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Institute for Asian Studies Lecture Series: "Spectacular Compassion: 'Natural' Disasters and National Mourning in China's Tibet"
Monday, October 17, 2011 - 4:00pm
Institute for Asian Studies Lecture Series:  "Spectacular Compassion:  'Natural' Disasters and National Mourning in China's Tibet"

Location:  PSU campus, Shattuck Hall room 210    (1914 SW Park Ave)

Time:  4:00 - 5:30 pm

Dr. Charlene Makley, Professor of Anthropology at Reed College will give a talk entitled

"Spectacular Compassion:  'Natural' Disasters and National Mourning in China's Tibet."

FREE and open to the public.        (printable event flyer  >>)

Synopsis:  China's "Olympic Year" (2007-2008), framed on one end by the gorgeous state theatre of the one-year countdown ceremony and on the other by the globally televised August 8th Olympics opening ceremony, was a watershed moment for the country and its ruling Chinese Communist Party. Yet for many observers, that period seemed to present an impossibly stark juxtaposition of ecstatic nationalist triumph and traumatic natural and social disaster, including especially the widespread Tibetan unrest and military crackdown and the deadly Sichuan earthquake that occurred within weeks of each other that spring. In this paper, I draw on my fieldwork experience as one of the few foreigners living in rural Tibetan regions during the unrest to consider the implications of the Olympic year from the margins of the state. Taking inspiration from recent anthropological debates about the nature of humanitarianism and sovereignty in neoliberal and postsocialist states, I consider the Tibetan unrest and the Sichuan earthquake as particularly emblematic disastrous events in the PRC linked by a new biopolitics of "charity" or "compassion" (Ch. aixin) in the context of state-led disaster relief. To get at the contested nature of morality and sovereignty in practice, I focus especially on nationally televised post-quake death rituals, in which statist compassion for lost Chinese citizens confronted the universalized compassion of embattled Tibetan Buddhist monastic communities.  

Charlene E. Makley received her PhD in anthropology at the University of Michigan (1999). She is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. Makley's book, The Violence of Liberation: Gender and Tibetan Buddhist Revival in Post-Mao China, was published in 2007 by the University of California Press. She has a contract for her current book project (working title: The Politics of Presence: Development and State Violence Among Tibetans in China). Based on long term fieldwork in a rural Tibetan region in China's northwest (2002-2011), the book is an ethnography of state-local relations among Tibetans grappling with their marginalization under China's Great Develop the West campaign and in the wake of the 2008 military crackdown on Tibetan unrest.

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