Monday, October 31, 2016

[Friday Seminar Recap] Zones, Landmarks and Spatialized Conflict in a NE Tibetan Town

Zones, Landmarks and Spatialized Conflict in a NE Tibetan Town

Date and Time: 7 Oct 2016 (Friday), 1:00 – 2:30 pm
Venue: Room 11, Humanities Building, New Asia College, CUHK

Speaker: Mark Stevenson (The Chinese University of Hong Kong)

On 7 Oct 2016, our department invited Dr. Mark Stevenson to give a talk on “Zones, Landmarks and Spatialized Conflict in a NE Tibetan Town”. His talk examined inter-ethnic relations through the lens of the making of public space in Rebkong. Given the fact that Xining, the capital of Qinghai province locates in the northern direction of this village, the government thus seems to identify the north part of the village as newer and more secular space, whereas the south of it as older and more religious (as the monastery is located in the south).

Many pictures showed during the talk spoke for themselves regarding the topic. One picture, with a statue of Tibetan Buddha standing in the local public square and with a few Tibetans kowtowed to the Buda, showed how recent a product the public space is for the locals. The speaker mentioned that there was no public square in Xining as well until around 2000. This might indicate some less-recognized inner struggle. The fact that this statue was sponsored by the government of Tianjin added even more complexity to the story. As many young Tibetans get their education in big cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, Tianjin is the one which embraced the largest number of Tibetan students from this town, which justifies its sponsorship. Another picture shows a group of young local Tibetan students protesting for their right of being educated in Tibetan language right by the said square. A third picture shows how the village, due to its famous Thangka artifact, is going to be designed by the government as a “development garden for art and artists” (青海熱貢藝術工業園區) which will probably attract more investment and opportunity for the locals, and at the same time, shape the cultural landscape of the valley in a profound way.

The speaker mentioned about the connection between public space and the Tibetan protest happened in 2008 as well as the public suicides of the same group happened around 2009 and 2010. Due to the public nature of the square, these suicides may be considered public events involving witnesses. The creation of new public space (such as the one with statue) means it can be used by protesters, for whom the public witness is desired. For example, the picture of protest in the square was immediately uploaded to internet during the very time and got circulated very soon. Moreover, the speaker also said that a contest for power/authority has existed between the secular and the administrative force, which can be seen from the choosing of local religious head. As “no religion in Tibet does not have a government behind it”, it is for sure that neither side can be cut clear from the other; the “connection”, as opposed to the “division” of the two, thus deserves equal attention of the investigator.

Zoe Duan
MPhil Student,
Department of Anthropology and Gender Studies Programme,
The Chinese University of Hong Kong

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