Streets with Memories

Robert Barnett

Columbia University Press


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Pub Date: June 2010

ISBN: 9780231136815

244 Pages

Format: Paperback

List Price: $29.00£25.00

Pub Date: February 2006

ISBN: 9780231136808

244 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $85.00£71.00

Pub Date: February 2006

ISBN: 9780231510110

244 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $28.99£25.00


Streets with Memories

Robert Barnett

Columbia University Press

There are many Lhasas. One is a grid of uniform boulevards lined with plush hotels, all-night bars, and blue-glass-fronted offices. Another is a warren of alleyways that surround a seventh-century temple built to pin down a supine demoness. A web of Stalinist, rectangular blocks houses the new nomenklatura. Crumbling mansions, once home to noble ministers, famous lovers, nationalist spies, and covert revolutionaries, now serve as shopping malls and faux-antique hotels. Each embodiment of the city partakes of the others' memories, whispered across time and along the city streets.

In this imaginative new work, Robert Barnett offers a powerful and lyrical exploration of a city long idealized, disregarded, or misunderstood by outsiders. Looking to its streets and stone, Robert Barnett presents a searching and unforgettable portrait of Lhasa, its history, and its illegibility. His book not only offers itself as a manual for thinking about contemporary Tibet but also questions our ways of thinking about foreign places.

Barnett juxtaposes contemporary accounts of Tibet, architectural observations, and descriptions by foreign observers to describe Lhasa and its current status as both an ancient city and a modern Chinese provincial capital. His narrative reveals how historical layering, popular memory, symbolism, and mythology constitute the story of a city. Besides the ancient Buddhist temples and former picnic gardens of the Tibetan capital, Lhasa describes the urban sprawl, the harsh rectangular structures, and the geometric blue-glass tower blocks that speak of the anxieties of successive regimes intent upon improving on the past. In Barnett's excavation of the city's past, the buildings and the city streets, interwoven with his own recollections of unrest and resistance, recount the story of Tibet's complex transition from tradition to modernity and its painful history of foreign encounters and political experiment.

Robert Barnett offers a needed cautionary note regarding understanding Tibet, and does so in an elegant and poetic fashion.

Melvyn Goldstein, Case Western University, author of A History of Modern Tibet 1913-1951: The Demise of a Lamist State

Robert Barnett has written a book which manages to describe Tibet, a country too often mythologized by outsiders, in a manner which is both accessible and erudite, and at the same time startlingly humble.

Anne Applebaum, author of Gulag: A History

Robert Barnett has written a strikingly original book. With a rigorous eye turned on Lhasa, one of the world's most compelling cities, he offers a rich archaeology of Tibetan history in context, in prose never less than elegant, often deeply memorable. Barnett holds this jewel of a city up to the light, turns it in every direction; the result is a gemlike book, one that will stay in the reader's mind, illuminating a vast continent of thought and feeling.

Jay Parini, author of One Matchless Time: A Life of William Faulkner

Barnett's book is a wonderful read... This is a book that will transfix readers.


[A] brilliant rumination on Tibet's capital.


Most readers of this fascinating book will finish reading it feeling that they truly know the Tibetan City.

Lucian Pye, Foreign Affairs

[Barnett] emerges in these pages as a perceptive and sympathetic observer of a city that has often been described, but rarely understood.

Isabel Hilton, London Review of Books

An imaginative and atmospheric book... which will appeal to all those interested in Tibet.

Wendy Palace, Asian Affairs

An eloquent account of the changes in the city's geography

Pankaj Mishra, New York Review of Books

[This] rumination on the capital of Tibet is the rare book that can draw tears just with its assemblage of neutral, entirely unpolemical facts.

Pico Iyer, TIME Asia

"Barnett's ruminations on Lhasa in this slim text are eloquently written, captivating reading, and highly recommended.

Tom Grunfeld, China Review International

[A] remarkable book.

Elidor Mehilli, Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism

A fascinating account of Lhasa.

Ben Hillman, The China Journal
A Note on History
A Note on Terminology
1. The Unitary View
2. Foreign Visitors, Oscillations, and Extremes
3. The Square View and the Outstretched Demoness
4. The City, the Circle
5. Monumental Statements and Street Plans
6. From Concrete to Blue Glass
7. The New Flamboyance and the Tibetan Palm Tree
8. Mestizo
9. The Multilayered Streets

Read the >preface to Lhasa (pdf)

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About the Author

Robert Barnett is director of the Modern Tibetan Studies Program and adjunct professor of international and public affairs at Columbia University. His books include Resistance and Reform in Tibet and A Poisoned Arrow: The Secret Petition of the 10th Panchen Lama.