This program brings together historians and anthropologists of the Sinitic world around questions of perception, representation and administration of imperial margins. Historical anthropology offers perspectives that combine classic historical questions such as the measure of time and change with anthropological goals seeking to understand social and spatial logics of a given society. The margins of the Chinese empire will be approached as geographical border zones and as social spheres distinct from traditional political spaces. Understanding them implies geographical and ethnographic knowledge whose collection and use are challenged by such borderland areas.

During most of the imperial era, ethnographic descriptions were usually done by bureaucrats, but in the modern era foreigners, explorers, scholars, diplomats and soldiers became increasingly involved in ethnographic productions; such descriptions were also reappropriated by indigenous populations, who created and inscribed their own narratives within a larger frame. Therefore, the production of ethnographic knowledge needs to be reassessed through a historiographical prism, between philological activities and the constitution of oral archives.

The goal of the program is to reassess ethnographic and bureaucratic practices in contexts of crisis or uncertainty, but also of expansion and discovery. Instead of opposing centers and peripheries, submission and rebellion, it will address these issues through the lens of negotiation and accommodation. Beyond religious communities and marginalized social groups, polymaths, experts and other remarkable figures, it seeks to go beyond the distinction between individuals and human groups.

Planned events:

May 2023: national conference on the description of localities

October 2023: international workshop on nomadic and sedentary mobilities

Spring 2024: monthly seminar on ethnographies in borderland contexts



historical anthropology bureaucracy ethnography borders



Alexis Lycas (École Pratique des Hautes Études)

CRCAO members

Full members
Alexis Lycas (École Pratique des Hautes Études)
Damien Chaussende (CNRS)
Pierre Marsone (École Pratique des Hautes Études)

Associated members
Emanuela Garatti (Ruhr-Universität Bochum)
Frédéric Constant (Université Côte d'Azur)

Adrien Dupuis (École Pratique des Hautes Études)
Liang Zhong (Université Paris Cité)

Doctoral students
Alice Crowther (École Pratique des Hautes Études)
Xiangtao Sun (École Pratique des Hautes Études)

Outside Participants

Claude Chevaleyre (CNRS, IAO)
Aurore Dumont (GSRL)
Pan Junliang (Paris Cité, IFRAE)
Laurent Chircop-Reyes (CEFC)
Chen Ming-Zong (EHESS)