16 Nov 2018

Constructing a New Tibet: Representations of Culture and Power in Tibet’s Modern Infrastructure

Paper presented at the workshop “Tibetan Landscapes” at the Center for Contemporary Buddhist Studies, University of Copenhagen.

Galen Murton


In recent years, reports from Tibet have been defined by two contrasting themes: economic growth and infrastructure development vs. political instability and social unrest. The Chinese state’s response to this paradox – increased investment, subsidization, and development – is problematic and has failed to mitigate the restive anxieties that continue to threaten stability across the region. While articulations of uneven development and accumulation with dispossession are often discussed, Tibetan grievances regularly cite the degradation of traditional culture as a paramount concern with state-led Chinese development programs. Today, development projects in both urban and rural Tibet increasingly incorporate local and traditional aesthetics through Tibetan cultural motifs and architecture. These trends are evident across the Plateau, from Lhasa’s new train station and Old Town architecture to main street facades in rural villages. In opposition to the white tile-blue glass construction that once characterized much of “modernizing” China, does the incorporation of “traditional” and “ethnic” aesthetics in new infrastructure suggest a post-modern turn in western China? Are these representations of cultural heritage and ethnic identity deployed to propitiate local, minority populations while they also contribute to the creation of a new China? Moreover, how are expressions of cultural identity leveraged by Chinese state and business interests to legitimate development projects across Tibet? As many development projects both symbolize minority populations’ cultural heritage yet also represent the diversity of nationalities comprising the Chinese state, this paper further asks how these “post-modern” development projects in fact reinforce the power and control of the central government across China’s western regions.

More information on the workshop here

Highland Asia Research Group
LMU, Social and Cultural Anthropology, Oettingenstr. 67
80538 Munich, Germany
martin.saxer@lmu.de | +49 89 2180 9639

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