, the extant scholarship has pointed to two major lines of arguments that concern the relationship between border crossing and ethnic identity/sense of national belonging. On the one hand, bottom-up and spontaneous mobilities that transcend the confinement of borders are often read as resistance, or at least transgression, to the geopolitical order defined by legal borders. On the other hand, however, it has been warned that an exclusive emphasis on resistance and transgression runs the risk of idealizing cross-border mobilities, while the latter may re-inscribe and consolidate, rather than destabilize identification to nation-states, especially when the radical differences in social, economic, and political niches give rise to heightened perceptions of partition and thus "non-belonging" to a presumed ethnic identity. In this vein, this article proposes the hypothesis that the possibility of cross-border mobility re-inscribing borders and consolidating sense of belonging to nation-state cannot be ruled out. This article uses a case study of cross-border attendance of Huashan Festival at the Sino-Vietnamese borderland. Overall, the empirical findings suggest that the maintenance of cross-border ethnic ties and identity and the assertion of national belonging to China are two processes that are largely co-existence, even mutually reinforcing. The ways in which Huashan celebrations are organized at the two sides of the border are now radically different. While Huashan in Vietnam adheres more loyally to traditional practices, norms, and taboos, the one at the Chinese side has incorporated staged performances to boost local tourism and refashioned ethnic cultural activities to make them in tune with standards and tastes of "modern", “urban” popular cultures. Consequently, Chinese Miao tend to consolidate a sense of belonging to China due to a sense of being “modernized” and culturally superior.

Key words: border, cross-border ethnic groups, festival, national identity, ethnic identity