Arrested Histories

Tibet, the CIA, and Memories of a Forgotten War

Arrested Histories

Book Pages: 328 Illustrations: 36 photographs, 5 maps Published: October 2010

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Asian Studies, History > Asian History

In the 1950s, thousands of ordinary Tibetans rose up to defend their country and religion against Chinese troops. Their citizen army fought through 1974 with covert support from the Tibetan exile government and the governments of India, Nepal, and the United States. Decades later, the story of this resistance is only beginning to be told and has not yet entered the annals of Tibetan national history. In Arrested Histories, the anthropologist and historian Carole McGranahan shows how and why histories of this resistance army are “arrested” and explains the ensuing repercussions for the Tibetan refugee community.

Drawing on rich ethnographic and historical research, McGranahan tells the story of the Tibetan resistance and the social processes through which this history is made and unmade, and lived and forgotten in the present. Fulfillment of veterans’ desire for recognition hinges on the Dalai Lama and “historical arrest,” a practice in which the telling of certain pasts is suspended until an undetermined time in the future. In this analysis, struggles over history emerge as a profound pain of belonging. Tibetan cultural politics, regional identities, and religious commitments cannot be disentangled from imperial histories, contemporary geopolitics, and romanticized representations of Tibet. Moving deftly from armed struggle to nonviolent hunger strikes, and from diplomatic offices to refugee camps, Arrested Histories provides powerful insights into the stakes of political engagement and the cultural contradictions of everyday life.


Arrested Histories is a well-written and organized work that not only reflects
a great knowledge of Tibetan history and culture but also of international
politics and anthropology.” — Joseph G. Morgan, Pacific Affairs

Arrested Histories is an excellent, moving, and very readable work, which demonstrates the continuing value of fieldwork among the Tibetan exile community at a time when fieldwork among Tibetans in China is much more popular among anthropologists.” — Cameron David Warner, Ethnos

Arrested Histories thus provides a rich analysis of the politics of
history-making.... [F]or Tibet specialists and scholars of refugee politics, resistance movements, and history and memory, the book makes a significant contribution.... McGranahan has crafted a compelling study of how both international and national forces have worked to shape the modern Tibetan experience.” — Scott Laderman, Diplomatic History

“[A] detailed, nuanced, recounting of some of the lesser known, and yet captivating, aspects of this past. . . . The book, while likely to generate controversy within both China and the Tibetan diaspora alike, is thus sure to appeal to all willing to reconsider the conventional wisdom about Tibet’s recent contested history.”
— Allen Carlson, Journal of Military History

“[T]his book is a timely account of the beliefs that drive Tibetans-in-exile and of their heterogeneity as a community-in-exile. Above all, as a rich historical ethnography, it is a testament to the many issues of academic and practical significance in Tibet that are yet to be resolved.”
— Gillian G. Tan, The Australian Journal of Anthropology

“Carole McGranahan challenges the Western stereotype of Tibet as a society devoted to the creed of nonviolence with her account of the history of the resistance army. . . . Arrested Histories makes a valuable contribution to studies of the Tibetan Diaspora.”
— Jayita Sinha, South Asian Diaspora

“In terms of both its content and its analytical framework, Arrested Histories serves as a showcase example for the potentials of combined historical and anthropological research in any setting, making it of interest to graduate and advanced undergraduate students in anthropology, history, Tibet studies, subaltern studies and related disciplines. For those working on the Tibetan community in exile, this book is nothing less than indispensable.” — Stephan Kloos, Social Anthropology

“In this nuanced and challenging work Dr. Carole McGranahan has presented us with a case study of the Tibetan resistance movement, the Chushi Gangdruk.” — David Templeman, Asian Studies Review

“McGranahan’s Arrested Histories offers new insights into the complex world of the Tibetan resistance and diaspora during the last half of the twentieth century. . . . [I]t is . . . a delight to read and will be a must for serious students
of contemporary Tibetan affairs.”
— P. Christiaan Klieger, Asian Journal of Social Science

“McGranahan’s important book builds on the existing literature and complicates our understanding of Tibet and the Tibetan resistance, moving beyond the equation of Buddhism and the Dalai Lama with non-violence, beyond the assumption that Tibetans are a homogeneous, undifferentiated ethnic group. Anthropologists, historians, political scientists, policymakers, and anyone who cares about the Tibetan cause should read it.” — Harris Mylonas, Journal of Cold War Studies

“McGranahan's study is timely and welcome. Clearly, she was quick to take advantage of the beginnings of the process by which Tibetan society began to release the secret histories of the resistance. She was in the right places at the right time, and was accepted by many in the refugee community as a messenger. She was seen as an important agent in bringing these stories to an international audience.”

— P. Christiaan Klieger, The China Journal

“The author has revealing insights into the early confrontations between Khampas and Chinese Communists in the mid-1950s, and on the bizarre efforts of the CIA to hide their tiny war. . . . This book sheds light on the surviving veterans of a truly forgotten little war. It sets out to be a Khampa history of Tibetan resistance to the PRC but it is much more than that. It gives posthumous life to a remarkable resistance driven by respect for Buddhist precepts.” — Geordie Burnett Stuart, Asian Affairs

“This book will be of interest to Tibet scholars, and more broadly to those interested in war, resistance, and social movements and the ways they are historicized. It will also be of interest to anyone interested in how history is produced and written, and in particular how the silences and absences of history are produced. . . . McGranahan has managed to write a book that captures the humanity of those with whom she worked, their fierce dedication to Tibet, and at the same time chronicled the delicate maneuvers marginalized people must use when creating and representing themselves and their history.” — Julia Meredith Hess, Journal of Anthropological Research

Arrested Histories is a book about the attempt of the Tibetan diaspora to construct its global image and about those who played a crucial role in a history but remain relegated to its edges. The book should be of great interest not only to specialists in Tibetan studies but also to those working in the social sciences, as McGranahan skilfully interweaves ethnographic detail with discussions about memory, history and the construction of historical facts.” — Tsering Shakya, The China Quarterly

Arrested Histories breathes an air of dedicated scholarship, thoroughness, of meticulous research. There are maps, including one on the ‘Tibetan areas’ of China, almost two scores of illustrations, an excellent bibliography, a note on transliteration and photographs. Above all, it illumines a subject that has sadly been long neglected, if now half forgotten.” — Parshotam Mehra, The Tribune (Chandigarh)

“Historians, ethnographers, and students of culture in Tibet particularly, and more generally in South Asia and China, as well as those in Cold War studies, Memory studies, and further afield should pay attention to this important work: It marks a milestone for how politically sensitive histories that are ‘arrested’ through polemics can be released, and told in a nuanced and responsible way. Arrested Histories allows for new, unheard voices to enter the archive, while also creating new futures and possibilities for these voices, in its acknowledgement of a truly representative, engaged and relevant history for Tibet.” — Amy Holmes-Tagchungdarpa, Journal of Asian Studies

“McGranahan has patiently interviewed elderly survivors of the Tibetan guerilla resistance to Chinese rule, which lasted from 1956 to 1974. . . . As an anthropologist, McGranahan attends chiefly to the politics of memory and forgetting, the formation of identity, and the construction of gender, leaving the military and political histories of the forgotten war, as she says, a work in progress.” — Andrew J. Nathan, Foreign Affairs

“The book is an invaluable guide to the complexities of Tibetan resistance to the Chinese and is especially strong in its descriptions of the interactions between Tibetan politics and Tibetan religion (including violence in the defense of nonviolence), the tension between a unified Tibet and strong regional traditions, the difficulties and sadness of refugee relocation, and the long CIA involvement with the Tibetan resistance. . . . Recommended.” — D. W. Haines, Choice

“The struggle of Tibetans—known to Americans primarily through bumper sticker discourse—is presented here in fine-grained detail. Its complexities, contradictions, and ironies are fully explored. . . . This book would be valuable if it did nothing other than complicate our understanding of Tibet. However, its fruitful use of the ample literature on social memory combined with high-quality ethnography make it a valuable addition to the libraries of those with broader interests in the politics of memory.” — Michael E. Harkin, PoLAR

"What is most convincing about this book is that it is an ethnography that takes veteran hearbreaks serious and treats them with care. In that, the book is a record of their collective heartbreaks." — Dawa Lokyitsang, Lhakar Diaries

Arrested Histories is dense with insights, as well as new ways of looking at its subjects. It shows incredible range, from person- and innovative family-centered approaches to broad regional analysis, to even broader international relations on the borders between Tibet, India, and China and on the border-like edge of relations between the Tibetan resistance army and the CIA. A book that will be of intense interest to scholars interested in incisive political economic analysis of imperial formations of any era or locale.” — Catherine Lutz, author of Homefront: A Military City and the American Twentieth Century


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Carole McGranahan is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She is a co-editor of Imperial Formations.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations vii

Note on Transliteration, Names, and Photographs ix

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction 1

1. Empire and the State of Tibet 37

2. The Pains of Belonging 53

3. 1956: Year of the Fire Monkey 67

4. The Golden Throne 89

5. History and Memory as Social Practice 109

6. War in Exile 127

7. In a Clouded Mirror 143

8. Secrets, the CIA, and the Politics of Truth 163

9. A Nonviolent History of War 185

Conclusion: Truth, Fear, and Lies 201

Epilogue 219

Appendix. Who's Who 231

Notes 235

Bibliography 275

Index 303
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4771-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4751-4
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