Wednesday 15 October 2014, by
This research project focuses on the area of the Sino-Tibetan borderlands situated within the People’s Republic of China, and referred to as Kham by Tibetans who make up most of the population of this region divided between the provinces of Sichuan to the east, Yunnan to the south and the Tibet Autonomous Region to the west. This research project intends to explore from a comparative perspective the possible definitions of this entity called Kham, which in the course of history has never strictly corresponded to any administrative unit or coherent whole, and which ultimately should be considered as a land of encounters, a place of métissage (cultural exchanges).
By addressing a regional area virtually overlooked by Western research in social science, this project aims to strengthen international academic exchanges and to produce a strong network of collaboration on Kham studies. The multidisciplinary team will undertake ethnographic field studies and documentary research including archival research and contribute fresh, first-hand material to the socio-cultural diversity of Kham.
In-depth investigation of the internal diversity of Tibet and its connection with the outside remains sketchy and thus a particular focus of this project is to delve into the complexities of Tibetan society in China. This commits us to considering this region through its successive fragmentations and aggregations in its relationship with the neighbouring centres of power, Central Tibet (Lhasa) to the west, and China to the east (Sichuan) and south (Yunnan). It will lead us to explore the overlooked question about the limits and boundaries of authority, power or influence in different historical contexts. This question is particularly significant in the Kham context and is crucial if we are to understand the interactions between different levels of authority and the various components of what has made and legitimized authority in the Tibetan world in general. Finally, this project pays due attention to space and scale, with an emphasis on networks, and contributes critical work on historical mapping, which is so far practically non-existent in this region.
The challenge and inspiration behind this project is of a disciplinary nature and will hopefully provide an impetus by rooting it in a geographical area that is of interest to Sinologists, Tibetologists, anthropologists, historians, art historians, linguists and geographers.