Managing Boundary, Normalizing Control: How China Utilizes Boundaries to Battle the Long Pandemic

How does China normalize unusual social control in its battle against the long pandemic? At the heart of China’s “normalization” strategy is to enforce “bounded state of emergency”—delimiting intrusive and burdensome control by territorialized management of local boundaries. The paper traces how China's boundary administration constructs spatial division in pre-pandemic everyday life. Such practice of state power not only prepares infrastructures and institutions to monitor and control boundary-crossing, but also perpetuates spatial differentiation and legitimizes the state’s space-specific regulations of cross-boundary flow. Drawing on the case of Beijing-Hebei boundary, the paper finds that China’s boundary management is effective in combating sporadic cases and local outbreaks, and more importantly, in normalizing burdens imposed on millions of boundary-crossers. It sheds light on the enduring importance of territorial control in understanding how China is governed.