Reconceptualizing Tibetan statehood through the paradigm of governance

A public lecture by Professor Tashi Rabgey
Labrang Tibet - with red sky
Professor Tashi Rabgey
Wednesday 4 Oct 2023, 16:00 - 17:00
Spoken Language
International Institute of Social Studies
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Labrang Tibet - with temple in background
Lusham Yag

On 4 October 2023, Professor Tashi Rabgey, Research Professor of International Affairs at the Elliott School of International Studies, will give a public lecture entitled 'The beacon of Amdo: Reconceptualizing Tibetan statehood through the paradigm of governance'. 

Her lecture draws on the trajectories of past and present transformations of governance structures and state-building processes in the Amdo region to explore reconfigurations of Tibetan statehood within, beyond and at the limits of the Chinese state.

Tashi Rabgey
Professor Tashi Rabgey

Regarded as the paradigmatic ‘Other’ within the field of Tibetan studies, the distinctiveness of Amdo should be seen not as a subregion, but rather as a beacon and metonymic sign of the effects of statehood integral to Tibet as a composite whole.

This governance-centric approach to examining the distribution of authority and the interplay of structures of power and decision-making in Amdo opens fresh new avenues for inquiry into agency and transformation within authoritarian states in the shifting global order.

Download the full abstract


Amdo is one of the three tradition Tibetan regions that, since the founding of the PRC, has been incorporated into three Chinese provinces: Qinghai. Gansu and Sichuan. It borders Han Chinese regions to the east, the Gobi desert and then Mongolia to the north, Xinjiang (East Turkestan to the west) and the Tibet Autonomous Region to the south.

Amdo has long been a site of cultural interaction between Tibetans, Mongolians, Monguors, Muslims, Han and other nationalities (Ch. minzu). Hence, it stands as a test case for how Chinese development policies play out in a dynamic, fluid and diverse ‘borderland’ setting that is less exceptional than the circumstances of the Tibet Autonomous Region, but also very distinct from the inland Han areas of China.

Of particular interest is how Amdowan Tibetans confront and adapt to the context of rapid urbanization and other aspects of rapid societal transformation, and work within the constraints of various levels of the state – national, provincial, and local – to reproduce and even reinvent their culture and society in the face of this transformation. Indeed, Amdo has consistently stood out, at least since the beginning of the reform period, as being a dynamic region of social and cultural innovation.

These attributes of tumult and innovation have been evident throughout the 20th and even 19th centuries. Pre-modern Amdo was characterized by high ethnic diversity, unique cultural aspects and its own major dialect of oral Tibetan. It was on the front line of the rise of fall of successive empires emanating from modern-day China and witnessed particular instability during various historical stages.

With the establishment of the PRC in 1949, the region was then a focal point for several campaigns that marked the first decades of Maoist rule, although the region remained mostly agrarian until recently. The transformations unleashed since the 1990s have fundamentally changed this agrarian foundation of Amdo society, given rapid urbanization, resettlements, school consolidations and other state-driven development strategies.


More information

The public lecture is organized by the fourth international workshop of the Amdo Research Network taking place at ISS from 4-6 October 2023 and sponsored by the Political Ecology Research Group at the International Institute of Social Studies.

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