Taming the Khampas: The Republican Construction of Eastern Tibet

Friday, January 8, 2010: 9:50 AM
Elizabeth Ballroom F (Hyatt)
Yudru Tsomu , Lawrence University, Appleton, WI
During the Republican period (1911-1949), Eastern Tibet was targeted as an arena for Chinese Nationalist nation-building efforts.  In addition to physically controlling the territory, this project entailed the intellectual mapping of the people and region.  To support this effort, a great number of scholarly books and articles concerning Eastern Tibet were published.  This paper explores the creation and construction of images of Eastern Tibet by Chinese scholars.  It examines how these scholars sought to re-map the frontier region as a constituent part of the Chinese nation and a legitimate target for its civilizing mission.  Much can be learned from examining how these academicians provided the legal and moral legitimizations for incorporating this region into the imagined community of greater China.  Indeed these scholars' ideas are the intellectual progenitors of modern Chinese nationalist projections, which are in forceful operation today. Drawing primarily on narratives about Kham history and society by prominent Chinese scholars such as Ren Naiqiang, I consider these texts as products of a particular time and ideology.  The ideas expressed extend beyond the localized context pointing to the popularity of Western ethnology among Chinese intellectuals at this time.  Second, I investigate how these new narratives framed the indigenous community as a "backward minority," thereby subjecting them to the Chinese civilizing mission with its supposed benefits.  I situate the impetus behind the new Chinese narratives of Eastern Tibet within the larger context of Sino-Tibetan relations of the period, stimulated by the perceived threat of activities of  Western powers in the area. I consider how the new frontier discourses fostered a sense of territorial unity while instilling confidence in the moral authority of the Nationalist government.