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CEH seminar: Tang Yun, 23 March 2017

Presentation at the
Centre for Himalayan Studies


Tang Yun
Social anthropologist
Southwest University of Nationalities, Chengdu
Visiting scholar, Oxford (2016-17)


The Return of the Divine King: The Daizi Festival in rGyal rong and the Politics of the Sino-Tibetan Frontier


Time : 23 March 2017, 10 a.m.-12 p.m.
Place : conference room, building D

For those of you who are not from the CNRS campus, Villejuif: please note that you will have to leave a piece of identity at the entrance to the campus (in accordance with the plan Vigipirate, the national security alert system).


Situated at the east of the Sino-Tibetan frontier, rGyal rong was officially classified as a Tibetan area in the 1950s. The household principle and the system of house-names are the keystones around which rGyal rong’s social relations are articulated. On the one hand, in terms of religion, the rGyal rong people who practice Yungdrung Bon adhere to Tibetan Buddhism (with links to its west); on other hand, its politics is oriented towards the central government (to its east). The famous 18 rgyal po or local rulers in rGyal rong, who got their political authority from the central government in Beijing, have historically been in constant conflict with one another physically and symbolically. These conflicts even triggered the two influential Jinchuan Campaigns in the Qing Dynasty, which resulted in some structural transformation in the politics of rGyal rong.

The Daizi Festival is an annual festival celebrating the king sGo ldong, who is respected as a divine king as well as the ancestor by local people. As a mythico-ritual complex, this festival begins with sGo ldong’s annual return and ends by sending him away properly. By reconfirming sGo ldong’s sacred achievements, the order and hierarchy of the rGyal rong cosmos get its annual revival in the festival. At first sight, it is easy to conclude that the Daizi Festival is similar to the ceremony of Makihiki (Hawaii), which is one of the most famous case studies in divine kingship. However, if we go through the festival and its origin myth more carefully, and examine the festival within its historical and political context, we will find that rGyal rong’s version of kingship is structurally the opposite of Hawaii’s.
This may lead to the reflex of the bipartite nature of kingship and a different perception of sovereignty, feudalism, and politics in the Sino-Tibetan frontier.