Acta Geographica Sinica ›› 2015, Vol. 70 ›› Issue (8): 1281-1295.doi: 10.11821/dlxb201508008

• Orginal Article • Previous Articles     Next Articles

The construction of placeness and identity in the context ofChina's emerging modernity: A case study of Han Chinese "drifters" in Lhasa, Tibet

Junxi QIAN1(), Jing YANG2,3, Hong ZHU1()   

  1. 1. School of Geography & Centre for Cultural Industry and Cultural Geography, South China Normal University, Guangzhou 510631, China
    2. Nanjing Institute of Geography and Limnology, CAS, Nanjing 210008, China
    3. University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
  • Received:2014-08-07 Revised:2015-02-03 Online:2015-08-20 Published:2015-09-24
  • Supported by:
    National Natural Science Foundation of China, No.41171125, No.41401139


The Chinese society is currently experiencing a radical transition to modernity. Although the Chinese modernity is not simply a duplicate of what originally rose from the Western context, Chinese people's experiences of modernity are in many ways comparable to their western counterparts. The term modernity signifies a historical period in which reason and scientific rationality become the fundamental ideologies to orient social activities and everyday behaviours. It is characterized by a teleology which advocates endless progress and growth. However, although modernity endows social members with greater freedom to pursue personal advancement, it also leads to negative experiences, especially the loss of stable and authentic social life. Against this the background of post-reform social transformation, particular sections of the Chinese society have embarked on an endless search of places which seems to be "uncontaminated" by modernization. This paper narrates one of these stories. It investigates Han Chinese "drifters" who dwell in Lhasa, and Tibet in order to enact anti-modernist identities. In particular, this paper provides an account of the ways in which the "drifters" in Lhasa imagine, constructs and consumes the placeness and place identity of Tibet. It argues that the question of modernity has an inherently spatial dimension. The construction of the drifters' identity is contingent upon the place identity of Tibet, which itself is a social and lived construction. The drifters' construction of place identity involves two dimensions, namely the representation and imagination of Tibet's place identity, and the lived practices of the imagined place identity of Tibet. On the one hand, this paper suggests that Han-Tibetan cultural difference is discursively constructed and spotlighted via the imagination of the place identity of Tibet. These representations are not objective descriptions of absolute realities, but socially constructed discourses that contribute to identity formation. On the other hand, this article analyzes the ways in which the imagined Tibetanness is lived via mundane practices of everyday life, and argues that these practices contribute positively to the formation of the drifters' identity.

Key words: modernity, placeness, identity, "drifters" in Tibet, Lhasa