Eating the “Spirit of the Grasslands” – University of Copenhagen

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Eating the “Spirit of the Grasslands”

The Trade and Slaughter of the Tibetan Mastiff

Public talk with Séagh Kehoe, University of Nottingham.

Abstract

Since the early 1990s Tibet Fever (Xizang Re) has been sweeping Mainland China. Framing Tibet as an exotic place steeped in magic and timeless folk living in enchanted landscapes, Tibet Fever has seen middle-class Han urbanites willing to pay a premium for anything associated with Tibetan areas and it’s people. While this state-sponsored marketization of Tibetan culture has been heralded as an important source of development for the ‘backward’ periphery region, it has also given way to intense processes of commodification of the cultures and traditions intricately woven into the imagined fabric of the Tibetan homeland. This talk examines instances of and responses to cultural commercialization in Contemporary Tibet. Taking the example of the trade and slaughter of the Tibetan mastiff as a case study, I explore how Tibetan netizens engage with the Tibetan mastiff’s recent passage from nomadic guard dog on the Tibetan plateau to middle-class status symbol among Han urbanities to a grisly end as hot-pot ingredient. I use Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) to examine a range of online texts that deal with the animal’s demise, among which include a poetry anthology, blogs, essays, and social media discussions. I argue that the central discourses at work among Tibetan netizens position the trade and slaughter of the mastiff not simply as an isolated act of cultural dispossession, but as a wider assault on the cultural ecology of the Tibetan homeland. In doing so, I seek to draw attention to the centrality of homeland in these discussions, and interrogate the important ways in which homeland operates as a site where the various power-laden paradoxes, dilemmas and struggles of Tibetan modernity play out.

Bio

Séagh is a PhD candidate at the School of Politics and International Relations, University of Nottingham (U.K.).

He completed his MA in East Asian Politics at Leiden University (The Netherlands), and also studied Mandarin at Guangxi University and Sichuan University (China), and Tibetan at Rangjung Yeshe Institue (Nepal).

His research interests include media and internet, and ethnicity, gender and sexuality in Contemporary Tibet and China.

He is currently writing up his PhD thesis on representations of homeland among Tibetans in Chinese cyberspace. He tweets on @seaghkehoe and blog at www.seaghkehoe.com