Differences over Difference: Sino-Russian Friendship at Interstate and Interpersonal Scales

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Relations between states are usually framed in human terms, from partners to rivals, enemies or allies, polities and persons appear to engage in cognate relationships. Yet whether or not official ties and relationships among people from those states actually correspond remains less clear. “Friendship,” a term first applied to states in eighteenth-century Europe and mobilized in the (post)socialist world since the 1930s, articulates with particular clarity both the promise and the limitations of harmonized personal and state ties. Understandings of friendship vary interculturally, and invocations of state-state friendship may be accompanied by a distinct lack of amity among populations. Such is the case between China and Russia today, and this situation therefore raises wider questions over how we should understand interstate and interpersonal relationships together. Existing social scientific work has generally failed to locate either the everyday in the international or the international in the everyday. Focusing on both Chinese and Russian approaches to daily interactions in a border town and the official Sino-Russian Friendship, I thus suggest a new scalar approach. Applying this to the Sino-Russian case in turn reveals how specific contours of “difference” form a pivot around which relationships at both scales operate. This study thus offers both comparison between Chinese and Russian friendships, and a lens for wider comparative work in a global era of shifting geopolitics and cross-border encounters.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)685-721
JournalComparative Studies in Society and History
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jun 2021


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