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A Look at the Margins: Autobiographical Writing in Tibetan in the People’s Republic of China

  • Isabelle Henrion-Dourcy

Abstract

The practice of writing one’s life was well rooted in pre-modern Tibet2: biographies (Tib. rnam-thar) and autobiographies (Tib. rang- rnam)3 of religious masters were, and still are, very popular readings, for monks as well as literate lay people. Some of these texts, written in prose, prose interspersed with verse, or entirely in verse, are even often read aloud because of the musicali ty of their composition The earliest known examples of autobiographical writing, only a few dozen folios long, date back to the twelfth century, but auto/biography as a historical and literary genre exploded in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, both in length and quantity.4 This was a pivotal historical period, which saw the emergence and consolidation, in Central Tibet, of the regime of the Dalai Lamas, and, in outer Tibetan regions, of large monastic centres. There are at least 150 book-length autobiographical texts that are accessible today,5 most of which contain several hundred folios

Keywords

Qing Dynasty Life Story Oral History Produce History Master Narrative 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 11.
    For a first survey and content analysis of 12 of those in English, see Laurie Hoveli McMillin, English in Tibet, Tibet in English: Self-presentation in Tibet and the Diaspora (New York: Palgrave, 2001), 113–232.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 12.
    A Chinese translation, intended for restricted circulation (Chin, neibu) but rapidly leaked among Tibetans, of John Avedon’s In Exile from the Land of Snows: The Definitive Account of the Dalai Lama and Tibet since the Chinese Conquest (New York: Knopf, 1984).Google Scholar
  3. 14.
    K. Dondhup, The Water-bird and Other Years: A History of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama and After (Delhi: Rangwang Publishers, 1986), 147–218.Google Scholar
  4. 17.
    See Ann Anagnost, National Past-Times: Narrative, Representation and Power in Modern China (Durham: Duke University Press, 1997)Google Scholar
  5. Charlene Makley ‘“Speaking Bitterness”: Autobiography, History, and Mnemonic Politics on the Sino-Tibetan frontier’, Comparative Studies of Society and History 47.1 (2005): 40–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Di Feng and Shao Dongfang, ‘Life-writing in Mainland China (1949–1993): A General Survey and Bibliographic Essay’, Biography 17.1 (1994): 34.Google Scholar
  7. 32.
    Melvyn Goldstein, A History of Modern Tibet, 1913–1951: The Demise of the Lamaist State; A History of Modern Tibet, Volume 2: The Calm before the Storm, 1951–1955 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989, 2007)Google Scholar
  8. Tsering Shakya, The Dragon in the Land of Snows: A History of Modern Tibet since 1947 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999).Google Scholar
  9. 36.
    See Heidi Fjeld, Commoners and Nobles: Hereditary Divisions in Tibet (Copenhagen: NIAS Monographs, 2004).Google Scholar
  10. 45.
    Chen Guangsheng, Lei Feng (1940–1962): Chairman Mao’s Good Soldier (Beijing: Zhongguo Qingnian Chubanshe, 1963)Google Scholar
  11. Mu Qing, Feng Jiang and Zhou Yuan, Jiao Yulu (1922–1964): A Model of County Party Secretary (Beijing: Renmin Chubanshe, 1966).Google Scholar
  12. 46.
    Aisin-Gioro Pu Yi, From Emperor to Citizen: The Autobiography of Aisin-Gioro Pu Yi, tr. W.J.F. Jenner (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987Google Scholar
  13. 54.
    Patrick French, Tibet, Tibet: A Personal History of a Lost Land (New York: Knopf, 2003), 202.Google Scholar
  14. 72.
    Stevan Harrell and Li Yongxiang, ‘The History of the History of the Yi, part 11’, Modern China 29.3 (2003): 364.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Isabelle Henrion-Dourcy 2013

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  • Isabelle Henrion-Dourcy

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