Scott Relyea (Hamline University), " Settling Authority: Sichuanese Farmers in Early Twentieth Century Eastern Tibet "
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From 1907 to 1911, some 4,000 commoners from the Sichuan Basin ventured west. Enticed by promises of large tracts of uncultivated land and three years of free rent, seeds, animals, and farm implements, they ascended the Tibetan Plateau seeking new lives for their families – and new benefits for a changing China. At the start of the twentieth century, Kham was a borderland on the cusp of political and societal transformation. Situated between Sichuan Province and central Tibet, its polities and population stood at the center of a local struggle for authority between Chengdu and Lhasa, a struggle with regional and imperial implications. The plan to settle the lush river valleys and high plains of Kham, to convert its purported wastelands into fertile farms, was one component of a comprehensive endeavor to end this struggle, to transform internal governance and exert control over the borderland sufficient to substantiate external assertions of sovereignty. Notices posted on yamen walls across the province appealed to the nascent nationalism of Sichuan’s poor farmers, urging them to emulate Euro-American pioneers who ventured into dangerous and distant lands in service to their nation. Beyond turning rocks into crops, once in Kham, they were to be ambassadors of “civilization,” modelling both ‘proper' farming and loyal society, supporting a parallel effort to acculturate the Khampas, to sever their affinity with Lhasa, transforming them into imperial subjects and citizens of the burgeoning Chinese state. This paper explores the reorientation of imperial frontier settlement policies wrought by newly globalizing norms such as sovereignty, the role of Sichuan settlers in establishing exclusive Chinese authority in the borderland, and projecting it to the global community.
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: http://kham.cnrs.fr
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