Differences over difference: friendship and Otherness at the China-Russia-North Korea border
Ed Pulford (Hokkaido University)
Paper short abstract:
This paper discusses international encounters in a town on the borders of China, Russia and North Korea, the clashes between understandings of the role of 'difference' within relationships which result, and how this encourages to reframe our anthropological understandings of friendship.
Paper long abstract:
Amidst the highly localised cosmopolitanism of a small Chinese town on the three-way China-Russia-North Korea border, international encounters are also meetings between people with very different ideas about the role 'difference' plays within relationships. As a prominent notion in (post-)socialist international ties, 'friendship' (Ch. youyi, Rus. druzhba, Kor. chinsŏn) is considered by locals to be the most salient potential bond among individual citizens of the three states. Yet 'friendship' is not equivalent for everyone, a fact I demonstrate ethnographically by focusing on contact between local Han Chinese vendors and government officials and members of a shifting Russian community comprising semi-permanent residents (all nevertheless on 'tourist' visas) and regular day-tripping shoppers. The numerous friend-making attempts which arise from encounters between these groups commonly result in Russian complaints of an overly utilitarian approach from their Chinese hosts, who in turn find Russians too reluctant to mix business interactions with the ceremonial act of cultivating 'feelings'. This may initially appear to be a division along an oft-cited 'instrument'/'affect' axis, but I show that there are limitations to this analysis and argue that the frequent failure of Sino-Russian friend-making here in fact results from differential approaches to 'difference' within relationships: whilst Russians broadly seek a bond which elides their friend's Otherness as much as possible, Chinese counterparts are far more comfortable with friendships wherein each party occupies an Otherness-encoding subject position, including host/guest, local/foreigner or indeed vendor/client. Perceiving this may in turn inform anthropological approaches to Otherness and friendship in the field.
Moving between self and other: Navigating hierarchy and alterity in cosmopolitical encounters