Emily T. YehJun 15, 2015
Landscape Transformation and the Gift of Chinese Development
Cornell University Press 2013
Emily T. Yeh's Taming Tibet: Landscape Transformation and the Gift of Chinese Development (Cornell University Press, 2013) is an award-winning critical analysis of the production and transformation of the Tibetan landscape since 1950, construing development as a "state project that is presented as a gift to the Tibetan people" especially as it works to territorialize Tibet. Focusing on Lhasa and its environs, Yeh takes readers through three key transformations that each formed an important stage in this territorialization and motivates the focus of one part of the book. Part I ("Soil") looks at the introduction of state farms and communes in the 1950s and continuing through the early 1980s, paying careful attention to the ways that Tibetan laborers & commune members produced "a new socialist landscape" by working the soil. Part II ("Plastic") looks at development and market reforms in the 1990s that allowed large numbers of Han Chinese to migrate into Tibet. These Han migrants quickly came to dominate economic activities that included, notably, greenhouse vegetable cultivation, producing a "peri-urban landscape" covered in plastic. Part III ("Concrete") looks at the urbanization and expansion of the built environment in the 2000s, marking a new stage of development that further transformed the landscape into a patchwork of new buildings that were framed as gifts of the state. The chapters alternate with short textual interludes that offer perspectives and moments from Yeh's own research and experience in Tibet. This is a moving, powerful, and compellingly argued book that I highly recommend to anyone interested in modern China, Tibet, development, and/or urban studies.