Andrew Grant, “The Concrete Plateau: Urban Tibetans and the Chinese Civilizing Machine” (Cornell UP, 2022)

In The Concrete Plateau: Urban Tibetans and the Chinese Civilizing Machine (Cornell UP, 2022), Grant examines how China’s urban development policies of frontier cities like Xining (Tib. zi ling) accompanied civilizational projects that deployed various discursive and non-discursive practices aimed at creating ideologically homogeneous and modern places. Xining or Ziling is the capital of Qinghai (Tib. mtsho sngon) province and it is the largest city on the Tibetan Plateau and home to over 200, 000 Tibetans.

Dr. Grant shows how specific processes complicate the rural/urban divide and allow for the emergence of a “regional modernity” where Tibetan urbanites develop tools for the “remediation of the Chinese Dream,” and subtly challenge and subvert the social and ethnic hierarchies promoted through urban development policies. Despite the idea of the city or Trungcher (grong ‘khyer) as a place of moral decay and social disintegration, instead of rejecting and retreating from it, Tibetans view the city as a site of social and political possibility; where they can assert their social existence and cultural identity through creative forms of cultural expression and entrepreneurial endeavor. 

Palden Gyal is a Ph.D. candidate in Modern Tibetan and Late Imperial Chinese history at Columbia University.

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