2013 Student-Faculty Fellows Program: John Carroll University
Crossing Borders on the Sino-Tibetan Frontier
Mentor: Paul Nietupski, Theology and Religious Studies
Students: Andrew Dockery ’16, Alexandra Ehrett ’16, Brenton Mineo ’13, Sarah Pawlaczyk ‘15
The Tibetan “Amdo,” or the Sino-Tibetan borderland, in addition to being a geological and economic transition zone, has different and often conflicting layers of political, ethnographical, social, linguistic, and religious definitions. It is Tibetan Amdo, and also segments of China’s Gansu, Qinghai, and Sichuan Provinces. Four students accompanied Dr. Nietupski to this area to spend most of June studying infrastructure development, education, gender and politics, and ecology in the region. We travelled from lowland China to the highlands of northeast and central Tibet, through often rugged territory, and in sometimes tough accommodations. The experience showed the extent of change in Tibetan areas of China, and provided indicators for future development.
As an East Asian studies major who plans on living and working in Asia long term, this research opportunity has been invaluable. My study is on the effects of infrastructure development in the Amdo region, and I spent much of my time in the Amdo interviewing Han Chinese, Tibetans and Hui Muslims. I also conversed with a number of Western scholars working in the region to determine their views about the impact of development on the region and its people. As one traverses the region, he discovers that Tibet is both at peace and at war with modernity, and contradictions are evident most everywhere. Buddhist monks carry cell phones and massive highways bisect pasture lands used by nomads for centuries. Each of the pivotal groups in this region view infrastructure development in different ways. My research will explore each groups views on development and assess why they are as they are and how they differ one.
My research is focused upon “Women and the Politics of Change in Amdo.” During almost four weeks in Asia, I was able to personally converse with women of all ages in the region as I sought to collect data that reveals how strongly the shifts in political structures and educational policies have affected women and begun to alter gender roles. Of particular interest to me was the opportunity to visit a newly-built elementary school in the small town of Kotse that is open to both boys and girls in the town. Clearly, the building of a new dormitory that enables students from nomadic families to study there, and the development of a curriculum based on the study of Tibetan, Chinese, English and mathematics provides new opportunities for young Amdo girls. However, only about fifty students from this school will ultimately pass the national examinations that enable them to advance to middle school, and perhaps ten of these, mostly boys, will ultimately gain entrance to a university.
My research is focused on issues related to maintaining sustainable pasture land for nomadic herdsmen in the Amdo region. The research is based upon using assessment techniques traditionally practiced in the United States to take core samples of pastureland for analysis, and then measuring the quality of the soil and pasture against the herding techniques being utilized by Tibetan nomads in the areas from which the samples were drawn. In this way, it is possible to determine which grazing practices are most efficacious to soil and pasture preservation.
The focus of my research in Amdo is on education and my discovery process included visiting schools and sitting in classrooms, conversing with school teachers and principals, and spending time with students and their families. I discovered that many Tibetan children receive no education or drop out while in secondary school, and that this is much more likely for young girls than for young boys. Poor attendance may also be linked to underfunded and poorly staffed and supplied rural schools. In addition, although Tibetan nomads a have high regard for education, it is often difficult for them to meet the costs of education or to lose the help provided by their children when they send them away to study. Still, it is apparent that some change in attitudes is occurring. For example, when conversing with four generations of women in one nomadic family, I discovered that none of the women had any formal education. The older women in the family stated that they had never thought about going to school, while the youngest girl said she would like to go to school although never given the chance. In short, the possibility of attending school was something that this young girl at least considered.