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Early Soviet Policy towards Buddhism

From Ostentatious Tolerance to Undisguised Hostility

Darima Amogolonova

Abstract

This paper explores the Buryat Bolsheviks’ efforts to replace the religious identity of fellow Buryats with a Soviet identity in the wake of the Russian Revolution, and analyses the ways in which the Buddhist community attempted to adapt to totalitarian rule. In addition to fostering a general atmosphere of intolerance to religion, considered an antagonistic worldview, the Bolsheviks set out to promote the cultural assimilation of this non-Russian population within the Russian ethnic majority. This entailed a programme of education in the spirit of Soviet patriotism and loyalty, designed to ensure the ideological unity of the nation. Over a short historical period from the early 1920s to the early 1930s, the attitude of the Soviet authorities towards Buddhist religion, clergy and believers shifted radically, from tolerance towards the religion of the ‘oppressed non-Russian masses’ to uncompromising antagonism and the targeting of religion as a class enemy that must be annihilated in the name of creating ‘a new man’.

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David Sneath

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Gulnar T. Kendirbai

Abstract

This article offers a new explanatory framework for studies of the return of the tsar’s Kalmyk subjects to their ancestors’ lands in Jungaria in 1771, a unique episode of Russian imperial history that illustrates the complex power dynamics of the Inner Asian frontier. By highlighting structural similarities between Russian and Qing approaches to their nomadic counterparts, the article challenges earlier characterisations of the Russian/Kalmyk relationship as one of domination and subjugation, demonstrating instead that Russian imperial authorities continued to adhere to established steppe political practices in their interactions with the Kalmyks until at least the beginning of the nineteenth century.

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Precious Skin

The Rise and Fall of the Otter Fur Trade in Tibet

Lobsang Yongdan

Abstract

Before 2006, otter pelts, the skins of carnivorous mammals from the Lutrinae family, were considered to be among the most precious and sought-after commodities in Tibet, being used for clothing, hats, and cushions. The animal’s flesh and body parts were used as ingredients in Tibetan medicine. However, after the Dalai Lama criticised the use of wild animal furs in 2006 in response to requests from international conservation organisations, most Tibetans not only stopped wearing otter fur, but a significant number of people also set fire to pelts worth thousands of yuan. In this article, by exploring a number of Tibetan religious and historical texts, I discuss the history of otter fur in its broadest context and the change in social values indicated by the cessation of this practice and outline the history of otter fur usage in Tibet, as well as the rise and fall of the material’s trade in the country.

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Timothy Thurston

Abstract

Tibetans in twenty-first-century China have engaged in an increasingly high-profile campaign to promote language purity. In this purity campaign, Tibetan comedians and rappers have encouraged their audiences to speak pure Tibetan, and a host of neologisms have been coined to help people speak Tibetan even in modern contexts. Although coining new terms involves tremendous innovation, Tibetans almost uniformly view purism in this fashion as promoting traditional knowledge and practices considered to be under threat. This paper examines Tibetan media discourses on language purity to understand the development of new metadiscursive regimes in Tibet that link otherwise contemporary values like language purity with the preservation of Tibetan traditions.

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Toxic Care (?)

Scepticism and Treatment Failure in Post-Soviet Mongolia

Elizabeth Turk

Abstract

In post-socialist Mongolia, unsuccessful treatment, or worse, interventions that result in worsened health conditions, are common concerns. Patients and clients direct scepticism towards a range of practitioners, from biomedical physicians to shamans and ‘folk’ healers (domch). The gap between the ideal treatment and the actual outcome—the prevalence of treatment misfires—invites analysis of infrastructural changes to (health)care and wider contexts of relationality. As state-owned medicine was restructured in the 1990s, healing ‘traditions’ such as shamanism and Traditional Mongolian Medicine considered essentialised aspects of national identity have gained new legitimacy. Many people find it challenging to navigate the multiple authorities on health and wellbeing that exist in contemporary public. Patients and clients often questioned efficacy in terms of toxicity and poison (hor, horlol). Toxicity’s associations with Soviet-era regulation and Buddhist medical contexts articulate the importance of both state-sanctioned regulation and the practitioner’s specialised knowledge.

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Khohchahar E. Chuluu

Abstract

In the Mongolian tradition, hunting and war have had strong connections with each other. During the Qing Empire, Mongolian hunts were not only local practices, but were also involved in the Qing empire-building project. On the other hand, the collective hunt itself was by nature a dangerous activity that contained potential physical risks from wild animal attacks as well as human errors. It is conventionally understood that the hunt therefore must have been well organised in order to secure success and security. But how a hunt was organised and operated in reality has not yet been well examined. This study explores the organisational structure and regulations of a military hunt in Qing Inner Mongolia, a geographically important zone where both the Manchus and Mongols actively held hunts. The primary focus of this article is the nineteenth-century Alasha Banner grand hunt, a well-organised and documented Mongolian military hunt from the Qing period.