When in 1949 the Chinese Communist Party “liberated” the ethnocultural frontier region known to Tibetans as Amdo, its goal was not just to construct a state, but to create a nation—not just control, but transformation. While state building might have been accomplished through coercion, Party leaders understood that nation making required narratives and policies capable of convincing Amdo’s diverse inhabitants of their communion with a wider political community. Rather than immediately implement socialist reforms, the CCP initially pursued relatively moderate “United Front” policies meant to “gradually” and “organically” persuade Tibetans and Amdo’s other non-Han inhabitants of their membership in the new multiethnic nation. At the outset of 1958’s Great Leap Forward, however, United Front gradualism was jettisoned in favor of rapid collectivization. This led to large-scale rebellion, overwhelming state repression, and widespread famine. Rather than a “voluntary” and “peaceful” transformation, Amdo was incorporated through the inordinate and often indiscriminate deployment of state violence. In this talk, Benno Weiner discusses the Communist Party’s United Front strategy in Amdo, the 1958 Amdo Rebellion, and ways in which the violence of 1958 and its aftermath continue to cloud efforts to integrate Tibetans and others into the modern Chinese nation-state.
Benno Weiner is Associate Professor in the Department of History at Carnegie Mellon University. He is author of the Chinese Revolution on the Tibetan Frontier (Cornell UP) and co-editor of Contested Memories: Tibetan History under Mao Retold (Brill).
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