In his 2009 novel, Empty Mountains, the famous Sino-Tibetan writer Alai engages with new themes that were almost totally absent from his award-winning 1998 novel, The Dust Settles (titled Red Poppies in English). In addition to the new focus on post-“liberation” Tibet, other major new themes include wild animals, the natural environment in general, and the relationship that the novel’s Tibetan protagonists have with both. This article explores the representation of animals and the human–animal relationship in Empty Mountains and argues that it is instrumental in creating and asserting a new Tibetan identity and history. I then suggest that this representation reflects a major trend in contemporary Tibet to promote concern for animal welfare and more compassionate treatment of animals as part of an ethno-religious effort to reconstruct Tibetan identity in the context of the Chinese domination in Tibet and the growing impact of Chinese modernity in the region. The article hopes to contribute to the growing body of literature on the place of animals and the human–animal relationship in Tibetan culture by demonstrating that the symbolic use of animals in this culture is not confined only to religious rituals. It also provides a powerful case study that illustrates how human perceptions, practices, and narratives that relate to animals both reflect and are used to construct ethnic identities.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
The author disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: The research for this article was supported by the Israel Science Foundation (grant no. 435/16).
© The Author(s) 2023.
- animal representation
- Empty Mountains
- Tibetan identity
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Geography, Planning and Development
- Sociology and Political Science