Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2012

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Geography

First Advisor

Emily. T. Yeh

Second Advisor

Timothy S. Oakes

Third Advisor

Holly Gayley

Abstract

Since Deng Xiaoping's economic reforms in the 1980s, the Chinese state has extended and intensified its economic development agenda, trying to shape its citizens to become rational market actors who prioritize commodity production. In Tibetan pastoral areas, this takes the form of efforts to develop the livestock industry by encouraging herders to increase their off-take rate to intensify production. As a result, Tibetan herders have become involved in selling ever-larger numbers of yaks to Han and Chinese Muslim traders. However, reforms also allowed a measure of religious freedom. Since 2000 many lamas (religious leaders) have become concerned about the mass sale of livestock for slaughter, because the Buddhist principle of cause-and-effect suggests that killing is a serious sin to be avoided. Using their tremendous influence and authority, these lamas have initiated a slaughter renunciation movement, persuading people to take oaths to stop selling livestock for slaughter - precisely the opposite of what the state suggests they must do to become materially "developed." Many Tibetan herders have participated in these movements, even though their livelihoods depend heavily on the sale of animal products. The thesis explores the relationship between Tibetan Buddhist revival, secular neoliberal economic reforms, and the cultural transformation of Tibetan herders in the market economy since the 1980s. The research used mixed methods, including household surveys, in-depth, semi-structured interviews, analysis of texts and visual media, and participant observation, conducted over a period of 12 months in Tibetan areas of China's Sichuan province. I argue that the slaughter renunciation movement is an effort by Tibetan khenpos to enact a moral correction of Tibetan herders that works as an intervention to the transformation brought by secular-based economic development. This intervention reflects a process in which Tibetan people are creating a Buddhist-informed neo-liberal development, which produces inequality on the one hand, and which is coded by Tibetan Buddhist norms and meanings on the other hand. With this movement we can also see how a Buddhist form of development departs from the dominant secular-based neo-liberalization process in contemporary China, through a process of contestation, incorporation, and rejection among multiple agents with different cultural agendas. Thus, the dissertation demonstrates that what most scholars refer to as neo-liberalism in China is, indeed, a process of secularization and deepening of materialism; it is an uneven and culturally constituted process. Tibetan khenpos and their movements do not entirely reject this process, but rather selectively reject and embrace it by imbuing uneven processes with Tibetan Buddhist meanings, forming a Buddhist-informed neo-liberalization process.

Included in

Geography Commons

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