Obstructing Civilization in Khams: Chinese and Foreign Visions of the "Evil" Lama

Saturday, January 8, 2011: 11:50 AM
Grand Ballroom Salon C (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
Scott Relyea , University of Chicago, Richmond, BC, Canada
In the first decade of the twentieth century, the Qing government engaged in a civilising mission on the Tibetan plateau, decreeing new regulations for sanitation and entombment, despatching settlers and teachers, constructing factories and experimental farms. Yet when an Assistant Amban and his foreign-trained soldiers were slaughtered in the Parrot’s Beak at the very outset of their implementation, rather than pause, the Qing expanded its efforts, focusing on mitigating the local power of monasteries, endeavouring to counteract their influence through education. One success was triumphantly touted in 1911, a Batang woman who had spurned Buddhism for Confucianism, donating her entire house to serve as a primary school for the emperor.

Qing officials had misconstrued violent opposition to their civilising efforts as driven exclusively by deceitful lamas who had deluded the otherwise compliant Khampa commoners with superstitions, inciting them to oppose anything that threatened their preeminent position in society. These officials were emboldened by the unequivocal support of foreign officials and especially missionaries who shared a similar view of the lamas’ obstruction in Khams, though theirs was a civilising mission distinct from that of the Qing. Both perceived the Khampas as ‘muddle-headed’ and easily manipulated by the ‘evil’ lamas, who were in turn characterised as lazy and avaricious. This paper argues that the Qing’s misreading of the source of opposition to policies intended to enlighten the Khampas with filial burial practices and proper farming techniques was rooted in these long-held perceptions of the lamas, a misreading that persisted long after the Qing fell.