China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
Tibetan-populated areas in China are experiencing a rapid degradation of the environment due to global warming, industrialization, mining, and grasslands fencing—most of these projects being undertaken by the Chinese authorities with no input from Tibetans. Given the fact that much of this pollution affects rivers and mountains that Tibetans consider to be sacred, the issue of environmental preservation in Tibet has become closely linked to that of religious rights and Tibetan cultural survival. Tibetan identity has long been related to Tibet’s landscape and environment, starting with the legend of Niyatri Tsempo, the first legendary Tibetan king who is said to have descended from heaven onto the sacred mountain Yarlha Shampo. Dondrub Gyal, considered by many as the father of modern Tibetan literature, wrote powerful poetry that directly associated mountains and lakes with Tibetan national identity. As open political or religious dissent by Tibetans is severely punished by the Chinese government, Tibetan intellectuals are taking advantage of Xi Jinping’s emphasis on building an “Ecological Civilization” to defend the preservation not only of the Tibetan ecosystem, but of the Tibetan civilization as well. This paper analyzes short stories by writers Tsering Dondrup and Takbum Gyal that relate the loss of Tibetan identity and the disappearance of the traditional nomadic lifestyle to the destruction of the Tibetan landscape caused by “development” projects and unregulated mineral extraction in the Tibetan plateau. These are stories of roads forcefully built across villages, waters darkened by coal, and Tibetan herders coerced into sedentary life.