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91 Alternative Modernities, Postcolonial Colonialism, and Contested Imaginings in and of Tibet Stephen J. Hartnett The angel of history. . . . sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from paradise. . . . it irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress. —Walter Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History” S purred by increased shelling of the city, and worried by rumors of impending assassination attempts, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama fled Lhasa, Tibet, on March 17, 1959.1 Within days of his escape, Chinese forces had slaughtered ten thousand Tibetans;2 Tsering Shakya has described how “the streets were littered with corpses.”3 Over the next twenty years, as the Communist Party of China (CPC or the Party) colonized Tibet, “a staggering 15 to 20 percent of all Tibetans, perhaps half 92 Stephen J. Hartnett of all adult males, were thrown into prison”; the nation’s population of more than 110,000 monks was reduced by starvation, murder, and forced exile to 7,000.4 The Dalai Lama has estimated the death toll from these events, circa 1959–70, as reaching one million, or roughly “one sixth of the population.”5 China’s war on Tibet was so complete—encompassing the blowing-up of hundreds of monasteries, the repression of local religious customs, the forced transition from centuries-old agricultural practices to disastrous collective farming units, the marginalization of local languages, and the obliteration of ancient kinship systems—that John Avedon has portrayed it as “an orgy of destruction.”6 Shakya reports that Tibetans were so pulverized by these events, both physically and emotionally, that they began to refer to the Chinese occupation of their land as triggering a nearly apocalyptic tragedy wherein “the sky fell to the earth.”7 While the heavens collapsed in Tibet, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) embarked on an ambitious expansion of its borders: roughly half of Tibet was absorbed into China and eventually renamed as the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR); the other half of Tibet was folded into the much-expanded Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Qinghai, Yunnan , and Gansu.8 Exiled to northern India, ignored by the United Nations, and largely abandoned by the United States (leaving aside for the moment the CIA’s duplicitous involvement in the situation),9 the Dalai Lama and his entourage became what John Knaus has called “orphans of the Cold War.”10 Nonetheless, the Dalai Lama sought to salvage some of Tibet’s people and culture by establishing a government in exile. Based in Dharamsala, India, now often referred to as “Little Lhasa,” the Tibetan government in exile (formally called the Central Tibetan Administration, CTA) amounts to one of the world’s most remarkable examples of an exile community working for both a return to their occupied homeland and the construction of a new, diasporic notion of postnational global solidarity.11 As Pico Iyer notes, this experiment with exiled imaginings asks us “to think about home in a new way, without the limitations of nationality or race,” for the CTA is attempting to constitute a new Tibet “linked not by common soil but common purposes,” hence establishing “a community of vision.”12 And so, while Tibet has been physically absorbed as a part of China’s imperial expansion, “Little Lhasa” offers a living laboratory for exploring Alternative Modernities and Postcolonial Colonialism in Tibet 93 the possibilities of postterritorial nationality and exiled community in an age of globalization. In this sense, addressing debates about the contested imaginings of Tibet (created in China proper, in the TAR, in Dharamsala, in the United States, and elsewhere) offer insights into how the rhetorical work of imaging communities can simultaneously involve local, national, continental, and global layers—in this case, with dizzying and contentious consequences. While this chapter frames the contested imaginings of community both of and in Tibet as compelling examples of constitutive rhetoric at work,13 I want to try to add a new layer of conceptual complexity to that intellectual lineage by situating “Little Lhasa” within the rubric of postcolonial criticism broadly and the more recent theoretical work known as the study of alternative modernities. As argued by Raka Shome and Radha Hegde, “to think about, and resurrect, stories of other...


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