The research programme “Territories, Communities and Exchanges in the Sino-Tibetan Kham Borderlands (China)” has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration, European Research Council (ERC), Support for frontier research (SP2-Ideas), Starting grant n° 283870.

It is hosted by the Centre d'études Himalayennes, at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS)

For further information and any questions, please contact the Principal Investigator, Stéphane Gros

CEH - UPR 299
7 rue Guy Môquet
94800 Villejuif CEDEX
Tél : 01 49 58 37 36
Fax : 01 49 58 37 28

Home > Aims and Themes > Theme 3 - Political entities and social organization

Theme 3 - Political entities and social organization

Formulations of identity feed on local history. In the past, in the Tibetan Kham region, small kingdoms rubbed elbows with chiefdoms which for long periods remained independent of the power of both central Tibet and imperial China. Located at the crossroads of a transcultural encounter between Tibetan and Chinese civilizations, local societies are first of all characterized by diverse forms of political organization and economic and subsistence patterns. Efforts will be made to go beyond these contrasts and identify certain continuities. Articulating systems of kinship and residence, and the economic, political and religious contexts in which they have developed, will be referenced in the broadened regional and historical context, and will highlight important variations, while laying the foundations for a comparative approach to local social organization, political formations and patterns of authority throughout history. Through this approach, our understanding of the social morphology of societies located at the junction between Tibet and China will be reformulated in a constructive manner. This will enable us to redefine social boundaries and focus on the social and identity dynamics of a sociological and historical reality specific to this borderland region.

Given the political fragmentation of the larger Kham area throughout history, historical research is mainly being conducted based on a choice of key periods and localities. The powerful kingdom of Derge is of primary importance, for its political, religious and cultural dominance up to the end of the eighteenth century. Research also focuses on the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when there was heightened competition over the control of polities in Kham. This competition came not only from external sources, i.e. the Qing, the Republic of China or the Dalai Lama’s government in central Tibet, but the struggle of power was also endogamous in that a newly emergent elite sought to wrest power from the traditional royal families. At a comparative level, our inquiries have led to some reconceptualization of local modes of authority, and the diverse form of spatialization of the political entities. Some of the core questions revolve around the issue of boundaries (administrative, social, cultural, etc.) in the context of Kham and the difficulty to identify them given the heterogeneity of the textual sources; and the problem of the territorial cohesion (or continuity) of the political entities.

Forms of social and political organization are also addressed in terms of social morphology, kinship systems and marriage patterns. A survey of the existing literature is complemented with ethnographical data. Through this approach, our understanding of the social morphology of societies located at the crossroads between Tibet and China will be reformulated in a constructive manner. Of particular interest at the interface between history and anthropology is the investigation into how the imposition of the imperial administration has contributed to transform not only the elite, but also local societies.

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