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Historic Migration in China: Chang Tang, from Wilderness to Inhabited Frontier Society

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This article addresses migration in the late seventeenth and the eighteenth century from Eastern Tibet to Chang Tang, the enormous high-plateau in Western Tibet. Evidence is presented about the rise of an intriguingly well-regulated nomadic society, questioning the dominant, environmentally framed narrative of Chang Tang as an uninhabited wilderness. The article examines why people started migrating, sheds light on specific migratory events and their cumulative effects. The article examines nomads’ adaptation to a sacred mountain landscape, an inhospitable climate, established customary practices and contending centralised sources of religious and political authority, while drawing on their own martial ethos and diverse skill sets. In order to explain causes and outcomes of specific events, the article employs an interdisciplinary theoretical approach. This approach unravels Chang Tang as pastoral realm, sacred landscape and contested frontier – sought controlled by the lords of distant Lhasa and empires of the Western Himalayas and Central Asia.

Affiliations: 1: University of Tromsø (UiT), Norway, ; 2: Tibet Academy of Social Sciences (TASS) in Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region, China,


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