China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
In this talk, I examine how China and Mongolia’s different political systems generate similar temporalities through urban redevelopment projects. In Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital city, the government under the Democratic Party launched a massive project to redevelop the ger-districts – settlements that are not connected to the capital’s infrastructure and generate massive air pollution during the frigid winter months – and move residents into modern apartments. Despite Mongolia’s democratic system, robust constitutional protections of land rights, and discursive differentiation from its southern ‘authoritarian’ neighbor, ger district redevelopment has produced an unstable built environment. Projects have been implemented in a temporally discontinuous manner shaped by the electoral cycle. Half-built shells of apartments stand as monuments of failure. As a result, ger district residents are increasingly distrustful of the political system, and uncertain about their futures. China’s urban political economy also produces its own temporalities of uncertainty. In this talk, I focus on Inner Mongolia’s “ecological migration” (shengtai yimin) through which herders were administratively moved from the grasslands into urban apartments. Although China has the state capacity to build new apartments and move people into them (something Mongolia lacks), it is unable to engineer futures for the people who live in them. As a result, herders find their lives suspended in the interstices of China’s planning apparatus.