Barak bridge, four people at bridge

The India-China Corridor

The large trans-border region, connecting Bengal in India, Bangladesh, Burma/Myanmar, and Yunnan in China to each other, has been shaped by multiple polities under the pressure of global empires. In this project we strive to understand the complex and interlinked webs of relations within the region during the formation of modern Asia. Two related aspects are given special importance: the role of natural conditions and the impact of human mobility in the historical processes shaping human and human-natur relations.

Project information

Project manager
Professor Gunnel Cederlöf
Other project members
Professor Willem van Schendel, Amsterdam University, the Netherlands, Professor Dan Smyer Yu, Director of Centre for Trans-Himalayan Studies, Amsterdam University, Professor Arupjyoti Saikia, Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati, India, and Mandy Sadan, Reader, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Great Britain.
Participating organizations
Linnaues University, Amsterdam University, Amsterdam University, Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati, and School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.
The Swedish Research Council
1 Jan 2016-31 Dec 2019
History, anthropology, and religious studies (department of Cultural Sciences, faculty of Arts and Humanities)

The project

sea and land Brahmaputra Arunachal
Brahmaputra Arunachal Gunnel Cederlöf

Imagine a corridor...

... in a web of pathways, of shortcuts and intersections. Imagine its many open and closed doors, the side alleys, and sudden open spaces. At one point, a centre for exchanging information, at another, far from the crowds, a secluded place for specialised work. Then imagine the movements and meetings. Think of it as a metaphore.

This project studies the formation of polities in the region that connects India, Bangladesh, Burma, and China, conceptualised as the India-China Corridor, during the formation of the British Empire in Asia. It focuses on two related aspects: the role of natural conditions and the impact of human mobility in the region. It takes a long-term view across the intermediate and transformative century 1820-1920 when the British and Chinese empires expanded their influence here. In contrast to studies of contemporary North-East India as an interlocked enclave bounded by national and international conflicts; through historical enquiry, the project will investigate the larger region as characterised by mobility.

The project poses urgent questions about the causes of intra-regional migration, the formation of rights, and socio-ecological conditions. What are the historical and contemporary social and natural forces that shaped this key-zone of multi-dimensional relations?

The project introduces the concerns of Borderland Studies into debates in environmental and legal history, social anthropology, and religious studies. We suggest the concept of the India-China "Corridor" to better analyse complex histories across long time-periods and to find a new approach to the drivers of geopolitics and economic transformation with historical depth in a core area of rapid change in the world today.

The project is funded by Vetenskapsrådet, the Swedish Research Council.

Research team

The research team
The research team


Gunnel Cederlöf is professor of history at the Linnaeus University Centre for Concurrences in Colonial and Postcolonial Studies and a Visiting Professor at Shiv Nadar University, U.P., India. She studies the environmental and legal history of modern India and the British Empire. She is the principle investigator of the India-China Corridor project. Her research seeks to establish the impact of environment, climate, and mobility on the formative processes of subjecthood and of British colonial governing institutions on the North-eastern Frontiers. Her work takes off in the from the results presented in Founding an Empire on India's North-Eastern Frontiers, 1790-1840: Climate, Commerce, Polity (2014).


Willem Van Schendel is professor of history working at at Amsterdam University and the International Institute of Social History, the Netherlands. He heads the research project 'Flows and Place-Making between Southwest China and the Indian Ocean'. It seeks to advance methodologies for studying the mobility of people, goods and ideas. Building on the socio-spatial concepts of place, scale, network and territory, it focuses on two major networks in Asia: connections across the Indian Ocean (the maritime network) and connections across the Himalayas (the river-andmountain network). These networks have been studied for the pre-colonial period but hardly for the period of the past 200 years. The project will connect hitherto separate academic research on three major nodes in the India-China "Corridor": Yunnan (south-west China), Northeast India, and Bengal (India/Bangladesh). Van Schendel has carried out research in Bangladesh and India during the past three decades.


Mandy Sadan is Reader at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, UK. She studies the historical connections between India and China via the Kachin region of northern Burma/Myanmar for nearly two decades. It includes a close analysis of textual and non-sources for studies of ritual language and visual and material culture. Her new research is will explore the social transformations causing the 'crisis of masculinity' that underpins the experience of endemic ethnic conflict, leading to chronic levels of substance abuse among marginalised male populations and the dominance of sexual violence towards women as an issue in political discourses around women's rights and experiences of conflict. The study will include a detailed consideration of the environmental histories of the Burmese borderlands to understand how environmental change since the late 18th century has contributed to transformations in gendered economies and family structures in upland areas as a longer term historical development that has influenced these social developments.


Dan Smyer Yü is professor of anthropology and Director of the Centre for Trans-Himalayan Studies at Yunnan Minzu University, Kunming, China. His research targets new conceptual grounds of Himalayan studies in his recently initiated China's New Silk Road Initiative. He also makes comparative studies of secularisms in India and China, and researches the affective nexuses of water, religious emotionality, and trans-boundary hydraulic politics in the greater Himalayan region. He will make two contributions to the India-China Corridor project: 'Reconceiving local environmental knowledge among missionaries, colonialists and modernized natives' and 'The secularization of religions in the imperial encounter of the British and the Manchus in the South West Silk Road.'


Arupjyoti Saikia is professor of history at Indian Insitute of Technology Guwahati, India. He is a leading environmental historian in Assam. Presently he pursues research on the socio-ecology of the Brahmaputra river valley. The first results will be published in monograph form as The Brahmaputra: An Environmental Biography of Modern Times. This study investigates the longer environmental trajectories of the river and the socioeconomic life of its floodplains. It provides a broad sweep from ancient history to the present. In relation to the project 'The India-China Corridor', he will expand the study to incorporate mobility and environmental change between this river valley, the Himalayas and Burma. It will thus also build on his extensive research on the varied livelihoods in Assam's plains and foothills.


Welcome to contact us


Gunnel Cederlöf,
Willem van Schendel,
Dan Smyer Yü,
Mandy Sadan,
Arupjyoti Saikia,


The India-China Corridor Spring School, March 2017

Gunnel Cederlöf

Modern Empires, Flows, Environments and Livelihoods

The India-China Corridor Spring School, Guwahati, 25-26 March 2017


For the first time in three hundred years, India and China are rapidly emerging as global powers in a world economy gravitating from the Atlantic to the Asia-Pacific. Deep histories of interconnection have materialized via enormously varied ecologies and eco-zones, and a broad spectrum of polities across times of interaction, alliances, and warfare. Borders and boundaries have variably hardened, softened and moved, from the times of imperial Mughal, Manchu and British domination until the formation of the nation-states we know today.

The transregional effects have not only cartographically reshaped the interconnected territories of the Himalayas, Northeast India, and the highlands of Southeast Asia. They have also engendered geopolitical perceptions of the eco-geological contiguities, and geo-economic alterations of traditional trade and religious networks between multiple nations and multi-centred ethnolinguistic societies.

Our two day spring school will emphasise processes of movement. The larger region is characterised by interaction, networks, and flows. As in a corridor, via its web of cross-cutting passages, intersections, rooms, entries and exits, people move together with material and immaterial value. Ideas, experiences, habits, and beliefs. Goods, technologies, practices, and skills. From large to small, from armies to vectors, there are processes of movement following geographies and seasons. A tiny stretch of a border crossing can manifest distance and alienation. Simultaneously, vast spatial expanses may host zones of mediated and renegotiated relations. Against this backdrop, the nexus of the region in focus here is not bilateral in nature. Rather complexly it covers a world region spanning from central Asia and the Himalayas to Northeast India and the Southeast Asian highlands.

The Spring School is envisioned as a master class for graduate students and young scholars to present fresh research findings and theoretical perspectives, and to explore new frontiers of transregional studies with leading scholars in the fields of anthropology, history, environmental history, gender studies, and religious studies. The conceptual gravity of this master class is set on the idea of "corridor" in both historical and contemporary contexts. Through the peer-sharing of case studies of modern imperial encounters, environmental conditions of state formation, and transregional networks of different capacities; invited participants will work with the faculty members to pluralize the idea of corridor and theorize it particularly from the perspectives of historical, ecological, environmental, geopolitical, and religious studies. The preferred geographical areas of the participants' papers are Burma and its adjacent Southeast Asian highlands, Northeast India, Southwest China, the Himalayas, and Tibetan Plateau.


25 March

Session I On 'corridor', flows and hurdles: Imperial Encounters and local transactions (GC)
Transregional Flows, Networks and Place-Making (WvS)
Session II River Connections and Environments, the Brahmaputra and beyond (AS)
To be announced

26 March

Session III Gendered Environmental Change (MS)
Trans-Himalayan religious networks and geopolitics (DSY)
Sessions IV Workshop

How to apply

The spring school will admit twelve participants who are either PhD students in their final stages of research or postdoc researchers who are midway in their projects.

Applicants shall submit an application including an abstract with a report on the ongoing PhD or postdoc research project, CV, diploma of the most recent academic degree, university affiliation, and contact infomration of a reference person.

Food and accommodation at IITG is free of charge for participants. Limited availability of travel support.

The Deadline for the submission of applications is 10 November 2016.
Submission of applications to:

Organisers and instructional team:

Prof. Gunnel Cederlöf, Centre for Concurrences in Colonial and Postcolonial Studies, the Linnaeus University, Sweden (lead faculty member)

Prof. Arupjyoti Saikia, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati

Dr. Mandy Sadan, Department of History, SOAS, University of London

Prof. Em. Willem van Schendel, Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences, University of Amsterdam

Prof. Dan Smyer Yü, Director, Center for Trans-Himalayan Studies, Yunnan Minzu University

Prof. Mahesh Rangarajan, Ashoka University

Venue: Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati, Assam, India

Sponsor: IIT Guwahati, Swedish Research Council