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Li Jin – Interpreting Demons: Armed Resistance and Epistemic Struggle in 1950s Tibet
November 15, 2019 @ 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Speaker: Li Jin, Department of Anthropology, University of Michigan
In the 1950s, Chinese incursion drove Tibetans in Sichuan to launch a guerrilla war. This war led to the exile of the Dalai Lama. Retrospectively assessing this war, Tibet’s monastic leaders have condemned it as a betrayal of the Buddhist virtue of non-violence. This talk seeks to disturb this hegemonic Buddhist attitude by arguing that certain Buddhist texts and discourses actually contributed to the outbreak of war. I will focus on prophetic texts attributed to Tibet’s reincarnate lamas. In terrifying, apocalyptic language, these texts described how “demon armies” would destroy Buddhist monasteries—unless Tibetans undertook the task of subjugating the demons. For many Tibetans at the time, these prophecies could be interpreted as either calls to arms or admonitions to forbear. From this ambiguity, we can further detect the complex roles of Buddhist monastics during the guerrilla war, and a continuous epistemological struggle they have experienced since then.