AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 503

[ China and Inner Asia Sessions, Table of Contents | Panels by World Area Main Menu ]

Session 503: Imperial Strategies in Transition: The Qinghai/Amdo Frontier Between Empire and Nation

Organizer: Benno Weiner, Carnegie Mellon University, USA

Discussant: Gray Tuttle, Columbia University, USA

In recent years the literature on empire as a structure and philosophy of rule, and how this contrasts with the logic of the modern nation state, has been extensive. Yet, when emerging nation states lay claim to the rights and legitimacies of imperial predecessors, as in the case of both the Republic of China and the People’s Republic of China, they are faced with the task of transforming imperial relationships and rationales of rule into national ones. This panel focuses on a particularly complex imperial frontier, the multicultural region known to Tibetans as Amdo, now largely contained with the Chinese province of Qinghai. These papers explore agents and institutions that occupied the space between empire and nation within which Amdo operated from the late-Qing through the Post-Liberation period. In Qinghai/Amdo, even while attempting to replace imperial logics with the administrative and ideological framework of the nation-state, state actors frequently revert to imperial strategies of rule, albeit in innovative ways. Thus, neo-imperial techniques become employed in the service of nation building, forming an uncomfortable hybridity. Moreover, local actors often attempt to maintain a semblance of imperial-style space, even within an environment defined by rapidly changing relationships between the state and society. Therefore, rather than posit empire and nation as discreet political formations, these papers suggest a certain permeability that, in turn, has implications for the integration of formerly imperial subjects into the modern nation.

The Local Imperial: Qing Colonial Officials and Attitudes, Gansu 1820-1912
Max Oidtmann, Georgetown University, USA

This paper addresses the question of how field officers of the Qing court implemented and conceptualized court policies in the Gansu borderland. Before we begin speaking of "imperial policies" being re-instituted after the fall of the Qing, it is important to get a more complete picture of what these policies were. Moreover, is it even appropriate to analyze them as "imperial" or "policy?" This paper will use Qing court archives, as well as local archives from Xunhua subprefecture (in present-day Qinghai province), to better understand how local administration and communications functioned on the Sino-Tibetan frontier. It will describe the categories and frameworks used by Qing officials and local Muslim and Tibetan notables in communications among each other at the prefecture, county, and sub-county levels.

Networks of Patronage: Authority and Change at the Six Karwaka Tibetan Buddhist Monasteries
Nicole Willock, Old Dominion University, USA

While recent scholarship accepts patronage of Tibetan Buddhism at the elite-level as a socio-political strategy adopted by the Qing emperors, the extent of imperial authority to smaller Tibetan Buddhist monastic communities is still in the process of being understood. This paper contributes to the growing body of literature on regional histories of the Amdo/Qinghai area by looking at three moments of patronage in the history of the Six Karwaka Monasteries. Although this set of six Tibetan Buddhist (Gelukpa) monasteries are only about eighty miles as the crow flies from Xining, the capital city of Qinghai Province, they are relatively isolated due to their precipitous mountain location. By diachronically examining three moments of patronage spanning from the high Qing to the mid-1940s, two parallel phenomena become apparent. On one hand, these monastic communities have remained relatively stable often due to strong monastic leaders able to secure vital patronage. On the other hand, patrons of these monasteries have changed with the vicissitudes of pan-regional political authority. Thus, success at these monasteries has been dependent on leadership and authority, both at the local and pan-regional levels, not only for economic reasons but for sustaining and promoting Buddhist scholarship and ritual practice.

Between Lhasa and Nanjing: Qinghai/Amdo and the Remapping of Sino-Tibetan Relations in the Republic of China
William B. Haas, University of California, Berkeley, China

Recent scholarship on the Chinese past has begun moving towards the margins, the frontiers, and the complex processes and interactions that took place in those regions. This paper seeks to reinforce this trend by focusing on an understudied yet critical site of political and cultural negotiation: the Qinghai/Amdo frontier. Otherwise excellent recent treatments of Republican-era Sino-Tibetan relations have tended to focus on interactions between centralizing administrations in Nanjing and Lhasa. Consequently, the Qinghai Plateau’s importance as a gateway, mediator, and enforcer of Republican China’s Tibet policy has generally been overlooked. However, in the absence of effective Chinese political control of Tibetan regions during the Republican period, implementation of national policy was often left to regional actors. In the case of Qinghai/Amdo, Sino-Muslim leaders like Ma Bufang projected political and military power from the provincial capital, Xining, throughout the region. This paper examines the ways in which Qinghai and its Sino-Muslim leaders and armies shaped interactions between Han Chinese and Tibetans during the first half of the twentieth century. More broadly, it will argue that in order to more completely understand the complicated topic of Sino-Tibetan relations one must prominently include this important frontier region in the discussion.

Between Empire and Nation: The United Front, National Integration, and Socialist Transformation in 1950s Zeku (Tsekhok) County
Benno Weiner, Carnegie Mellon University, USA

In the fall of 1949 when the Chinese Communist Party declared Qinghai Province fully liberated, it was faced not just with the task of governing a vast, multicultural imperial borderland but of integrating it into the newly established nation-state. This paper examines early efforts by the Party at state and nation building in a single location, the Zeku Tibetan Autonomous Region. Located on the Southern Qinghai Plateau, at the time of its inception in 1953 Zeku (Tsekhok) was recognized as a purely pastoral and wholly ethnically Tibetan region, making it in some ways a particular challenge to the Party’s nationality policies and principles, collectively referred to here as the United Front. Contrary to some assumptions, I argue that rather than empty propaganda or as a cover for naked aggression, the United Front as expressed in mid-1950s Zeku is more usefully approached as a sincere and innovative effort to creatively bridge the administrative and conceptual gap between empire and nation. Intended as a transitional phase meant to affect the voluntary integration of Zeku’s Tibetan population into the new socialist nation, however, the United Front essentially created a hybrid space between empire and nation. When pressures originating beyond Zeku interrupted United Front strategies in favor of more immediate and coercive means of national integration and socialist transformation, older imperial logics were largely severed, leaving Zeku and by extension much of the Tibetan Plateau unevenly integrated into the Chinese nation.