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Author: Robert Barnett

Abstract

The paper looks at changes over time in the ways that leading nationality cadres use formalistic language conventions within a communist society to convey apparently heterodox opinions. It notes in particular how those changes are related to economic and developmental conditions. These produce shifts in meanings as a side-effect of changes in the relationships that nationality or religious leaders have with the state, so that what might look to outsiders like expressions of dissent may be, more precisely, reminders by those who once had significant stakes in the 'old society' of their original promissory or contractual relations with the Communist Party. In contrast to views of formalistic texts as moribund, official texts in the Tibetan case can be seen in terms of their 'liveliness', a result of reading practices which are highly attuned to the local effects of power and to ethnicity, with frequent interpretational tensions over questions of compliance and disloyalty. Detailed examples are given of writing conventions found in major texts produced by leading Chinese and Tibetan cadres in Tibet in the 1960s and after 1980. Particular attention is given to block writing and the use of standard formulations. A brief historical overview is given of the rise of such cases among leading Tibetan cadres in the late 1980s, and their subsequent decline as the economy surged and the first generation of nationality leaders anointed by the CCP aged and became less active, giving way to the current group of largely marginalised public intellectuals.

In: Inner Asia
Author: Robert Barnett

Abstract

A film, a television series, four plays and an opera have been produced in China since 1997 dramatising the invasion of Tibet by the British in 1903 04. These works were part of an official effort to enhance patriotic spirit among Chinese and Tibetan people through historical example, as well as an attempt to represent Tibetans as participants in a broader Chinese resistance to Western aggression and humiliation. They coincided with an official call for film-makers to make propaganda more appealing and a decisive turn in Chinese cinema towards commercialised films and Hollywood-style narrative. The paper contextualises these dramatisations and their ideological features within the history of Tibetan representations in Chinese film and television dramas, and discusses foreign critiques of the most influential of the dramatisations of the Younghusband expedition, Feng Xiaonings 1997 film Honghegu (Red River Valley). It notes difficulties with criticisms about the lack of accuracy in these Chinese films, discusses several ways in which they match the historical record, and compares them with the little-known television series Jiangzi 1904.

In: Inner Asia
In: Conflicting Memories
In: Conflicting Memories
In: Conflicting Memories
In: Revisiting Rituals in a Changing Tibetan World
Author: Robert Barnett

Abstract

This paper aims to stimulate discussion about the complexity of oral history as a practice by recalling its origins and early associations, such as criminal confessions, war-reporting, the novel, exotic art and other early forms of first-person narratives, and by tracing some of their recurrent echoes in contemporary work. It looks at some of the uses to which oral history or related practices have been put in the field of Tibetan studies, ranging from rigorously academic studies through nostalgic political testimonies to wholly invented pseudo-histories. It discusses the importance of silent oral histories, the ones that cannot be recorded, as well as of failed ones, which are recorded but rejected by certain types of researchers because they do not meet their desires for a certain kind of narrative. Commoditisation of the archive is described, not just in the obvious cases where large amounts of money are exchanged, but also an instance in Tibetan studies in which an important archive was stolen, apparently just for the prestige of secretly possessing it. These forms of prototypical oral history and its near relatives still hover on the sidelines of the practice, despite the efforts of scholars to insulate academic practice from them. The widespread circulation of fabricated narratives produced within the contemporary Tibetan exile economy to gain access to western countries underlines the pervasive and under-acknowledged role of the state throughout all these practices, banning, allowing, celebrating, regulating and exploiting all forms of oral history.

In: Inner Asia
Author: Robert Barnett

Abstract

The Secret History of the Potala Palace, a 1989 film about Mongol-Tibetan relations in the seventeenth century, was a milestone in the still tentative development of Tibetan film, with significant Tibetan participation and close attention to Tibetan sources of history. This paper suggests possible reasons for the withdrawal of the film from circulation, and proposes ways of reading film in the context of contested versions of ethnicity.

In: Inner Asia
Author: Robert Barnett

Abstract

Three major history films were produced in Mongolia and Tibet in the socialist era that dealt with the role of earlier Chinese dynasties in those areas. Two of the films – Tsogt Taij (1945) and Budala gong mishi (1989) – portray events in Tibet in the seventeenth century and include portrayals of the Fifth Dalai Lama and the Mongolian leader, Gushri Khan. The third film, Mandukhai setsen khatun (1989), deals with fifteenth century history in Mongolia and the effort to maintain national unity. The three films were produced during brief periods of relative relaxation in socialist ideology, and each reflected the considerable influence of local historians and intellectuals in the views they presented of local history, producing epic accounts of nationalist heroes or heroines and of their efforts to defend or build up the nation or nationality against powerful foreign enemies. The films seem to have been understood locally at the time or later as criticising a colonising power or occupier, but in fact the stories of each film focus on internal or neighbouring enemies who from an outside perspective appear less significant. The paper discusses the relative absence of the external enemy from these films and analyses the forms of emotional characterisation used to mark the different ethnic and political groups portrayed in the films. This analysis suggests that views held by subaltern communities towards other dominated groups or minorities, often dismissed as forms of erroneous displacement, deserve serious consideration as reflections of complex, emic understandings of political relations and priorities in colonial- type conditions.

In: Inner Asia