Acta Geographica Sinica ›› 2023, Vol. 78 ›› Issue (8): 1920-1935.doi: 10.11821/dlxb202308005

• Regional Development • Previous Articles     Next Articles

The development analysis of Tibet's border trade in the 21st century based on actor-network theory

ZHANG Zhe1(), HU Zhiding1,2()   

  1. 1. School of Urban and Regional Science, East China Normal University, Shanghai 200241, China
    2. Institute for Global Innovation and Development, East China Normal University, Shanghai 200062, China
  • Received:2022-08-05 Revised:2023-03-06 Online:2023-08-25 Published:2023-08-15
  • Contact: HU Zhiding;
  • Supported by:
    Major Program of National Social Science Foundation of China(20&ZD138);National Natural Science Foundation of China(42101231);The Second Tibetan Plateau Scientific Expedition and Research(2019QZKK0608);China Postdoctoral Science Foundation(2020M680693)


The actor-network theory (ANT) provides a new approach for multidisciplinary research by equally treating human and non-human actors and exploring the dynamic relationships between them. This paper incorporates ANT into geographical research on border trade and develops an ANT-based framework for analyzing the development of border trade, with a focus on the agency of state or regional actors. These efforts contribute to ANT's attention to the particularity of human actors and the expansion of its research scale to the macro level. The case study of Tibet's border trade at NathuLa, Gyirong, and Burang in the 21st century is used to examine and compare the interactions among heterogeneous actors in China, India, and Nepal, and to suggest ways to enhance the trade. The main conclusions can be drawn as follows: (1) The analytical framework shows that, led by state or regional actors, the development of border trade is still jointly driven and influenced by local and non-human actors through the translation process of problematization, interest, enrollment, mobilization, and dissidence. (2) In the case study, as the focal actors, the central governments of China, Nepal and India uniformly lead the translation processes and interactions of heterogeneous actors, which are also contained by non-human actors like international relations among the three countries, fragile geographical environments and inadequate infrastructure in the Himalayan region. The actor-network of China-Nepal border trade is built up better than that of China-India border trade. In this regard, border trade in Tibet should continue to be optimized in constructing friendly inter-state relations, scientific and strategic research on port planning and development, infrastructure construction on transportation and market, and other human or non-human aspects.

Key words: ANT, border trade, state or regional actor, Tibet