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Language and Ethnicity: Cadre-Speak in Contemporary Tibet

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The paper looks at changes over time in the ways that leading nationality cadres use formalistic language conventions within a communist society to convey apparently heterodox opinions. It notes in particular how those changes are related to economic and developmental conditions. These produce shifts in meanings as a side-effect of changes in the relationships that nationality or religious leaders have with the state, so that what might look to outsiders like expressions of dissent may be, more precisely, reminders by those who once had significant stakes in the 'old society' of their original promissory or contractual relations with the Communist Party. In contrast to views of formalistic texts as moribund, official texts in the Tibetan case can be seen in terms of their 'liveliness', a result of reading practices which are highly attuned to the local effects of power and to ethnicity, with frequent interpretational tensions over questions of compliance and disloyalty. Detailed examples are given of writing conventions found in major texts produced by leading Chinese and Tibetan cadres in Tibet in the 1960s and after 1980. Particular attention is given to block writing and the use of standard formulations. A brief historical overview is given of the rise of such cases among leading Tibetan cadres in the late 1980s, and their subsequent decline as the economy surged and the first generation of nationality leaders anointed by the CCP aged and became less active, giving way to the current group of largely marginalised public intellectuals.


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