Scalar Imaginaries of Region and Nation in the Pearl River Delta’s Express Railway Link

Authors: Dylan Brady*, University of Oregon
Topics: Political Geography, Cultural Geography, China
Keywords: china, infrastructure, geopolitics, mobility, scale
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper examines how the materiality of transportation infrastructure is mobilized as an element of state- and nation-building discourse. This paper examines media discourse around the opening of the new Express Railway Link (XRL) to Hong Kong to trace how the concrete specificities of ticketing and boundary control procedures are mobilized to produce space at multiple scales. The XRL is a key infrastructural component in two distinct place-making projects. Regionally, it furthers the integration of Hong Kong within the “Greater Bay Area,” the Pearl River Delta mega-city. Simultaneously, the XRL connects China’s national high-speed railway grid directly to Hong Kong for the first time—a change that thrusts old cross-boundary geopolitical tensions to the fore. Connecting Hong Kong to the regional inter-city network and the national grid is not just a matter of concrete and steel, however, but of travel permits and checkpoints. These banal yet politically-charged changes to boundary control and ticketing systems have been debated in regional and national media, illustrating how infrastructure is deployed to create new spatial imaginaries. State media positions these changes as discursively integrating Hong Kong into a cross-boundary Greater Bay Area and politically integrating the city into mainland China. This paper uses the case of the XRL to reflect critically on state discourses of rail within the mainland: while assumed to be a powerful source of legitimacy, this paper argues for attention to how and where rail has escaped the state’s discursive control.

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