Spectacular Compassion

"Natural" Disasters and National Mourning in China's Tibet

Author: Charlene Makley

Abstract:

China's "Olympic Year" (2007–2008) was a watershed moment for the country and its ruling Chinese Communist Party. In this article, the author draws on her fieldwork experience as one of the few foreigners living in rural Tibetan regions during the Tibetan unrest in spring 2008 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 neo-liberal and post-socialist states, the author considers the Tibetan unrest and the Sichuan earthquake that occurred just three weeks later on 12 May as particularly emblematic disastrous events 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, the author focuses on nationally televised post-quake death rituals in which statist abstract compassion for lost Chinese citizens confronted the universalized compassion of embattled Tibetan Buddhist monastic communities.


Regions: East Asia
Countries: China | Tibet

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September 2014
© 2005 ILO/Crozet M.