Cross-Currents e-Journal (No. 19)
Frontier Tibet: Trade and Boundaries of Authority in Kham
The contributions in this issue focus on the period from the eighteenth to the early twentieth century, when this “frontier Tibet” [Kham] formed a middle ground in which local communities, the central Tibetan government (Ganden Phodrang), the Chinese imperial government (Qing), and later the republican authorities negotiated means of accommodation and established new institutions and practices. Against this historical background, the articles address questions of economic history, cultural interchange, and political legitimation and contestation at critical historical junctures. They show in particular how historical developments in trade and commerce are interlaced with notions of wealth and value, and linked to political control and authority. Together they bring new, ethnographically oriented historical studies into the arena of theoretical approaches to borderlands and corridors of contact...
This article focuses on the trade routes in the western Sichuan borderlands that facilitated contact and trade between Chinese counties and Eastern Tibet. In particular, the article offers a description of “official routes” (guandao)—which the Chinese emperor twice proclaimed to be the vital mode of access between China and Tibet—from Chengdu, Sichuan’s provincial capital, to Khampa areas, with Lhasa as the final destination. The exchange of goods in this region followed various routes during different periods. From the tenth to sixteenth centuries, transactions occurred primarily along the borders of Amdo (Tib. A mdo, Northeastern Tibet), but for political, economic, and practical reasons, such exchanges became more limited geographically and eventually focused along the Sichuan–Kham/Ngawa border. Many routes shifted to the towns of Kangding (Tib. Dartsedo) and Songpan (Tib. Zungchu), the main sites of distribution, where rich opportunities for trade and a strictly limiting transport geography made them important entrepôts that evolved into centers of prosperity. The geographic range of this article reaches to these two towns and leaves the investigation of the routes that led to western centers such as Derge, Batang, Chamdo, and Jyekundo for future research.
Keywords: Tibet, China, trade routes, official routes, guandao, tea, chama gudao, tea-horse trade, commodities, borderlands, Songpan, Kangding, Dartsedo, Kham, Ngawa, Sichuan, Luding, Dadu He, Kangxi, Manchu
During the eighteenth century, the powerful Kingdom of Dergé in eastern Tibet became a major political, economic, and religious center that gave birth to one of the most important printing houses in the Tibetan world. Written documentation about the construction of the building and the work performed by numerous artisans allows for a better understanding of the traditional economy in Kham in general, and of wage labor in particular. This article investigates the nature and terms of remuneration for construction and decoration work on the extension to the printing house that was built in 1744–1745. It demonstrates that, in Kham, tea and barley were taken as a reference value to estimate wages and, in so doing, lays out the methodology for comparing these data with those of Central Tibet, where the terms of remuneration were far more complex, including as many as ten different types of goods. This analysis contributes to a better understanding of the role certain goods and trade items played in the economy and lays the groundwork for the history of remuneration in Kham and Tibetan societies at large.
Keywords: printing house, Dergé, Kham, Tibet, economy, wages, construction work, decoration workt
Within the field of Sino-Tibetan frontier studies, there is very little in-depth scholarly discussion about commerce, trade, and the people who facilitated these activities across the Sino-Tibetan border; studies in English are particularly sparse. This article contributes to a wider and deeper understanding of the nature of trade on the Sino-Tibetan frontier and the role of women as facilitators by looking at some of the actual “dealmakers.” In the border town of Dartsedo—the “Shanghai of Tibet”—guozhuang (trading houses, Tib. achak khapa) not only evolved into convenient spaces for travelers to come to rest, but also were spaces of flux. It was in these trading houses that traditional notions of gender, class, and hierarchy were called into question and played out in unexpected ways. Women came to dominate the guozhuang because the work was likened to managing a household and therefore viewed as a lower-status occupation. This notion was reinforced in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when Chinese values and customs were introduced into the local society through frequent intermarriages between Han and Tibetan inhabitants in Dartsedo.
Keywords: achak khapa, guozhuang, trading house, Dartsedo, tea-horse trade, middlemen, brokers, Tibet, Sino-Tibetan trade, gender
In the late Qing and early Republican eras, eastern Tibet (Kham) was a borderland on the cusp of political and economic change. Straddling Sichuan Province and central Tibet, it was coveted by both Chengdu and Lhasa. Informed by an absolutist conception of territorial sovereignty, Sichuan officials sought to exert exclusive authority in Kham by severing its inhabitants from regional and local influence. The resulting efforts to arrest the flow of rupees from British India and the flow of cultural identity entwined with Buddhism from Lhasa were grounded in two misperceptions: that Khampa opposition to Chinese rule was external, fostered solely by local monasteries as conduits of Lhasa’s spiritual authority, and that Sichuan could arrest such influence, the absence of which would legitimize both exclusive authority in Kham and regional assertions of sovereignty. The intersection of these misperceptions with the significance of Buddhism in Khampa identity determined the success of Sichuan’s policies and the focus of this article, the minting and circulation of the first and only Qing coin emblazoned with an image of the emperor. It was a flawed axiom of state and nation builders throughout the world that severing local cultural or spiritual influence was possible—or even necessary—to effect a borderland’s incorporation.
Keywords: Sichuan, southwest China, Tibet, currency, Indian rupee, territorial sovereignty, Qing borderlands
Southernmost Kham, which borders Burma and Yunnan Province, remained at the juncture of several mutually competing political centers until the first half of the twentieth century. On the fringes of Tibetan, Naxi, and Chinese expansion and increasing political control, several Tibeto-Burman–speaking groups such as the Drung and Nung gradually became integrated into their neighbors’ polities. Their political dependency often arose from trading with and accepting loans from commercial agents and from the intermediaries of local rulers, Naxi and Tibetans alike. This article addresses this practice of providing credit, which was developed at the expense of impoverished groups who were often obliged to accept the terms of the transaction. The author particularly emphasizes the connections between this system of debt dependency, the relationship between creditors and debtors that has to be considered in terms of exchange and reciprocity, and the question of political legitimacy. Within this broader context of regional interethnic relations, the article provides a detailed analysis of the concrete terms of the political relationship that existed between Drung communities and Tibetan chiefs of Tsawarong, which contributes to an understanding of the workings of this relationship and its economic, territorial, and even ritual components.
Keywords: Tibet, Kham, Drung, Nung, Naxi, trade, debt, tax, legitimacy, ritual
A 1917 uprising led by Zöpa, a low-ranking monk who proclaimed himself emperor, attracted over four thousand participants in the Gyalrong region on the southeastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau. Some of the uprising’s agendas and goals contradicted one another. It targeted the Han with the shout of “Crush the Great Han,” even though Zöpa’s two main henchmen were Han. It evoked the support of a wider Gyalrong community and claimed to avenge Qing oppression (since the Jinchuan campaigns of the eighteenth century) while attempting to establish a Qing-branded kingdom. Also, this revolt targeted foreign intrusion, as evidenced by the burning of a Catholic church in Danba. This article offers a glimpse into how this uprising was embedded in sociopolitical changes during a critical transitional period from the Qing to the Republic in Sichuan’s Sino-Tibetan borderlands. It particularly examines how memories of the Qing’s atrocities and subsequent reforms, as well as of the “golden past” of Gyalrong, catalyzed ethnic and religious tensions. Above all, this study exemplifies the significance of integrating historical analyses with ethnographic investigations by examining the ways in which written documents and oral histories constitute competing yet complementary interpretive narratives about sociopolitical changes.
Keywords: ethnicity, religion, memory, Jinchuan campaigns, Gyalrong
This special issue of Cross-Currents is dedicated to Kham, or Eastern Tibet, which, according to the European Research Council grant supporting these articles, can be called a “Sino-Tibetan Borderlands.” But why should East Asianists, including readers of this journal, care about Kham, and does it in any way help us to conceive of the region as a “borderlands”? The first question was on my mind in May 2015 as I participated in the first of two workshops devoted to Kham; the second was raised by rightfully skeptical participants—most of them experts on Kham—at the February 2016 conference in Paris that concluded this project. The two questions are related, I believe, and this afterword suggests that one possible answer to both lies in using local Kham history to push the boundaries of global borderlands studies. My goal is to argue for an approach that both frames the complexities of Kham for outsiders, including myself, and provides one (but certainly not the only) option for coordinating the diverse research agendas of Kham specialists...