Since its renaming in the early 2000s, Shangri-La has witnessed a large scale and ongoing urbanisation process. Urban expansion is expected to accelerate with the opening of the Lijiang-Shangri-La railway, which is due to open by the end of 2021. Over the past decades, the former trading post on the southern Silk Road, or Ancient Horse and Tea Road, has grown into a city of roughly 80,000 people. A continual influx of migrants has not only changed the city's demographic composition but has also made Shangri-La a nexus of Sino-Tibetan and intra-Tibetan connectivity. 

The first decades of Shangri-La’s development were strongly characterised by an opening to the world, as well as the arrival of Han, Tibetan and foreign entrepreneurs. Over the past decade, urbanisation has increasingly emerged as the CCP’s primary governance strategy in the larger project of development and economic growth in its multiethnic borderlands. While the first wave of urbanisation in Shangri-La was mainly a by-product of booming ethnic tourism, there has been a tangible shift towards urbanisation as a primary form of governance.

In her research, Hannah Klepeis explores the social, spatial and economic consequences of state-led development and urbanisation of China’s governance of the Tibetan borderlands over the past three decades. By placing social relations at the centre of her analysis, she investigates how discourse around social and cultural change is shaped by, and in turn frames, urban encounters, and how urban encounters are frightened with issues of visibility and invisibility, trust and mistrust, as well as moral personhood. Furthermore, her research shows how these discourses and encounters inform urban Tibetan evaluations of their identities and subject positions in relation to and within Tibetan society and the Chinese state.

Hannah Klepeis was awarded the degree of Dr Phil. in Social Anthropology in July 2020 by the Martin- Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg. From 2015 to 2020, she was a doctoral researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology (Halle, Germany). Previous to her doctoral studies, she completed an MSc in China in Comparative Perspective at the LSE (2014) and a Mag. Phil. in Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Vienna (2012).