THL Toolbox > Places & Geography > THL Place Dictionary > THL Participatory Tibetan Township Documentation Project
Contributor(s): David Germano
The smallest administrative unit in China is the "township" (shang), and thus this is true for the large part of cultural Tibet now administered by China. A township very roughly corresponds to a valley. In contrast to the next largest administrative unit - the county (rdzong) - the township is something any resident will have a fairly good sense of in terms of its villages, monasteries, nature features, and the like. In some sense, it is like a "home town". THL is thus running an initiative aimed at getting Tibetans to help describe their own townships as part of a larger effort to document Tibetan places and geographical features at a very detailed level. The goal is to thus reveal to the world the fascinating diversity of Tibetan localities, while also increasing Tibetan self-representation in putting forward their own perspectives and knowledge to the world based upon descriptions of their "home towns".
Our long-term goal is to help people better understand Tibetan local areas, their very different ecologies, and their unique cultural traditions and histories. We also hope that these resources will be useful to attract tourists, and encourage tourists to have a more engaged and supportive relationship with the people and communities who live in these areas. We do not have the knowledge or financial support to do such a project by ourselves or with our funding, so we are heavily reliant upon individuals to volunteer help, especially for their home townships, or townships which they have some special understanding of due to nearness to their homes, work, or some other reason.
We thus welcome anyone - especially Tibetans, but also others - to contact us to volunteer to help us put their township on the map of global understanding!
Work begins with creating a full list of all places in your township - villages, monasteries, lakes, mountains, schools, hotels, historical sites, and really just about anything that you want to document that has a physical location in the township. For each place or geographical "feature", we need to document its name, location, relationship to other features, type, and hopefully at least a short description. This data all goes into the THL Place Dictionary so that people can easily find these places individually, or simply by looking at all the features contained by the township in location. For more detailed instructions on documenting Tibetan places in general, please see the THL Place Dictionary Editorial Manual. Once in the place dictionary, it can then also be viewed on a map, as well as used to index and link to many other resources on the places in question - images, audio-video, articles, and bibliographies.
There are various Chinese and Tibetan language publications that provide limited data about a given township, usually in the form of a list of place names with some brief notes. We are trying to systematically input these, and if someone offers to do work for a specific township we haven't dealt with yet, we will try to prioritize the input of that place. We will usually send this to you as a spreadsheet. Please review the spreadsheet with the following things in mind....
What features are missing? Please add them in. Our goal is comprehensive coverage - all villages, mountains, rivers, towns, lakes, and any other type of geographical feature that can be named and described. We are even interested in places within villages, such as a school, hospital, and so forth.
What features do you not recognize? There may be place names you don't recognize. Think hard - could it simply be a different name than the one you know? Ask older people in your township if they know. Let us know that you couldn't identify the feature, and explain to us what you did to try to figure it out.
Check all names and verify their spelling and correctness. If there is only a Chinese name, but not a Tibetan name please see if you can get a Tibetan name. If you know of an additional spelling of the Tibetan name, or a totally different name, please include it, along with any information you have about the nature and relationship of the various spellings or names. For example, sometimes a village may have one spelling on the official sign, another spelling on the local school's wall, a different spelling in the official government place name index, and still another spelling when you ask the local elder/historian what the "true" spelling is. We are interested in all these spellings.
We also look like to know the relationship between Chinese and Tibetan names. Are they completely different names? If not, which one is original? How are they related? Is one the translation of the other, or the transcription of the other's sound, or a combination of both translation and transcription?
We are also interested in etymologies of place names, i.e. descriptions of the meaning of the place name in relationship to the place's characteristics and/or history. For example, a village might be called “lha dkar”, or “white god”. Is there a story about a local spirit who was white who founded the village, or how? If there is more than one story about the name, all would be great to know. First tell us the syllable-by-syllable explanation of the word's meaning (god-white), and then tell us any stories you know about why the place is named that.
Type: It is also important that we know what "type" of place each place is - a village, school, monastery, mountain, etc.
Location: Any information about the location of the place is great, such as its location in relationship to other places, or its nearness to a river, mountain, village, etc. Ideally, we would know its latitude and longitude, but also if its in another feature - like a village, etc.
Pictures of each place are great – especially pictures that are good “summary” pictures – like of the main street, or looking down form a hill side, or an important scene from the place, and so forth. Short video clips of a place are also valued.
Finally descriptions of places from one line to one page are extremely useful. We are interested in anything at all - the history of the place, detailed physical descriptions, cultural traditions for which it is noted, and really any detail at all.
In addition to documenting the internal places, it is important to describe the township itself as a whole. For detailed guidelines for how to best do that, see Contemporary Administrative Units
If you are interested, we also welcome a special description of the township in related to tourism. Tell us why you think tourists might be interested to visit, interests the local residents have in tourism and any special programs or facilities they offer for tourists, as well as any concerns there might be amongst local residents about tourism. See Tourism Documentation of Places. For additional information on doing a rapid assessment of a site's tourism-related potential, capacity, needs, and dangers, see the THL Tourism Site Assessment Tool.