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‘You Can See China From Here’: The Evolution of a Border

Even the tightest border — that of Maoist China — can loosen over time, and eventually become a site of bustling exchange.

By Bill Callahan for

The Chinese border has been a case study in the spread of globalization. The rise of China was fueled by Deng Xiaoping’s policy of reform and opening up: the reform of Maoist autarky through the opening up of borders.

But in response to the globalization of COVID-19, on March 28 China started to close its borders again.

This film thinks about borders in a new way by tracing the recent history of a particular border crossing: the Hong Kong-mainland China border, especially at the iconic Lowu Bridge joining Hong Kong with Shenzhen. This bridge is fascinating because it is now the busiest border in the world, but in the Maoist period it was one of the loneliest frontiers.

The film traces the experiences of a dozen people crossing this border between the 1970s and the 2010s: Westerners going into China for instruction, Chinese coming out of the PRC for adventure, and overseas Chinese going back and forth across the territorial frontier, as well as the frontiers of their own self-identity.

We’ve gotten used to the idea of a borderless world, where Trump’s Wall is a scandal, but the recent global clamp-down on borders graphically illustrates that we can’t take international work and travel for granted. However, the film also shows how even the tightest border — that of Maoist China — can loosen over time, and eventually become a site of bustling exchanges.

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Bill Callahan is professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He further addresses border issues in his new book, Sensible Politics: Visualizing International Relations (Oxford University Press, 2020). Callahan also makes documentary films.