Tibetan Studies Internet Newsletter


Tibetan Studies Internet Newsletter

Vol. 1, #3

April 15, 1999


Published by The Center for Research on Tibet 

Case Western Reserve University

Cleveland, Ohio 44106, USA

Melvyn C. Goldstein, Director

Compiled and Edited by Melvyn C. Goldstein


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I. Research News: Austrian-Tibetan initiative; TTP

II. Guest Book Review Essay: Education in Tibet. Gerald Postiglione

III. New Ph.D. Dissertations: "Buddhism Observed: Western Travelers,

Tibetan Exiles, and the

          Culture of Dharma in Kathmandu" 


IV. Conference, Seminar and Co-operation News

V. New Books


I. Research News

1. From the Alps to the Himalayas: an Austrian initiative for

interdisciplinary research in Tibet

Hildegard Diemberger and Monika Kriechbaum

In 1992 a small group of anthropologists gathered in Vienna and formulated

an ethnographic research project on Sacred Mountains in Tibet and the

Tibeto-Burman following the tradition of the Austrian scholar Rene de

Nebesky-Wojkovitz. Under the leadership of Prof. Andre Gingrich, the

project was affiliated to both the Institute of  Social and Cultural

Anthropology of Vienna University and the Austrian Academy of Sciences

through Prof. Ernst Steinkellner (Institute for Tibetology and Buddhist

Studies, University of Vienna). On the basis of  a series of  successful

joint pilot projects, in 1995 an official agreement of co-operation was

signed with the Tibetan Academy of Social Sciences. This facilitated

regular fieldwork in Tibet and allowed Tibetan colleagues to make longer

visits to Austria to carry out joint research work. Thanks to the discovery

of a significant number of important historical works, the original focus

of the project gradually developed towards a deeper concern with literary

sources and with the interaction between literary and oral traditions. Some

of these historical sources have been translated and published jointly by

the Tibetan Academy of Social Sciences and the Austrian Academy of Sciences:

Pasang Wangdu, H. Diemberger, G. Hazod, 1996, Shel dkar chos 'byung:

History of the "White Crystal". Wien: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie


Tsering Gyebo, Guntram Hazod, Per Soerensen (forthcoming), Civilization at

the Foot of Mount Shampo - An Annotated Translation, Transliteration and

Facsimile Edition of Historical Documents from g.Ya' bsang. Wien: Verlag

der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften. 

Pasang Wangdu and Hildegard Diemberger (forthcoming), The Chronicle of the

dBa': Annotated Translation and Facsimile Edition of the dBa' bzhed, "the

Royal Edict on how the Dharma came to Tibet" (provisional title). Wien:

Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften.

Meanwhile the study of representations and rituals regarding sacred

landscape was developed further in co-operation with Centre d'Etudes

Tibetaines, Paris. Within this framework two collections of essays

presenting new ethnographic material and literary sources were published:

A.-M. Blondeau and E. Steinkellner (eds),1996, Reflections of the

Mountain:Essays on the History and Social Meaning of the Mountain Cult in

Tibet and the Himalaya. Wien: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der


A.-M. Blondeau (ed.), 1998, Tibetan Mountain Deities, their Cults and

Representations. Wien: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der


Since 1997 a closer co-operation with the Centre of Environmental Research

and Nature Conservation, University of Agricultural Sciences, Vienna, has

added an interisciplinary dimension to the research by focusing on the

relationship between perceptions of landscape and territory as well as its

concrete management. This has resulted in a project focusing on pastures

and nomadic communities, especially in the area of Porong and Nagchu, in

co-operation with the Lhasa-based government department, "Tibet Assistance

to Remote Areas". A detailed study of the pastures, their botanical

composition, their general condition and how these correlate with past and

present patterns of pasture management is currently being carried out.

Special attention is paid to the changes which have occurred in the

transition from traditional patterns to the present ones and to the

assessment of concrete problems affecting this area, just as in many other

areas in Tibet: drought, overgrazing, snow-disasters, etc. For the purpose

of these studies co-operation between natural sciences and social sciences

is essential, as the nomads are part of the ecosystem. An analysis of the

interdependences within the pasture ecosystems is a precondition for an

applied ecological approach. The multidisciplinary team tries to combine

traditional pastoral knowledge with ecological, economic and social

considerations as part of its goal of contributing towards optimal

utilization of the pastureland.

Part of the research activity dealing with concrete problems of the nomadic

communities is being carried out together with Eco-Himal, an NGO based in

Austria, Italy and Switzerland, that supports small projects initiated by

the various local communities in the field of culture, education,

infrastructure and emergency relief.

At present the anthropological team consists of: Andre Gingrich, Charles

Ramble, Guntram Hazod, Hildegard Diemberger, Gabriele Tautscher, Christian

Schicklgruber, Christian Jahoda Kirsten Melcher.

The team for vegetation ecology consists of Wolfgang Holzner and Monika


2. The Tibetan Plateau Project (TPP)

The TPP mission is to promote the conservation of biodiversity and the

sustainable development of mountain communities in the greater Tibetan

Plateau region, which includes portions of Bhutan, China, India, Nepal,

Pakistan and Tibet. TPP's campaigns emphasize regional strategies for

biodiversity conservation and economic development that benefit local

people and inform the international community about environmental threats

facing the region. 

Among TPP's goals are to:

 Safeguard regional ecosystems by supporting conservation strategies,

land-use practices and development goals that protect biodiversity. Act as

an information clearinghouse providing easily accessible background on the

countries and conservation issues relevant to the region. Protect wildlife

and plant resources in the Tibetan Plateau region by promoting research and

strengthening international, U.S. and foreign conservation laws and

policies. Develop resources for supporting the conservation of medicinal

plants used in Tibetan and other traditional medical systems.  Inform the

public, activists, policymakers and academics worldwide about the relevance

of conserving biodiversity in the Tibetan Plateau region. 

TTP is also about to launch , an email listserver

dealing with the relationships between the conservation of medicinal plants

and the practice of Tibetan medicine. 



II. Guest Essay-Book Review:  

Doing Educational Research in Tibet

Gerard A. Postiglione

Department of Education

The University of Hong Kong

The late Dr. Ernest Boyer one remarked that the only constant in

educational research is the continuity of ambiguity. He was remarking about

the mammoth research establishment dedicated to examining education in the

United States. If this is the case, how are we to think about educational

research done in other lands, especially developing countries, where there

are few skilled and experienced educational researchers at work, and most

are from outside the land in question. Not long ago this was the case in

China. If one was lucky to gain access, the result was often a book length

work. Looking back, what can we say about some of those works? How much is

the Tibet of today like pre-1978 China? Though Tibet is part of China,

there has been next to no educational research published in English, and

even the amount in Chinese and Tibetan has been shallow. Descriptions,

exhortations, and speculation abound. Thus, it takes a brave Western spirit

to write a book on education in Tibet, when virtually every Western

education journal is void of even an article on the subject of education in

this land that gets more media coverage than most countries of the world.

Catriona Bass has taken up this massive challenge and with the support of

the Tibet Information Network and Zed Press put out a volume on educational

policy and practice since 1950 ("Education In Tibet: Policy and Practice

Since 1950", 300pp, ISBN 1 85649 674 0). The volume is clearly written with

all the conventions of a textbook. If there were a college course entitled

Education in Tibet 101, this could be the volume for students without

previous knowledge on the subject. Though without a competitor, the volume

can be said to contain a fair introduction to the subject. Key issues,

including bilingual education, teacher training, educational finance, etc.

are covered. Each chapter contains an account of the basics, placed in the

context of the national educational policies of the PRC. The text is based

upon data from newspapers, yearbooks, local journals, the odd internal

circulation document, and random interviews. The most substantial chapter,

which covers primary education, contains a description of enrolment,

dropout, and literacy rates, as well as other anecdotal material. Noting

that low enrolment is a major problem in primary education, the chapter

concludes that,  "The causes of low enrolment appear to be a combination of

financial and cultural factors."  Beyond this, what can we learn? The

complexity of village life is elusive. 

It is not surprising that this book is high on policy and low on practice.

In a place where access is severely limited, data sources are not

plentiful. Most data sources contains some basic information, but little

about the debates underlying the issues. Could we expect more from

government publications? Articles written by officials who are periodically

sent down to examine policy implementation contain reports and stories told

to them by the local authorities. How reliable are the stories and

statistics? How are we to understand the thinking of local Tibetan herders

and farmers about schools for their children when few are literate and

contact with them is difficult? Many a teacher of English in China has

written articles on education in China. How much access does a teacher of

English gain to Tibetan perspectives? A daunting task, indeed. A certain

amount can be learned from the increasingly available, though often

unreliable regional statistics. However, this data does not permit us to

understand the manner in which Tibetan students and their families come to

construct the meaning of schooling within their own communities. How

autonomous were the decisions about attending or dropping out of school? To

what degree do Tibetans differ from other ethnic groups in China in their

cultural adaptation to state schooling? How relevant are cultural

resistance and cultural discontinuity to understanding success and failure

for Tibetans in school? We know families find it difficult to pay school

fees, and for Tibetan families this often means fees for more than one

child. How do Tibetan families select which of their children will become

their key educational investment? How high do book fees have to be before

parents pull their children out of school? Under what conditions would they

consider supporting the decision to discontinue the schooling of their

daughters? It what way do schools and religious institutions represent

ethnic minority culture in differing ways, thus creating competing

identities. How do Tibetans and deal with the dual layers of representation

of their identities that result from their socialization in state schools

and other educational institutions (family, monastery, village community,

etc.)?  It seems we have a long way to go before understanding education in




III. New Ph.D. Dissertations

1. Peter Kevin Moran , "Buddhism Observed: Western Travelers, Tibetan

Exiles, and the Culture of Dharma in Kathmandu."Ph.D. Dissertation, Dept.

of Anthropology, University of Washington, 1999.

	 This study examines the encounter between Western travelers and Tibetan

exiles in the community of Bodhanath, on the outskirts of Kathmandu, Nepal.

 Their contact is informed by powerful spiritual and nationalist longings

that pervade contemporary discourses surrounding "Tibet" and "Buddhism."  I

have specifically focused on the ways in which Tibetan Buddhism has been

presented as an object to be observed, reflected upon, and internalized by

Western travelers as they meet with Tibetans-in-exile.  What this study

documents is the changing nature of Buddhist subjectivities, whether

Western or Tibetan, in the context of pilgrimage, tourism, and exile.     

	The analysis proceeds on the basis of anthropological fieldwork carried

out in a very specific locale, but I also demonstrate that Bodhanath is the

site of wider cultural disjunctures, national displacements, and economic

flows that have shaped the contact between Tibetans and Western interested

in Buddhism.  Thirty years ago, Bodhanath was an agricultural and sparsely

populated community.  Today it is a Tibetan boomtown, with more than twenty

Tibetan monasteries in close proximity to residential flats and a tourist


	I trace the processes by which Tibetan Buddhism has become Bodhanath's

cultural product par excellence.  "Tibet" and "Buddhism" become not only

sights for foreign tourists to see, but, for some of them, objects to be

internalized through study and meditation at the feet of Tibetan lamas.  By

examining the often invisible assumptions that undergird the perception of

Tibetan Buddhism, I shed light on the practices and narrative structures

through which seemingly "natural" Tibetan and Western Buddhist subjects are

produced.  Thus this study focuses on the differentiating practices and

discursive formations through which Westerners and Tibetans have understood

not only what it means to be "Buddhist," but what it means to be hailed as

one from "the West" or from "Tibet



IV. Conferences, Seminars, Cooperation Requests

1. Matthew Kapstein and Melvyn Goldstein are interested in organizing a

Roundtable for next year's Association of Asian Studies Meetings on the

topic of TIBET IN HIGHER EDUCATION.  Readers interested in participating

should contact either Kapstein at (mkapstei@midway.uchicago.edu) or

Goldstein at (mcg2@po.cwru.edu). 

2. Seeking Reviewers for "A READER OF CLASSICAL TIBETAN"

Matthew Kapstein, at the University of Chicago, is currently developing a

reader of classical Tibet. The text is designed to be used by students who

have completed an introductory course in literary Tibetan, and know the

basic elements of morphology and syntax. It includes selections

representing a broad range of topics and genres: history, poetry, religion

and Buddhist philosophy, among others. In its final form, the reader will

include a complete glossary and annotations concerning difficult points.

	Some chapters of the reader will be completed in draft form by the end of

the summer, and so will be ready for use in the fall term, 1999. Those who

would like to have access to these materials

as they become available should contact the author directly at


The conditions governing use of the draft material will be: 

1. that it not be reproduced or distributed except for the use of those

studying Tibetan with you in the 1999-2000 academic year.

2. that you report back to the author regarding your experience using the

material for instruction, with suggestions for improvement as needed.



V. New Books

1. John Kenneth Knaus. Orphans of the Cold War: America and the Tibetan

Struggle. New York: Public Affairs, May 1999, ISBN  1-891620-18-5.

2.  Tsering Shakya. The Dragon in the Land of Snows. London: Pimlico Press,

1999,  ISBN  0-7126-6533-1.



© 1999 The Center for Research on Tibet

Text is not to be used without written permission.


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