“Subduing Tiber: Han Enclosure of Three Public Spaces In Lhasa,” by Professor Carolyn Marvin was the recipient of the top paper award from the Philosophy of Communication division of the International Communication Association (ICA). Marvin’s work was recognized during the ICA’s annual conference in Boston.
Abstract: This paper examines three sites in Lhasa, Tibet, through the lens of enclosure, conceived as an ideologically energized discursive and material wrapping of space to squeeze and strangle the lived meanings of culturally resistant ethno-sites. Of the city’s most important public spaces, the holiest, the most visible, and the newest are assessed for modalities of Chinese enclosure taking place there and permeability to Tibetan resistance. The 7th century Jokhang Cathedral and the highly permeable Barkhor circumambulation path around it re-create a sacred mandalic universe for Tibetan pilgrims. The Chinese have few options for enclosing this permeable site without plainly visible coercion since the materialization of Tibetan religious practice is essential to attract tourist dollars. The 17th century Potala Palace symbolizes both Tibetan longing for the return of the absent Dalai Lama and the Han liberation of Tibet. Access to the palace and the narrative of Tibetan history imposed on its refurbished interior are tightly enclosed and unavailable to casual inspection. Rising above the city, the exterior of the palace cannot be enclosed and remains available for resistant interpretation. The largest Chinese structure in Tibet is the Lhasa railway station, a modernist reinterpretation of the Potala. Its visible features sinicize and imprison Tibetan symbols and palpably materialize Han-Tibetan ‘solidification.’ Draining the Potala of its singular sacred aura, the station renders both structures as collaborating temples in the rites of tourism. The station is the terminus of a high-speed train importing Han workers who enclose the local population by swamping it. It removes travelers from alternative unenclosed experiences of the plateau while offering it as Chinese scenery devoid of Tibetan inhabitants. In this light controversy over where the next Dalai Lama will be reincarnated may be understood as a final form of enclosure by the Chinese.