Tintin in [China's] Tibet

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A couple of weeks ago, in "China's" (2/1/15) and the comments thereto, we were discussing the political aspects and implications of prefacing names in publications pertaining to places in the People's Republic of China (PRC) with the possessive "China's".

Wentao provided the example of Dīngdīng zài Zhōngguó Xīzàng 丁丁在中国西藏 ("Tintin in China's Tibet"), which is wonderfully apt, inasmuch as it perfectly conveys the sense of forceful imposition or insertion of national name in front of region that strikes those of us who study Tibet and Xinjiang as politically motivated — especially since it was naturally and conspicuously absent in the original.  It may seem hard to believe that the Chinese propagandists would go so far as to tamper with a simple Tintin title, but it's for real:  28,100 ghits!

The political force of the PRC title was definitely felt by the representatives of the deceased author (Hergé [1907-1983]) of Tintin and his publisher, as is clear from this account in Wikipedia:

During production, Hergé kept abreast of the turbulent political developments in Tibet.[56] In March 1959, Tibet's foremost political and spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, fled the region into self-imposed exile in India following disagreements with China's governing Communist Party.[57] In May 2001, when Tintin in Tibet was published in the People's Republic of China, state authorities renamed it Tintin in Chinese Tibet. When Casterman and the Hergé Foundation protested, the authorities restored the book's original title.[58]

The Chinese title of Tintin in Tibet became an international cause célèbre in 2001:

"Diplomatic row as translators put Tintin in Chinese Tibet"  (5/24/01)

An interesting discussion on the controversy over the title is available on the Tintin Forums at Tintinologist.org here :

And you can even see the cover of the Chinese version of "Tintin in Tibet" with the Zhōngguó 中国 ("China['s]") removed here (the new version came out in 2002).

What is more, if you do a search for the Chinese title as Dīngdīng zài Xīzàng 丁丁在西藏 ("Tintin in Tibet"), you will get 38,400 ghits.  In this case, it would seem that sanity and respect for Hergé, Tintin, and Tibet won out in the end.

[N.B.:  I wanted to write the title as Tintin in China's Tibet, but I couldn't get the strikethrough to appear in the title block.]


  1. tsts said,

    February 14, 2015 @ 7:50 am

    Strange, but to me adding "China's" actually weakens the claim to Tibet, at least in the English title. It suggests to me that there might be a second volume where Tintin visits the non-Chinese parts of Tibet.

  2. Michael Rank said,

    February 14, 2015 @ 7:51 am

    I'm pretty amazed that the Hergé estate persuaded the Chinese to drop 中国 in the title, wonder how they did it. Here's the book without 中国 http://www.52xrs.com/comic/1632/1639/ and here it is with http://product.dangdang.com/111837.html
    both published by China Youth and Children Publishing House.

    The 2001 Guardian article linked above http://www.theguardian.com/world/2001/may/24/books.booksnews says Tintin in the Congo has been banned in China for being "too racist and imperialist" but not true though it wasn't published till 2009 http://www.amazon.cn/%E4%B8%81%E4%B8%81%E5%8E%86%E9%99%A9%E8%AE%B0-%E4%B8%81%E4%B8%81%E5%9C%A8%E5%88%9A%E6%9E%9C-%E5%9F%83%E5%B0%94%E7%83%AD/dp/B00358BUZ8

  3. JK said,

    February 14, 2015 @ 8:08 am

    I posted this comment late to the other thread, this usage makes for some confusing news reports:

    KATHMANDU, Feb. 12 (Xinhua) — The Chinese Tibetan Losar, or new year, has been marked in the Nepalese Capital City Kathmandu on Thursday evening.

    The Chinese embassy in Kathmandu hosted a grand ceremony in celebration of the Chinese Tibetan Losar

  4. Victor Mair said,

    February 14, 2015 @ 8:49 am



    @Michael Rank

    I share your amazement. I don't think there's a snowman's chance in hell that if this had happened today the Chinese authorities would have yielded. In fact, I was close to writing that into the original post, but thought I'd wait and see what our astute readers would have to save on the matter. On the other hand, in all the decades since the founding of the People's Republic of China, right around 2001-2002 when Hu Jintao assumed office, there was a slight lull in which it might be said that the Chinese Communist Party was slightly accommodating on strategically selected matters.


    Thanks for reminding us of those incredibly awkward usages.

  5. Victor Mair said,

    February 14, 2015 @ 10:12 am

    From Michael Witzel:

    It may be interesting for some of us that my late colleague at Leiden, Ronald Poelmeijer, has printed a small booklet, a serious Tibetologist commentary in Dutch on Tintin in Tibet, detailing places, errors etc.:


    Is Kuifje in Tibet geweest? Amsterdam.

    I have it somewhere… For his bio see:


  6. JK said,

    February 14, 2015 @ 11:26 am

    I think there was also a brief period in the late 80s when things like this were actually published — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uyghurlar

    Also, it seems like the term Tibetan Buddhism is generally spared the Chinese possessive

  7. Michael Rank said,

    February 14, 2015 @ 1:03 pm

    China does seem to be going through a cultural freeze at the moment under 习大大 but George Orwell has recently been published in Tibetan, surprisingly enough, see https://ibisbill.wordpress.com/2014/01/02/nineteen-eighty-four-in-chinese/
    (scroll down to Update 5) and see also the Bruce Humes blog which I have linked to.

  8. Francoise Robin said,

    February 14, 2015 @ 2:31 pm

    @JK: Tibetan Buddhism has not been forgotten: see for instance
    The trick is one has to look (in English) for "China's Tibetan" and not "China's Tibet":
    The search for "China's Tibetan Buddhism" (with quotation marks) on Google yields… 80000+ results.
    Tibetan medicine has undergone the same fate http://www.cgcmall.com/products/China's-Tibetan-Medicine-by-Zhen-Yan-and-Cai-Jingfeng.html
    Tibetan mastiffs have also become "China's Tibetan Mastiff" (http://www.fishpond.co.nz/Books/Chinas-Tibetan-Mastiff-Ni-Pengfei/9787119042725)

    Interestingly, a journal dedicated to Tibetan medicine, called in Tibetan "Krung go bod kyi gso rig" (lit. China's Tibet Medicine), is subtitled in English "Tibetan Medicine in China", a clever compromise (http://tibetbook.net/en/medical-journals/15625-krung-goi-bod-kyi-gso-rig—-16739337.html)
    And so on.
    The expression, when it started to appear forcefully, puzzled many Tibetans themselves: if there is such a thing as "China's Tibet", there sure must be a "Tibet's Tibet" somewhere.

  9. J.W. Brewer said,

    February 14, 2015 @ 8:55 pm

    Oddly enough, that other Tintin book is not called "Tintin in the Belgian Congo," even though it was written at a time when that would have been helpful to disambiguate it from the French Congo. Of course that those usages have become obsolete as political circumstances have changed also highlights the possibility that a phrase like "China's Tibet" carries an implicit "for-the-time-being" qualification as to the nature of the relationship between the two. Some sort of future change of status (up to and including independence) for "American Samoa" or the "U.S. Virgin Islands" does not seem as conceptually out of order (however slim the odds might be in practice) as a similar change of status for New Jersey might.

  10. JK said,

    February 14, 2015 @ 9:24 pm

    That's true, China's use of possessives for Xinjiang and Tibet resemble many names on this list http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Nations_list_of_Non-Self-Governing_Territories

  11. Victor Mair said,

    February 14, 2015 @ 10:33 pm


    That is so ironic, because the formal names for both Xinjiang and Tibet end with zìzhìqū 自治区 ("self-governing / autonomous region"), though everyone knows they are anything but.

  12. The Tumbleweed Farm said,

    February 15, 2015 @ 12:12 am

    Considering that there is no actual possessive suffix (such as 的 or 之) in 国西藏, I would rather compare it to "New Mexico, USA", which of course appears on a million license plates.

  13. Victor Mair said,

    February 15, 2015 @ 2:12 am

    @The Tumbleweed Farm

    It's different. In any given year, there are a limited number of styles of license plates for New Mexico, and by no means do all of them have the "USA" on them anyway. See official description here and images here.

    It's not as though there are millions of different New Mexico license plate designs; there are only a few designs, and not all of them have the "USA".

    In 2014, the population of New Mexico stood at 2.086 million. Not all of those resident in the state owned a motor vehicle.

    There were probably less than a million, or not much more than a million, car and truck owners in New Mexico in recent years, and not all of them had "USA" on their license plates:


    New Mexico is exceptional among American states in having "USA" on some of its license plate designs:


    It should be fairly easy to figure out why.

    Finally, each of those millions of different instances of "Zhōngguó 中国 ('China') this or that" and "Zhōngguó de 中国的 ('China's') this or that", when printed, occurs in hundreds, thousands, and hundreds of thousands or more copies, and when circulated on the internet, occurs countless times, and the ones reading "Zhōngguó de 中国的" really do mean "belonging to China". Even those that just say "Zhōngguó 中国" imply the same. Cf.:

    Bīndà bówùguǎn 宾大博物馆 ("Penn Museum", i.e., the museum of Penn or the museum belonging to Penn)

    Bīndà de bówùguǎn 宾大的博物馆 ("Penn Museum", i.e., the museum of Penn or the museum belonging to Penn)

    Meanwhile, at any one time there are only several hundred thousand motor vehicles with "New Mexico USA" on the roads, and there is a comparable number that say "New Mexico Land of Enchantment".

  14. John Roth said,

    February 15, 2015 @ 8:13 am

    There's a not very nice reason for putting USA on at least some New Mexico plates. A man I knew got stopped somewhere and mistreated for being a Mexican – the officers involved didn't know that New Mexico was a US state!

  15. Wentao said,

    February 15, 2015 @ 1:16 pm


    I feel differently about the "weakening" part, since if there are Chinese and non-Chinese parts of Tibet, a different wording would have been used. In English, the connotation of 中国西藏 is perhaps closer to "Tibet, China" than "China's Tibet" (a similar parallel is that between 浙江宁波 and 加州洛杉矶 "Los Angeles, CA"). I don't know if there is a syntactic rule behind this, or if it's just a convention for place names.
    If a territory is divided between control of two countries, we tend to use 控, as in 印控克什米尔 "Kashmir controlled by India". Or, for many colonies, it's possible to use 属, as in 法属圭亚那 "French Guyana". We never say 印度克什米尔 "Kashmir, India" or 法国圭亚那 "Guyana, France".

    @Professor Mair
    A minor quibble: to me 宾大博物馆 is a proper name that can only refer to THE "University of Pennsylvania Museum", whereas 宾大的博物馆 can mean any museum belonging to Penn.

  16. Matt said,

    February 15, 2015 @ 7:31 pm

    "China's Tibetan Buddhism" doesn't really count, though, I think there the goal is to claim ownership over the religion as a whole ("China's [Tibetan Buddhism]") rather than just Tibet (* "[China's Tibet]an Buddhism"). Note that the DVD is in a series called "Chinese Religions" along with "Chinese Catholicism," for example.

    (I note with regret that there are not yet any Google hits for "China's Chinese Tibetan Buddhism".)

  17. Alan Palmer said,

    February 16, 2015 @ 9:37 am

    Francoise Robin said:

    if there is such a thing as "China's Tibet", there sure must be a "Tibet's Tibet" somewhere.

    Not necessarily; as with the French Congo and the Belgian Congo mentioned above, there might be another country's Tibet – perhaps "India's Tibet"?

  18. J.W. Brewer said,

    February 16, 2015 @ 11:42 am

    The Indian government prefers "Arunachal Pradesh" to "India's Tibet," presumably not least because it does not acknowledge the possibility of irredentist claims. The PRC government apparently uses some phrase translated as "South Tibet" to refer to the portions of what it asserts are "China's Tibet" that are controlled by India.

  19. Error said,

    February 18, 2015 @ 11:13 am

    Belgian v. French Congo would still be useful today as most people I know distinguish the countries named Congo as Congo Brazzaville and Congo Kinshasa.

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