China’s borderlands have received increased investment and policy attention since Beijing formally launched the Belt and Road Initiative in 2013. This special issue, comprised of four research articles and a photo essay, is designed to provide a timely intervention into the growing literature seeking to situate and assess this important policy campaign. Drawing on extended ethnographic fieldwork in China’s southwestern, northwestern, and northern borderlands, the contributing authors analyze recent borderland transformations against the backdrop of the BRI. However, by shifting the analytical focus to prioritize voices and events in borderlands, the papers de-center Beijing-centric discourse on the BRI, and provide urgent reminders of region-specific geographies and histories. Taken together, the papers underscore the persistent social complexity of borderland situations, revealing intricate processes of resistance, adaptation, and muddling through, while highlighting continuities and ruptures associated with the present moment.