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China and Inner Asia
In Session: Position-Takings in Chinese Ethnic Spheres: Minority Aesthetics, Agency, and Politics
2: Cosmologies in Tibetan Eco-Literature
Wednesday, March 24, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, United States
Chinese eco-literature often features Hanspace cosmological perspectives of center and periphery. Contemporary eco-literature by Tibetan writers challenges Hanspace cosmologies by radically centering Tibetan origin myths, narrative traditions, religion, language, and relations to the land. Alai’s (b. 1959) Sinophone novels, As The Dust Settles (尘埃落定, 1998) and The Empty Mountain (空山, 2005), center the Sino-Tibetan ethnic corridor of Aba, home to the Gyarong (Jiarong) Tibetans, doubly marginalized by Tibetans and Chinese. Whether detailing the “Capitolocene” logic of criminalizing opium in the center to colonize the peripheries, or implicating rampant deforestation, his novels demonstrate the centrality of regional knowledge to the global Anthropocene. Tsering Döndrup’s (b. 1961) Tibetophone stories (1990s-2000s) adapt traditional epic narrative forms to detail neoliberal assaults on nomadic lifestyles, linguistic invasion of the Chinese language, and the threats to Tibet’s environment from industrial modernity. They imply that green governmentality enacts biopiracy by extracting Tibetan biological resources and altering land rights. Both writers feature “idiot” narrators that manifest characteristics of the “trickster” figure common to indigenous folk tales, exhibiting uncanny sagacity and spiritual power as witnesses to cultural and ecological destruction. Finally, Takbum Gyel’s (b. 1966) Tibetophone eco-stories and Ju Kalsang’s (b. 1960) poetry (which he writes in Tibetan and translates into Chinese), while often considered apolitical, powerfully center the Tibetan subject in time and space by evoking Tibetan origin stories, nomadic practices, and Buddhist cosmologies that challenge the reader to reexamine agency and positionality.