“Kham Project” receives support from the European Research Council
Stéphane Gros has been awarded a Starting Independent Researcher Grant from the European Research Council (ERC Starting Grant) for his project “Territories, Communities and Exchanges in the Sino-Tibetan Kham Borderlands (China),” hosted at the Centre for Himalayan Studies (CNRS).
The focus of this research programme is the area of the Sino-Tibetan borderlands situated within the People’s Republic of China, and referred to as Khams by the Tibetans who make up most of the population there. Kham, however, has no administrative unity and is now divided between the provinces of Sichuan to the east, Yunnan to the south and the Tibet Autonomous Region to the west, Qinghai and Gansu to the north. How, then, does one define this entity called Kham, especially since in the course of history it has never strictly corresponded to any administrative unit or coherent whole? How does one ultimately consider this land of encounters, a place of métissage (cultural exchanges) where so many particularisms emerge?
Addressing a regional area largely overlooked by Western research in social science, this project brings together junior and more senior researchers to form a leading team, strengthen exchanges with Chinese partners, and produce a strong network of international collaboration. Rooted in a geographical area that is of interest to Sinologists, Tibetologists, anthropologists, historians, linguists and geographers, this research programme represents a rare opportunity to combine varied efforts to trigger, in a multidisciplinary manner, strong dynamics involving the collection of materials of investigation in the field, as well as the use of archives. The choice of the object of study will lead to working at the junction of cultural areas and determine a regional originality without necessarily disconnecting it from the larger units with which Kham is associated.
The research to be conducted within this programme will contribute fresh, first-hand material concerning the socio-cultural diversity of Kham, and will highlight a number of trade, family and religious networks that, throughout history, have forced us to consider this region as a space made up of a set of multiple centres linked by communication and exchange processes: a node of a reticulated space rather than a finished and clearly defined space. This commits us to considering this region through its successive fragmentations and aggregations in its relationship with the neighbouring centres of power, Central Tibet (Lhasa) to the west, and China to the east (Sichuan) and south (Yunnan). Thus, a particular focus of this project is to delve into the complexities of Tibetan society in China and document the internal diversity of the Kham region.
This research programme will more specifically provide new materials on four complementary cross-disciplinary themes: 1) trade and commerce, 2) ethnicity, religion and local identities, 3) political entities and social organization, and 4) representations and cultural politics, each of which in its own way will improve our understanding of the particular historical, social and political context of the Kham region. Following a multi-tiered and multi-scalar approach, with an emphasis on networks, the team will enhance work on historical mapping.
Each of these themes is but one aspect of the overall object of study, and each will shed light on specific processes and contribute to the understanding of the issue at the core of this project: analysing what may constitute Kham’s originality and combined unity and diversity both in the past and the present.
As the project unfolds, further description about the key issues that we seek to address will be posted with the hope to provide an opportunity for exchange of ideas with the larger community of interested scholars. A dedicated website will soon come into existence to present a fuller description of the project, and later on make research findings accessible to the wider community of researchers as well as the general public.
Please contact Stéphane Gros for more information about the project.
 The IDEAS programme, run by the European Research Council (ERC), aims to fund scholarly projects across science, engineering, the humanities and social sciences.