Tibetan and Himalayan Library - THL

THL Title Text
Of Horses and Motorbikes
Lilian Iselin, University of Bern
JIATS, no. 6 (December 2011), THL #T5716, pp. 429-450


[1] Drokpa’Brog pa is the term Tibetans use for pastoralists – people whose economy and culture is based on animal husbandry as opposed to agriculturalists who work the land.
[2] I have lived in Sichuan since January 1999 and have visited TangkorThang skor many times informally from 1999 until now (2007), making observations, talking to friends and people of TangkorThang skor. Additionally, I spent several two- to three-week periods in the area, using the classic anthropological tools of participatory observation, as well as semi-structured and unstructured interviewing.
[3] A township is the smallest administrative unit in the People’s Republic of China. It generally shares a government, schools, clinics and other infrastructure and comprises between two and six thousand people.
[4] “Work units” were formed during collectivization and numbered. Generally they comprised the former sub-groups of the tribal structure of TangkorThang skor, with the exception of the work units number one and seven, both of which were formerly part of one tribe – SoktsangSog tshang – which during collectivization was integrated into the township of TangkorThang skor. The seventh settlement is not usually referred to according to the numeric system, but rather by its Chinese name, “Ma chang” (马场). It was set aside for horse rearing during the collectivization period and was under the administration of the province.
[5] See Mugé Samten GyamtsoDmu dge bsam gtan rgya mtsho, Gsung ’bum pod gsum po bzhugs so [Collected Works: Volume Three] (Xining: Qinghai Minzu Chubanshi, 1997), 377-81.
[6] In other nomadic regions of cultural Tibet, I understand, trucks are acquired instead of or in preference to motorbikes. Some of the processes described in this paper would probably equally apply to the use of trucks, others are specific to regions where motorbikes are preferred. Reasons to give preference to one or the other can likely be found in the terrain, distances that need to be covered, availability and market trends. Comparative research in different pastoralist regions of cultural Tibet would be needed to give conclusive answers.
[7] See for example Daniel Miller, “Tough Times for Tibetan Nomads in Western China: Snowstorms, Settling Down, Fences and the Demise of Traditional Nomadic Pastoralism,” Nomadic Peoples 4, no. 1 (2000): 95; Fernanda Pirie, “Feuding, Mediation and the Negotiation of Authority among the Nomads of Eastern Tibet,” Halle: Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Working Paper 72 (2005): 9; Emily Yeh, “Tibetan Range Wars: Spatial Politics and Authority on the Grasslands of A mdo,” Development and Change 34, no. 3 (2003).
[8] Melvyn C. Goldstein and Cynthia C. Beall, Die Nomaden Westtibets. (Nürnberg: DA Verlag Das Andere, 1991): 183; Angela Manderscheid, “The Revival of a Nomadic Lifestyle,” in A mdo Tibetans in Transition: Society and Culture in the post-Mao Era (Leiden: Brill, 2002), 280.
[9] Some structures of herding management remained during the collectivization period. However, the labor division was such, that different labor was divided among work groups (da dui) rather than among members of a household. See Graham E. Clarke, “China’s Reforms of Tibet, and their Effects on Pastoralism,” Institute of Development Studies, Discussion Paper 237 (1987): 35.
[10] Personal communications.
[11] I was frequently told that there are now more people, more households and more herd pressure than there used to be.
[12] Robert. B. Ekvall, Fields on the Hoof: Nexus of Tibetan Nomadic Pastoralism (New York: Holt, Rinehardt and Winston, 1968): 31-43.
[13] Miller, “Tough Times,” 95-96; Camille Richard, “The Potential for Rangeland Management in Yak Rearing Areas of the Tibetan Plateau,” in Yak Production in Central Asian Highlands, Proceedings of the 3rd International Congress on Yaks, Lhasa (2002): 13.
[14] The space allocated for winter pasture was, during division, increased in relation to summer pasture (personal communication).
[15] This corresponds to what Manderscheid has reported about pre-collectivization period in Dzamtang County (Dzamtang Dzong’dzam thang rdzong, Rangtang xian, 壤塘县). In that area pasture was later allocated by the bureau of agriculture, which indicates considerable regional variation in practices of pasture allocation. See Manderscheid, “The Revival,” 280.
[16] Fernanda Pirie, “Segmentation within the State: The Reconfiguration of Tibetan Tribes in China’s Reform Period,” in Nomadic Peoples 9, nos. 1 and 2 (2005): 85.
[17] See Melvyn C. Goldstein, “Nomads of Golok: A Report,” http://www.case.edu/affil/tibet/tibetanNomads/documents/RDP-WebsiteReport.DOC, 1996; Pirie, “Segmentation”; Yeh, “Tibetan Range Wars.”
[18] Dee Mack Williams, Beyond Great Walls: Environment, Identity, and Development on the Chinese Grasslands of Inner Mongolia (California: Stanford University Press, 2002), 67.
[19] See for example Daniel Miller, “Looking Back to Move Ahead: Integrating Indigenous Nomadic Knowledge into the Modern Range Profession in China,” Society for Range Management’s Annual Meeting, Special Session: Rangeland Professionals and Society: Future Directions (2001). http://www.cwru.edu/affil/tibet/booksAndPapers/miller.looking.back.to.move.ahead.pdf (accessed February 2006).
[20] Caroline Humphrey, “Chiefly and Shamanist Landscapes in Mongolia,” in The Anthropology of Landscape: Perspectives on Place and Space (Oxford: OUP, 1995): 135.
[21] Michel de Certau, The Practice of Everyday Life (Berkely and Los Angeles: University of California Press. 1984): 91-110.
[22] The yak cows are brought in the night before and tethered outside the tent or the house. In some place, however, I have observed that yaks are left to graze during the night and brought in for the milking in the morning.
[23] There are a number of travelers, explorers and missionaries who have written about nomadic life in AmdoA mdo or other pastoralist areas of the Tibetan plateau. Among them the most noted are R. B. Ekvall, M. Hermann, J. F. Ford, Alexandra David-Neel, and others.
[24] Ekvall, Fields on the Hoof, 39-41, 75.
[25] Some interlocutors from TangkorThang skor interestingly expressed these kinds of feelings in reverse, when comparing it to the experience of space in places other than the grasslands. One interlocutor explained to me the – according to him – unpleasant feelings of being in Hong Kong, describing it as the absence of space. Others, students who attended a Tibetan Middle School located in the deep valleys of the neighboring farming area, at times expressed homesickness and bemoaned the closeness of the mountains. “I can’t see the sky” or similar statements were not uncommon. Seemingly, pastoral space of TangkorThang skor is taken for granted until it is challenged by alternative perceptions.
[26] See for example Pirie, “Segmentation,” 88.
[27] Personal communication.
[28] The notes have been edited for the purpose of this paper.
[29] Ekvall, Fields on the Hoof; 29, 40-41.
[30] Gendered behavior and youth culture in relation to motorbikes in a pastoral place would itself be worth a study. However, it exceeds the scope of this paper.
[31] Hongyi Harry Lai, “China’s Western Development Program: Its Rationale, Implementation, and Prospects,” Modern China 28, no. 432 (2002): 451-53.
[32] I do not want to fall into the trap of assuming an idyllic past in which families were not fragmented spatially and / or temporally. Indeed, pastoralist culture seems to make allowance for fragmentation to a much higher degree as a farming society. This may be due to movable wealth and ingrained attitudes of fierce independence. See Ekvall, Fields on the Hoof, 75-78.
[33] At the time of collectivization (1962-1977) work points largely replaced monetary units. Household items, grain, oil and other necessities were available in exchange for work points in government stores.
[34] Some services and goods now available in the administrative town were before located in monasteries or trading posts, the latter often at the fringes of pastoral territories.
[35] Miller, “Tough Times,” 84; Janet Upton, “The Development of Modern School-Based Tibetan Language Education in the PRC,” in China’s National Minority Education: Culture, Schooling and Development (London, Falmer Press, 1999), 294.
[36] See Goldstein and Beall, Nomaden Westtibets, 146-55, 183; Manderscheid, “The Revival.”
[37] Yeh, “Tibetan Range Wars,” 507; Miller, “Tough Times,” 104.
[38] Within the “modernity” they find themselves in, this has become necessary. Schooling (now actually being enforced), medical bills, and the acquiring of necessary commodities, not least of them fuel for their motorbikes, require cash.
[39] Margaret C. Rodman, “Empowering Place: Multilocaltiy and Multivocality,” in The Anthropology of Space and Place: Locating Culture (Oxford: Blackwell, 2003), 204-23.
[40] Arjun Appadurai, “Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Culture Economy,” in Global Culture: Nationalism, Globalization and Modernity (London: Sage Publications, 1990), 295-310.

Note Citation for Page

Lilian Iselin, “Of Horses and Motorbikes: Negotiating Modernities in Pastoral A mdo, Sichuan Province,” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (December 2011): , http://www.thlib.org?tid=T5716 (accessed ).

Note Citation for Whole Article

Lilian Iselin, “Of Horses and Motorbikes: Negotiating Modernities in Pastoral A mdo, Sichuan Province,” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (December 2011): 429-450, http://www.thlib.org?tid=T5716 (accessed ).

Bibliography Citation

Iselin, Lilian. “Of Horses and Motorbikes: Negotiating Modernities in Pastoral A mdo, Sichuan Province.” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (December 2011): 429-450. http://www.thlib.org?tid=T5716 (accessed ).