Introduction
Lauran r . Hart LE y and
Patricia Sc H iaffini-VE dani
This book of essays on Tibetan comparative literature and cultural studies
aims to provide a much needed critical introduction to both the recent
emergence of modern literary forms by Tibetan writers and the cultural
discourse accompanying and bolstered by this new literature. At the same
time, unprecedented social opportunities and challenges inform the writing,
contours, subject matter, and reading of these texts. The study of modern
Tibetan literature thus touches on a host of related extra-literary topics: rapid
but uneven socioeconomic development, minority discourse, education, di-
glossia, cultural identity, nationalism, diaspora, religious revival, and politi-
cal vicissitudes. A comprehensive project such as this also raises other con-
cerns, not least the risk of reifying categories still being negotiated among
Tibetan writers. For instance, the very definition of Tibetan literature, that
is, the set of criteria for conceiving a national literature, has been hotly con-
tested by Tibetan writers, literary critics, and scholars since the mid-1980s.
As editors, we have decided to err on the side of inclusion—not to further any
particular vision of a national literature, but to provide the reader with ma-
terial for more critically considering the issues at stake and the multitude of
voices and perspectives encountered throughout the Tibetan literary world.
The studies in this book thus cross linguistic boundaries, covering works
by Tibetan authors writing in Tibetan, Chinese, and English. We have also
sought to include a range of geopolitical origins, examining literary works
and discourse in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and in the exile com-
munities of India, Nepal, and the western hemisphere.
The inspirational seeds for this reader were planted in March 2001, when
five of the contributors (Pema Bhum, Lauran Hartley, Matthew Kapstein, Lara
Maconi, and Patricia Schiaffini) participated in the first panel on modern
Tibetan literature ever organized at an annual meeting of the Association for
Asian Studies. This panel was significant also in that it marked one of the
first times in the United States that scholars from backgrounds as different
as Tibetology, Sinology, and comparative studies convened to discuss mod-
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