The Politics of Representing Tibet:
Alai’s Tibetan Native-Place Stories

By Yiyan Wang

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 25, no. 1 (Spring 2013), pp. 96- 130

Alai, the Tibetan writer from Aba, has to date produced dozens of short stories and essays and three major novels: Red Poppies (1999), Empty Mountains (2004-2009), and King Gesar (2009). He writes in Chinese about his native place Aba and his stories feature local ethnography and the history of Eastern Tibet. This essay explores Alai’s narrative construction of local history and life in eastern Tibet in the context of the modern Chinese literary trope, the native place (guxiang), in order to probe the tension between ethnic writing, China’s national literature and national imagining. It unravels the complexity of cultural politics in Alai’s configuration of a Tibet located in the periphery of a Sino-Tibet border region. This essay argues that Alai’s writing should be understood in the historical context of Tibetan cultural sphere and his relocation of Tibet displays an alternative ethnography and historiography that challenge the contemporary paradigm of understanding literature through the nation-state framework.