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Arrested Histories: Tiibet, the CIA, and Memories of a Forgotten War.

August 3, 2011

The China Quarterly

The China Quarterly (2011), 206: 446-448 Copyright (c) The China
Quarterly 2011 DOI: 10.1017/S0305741011000506 (About DOI) Published
online: 2011

Table of Contents - Volume 206 Book Reviiews

Arrested Histories: Tiibet, the CIA, and Memories of a Forgotten War.

Carolle McGranahan. Durham and London: Duke Uniiversiity Press, 2010.
xviiii + 307 pp. £16.99. ISBN 978-0-8223-4771-2

Tseriing Shakya

TSERING SHAKYA is the author of The Dragon in the Land of Snows, A
History of Tibet since 1947 (Penguin, 2000) and currently holds the
Canadian research chair in religion and society in Asia at the
Institute of Asian Research, University of British Columbia.

The pervasive perception of Buddhism as a pacifist religion is one
that Tibetans, at least among exiles, have appropriated in their
global campaigns. It is embodied in the international image of the
Dalai Lama, epitomized by the award of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize. By
contrast, Carole McGranahan's Arrested Histories: Tibet, the CIA, and
Memories of a Forgotten War tells the story of a war, waged against
the People's Liberation Army by Tibetans from Kham, eastern Tibet, an
area situated in present-day Sichuan province and the adjacent part of
the Tibet Autonomous Region. Relatively autonomous, Kham has always
occupied a middle ground between China and Central Tibet. Following
1956 Communist land reforms, the Khampas revolted and later founded
the resistance army named the Chushi Gangdrug or "Four Rivers Six
Ranges," after their homeland. In the late 1950s, they secured aid and
training from the CIA. It fought within Tibet until it followed the
Dalai Lama into exile in 1959, and operated as a guerrilla unit from
Mustang, Nepal. It was forced to disband in 1974.

To describe this operation, McGranahan borrows anthropologist Michael
Tausig's term "public secret," referring to "something quietly and
publically known, but not ... made much of" (p.11). The "public
secret" here is that Khampas were involved in armed rather than
peaceful resistance and received covert funding from the CIA.
According to McGranahan, these two facts present an awkward dilemma
for the Tibetan diaspora, who have projected their struggle as
non-violent. The book argues that the history of Khampa armed
resistance has challenged the dominant narrative and that therefore,
the history of this resistance, the people who fought in it, and the
groups that led it have been marginalized by the Tibetan diaspora's
discourse. The dominant narrative amongst Tibetans, she argues,
privileges the view of the Lhasa elite (p.9), which is elevated into a
national history. McGranahan sees her telling of "Khampa history" as
giving voice to subaltern Khampas.

In chapter one, which explores the complexity of defining Tibet,
McGranahan eschews the legal definition of Tibet as a territory under
the jurisdiction of the Dalai Lama's government, preferring to
describe it as a number of regions populated by Tibetan-speaking
people (p.49). Here, McGranahan is confronted with the problem of
dating PLA entry to Tibet and ends up using the awkward hyphenated
phrase 1949-50. The PLA and the Chinese Communist Party are described
as having first appeared in Kham in 1949, which implies the region was
free of Chinese presence before that date, thus itself becoming part
of a myth-creating process. The CCP presence in Kham goes back to the
Long March in 1935, since when Party organizations had been

McGranahan is interested in what happened to participants of the
revolt and concentrates on accounts of their lives after the main
resistance camp in Mustang was shut down in 1974. McGranahan provides
an excellent account, based on personal encounter, of old soldiers
such as Baba Lekshey and Lobsang Tenley, who had gone on to eke out a
meagre living in Kathmandu, and whose stories provide the author with
the opportunity to examine what it means to be stateless. Here, the
author perceptively notes that in exile, "Tibetan worlds both expanded
and contracted" (p.63). New imaginings of Tibet and being Tibetan were
made possible through the encounter with diversity that took place
within the Tibetan exile population, but at the same time there was a
process of homogenization and contraction in the diaspora experience.
McGranahan argues that the dominant narrative of Tibetan identity and
history relegated Khampa fighters to the "realm of personal history
rather than that of national history" (p.179). In the annual diaspora
calendar, events have been selected for creating national identity: 10
March, the date of the 1959 Lhasa uprising, is celebrated as "National
Uprising Day," and marked by formal ceremonies in Tibetan exile
communities. McGranahan contrasts this with 16 June, the founding date
of Chushi Gangdrug, a day that is commemorated only by its remaining
members (p.118). This, the author sees as confirmation of the lack of
recognition from the Tibetan diaspora elite, describing the absence of
the Dalai Lama and his government during the ceremony as "withdrawing
the culturally meaningful frameworks that would validate the [event]
with national significance" (p.115).

If the Khampa armed resistance does not coalesce comfortably with the
image of Tibetans as peaceful Buddhists, the involvement of the US
intelligence services is even more complicated. The author argues that
as the Tibetan elite in exile came to realize the global reputation of
CIA, they began to "distance" themselves, not only from the CIA but
also from the Khampas (p.183).
Carole McGranahan's Arrested Histories is an important and refreshing
treatment of the politics of memory and myth-making within the Tibetan
diaspora. The author rightly identifies the constructive nature of
national history, which entails finding a "correct" chronology and
identifying events that are marked as national and enduring, while
other events are "arrested" or glossed over in terms of historical

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Cambridge Journals Online - Fulltext -

Although the main thrust of this argument has much to recommend it,
the marginalization of the Khampas is not the consequence of the
military nature of the resistance, nor of the CIA's involvement. An
important factor in the re-imagining of the Tibetan nation after 1959
was its regionalism, and the Chushi Gangdrug, which saw itself as a
Khampa resistance group, was founded on basis of specific local ethnic
identity. The group's failure to acknowledge and reconstitute itself
within the national identity positioned itself out of the national
narrative. It is also arguable whether the Khampa groups in exile can
be regarded as a subaltern. The Chushi Gangdrug remains active in
exile, occupying a key position in the diaspora politics, until
recently seen as king-maker behind the scenes in Dharamsala, home to
the Tibetan "government-exile."

Arrested Histories is a book about the attempt of the Tibetan diaspora
to construct its global image and about those who played a crucial
role in a history but remain relegated to its edges. The book should
be of great interest not only to specialists in Tibetan studies but
also to those working in the social sciences, as McGranahan skilfully
interweaves ethnographic detail with discussions about memory, history
and the construction of historical facts.

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