Literary liberation of the tibetan past: The alternative voice in alai's red poppies

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In 2000, the novel Red Poppies, by the Chinese-Tibetan writer Alai, won the Mao Dun Prize, China's most prestigious literary award. Yet, to date, few have paid serious attention to the sociopolitical implications of the book, and those who have are unanimously critical, suggesting that it repeats the standard Han Chinese narrative about "Old Tibet." This article offers a new reading of Alai's novel, arguing that notwithstanding its many obvious overlaps with the Han Chinese narrative, the novel also contains a subtext with an alternative narrative. Identifying several references to Tibet and its history that challenge the hegemonic Han Chinese narrative, the author proposes that the main agenda in Red Poppies is to undo the hellish stigma that the Chinese government and the Han majority have attached to "Old Tibet" and the concomitant narrative about the "liberation" of Tibet by the Chinese People's Liberation Army. The author also analyzes the reasons for the multiplicity of narratives in the novel and the implications of its publication in China.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)170-209
Number of pages40
JournalModern China
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2010


  • Alai
  • China
  • Historiography
  • Red Poppies
  • Tibet

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


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