Eric Mortensen (Guilford College)," Boundaries of the Borderlands : Mapping Gyalthang"

Durée : 00:31:18 -Réalisation : 20 février 2016 -Mise en ligne : 20 février 2016
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This project seeks to discern the physical and conceptual boundaries of the Tibetan region of Gyalthang, in southern Kham.  At issue are questions about the relationships between older conceptualizations of place and newer understandings of identity vis place in twenty first century Sino-Tibetan borderlands. How do the various peoples who live within its boundaries understand Gyalthang? Following the theoretical work of Jonathan Z. Smith (Map Is Not Territory, 1978), I argue that the complex and dynamic webs of ethnic identity in the region neither conform to fixed physical or conceptual boundaries, nor elevate Gyalthang or even Kham as a central aspect of homeland for many of its inhabitants.  My work is based on an evaluation of historical sources coupled with ethnographic and folkloric data gathered during fieldwork conducted over the past twenty-five years in Gyalthang.

Do Gyalthangpa (Tibetans of rGyal Thang) understand themselves to be Khampas? Today, Gyalthang is part of Northwest Yunnan Province of the P. R. China, roughly corresponding to Shangri-La County (Ch. xianggelila xian 香格里拉县), and more expansively the Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (Ch. diqing zangzu zizhizhou 迪庆藏族自治州). Gyalthangpa speak several local Tibetic languages (Bartee, 2007), and there are pockets within this territory where Tibetan inhabitants identify neither as Gyalthangpa nor Khampa. While Ganden Sumtseling Monastery was, since the late seventeenth century (Schwieger, 2011; Bstanpa rGyalmtshan, 1985, Hillman 2005), an important center of identity-gravity in the region, some of the geographical areas controlled by the eight kangtsens (monastic colleges) fall outside of Gyalthang. Gyalthang cannot be cleanly defined by the constellations of monastic power. With no specific historical political or religious demarcation of the boundaries of Gyalthang, and with no unified linguistic or ethnic identity, what then makes (or made) Gyalthang Gyalthang? 

International conference “Territories, Communities, and Exchanges in the Sino-Tibetan Kham Borderlands,” Februray 18-20, 2016. This conference is an outcome of a collaborative ERC-funded research project (Starting grant no. 283870).

For more information, please visit the project's Website:

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