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Ilha Formosa


Xinjiang and Islam

Readings for Unit 4: Tibet

How to teach about Tibet? What to read? What to believe? What to doubt? It gets harder and harder to know where to lead students. The challenge for an anthropologist is to get behind, below, and beyond the platitudes of the dominant discourses (in very oversimplified terms, Chinese Occupation vs. National Construction), to explain the conflict in concrete terms without explaining it away. I will start you off with the Tibet Question, and end you up there as well, and try to pack the middle with facts, figures, and opinions, so that the second time around, you can form an informed position.

Monday, April 27: The Tibet Question and Tibetan Society

Read as much as you can of Wang Lixiong and Tsering Shakya's The Struggle for Tibet, a required text, for which the review is due on Friday, May 1.

Then read liberally in Ralph Litzinger's and Carole McGranahan's special issue of Cultural Anthropology on self-immolations in Tibet after 2008.

Come to class prepared to spend the first hour discussing what Tibet means to Tibetans, to Chinese, and to people who are neither. Some specific questions we may want to consider are
  • Why has there continued to be resistance to CCP administration in Tibet, despite undoubted material improvements?
  • What is the role of Buddhism in the impasse over governance in Tibet?
  • Do you think the important question now is Tibet Independence, or changing structures and methods of governance under PRC rule?
  • Do you think Americans understand what is going on in Tibet? Why or why not?
The second hour I will spend in a lecture setting out the main points of Tibetan social structure and history. You need not read any more than the already heavy assignments set out above, but if you want some real ethnographic resources, I would recommend
  • Melvyn C. Goldstein, "Stratification, Polyandry, and Family Structure in Central Tibet," Southwestern Journal of Anthropology,1971. An ecological explanation of the Tibetan family system.
  • Melvyn C. Goldstein and Cynthia M. Beall, Nomads of Western Tibet. Goldstein and Beall (a biological anthropologist, pronounced "Bell") went to Western Tibet in the 1980s and lived with nomads for almost a year. They published a wonderful anomaly, a beautiful picture book that's also an accurate ethnography.
  • Melvyn C. Goldstein, Ben Jiao (Benjor), Cynthia M. Beall and Phuntsog Tsering, "Fertility and Family Planning in Rural Tibet," The China Journal 47 (January 2002). This is a new take on China's so-called one-child policy.
Wednesday, April 29: The Old Society and the Politics of History

Much of the contention over Tibet stems from the struggle over the past and its relevance to the present. You can see some of this contention in the progression set out in Wang and Shakya's Struggle, which you should finish for today in preparation for writing your review.

In addition, you should read Buddhism, Government, and Society, Goldstein's account of the class system of Tibet under the Dalai Lamas' theocratic government. This is the first chapter of what by now is three volumes, leading up to a fourth not yet published.

You should also read the official government position.

In class, I will first go into lecture mode, and try to trace the history from 1949 through the present. The interview with Shakya in chapter 5 of Struggle also deals with this, briefly. When I finish the historical account, we should have time to consider the question of history as nationalism: think back to (or read for the first time) my rather simple analysis of this in Negotiating Ethnicities.

Monday, May 4: Socioeconomic change and the question of cultural revival

Socioeconomic change
Tibet, like everywhere else in the PRC, is experiencing the effects of contemporary socioeconomic change. Emily Yeh has written a brilliant account of "development" in the Lhasa region, Taming Tibet, another of your required texts for this class, which you should dig into for today. Your review is due on Friday, May 8.

Yeh's work is about the agricultural zone of central Tibet, but a lot is happening in the peripheral nomadic areas as well. Jarmila Ptackova has recently investigated resettlement programs.

The question of cultural revival
The question of cultural revival is no simpler than a lot of other things in Tibet. The Tibetan exile community claims that the Chinese state is on a ruthless campaign to destroy and eliminate Tibetan culture, while the Chinese state claims that Tibetan culture is flourishing as never before. Here are some examples of cultural products and performances that you might want to consider before we discuss this issue in class: Wednesday, May 6: The Tibet Question Today

We will return to our discussion of the Tibet Question, in its 21st century form. In addition to finishing Taming Tibet, You might want to look at some of the following opinions:
  • Robert Barnett, Thunder from Tibet uses a review of a book by Pico Iyer as the basis for putting the events of March, 2008 and the following months into context.
  • Barry Sautman, Protests in Tibet and Separatism (scroll down to it; I'm looking for a better link since China Left Review seems to have disappeared) presents a strongly pro-government view, which Emily Yeh, in Tibet and the Problem of Radical Reductionism, criticizes along with other fundamentalist viewpoints.
  • Finally, Tashi Rabgey, one of the most thoughtful commentators on Tibet and an important activist for realist solutions to today's problems, along with Tseten Wangchuk Sharlo, sum up the recent history of Sino-Tibetan relations better than anyone else I have seen, in Sino-Tibetan Dialogue in the Post-Mao Era.