New book: The Chinese Revolution on the Tibetan Frontier, by Benno Weiner
Cornell University Press, 2020.
In The Chinese Revolution on the Tibetan Frontier, Benno Weiner provides an in-depth study of a Tibetan region during the first decade of the People’s Republic of China: the Amdo region in the Sino-Tibetan borderland. The book is a long-awaited revision of Weiner’s PhD dissertation “The Chinese Revolution on the Tibetan Frontier: State Building, National Integration and Socialist Transformation, Zeku (Tsékhok) County, 1953-1958” (2012) (see the review by Scott Relyea here). The choice of the time frame for this unprecedented study is key to its main argument: Weiner convincingly demonstrates that rather than 1949—the date of the founding of the People’s Republic of China—it is 1958 that should be seen as a watershed moment. This date marks the end of the so-called “United Front” in Zeku County and is when a major rebellion and its brutal pacification took place, leading to irreversible transformations and further integration of Amdo into the new nation-state.
The book is based on previously inaccessible local archives as well as other primary sources, which allow Weiner to demonstrate that the Communist Party’s goal in 1950s Amdo was not just state-building, but also nation-building. Such an objective required the construction of narratives and policies capable of convincing Tibetans of their membership in a wider political community. As Weiner shows, however, early efforts to gradually and organically transform a vast multiethnic empire into a singular nation-state lost out to a revolutionary impatience, demanding more immediate paths to national integration and socialist transformation. This led in 1958 to communization, then to large-scale rebellion and its brutal pacification. Rather than joining voluntarily, Amdo was integrated through the widespread, often indiscriminate use of violence, a violence that lingers in the living memory of Amdo Tibetans and others.
Because of its location, this study enriches the lively field of Amdo studies and helps shed light on a key moment of its recent history. More generally, the book contributes to recent historiography that focuses on continuities between Nationalist and Communist policies in minority regions and is a notable addition to the recently expanding literature on the incorporation of such minority regions into the Chinese state throughout the 20th century.
Introduction: Amdo, Empire, and the United Front
1. Amdo at the Edge of Empire
2. If You Kill the County Head, How Will I Explain Itto the Communist Party?
3. Becoming Masters of Their Own Home (under the Leadership of the Party)
4. Establishing a Foundation among the Masses
5. High Tide on the High Plateau
6. Tibetans Do the Housework, but Han Are the Masters
7. Reaching the Sky in a Single Step—The Amdo Rebellion
8. Empty Stomachs and Unforgivable Crimes
Conclusion: Amdo and the End of Empire?