Truth, Fear, and Lies: Exile Politics and Arrested Histories of the Tibetan Resistance

Peer Reviewed


McGranahan, "Exile."

Narratives of the Tibetan resistance army are not a part of national history in the Tibetan exile community. Drawing on stories by veterans of the resistance to the Chinese invasion and the explanations they give of its absence in Tibetan national history, I argue that this history has been “arrested” because of the challenges it poses to normative versions of history and community and, in turn, to internal and external representations of Tibet. This practice signifies the postponing of narrating certain histories until a time in the future when the dangers they pose to sustaining a unified Tibetan community in exile has receded. This practice of historical (un)production offers insight into temporality and subjectivity, plural identities in the face of national hegemony, and why history might be considered a combination of truth, fear, and lies. [history, memory, Tibet, war, national politics]

Editors' Footnotes

Cultural Anthropology has published a number of essays on narrative and violence. See Charles L. Briggs’ “Mediating Infanticide: Theorizing Relations between Narrative and Violence” (2007), Lorna A. Rhodes’ “Changing the Subject: Conversation in Supermax” (2005), Bruce Grant’s “The Good Russian Prisoner: Naturalizing Violence in the Caucasus Mountains” (2005), and Don Kulick’s “Speaking as a Woman: Structure and Gender in Domestic Arguments in a New Guinea Village” (1993).

Cultural Anthropology has also published essays on history and memory. See for example, Christina Schwenkel’s “Recombinant History: Transnational Practices of Memory and Knowledge Production in Contemporary Vietnam” (2006), Erik Mueggler’s “A Carceral Regime: Violence and Social Memory in Southwest China”(1998), Ralph A. Litzinger’s “Memory Work: Reconstituting the Ethnic in Post-Mao China” (1998), and James H. McDonald’s “Whose History? Whose Voice? Myth and Resistance in the Rise of the New Left in Mexico

About the Author

Carole McGranahan is associate professor of anthropology at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Related Links

From the article

The Government of Tibet in Exile Website maintained by The Office of Tibet

The 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet Official website

Camp Hale, Colorado Historical overview from the Camp Hale Military Munitions Project

Media Links

The Shadow Circus: The CIA in Tibet Website supplemental for the film, including history, timeline, and resources

The Tibet Map Institute Historical and geographic media tools on Tibet

Voice of Tibet Independent radio station providing short wave service to Tibet

Boudhanath Stupa Boudha Pictures of the site located on the outskirts of Kathmandu, Nepal

White Crane Films Films on Tibet

"Nothing Less than Independence" - Combat Law (2007) Interview with Karma Norbu on the Chushi Gangdrug

Tibetan Studies Virtual Library Guide to Tibetan Studies via the World Wide Virtual Library (edited by Dr. T. Matthew Ciolek)

The Tibetan and Himalayan Digital Library International community building free access knowledge databases

Organization links

Dhokham Chushi Gangdruk - New York Chapter Chushi Gangdruk chapter in New York

Central Tibetan Administration Official website

The Tibetan People's Uprising Movement Website for the return march from exile in India, marking 50 years of resistance in exile

The Office of Tibet, New York The official agency of H.H. The Dalai Lama and Tibetan Government in Exile to the Americas

International Campaign for Tibet A nonprofit membership organization founded in 1988 with offices in Amsterdam, Berlin, Brussels, and Washington DC.

Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy Nongovernmental human rights organization established in exile in Dharamsala, India

International Tibet Support Network Global coalition of Tibet-related nongovernmental organization


"Voice of Tibet" - documentary

"rights... & wrongs" (2000) - From The Tibet Museum, Dharamsala

Related Works

Goldstein, Melvyn C., Sherap, Dawei, and William R. Siebenschuh. A Tibetan Revolutionary: The Political Life and Times of Bapa Phuntso Wangye. University of California Press, 2004.

Knaus, John Kenneth. "Orphans of the Cold War America and the Tibetan Struggle for Survival." Public Affairs, 2000.

McGranahan, Carole. "Empire Out-of-Bounds: Tibet in the Era of Decolonization," in Ann Stoler, Carole McGranahan, and Peter C. Perdue, eds. Imperial Formations, Santa Fe: School of American Press, 2007, pp. 187-227.

McGranahan, Carole. (2006) "Tibet's Cold War: The CIA and the Chushi Gangdrug Resistance, 1956-1974." Journal of Cold War Studies 8(3): 102-130.

Shakya, Tsering. The Dragon in the Land of Snows: A History of Modern Tibet since 1947. London: Pimlico, 1999.

In-Class Activity or Homework Assignment

Students should make a list of all the groups, organizations, governments, and individuals who speak about or participate in the Tibetan resistance. This should include participants and groups from the past and present. For example, these can include NGOs, the PRC, nation-states, historical figures, newspapers and other media groups. Draw on the essay, resources from this supplemental page, and any other sources students come up with. After compiling the list of “speakers” and participants, have students map out the connections between them, identifying in small paragraphs, who says what about the Tibetan resistance. Is there a dominant story or position? Does this web or map of stories and perspectives tell us something new or different about the Tibetan resistance?Discuss how this relates to our understandings of "truth".

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