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Tibet and the Problem of Radical Reductionism

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This article takes issue with a mode of argumentation advanced by a number of left-leaning, radical scholars, including those associated with China's New Left, about the causes of the Tibetan unrest in China in spring 2008. According to this stance, the Tibetan protests were the result of external manipulation by neoconservative, reactionary forces, ranging from the CIA to the Dalai Lama. The unstated premise of this response is that taking a critical stance against western imperialism and neoliberal globalization necessitates a defense of China's policies in Tibet. Such arguments take the form of unfavorable comparisons between Tibetans and Palestinians especially because the former are often romanticized, suggestions that Tibetans are unfortunate ideological victims of US-funded propaganda, and claims that they should be grateful for Chinese state-funded development. This response renders Tibetans incapable of being authentic political subjects. A radical stance on Western imperialism and capitalism should reject such reductionism.
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Keywords: China; Tibet; agency; left critique; reductionism

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Geography, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, USA;, Email:

Publication date: 2009-11-01

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