Rebgong, in the Northeastern part of the Tibetan Plateau (China’s Qinghai Province), is in the midst of a ‘Battle for Fortune.’ That is, a battle to both accumulate as much fortune, but also a battle to decide which definitions of fortune are going to dominate Tibetan society: a material fortune based in ‘authoritarian capitalism’ or a Buddhist form of ‘counterdevelopment’ based in traditional ideas about language, landscapes, and compassion.
In The Battle for Fortune: State-led Development, Personhood, and Power among Tibetans in China
(Cornell University Press, 2018), Charlene Makley
, Professor of anthropology at Reed College, intermixes these tensions while also exploring her own experience attempting to conduct fieldwork immediately before and after a series of demonstrations rocked Tibet in the lead-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Using a form of multi-sited, ‘dialogic ethnography’ from linguistic anthropology, Charlene Makley considers Tibetans’ encounters with development projects as a historically situated interpretive politics, in which people negotiate the presence or absence of moral and authoritative persons and their associated jurisdictions and powers. Because most Tibetans view the active presence of deities and other invisible and autochthonous beings as the ground of power, causation, and fertile or fortunate landscapes, Makley also takes divine beings as some of the important interlocutors for Tibetans. The Battle for Fortune
, therefore challenges readers to grasp the unique reality of Tibetans’ values and fears in the face of their marginalization in China.
Timothy Thurston is Lecturer in Chinese Studies at the University of Leeds. His research examines language at the nexus of tradition and modernity in China’s Tibet.