Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Tibetan pastoralists have been confronted with unprecedented Chinese state-led development projects since the late 1990s. A large scale grassland fencing policy in the late 1990s, conservation policies in the early 2000s, and, mostly recently, the Nomadic Settlement Project have been introduced to Tibetans as a package that includes civilizing missions such as educating, modernizing, and raising the human quality (Ch. suzhi) of the Tibetan pastoralists. As Tibetan pastoralists are increasingly treated as the objects of modernizing efforts of the state, the developmentalist ideologies of the last few decades have placed Tibetan pastoralists on the margins of society. In this fraught context, drawing on the author’s most recent long-term ethnographic fieldwork research in eastern Tibet (2017-2019), this paper explores the ways in which indigenous Tibetan filmmakers have come to challenge this dominant narrative of Tibetan pastoralists as “backward” through documentary films by specifically focusing on a case study of a local documentary film project initiated by local Tibetan herders and college students in eastern Tibet. How is the official narrative of Tibetan pastoralists as the destroyers of their grassland in the name of overgrazing being challenged through narratives of Tibetan pastoralists as guardians of the grassland who also play a broader role in conserving the grassland? In what ways do these local Tibetan documentary filmmakers portray the struggle of Tibetan pastoralists in a positive light? By exploring these questions, this paper aims to contribute to the discussion of the role that stories play in portraying the struggle of disenfranchised groups.