Trying to Understand Ethnicity in Western Sichuan

It’s a rainy day in Chiangmai, very rare for January in the Monsoon Latitudes. The weather is encouraging me to stay inside and try to put together some material about three of the culture groups who live in Garzê (甘孜, དཀར་མཛེས།) Prefecture of Western Sichuan, where the Tibet Plateau falls away into the network of river valleys that water the Sichuan Basin.  Two of the culture groups I want to write about, the Gyalrong (嘉戎, རྒྱལ་རོང་) and Khampa (康巴, ཁམས་པ), are both classified in the Chinese nationalities system as Tibetan. The third one, the Qiang (羌族), are a distinct nationality, although they certainly share some cultural characteristics with the Tibetans.  The Qiang ascription is especially problematical because it refers as well to people who appear in historical accounts of northern China 3000 years ago.  The relationship between the northern tribes of antiquity and the Qiang in the river valleys of western Sichuan is tenuous at best.

I’m not an anthropologist, but this stuff fascinates me.  I will do my best and hope to have something posted before I meet my students later this month.  If there are any people reading this of Khampa, Jiarong/Gyalrong, or Qiang ethnicity, I would be very pleased to get your input.