Lhasa: Streets with Memories

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Overview

"In this new work, Robert Barnett offers a powerful and lyrical exploration of a city long idealized, disregarded, or misunderstood by outsiders. Looking to its streets and stone, Robert Barnett presents a searching and unforgettable portrait of Lhasa, its history, and its illegibility. His book not only offers itself as a manual for thinking about contemporary Tibet but also questions our ways of thinking about foreign places." Barnett juxtaposes contemporary accounts of Tibet, architectural observations, and descriptions by foreign observers to describe Lhasa and its current status as both an ancient city and a modern Chinese provincial capital. His narrative reveals how historical layering, popular memory, symbolism, and mythology constitute the story of a city. Besides the ancient Buddhist temples and former picnic gardens of the Tibetan capital, Lhasa describes the urban sprawl, the harsh rectangular structures, and the geometric blue-glass tower blocks that speak of the anxieties of successive regimes intent upon improving on the past. Barnett's excavation of the city's past, the buildings and the city streets, interwoven with his own recollections of unrest and resistance, recount the story of Tibet's complex transition from tradition to modernity and its painful history of foreign encounters and political experiment.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A Columbia University lecturer in modern Tibetan studies who's taught at Tibet University and written extensively about Tibet, Barnett has no intention of explaining Tibet to anyone. After all, for more than a century, foreigners have described the Tibet they thought they knew, propagating either unwitting or deliberate misapprehensions. So it's with reluctance and some negativity ("Lhasa was not in every way an otherworldly place") that Barnett attempts "to scrape a little of the topsoil off the affective history of a city, Lhasa," to discover its "inner language." The book's chapters have loose themes-foreigners' views of Tibet, Lhasa's geomantic layout, evolving architectural styles-and are usually spliced with diary accounts from Barnett's visit during the 1987 protest riots. Much of the book contains passages Barnett wrote for other publications in other languages; now revised and translated, they produce an uneasy flow. The illustrations-edgy line drawings of unidentified and often unidentifiable subjects-ensure the generally obscure mood, as do the lack of a modern map of Lhasa or Tibet, or a clear drawing of the types of buildings Barnett describes. Alas, even patient readers, dutifully consulting the hefty endnotes and glossary, may give up before reaching the final five-page chapter, where Barnett finally speaks plainly about Lhasa's architecture. (Mar.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Foreign Affairs - Lucian Pye

Most readers of this fascinating book will finish reading it feeling that they truly know the Tibetan City.

London Review of Books - Isabel Hilton

[Barnett] emerges in these pages as a perceptive and sympathetic observer of a city that has often been described, but rarely understood.

Asian Affairs - Wendy Palace

An imaginative and atmospheric book... which will appeal to all those interested in Tibet.

New York Review of Books - Pankaj Mishra

An eloquent account of the changes in the city's geography

TIME Asia - Pico Iyer

[This] rumination on the capital of Tibet is the rare book that can draw tears just with its assemblage of neutral, entirely unpolemical facts.

China Review International - Tom Grunfeld

"Barnett's ruminations on Lhasa in this slim text are eloquently written, captivating reading, and highly recommended.

Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism - Elidor Mehilli

[A] remarkable book.

The China Journal - Ben Hillman

A fascinating account of Lhasa.

Booklist

Barnett's book is a wonderful read... This is a book that will transfix readers.

Tricycle

[A] brilliant rumination on Tibet's capital.

Foreign Affairs
Most readers of this fascinating book will finish reading it feeling that they truly know the Tibetan City.

— Lucian Pye

London Review of Books
[Barnett] emerges in these pages as a perceptive and sympathetic observer of a city that has often been described, but rarely understood.

— Isabel Hilton

Asian Affairs
An imaginative and atmospheric book... which will appeal to all those interested in Tibet.

— Wendy Palace

New York Review of Books
An eloquent account of the changes in the city's geography

— Pankaj Mishra

TIME Asia
[This] rumination on the capital of Tibet is the rare book that can draw tears just with its assemblage of neutral, entirely unpolemical facts.

— Pico Iyer

China Review International
Barnett's ruminations on Lhasa in this slim text are eloquently written, captivating reading, and highly recommended.

— Tom Grunfeld

Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism
[A] remarkable book.

— Elidor Mehilli

The China Journal
A fascinating account of Lhasa.

— Ben Hillman

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Robert Barnett is director of the Modern Tibetan Studies Program and adjunct professor of international and public affairs at Columbia University. His books include Resistance and Reform in Tibet and A Poisoned Arrow: The Secret Petition of the 10th Panchen Lama.

Columbia University Press

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Table of Contents

1 The unitary view 1
2 Foreign visitors, oscillations, and extremes 27
3 The square view and the outstretched demoness 41
4 The city, the circle 61
5 Monumental statements and street plans 71
6 From concrete to blue grass 85
7 The new flamboyance and the Tibetan palm tree 97
8 Mestizo : two narratives converge 113
9 The multilayered streets 123
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