Frontier Tibet

Cross-CurrentsCross-Currents: East Asian History and Culture Review, no. 19 (E-Journal)

Frontier Tibet: Trade and Boundaries of Authority in Kham

This special issue of Cross-Currents (open-access) focuses on the region of the Sino-Tibetan borderlands that Tibetans call Kham: a historical frontier where several spheres of authority have competed, expanded or retracted, and sometimes overlapped. It has long constituted a buffer zone between the larger political entities of Central Tibet and China proper, and is an area that crosses cultural, ecological, and political boundaries.

The articles in this special issue of Cross-Currents stem from a  ERC-funded collaborative project called “Territories, Communities, and Exchanges in the Kham Sino-Tibetan Borderlands” ( Within the framework of this research project, the authors whose work appears here have avoided naturalizing any particular definition of Kham—although it is an inescapably endogenous category. Regions are contested historical and socio-spatial processes. In Kham, influences from multiple centers have been exercized with varying intensity, and belongings and allegiances themselves have been multiple and variable.

The contributions in this issue focus on the period from the eighteenth to the early twentieth century, when this “frontier Tibet” formed a middle ground in which local communities, the central Tibetan government (Ganden Phodrang), the Chinese imperial government (Qing), and later the republican authorities negotiated means of accommodation and established new institutions and practices. Against this historical background, the articles address questions of economic history, cultural interchange, and political legitimation and contestation at critical historical junctures. They show in particular how historical developments in trade and commerce are interlaced with notions of wealth and value, and linked to political control and authority. Together they bring new, ethnographically oriented historical studies into the arena of theoretical approaches to borderlands and corridors of contact.

To view the issue online, click here.


Introduction to “Frontier Tibet: Trade and Boundaries of Authority in Kham”

Stéphane Gros, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique

“To Control Tibet, First Pacify Kham”: Trade Routes and “Official Routes” (Guandao) in Easternmost Kham

Patrick Booz, Pennsylvania State University

Construction Work and Wages at the Dergé Printing House in the Eighteenth Century

Rémi Chaix, École Pratique des Hautes Études

Guozhang Trading Houses and Tibetan Middlemen in Dartsedo, the “Shanghai of Tibet”

Yudru Tsomu, Sichuan University

Victorianizing Guangxu: Arresting Flows, Minting Coins, and Exerting Authority in Early Twentieth-Century Kham

Scott Relyea, Appalachian State University

Tricks of the Trade: Debt and Imposed Sovereignty in Southernmost Kham in the Nineteenth to Twentieth Centuries

Stéphane Gros, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique

Memory Politics at Work in a Gyalrong Revolt in the Early Twentieth Century

Jinba Tenzin, National University of Singapore

Afterword: Why Kham? Why Borderlands? Coordinating New Research Programs for Asia

Patterson Giersch, Wellesley College

Cite this blog post
Stéphane Gros (2016, July 24). Frontier Tibet. The Himalayas and beyond. Retrieved May 25, 2024, from

Stéphane Gros

Stéphane Gros is a social anthropologist at the CNRS (France), Centre for South Asian and Himalayan Studies (CESAH). He is the author of a monograph on the Drung of Northwest Yunnan province in China (La Part manquante, 2012), and has written numerous articles and book chapters on issues of interethnic relations and representations of ethnic minorities, poverty and categorization, as well as rituals and cosmology. He has edited or co-edited four collections of relevance to ethnographic theory, Chinese studies, and area studies. For 2012-2016, he was the Principal Investigator for a collaborative project titled "Territories, Communities, and Exchanges in the Kham Sino-Tibetan Borderlands", funded by a ERC (European Research Council) Starting Grant. His personal research currently investigates aspects of kinship and social organization, conversion to Christianity, as well as heritage politics and environmental discourses.

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