Memory Politics at Work in a Gyalrong Revolt in the Early Twentieth Century
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