China’s West and Tibet


A China Studies Centre Distinguished Speaker Lecture co-presented with the Australian Centre on China in the World at ANU and the Australia Institute of International Affairs.

Date: 6.00pm – 7.30pm, 16 July 2014
Venue: Law School Foyer, Level 2, Sydney Law School. Eastern Avenue, University of Sydney

Robert Barnett, Director of the Modern Tibetan Studies Program at Columbia University, New York

As China moves into an era of regional power and dominance, long-standing issues from the past take on complex new dimensions and throw up shifting challenges for Beijing, its neighbours and the international community. The issue of Tibet has cycled through a series of incarnations as international and local politics have changed, but has remained for 60 years a problem for China that won’t go away; in the north-west, the Xinjiang issue, hardly noticed by outsiders until recently, has now shifted to a new level of anti-civilian violence that now is starting to extend far beyond its immediate territory.

How have foreign and Chinese interpretations of these events in the past stood up to inspection? Do decision-makers and outside observers, whether Chinese or foreign, tend to read conflicts in far-off places in terms of their previous, outmoded formations and thus exacerbate them? If this is a cycle of misinterpretation fuelling violence, how should the current tensions be read now? The changes on the ground throw up questions about the role of analysts in a world where a rising China asserts a new and particular set of stories and ideas, and about how conflicts in general should be read.

Robert Barnett is the Director of the Modern Tibetan Studies Program at Columbia University in New York. His books include Tibetan Modernities: Notes from the Field (with Ronald Schwartz, 2008), Lhasa: Streets with Memories (2006) and A Poisoned Arrow: The Secret Petition of the 10th Panchen Lama (1997). He has published articles on modern Tibetan history, Tibetan films and television dramas, and women and politics in Tibet, as well as on religious policies, political leadership, oral history, and exorcism rituals in contemporary Tibet. From 2000 to 2006 he ran the annual Summer Program for foreign students at Tibet University in Lhasa, as well as training projects in Tibet on ecotourism, teaching and oral culture. He is a frequent commentator on Tibet-related issues for the BBC, NPR, the New York Times and other media outlets.

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