Skip to main content

Dynamics of Political Resistance in Tibet: Religious Repression and Controversies of Demographic Change

  • Enze Han (a1) and Christopher Paik (a2)

In a novel approach to studying political mobilization among ethnic Tibetans in China, this article addresses two key questions. First, considering the Chinese state's repressive policies towards Tibetan Buddhism, what role does religion play in fomenting Tibetan political resistance? Second, what implications can be drawn from the changing ethnic demography in Tibet about the conflict behaviour of Tibetans? Using various GIS-referenced data, this article specifically examines the 2008 Tibetan protest movements in China. The main results of our analysis indicate that the spread and frequency of protests in ethnic Tibetan areas are significantly associated with the number of officially registered Tibetan Buddhist sites, as well as the historical dominance of particular types of Tibetan religious sects. Furthermore, our analysis shows that the effect of Han Chinese settlement on Tibetan political activism is more controversial than previously thought.

Hide All
Barnett, Robert. 2009. “The Tibet protests of spring 2008: conflict between the nation and the state.” China Perspectives 3, 623.
Barnett, Robert, and Spiegel, Mickey. 1996. Cutting Off the Serpent's Head: Tightening Control in Tibet, 1994–1995. New York: Human Rights Watch and Tibet Information Network.
Bovingdon, Gardner. 2010. The Uyghurs: Strangers in Their Own Land. New York: Columbia University Press.
Bulag, Uradyn E. 2004. “Inner Mongolia: the dialectics of colonialization and ethnicity building.” In Rossabi, Morris (ed.), Governing China's Multiethnic Frontiers. Seattle: University of Washington Press.
China Data Center. 2007. China Province Statistical Yearbook, Michigan: University of Michigan.
China Data Center. 2011. Atlas of the Religions in China, Michigan: University of Michigan.
Department of Information and International Relations, CTA. 2008. 2008 Uprising in Tibet: Chronology and Analysis. Dharamsala, India: UN, EU & Human Rights Desk, Dept of Information and International Relations (DIIR), Central Tibetan Administration (CTA).
Fearon, James D. 2003. “Ethnic and cultural diversity by country.” Journal of Economic Growth 8(2), 195222.
Fischer, Andrew M. 2005. “Close encounters of an inner-Asian kind: Tibetan–Muslim coexistence and conflict in Tibet, past and present.” London School of Economics Crisis States Working Paper 68.
Fischer, Andrew M. 2008. “‘Population invasion’ versus urban exclusion in the Tibetan areas of western China.” Population and Development Review 34(4), 631662.
Fischer, Andrew M. 2009a. “Educating for exclusion in western China: structural and institutional dimensions of conflict in the Tibetan areas of Qinghai and Tibet.” Center for Research on Inequality, Human Security and Ethnicity (CRISE) Working Paper 69.
Fischer, Andrew M. 2009b. “The political economy of boomerang aid in China's Tibet.” China Perspectives 3, 3853.
Goldstein, Melvyn C. 1994. “Change, conflict and continuity among a community of nomadic pastoralists: a case study from western Tibet, 1950–1990.” In Barnett, Robert (ed.), Resistance and Reform in Tibet. London: Hurst & Co.
Goldstein, Melvyn C. 1997. The Snow Lion and the Dragon: China, Tibet, and the Dalai Lama. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Goldstein, Melvyn C. 1998. “Introduction.” In Goldstein, Melvyn C. and Kapstein, Matthew T. (eds.), Buddhism in Contemporary Tibet: Religious Revival and Cultural Identity. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Goldstein, Melvyn C. 2007. A History of Modern Tibet. Volume 2. The Calm before the Storm, 1951–1955. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Goldstein, Melvyn C., and Rimpoche, Gelek. 1989. A History of Modern Tibet, 1913–1951: The Demise of the Lamaist State. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Goldstone, Jack A., and Tilly, Charles. 2001. “Threat (and opportunity): popular action and state response in the dynamics of contentious action.” In Aminzade, R., Goldstone, J., McAdam, D., Perry, E., Sewell, W., Tarrow, S. and Tilly, C. (eds.), Silence and Voice in the Study of Contentious Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Goodman, David S. G. 2004. “Qinghai and the emergence of the west: nationalities, communal interaction and national integration.” The China Quarterly 178, 379399.
Hall, John S. 2001. “Chinese population transfer in Tibet.” Cardozo Journal of International and Comparative Law 9, 173199.
Horowitz, Donald L. 1985. Ethnic Groups in Conflict. Berkeley: University of California Press.
International Campaign for Tibet. 2004. When the Sky Fell to Earth: The New Crackdown on Buddhism in Tibet. Washington, DC: International Campaign for Tibet.
International Campaign for Tibet. 2008. Tibet at a Turning Point. Washington, DC: International Campaign for Tibet.
Kapstein, Matthew. 2004. “A thorn in the dragon's side: Tibetan Buddhist culture in China.” In Rossabi, Morris (ed.), Governing China's Multiethnic Frontiers. Seattle: University of Washington Press.
Kolas, Ashild. 1996. “Tibetan nationalism: the politics of religion.” Journal of Peace Research 33(1), 5166.
Kolas, Ashild, and Thowsen, Monika P.. 2005. On the Margins of Tibet: Cultural Survival on the Sino-Tibetan Frontier. Seattle: University of Washington Press.
Kvaerne, Per. 1995. The Bon Religion of Tibet: The Iconography of a Living Tradition. London: Serindia.
Leung, Beatrice. 2005. “China's religious freedom policy: the art of managing religious activity.” The China Quarterly 184, 894913.
Lichbach, Mark Irving. 1987. “Deterrence or escalation? The puzzle of aggregate studies of repression and dissent.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 31(2), 266297.
McGranahan, Carole. 2010. Arrested Histories: Tibet, the CIA, and Memories of a Forgotten War. Durham: Duke University Press.
Millward, James A. 2007. Eurasian Crossroads: A History of Xinjiang. New York: Columbia University Press.
Montalvo, Jose G., and Reynal-Querol, Marta. 2005. “Ethnic polarization, potential conflict, and civil wars.” The American Economic Review 95(3), 796816.
Pan, Yihong. 1992. “Early Chinese settlement policies towards the nomads.” Asia Major 5(2), 4175.
Posen, Barry. 1993. “The security dilemma and ethnic conflict.” In Brown, Michael E. (ed.), Ethnic Conflict and International Security. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Potter, Pitman. 2003. “Belief in control: regulation of religion in China.” The China Quarterly 174, 317337.
Powers, John. 2004. History as Propaganda: Tibetan Exiles versus the People's Republic of China. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Rasler, Karen. 1996. “Concessions, repression, and political protest in the Iranian revolution.” American Sociological Review 61(1), 132152.
Tibet-Institut Rikon-Zürich. 1987. Tibet, ethnisch-kulturhistorische Karte: für den Zeitraum von 1280 bis 1965, entspr. der Zeit der chinesischen Yüan-, Ming- und Ch'ing-Dynastien 1:5,000,000. Rikon, Switzerland: Tibet Institut.
Schwartz, Ronald D. 1995. Circle of Protest: Political Ritual in the Tibetan Uprising. New York: Columbia University Press.
Shakya, Tsering. 1999. The Dragon in the Land of Snows: A History of Modern Tibet since 1947. London: Pimlico.
Shakya, Tsering. 2008. “Tibetan questions: interview.” New Left Review 51(2), 526.
Sperling, Elliot. 2004. The Tibet–China Conflict: History and Polemics. Washington, DC: East-West Center.
Tibetan Center for Human Rights & Democracy. 2008. Uprising in Tibet 2008: Documentation of Protests in Tibet. Dharamsala, India: Tibetan Center for Human Rights & Democracy.
Toft, Monica D. 2002. “Indivisible territory, geographic concentration, and ethnic war.” Security Studies 12(2), 82119.
Toft, Monica D. 2003. The Geography of Ethnic Violence: Identity, Interests, and the Indivisibility of Territory. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Topgyal, Tsering. 2011. “Insecurity dilemma and the Tibetan uprising in 2008.” Journal of Contemporary China 20(69), 183203.
Weidmann, Nils B. 2009. “Geography as motivation and opportunity: group concentration and ethnic conflict.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 53(4), 526543.
Yeh, Emily T., and Henderson, Mark. 2008. “Interpreting urbanization in Tibet: administrative scales and discourses of modernization.” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies 4, 144.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

The China Quarterly
  • ISSN: 0305-7410
  • EISSN: 1468-2648
  • URL: /core/journals/china-quarterly
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 31
Total number of PDF views: 502 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 716 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 20th March 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.