Muslim, Trader, Nomad, Spy

China's Cold War and the People of the Tibetan Borderlands

By Sulmaan Wasif Khan

216 pp., 5.5 x 8.5, 6 maps, notes, bibl., index

Not for sale in South Asia

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-3075-5
    Published: March 2016
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-2111-1
    Published: March 2015

New Cold War History

Buy this Book

For Professors:
Free E-Exam Copies

In 1959, the Dalai Lama fled Lhasa, leaving the People's Republic of China with a crisis on its Tibetan frontier. Sulmaan Wasif Khan tells the story of the PRC's response to that crisis and, in doing so, brings to life an extraordinary cast of characters: Chinese diplomats appalled by sky burials, Guomindang spies working with Tibetans in Nepal, traders carrying salt across the Himalayas, and Tibetan Muslims rioting in Lhasa.

What Chinese policymakers confronted in Tibet, Khan argues, was not a "third world" but a "fourth world" problem: Beijing was dealing with peoples whose ways were defined by statelessness. As it sought to tighten control over the restive borderlands, Mao's China moved from a lighter hand to a harder, heavier imperial structure. That change triggered long-lasting shifts in Chinese foreign policy. Moving from capital cities to far-flung mountain villages, from top diplomats to nomads crossing disputed boundaries in search of pasture, this book shows Cold War China as it has never been seen before and reveals the deep influence of the Tibetan crisis on the political fabric of present-day China.

About the Author

Sulmaan Wasif Khan is assistant professor of international history and Chinese foreign relations at the Fletcher School, Tufts University.
For more information about Sulmaan Wasif Khan, visit the Author Page.


"A good read, full of fascinating tales and an important contribution to our knowledge of this region and a corrective to the state-centric histories to date."--H-Net Reviews

“[A] colorful and insightful case study.”--Choice

“An interesting and thought-provoking book that makes an important contribution to the field.”--Asian Affairs

"Scholars have long championed a 'new international history,' seeking work that not only studies high politics but also represents the bottom-up, cultural, and social experience of everyday people. Emerging here is the kind of pathbreaking book that so many of us have been striving to produce."--Chen Jian, author of Mao’s China and the Cold War

“This book sheds light on an untold aspect of the Tibetan story. Muslim, Trader, Nomad, Spy is a welcome contribution to the debates in the field, providing a new research direction that is bound to intrigue future scholars."--Xiaoyuan Liu, University of Virginia