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Tibetans in Nepal

The Dynamics of International Assistance among a Community in Exile

Ann Frechette

244 pages, 12 photos, 5 figs, 6 tables, 3 maps, bibliog., index

ISBN  978-1-57181-157-8 $120.00/£75.00 Hb Published (December 2002)

ISBN  978-1-57181-686-3 $29.95/£18.50 Pb Published (October 2004)

eISBN 978-1-78238-715-2 eBook

Hb Pb
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"Ann Frechette’s multi-sited and multidimensional study, moving back and forth between the local and the global, should serve as a necessary resource for scholars studying other communities in exile or in diasporic circumstances."  · Stanley J. Tambiah, Esther and Sidney Rabb Research Professor of Anthropology, Harvard University

"This valuable book asks some very significant and urgent questions about the Tibetan refugee experience, particularly about the manner in which outside agents (NGO's, governmental aid organizations, and the like), in the course of carrying out important projects, can become part of an interaction that leads to both sides reinforcing a refugee state of mind and being; preserving some of the least beneficial aspects of the situation within a relationship of comfortable dependence."  · Elliot Sperling, Indiana University

"This is a detailed and unsentimental book. It examines and explains the remarkable financial success of the Tibetan refugees in Nepal, by exploring the effects of powerful foreign assistance and lively Tibetan cooperation. The agendas of the political patrons of the Tibetans and the motives of the Tibetans themselves are inspected in a global framework of engineered transformations and organized responses. This is mandatory reading for anyone interested in international affairs and the newest achievements in anthropological fieldwork."  · Sally Falk Moore, Harvard University

"Frechette explicates the social and institutional conditions of Tibetan success in exile in a globalizing world ... A stimulating ethnographic excursion into the landscape of globalization."  · Levent Soysal, European College of Liberal Arts, Berlin

Based on eighteen months of field research conducted in exile carpet factories, settlement camps, monasteries, and schools in the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal, as well as in Dharamsala, India and Lhasa, Tibet, this book offers an important contribution to the debate on the impact of international assistance on migrant communities. The author explores the ways in which Tibetan exiles in Nepal negotiate their norms and values as they interact with the many international organizations that assist them, and comes to the conclusion that, as beneficial as aid agency assistance often is, it also complicates the Tibetans' efforts to define themselves as a community.

Ann Frechette is Associate in Research at the Fairbank Center for East Asian Research in Cambridge Massachusetts.

Series: Volume 11, Forced Migration

LC: DS493.9.T53 F74 2002

BL: YC.2003.a.20026

BISAC: SOC007000 SOCIAL SCIENCE/Emigration & Immigration; BUS092000 BUSINESS & ECONOMICS/Development/General

BIC: JFFD Refugees & political asylum; GTF Development studies

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Table of Contents (Free download)

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Preface (Free download)

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Note Maps and Introduction (Free download)

Swiss Assistance and Self-Sufficiency

Swiss intergovernmental organizations were among the first to extend assistance to the Tibetan exiles in Nepal. They first became involved with the Tibetan exiles in the 1960s. They were still actively assisting them in the 1990s, throughout the period of my research. Swiss intergovernmental organizations were instrumental in helping the Tibetan exiles to resettle in Nepal. They built the first four Tibetan settlement camps (setting the model on which other settlement camps were based). They started the first Tibetan carpet factories and carpet export companies in Nepal. They trained the first generation of Tibetan carpet factory managers. Many of the Tibetans who now control Nepal's carpet industry started their careers in the Swiss-Tibetan factories or otherwise under the direction of Swiss intergovernmental officials. Throughout the period of their involvement, Swiss officials have transferred responsibility for assisting the Tibetan exiles from one Swiss intergovernmental organization to another, yet they all have maintained the same narrative about the Tibetan exiles. They discuss the Tibetan exiles as humanitarian concern. They promote market mechanisms as a means for resettling them. Their goal is Tibetan self-sufficiency through the production of carpets for the international carpet market.

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Containing Communism

The U.S. and a Tibetan Democracy

U.S. intergovernmental organizations first became involved with the soon-to-be Tibetan exiles in July 1950.1 U.S. soldiers were fighting in Korea whenChina's People's Liberation Army (PLA) attacked Tibet's eastern border town of Dengo and threatened to take the Tibetan government outpost at Chamdo. With only five hundred poorly trained and ill-equipped Tibetan soldiers in eastern Tibet (Knaus 1999: 71), with eighty thousand PLA soldiers waiting to fight them (Dalai Lama of Tibet 1990: 52), and with questionable support for the Tibetan government among the local population, the Tibetan government did not know, at first, how to respond.2 China's new communist government was intent to incorporate Tibet into its territory. The Tibetans had no way in which to resist. Indian independence had removed British interests from the region, and all efforts on the part of the Tibetan government to secure an alternative source of support had failed.3 The Dalai Lama fled from his capital at Lhasa to Yatung, on the border between Tibet and India, while his government appealed simultaneously to Beijing to withdraw its soldiers and to Britain, India, and the U.S. to help. Both Britain and India refused on the basis that Tibet's liberation was inevitable (Goldstein 1989: 661-791). The U.S., however, responded. U.S. State Department officials perceived the war in Korea and the Chinese attack on Tibet to be related. They perceived both to be part of the same international communist conspiracy determined to destroy the democracy of the West (Knaus 1999: 75). The U.S. government began its efforts to support Tibetan resistance against the Chinese. Its efforts include assistance to Tibetans in Tibet, Tibetan exiles in India, and the Tibetan exiles in Nepal. Its support has continued, in various forms, for more than fifty years.

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Friends of Tibet

Variations on a Theme of Liberal Humanism

In July 1996, in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, nearly 100,000 people gathered for the Tibetan Freedom Concert. Organized by Adam Yauch, cofounder of the Milarepa Fund and member of the rock group the Beastie Boys, the concert attracted such renowned performers as Yoko Ono, Sonic Youth, Smashing Pumpkins, and Bjork. Although not all of the performers considered themselves Tibet-support activists per se, they all performed under "Free Tibet!" banners nevertheless, as they helped to raise money to finance the education of Tibetan students at Namgyal High School in Kathmandu, Nepal.

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Weapons of Weak States

The relationships the Tibetan exiles maintain with the many international organizations that assist them affect not only the way in which the Tibetan exiles define and understand themselves as Tibetan, they also affect the way in which the Tibetan exiles participate in their host state of Nepal. International organizations advocate on behalf of the Tibetan exiles in Nepal. They pressure the Nepal government into favorable treatment. International organizations are in a position to do so, as the same states and international organizations that advocate on behalf of the Tibetan exiles also help Nepal finance its government expenditures. International aid finances some 70 percent of Nepal's development-related expenditures as well as much of its regular budget.1 International organizations exercise considerable influenc eover the government of Nepal.

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Middlemen and Moral Authority

On July 6, 1995, an estimated ten thousand people, mostly Tibetan, gathered in Boudha to celebrate the Dalai Lama's sixtieth birthday.1 Tibetan families, school friends, monks, and business partners talked and celebrated among themselves as they circumambulated the stupa, strung up prayer flags, burned incense, tossed barley flour (tsampa), and offered white scarves (katah), all in prayer for the Dalai Lama's health and well-being. Most then proceeded to the playground of the Srongtsen Bhrikuti School, a school affiliated with the Dalai Lama's exile administration, where a song-and-dance competition among Tibetan exile students was to begin. As they sat packed close together on their blankets and small carpets under six large overlapping tents, the Tibetans directed their attention to a large platform, festooned with microphones and speakers, raised before them. Representatives from the Dalai Lama's exile administration had also arranged to speak. The director of the Tibet Office, in particular, delivered a very long speech, in Tibetan. Most Tibetans listened to his reminders that the Dalai Lama's exile administration is the only organization with authority over "all Tibetans, inside and outside Tibet, monks and laymen, old and young," the only organization that represents the Dalai Lama, and the only organization working to return all Tibetans to an independent Tibet: "Tibetans need to stay united, as the Tibetan struggle is for the whole of the three provinces, all 2.5 million square miles and all six million people... All Tibetans should always think about returning to Tibet, for why are Tibetans scattered throughout the world? Because Tibet was occupied by a foreign country. No one should forget."

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Conflict and Consciousness

"There are several different legends about the first human beings in Tibet," lesson one of a sixth-grade textbook written by the Dalai Lama's exile administration begins. "It is said that the enlightened father monkey, the Great Bodhisattva Chenresig, and the mother rock demoness mated in a cave in the area of Yarlung Tsethang. From their union, many children were born. The children gradually multiplied to produce the ancestors of the Tibetan people. Six lineages came into being: Se, Mu, Dong, Tong, Dra, and Dru."

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This project began as an inquiry into the factors that enabled the Tibetan exiles to develop and maintain control over Nepal's largest industry, the manufacture and export of hand-woven woolen carpets. Along the way, it developed into a project analyzing international assistance, and in particular, the normative dynamics of international assistance relationships. The relationships the Tibetan exiles maintain with the many international organizations that assist them enabled them to develop and control Nepal's carpet industry as well as to develop a network of settlement camps, monasteries, schools, and administrative organizations in Nepal. These relationships facilitated the ability of the Tibetan exiles to develop significant economic and political power in Nepal.

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