Journey to the High West: The Politics of Trekking to Tibet in Contemporary Chinese Society
The University of Manchester
Dr Ed Pulford
Dr Jolynna Sinanan
In 2022, almost all mobility was forced to be suspended all over Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). At the same time, flows of tourists, including trekkers from inland China to Tibet, remained consistent with a high presence in both traditional and social media despite exceptionally heavy media censorship on China’s strict COVID-19 restrictions in Tibet and population movement during China’s almost three- year strict lockdown period. This context frames the concerns of the proposed research project.
Such trekking flows are a long-lasting and increasingly known tourism form in China. For decades, thousands of travellers have spent months trekking to Tibet from inland China regardless of the nearly 1,500-mile journey with complex terrain crossing the ‘Tibetan-Yi Corridor’ (Zang-Yi Zoulang) known in Chinese academia, let alone the considerable financial cost. Questions could then be raised here: what are the meanings of Tibet that motivate trekkers in contemporary Chinese society? What role does China’s state power play in forming such motivation at the ethnic and peripheral territory? How will trek flows impact state building in the confrontation between China’s assertion of ethnically ‘pluralistic unity’ and occasionally interethnic and international frictions and tension?
To address the theoretical and empirical questions raised, I will conduct ethnographic fieldwork including in-depth participant observation into communities of both Chinese trekkers and Tibetans as interlocutors and auto-ethnographic investigation from the reflective internal perspective of the researcher as a practitioner trekking to Tibet.
Border and frontier studies,
Anthropology of tourism,
Ethnic relations in China,
Tibetan language and
Buddhism in Tibet.