China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
Over the past few decades, scholars have attended to the ways in which shifting borders and political turmoil have created vast ethnic and cultural diversity in the trans-border region sometimes known as “Zomia,” upland Southeast Asia, or the Southeast Asian Massif. This panel focuses on two major cultural linguistic groups in the Eastern Himalayas, Tibetan and Nuosu Yi, who, as a result of shifting political and economic trends, have respectively formed communities in diverse places, from southern India to urban China. In the context of the modern nation state, Tibetan and Nuosu communities are often minorities, migrants, or refugees, making it so that actors must consciously work to preserve and enact meaningful cultural practices. This panel thus interrogates the role of belief, ritual, and practices of wellness as these communities face pressures in their daily lives such as rural-urban migration, bodily labor, illness, and death/dying. How might these systems of belief and ways of seeing help actors negotiate contemporary social pressures? And how do these new experiences and environments influence so-called traditional beliefs and practices? This interdisciplinary panel draws on data from ethnographic fieldwork, religious textual analysis, and oral narratives in Qinghai Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture, a Nuosu migrant community in urban China, and a Tibetan exile community in southern India. Through investigating the enduring practices of these communities that straddle linguistic, cultural, and national borders, we aim to show how these practices and beliefs are an important part of modern ethnic culture of the Eastern Himalayas.