Cover of Past Progress by Ed Pulford
Past Progress
Time and Politics at the Borders of China, Russia, and Korea
Ed Pulford


May 2024
352 pages.
from $32.00

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503638181
Paperback ISBN: 9781503639027
Ebook ISBN: 9781503639034

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Excerpts and More

While anxiety abounds in the old Cold War West that progress – whether political or economic – has been reversed, for citizens of former-socialist countries, murky temporal trajectories are nothing new. Grounded in the multiethnic frontier town of Hunchun at the triple border of China, Russia, and North Korea, Ed Pulford traces how several of global history's most ambitiously totalizing progressive endeavors have ended in cataclysmic collapse here. From the Japanese empire which banished Qing, Tsarist, and Choson dynastic histories from the region, through Chinese, Soviet, and Korean socialisms, these borderlands have seen projections and disintegrations of forward-oriented ideas accumulate on a grand scale.

Taking an archaeological approach to notions of historical progress, the book's three parts follow an innovative structure moving backwards through linear time. Part I explores "post-historical" Hunchun's diverse sociopolitics since high socialism's demise. Part II covers the socialist era, discussing cross-border temporal synchrony between China, Russia, and North Korea. Finally, Part III treats the period preceding socialist revolutions, revealing how the collapse of Qing, Tsarist, and Choson dynasties marked a compound "end of history" which opened the area to projections of modernity and progress. Examining a borderland across linguistic, cultural, and historical lenses, Past Progress is a simultaneously local and transregional analysis of time, borders, and the state before, during, and since socialism.

About the author

Ed Pulford is an anthropologist and Senior Lecturer in Chinese Studies at the University of Manchester.

"In a border town where multiple imperial projects have soared and collapsed, Ed Pulford looks about the ruins and asks, 'What time is it?' Written with theoretical sophistication and fierce sympathy for local peoples' realities, Past Progress untangles Chinese, Russian, and Korean perspectives on a century of development history. Will be essential reading for anyone interested in the post-socialist condition, the dreams of empire, and the tangled problems of modernity."

—Ruth Rogaski, Vanderbilt University

"Past Progress is a compelling ethnography of memory and time emerging from everyday encounters with 'progress' in a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, and multi-national border region of Northeast China. Utilizing a deliberately non-linear approach that extensively draws upon historical and contemporary Chinese, Korean, and Russian sources, Pulford demonstrates how to think flexibly across shifting discourses of nation, state, culture, and history while foregrounding local, lived experiences of political revolutions and their ensuing social transformations."

—Jenny Chio, University of Southern California

"The first book-length study of a vital location in the Far East where Europe and Asia have long met to create a unique Eurasian culture. A huge achievement by a gifted anthropologist that will appeal to readers interested in new global history."

—Heonik Kwon, University of Cambridge