Discussion Topics | The Valley of Black Foxes
First Impressions. What struck you first when you read The Valley of Black Foxes? How did it affect or shape your perspective on the resettlement of Tibetan drokpas? Set in a fictional county called Tsezhung, this story has touched a nerve with Tibetans across the plateau. From your reading, why do you think that is the case? What do you think is most striking to the reader, whether from a pastoralist or any other background? What insights or new perspectives do you think can be taken away from the story?
Relationship to the Land. The Tibetan drokpa have a unique relationship to the land of the Tibetan plateau. How is that special relationship conveyed through the story? What metaphors and symbolism circulate through the shifting sociocultural landscapes of The Valley of Black Foxes? Which ones stood out most vividly for you?
Unpacking the Satire. The author infuses the story with sharp wit, humor and a tragic sense of comedy -- as with the shiny toilet that is not connected to any actual plumbing. What aspects of social, cultural and economic life does Tsering Dondrup's satirical commentary draw attention to?
Disrupting a Story of Progress. A narrative of modernity and progress frames the logic of resettlement. How does the penetrating gaze of the author disrupt that narrative? What does the story of Black Fox Valley offer in its place? How does bureaucratic officialdom appear and how does it function in the story?
Linguistic Collisions. When the protagonist Sangye is being instructed on where they are to relocate, he struggles to memorize the Chinese name of their new home, Xingfu Shengtai Yimin Cun -- "Happy Ecological Resettlement Village." He does not know the Chinese term xingfu (happy), so he hears instead the Tibetan word shimbu ཞིམ་པོ་ (delicious) -- as in the "Delicious Ecological Resettlement Village." In what ways does this poignant instance of linguistic alienation point to broader socio-cultural dislocation in the experience of resettlement? How else does language appear as an issue in the process of resettlement?
Changing Geographies. In the story, the protagonists are profoundly affected by the experience of changing geographies in their social world. What are the effects and implications of the disorienting dilemmas they face? In your view, how and to what extent does this resonate with experiences elsewhere of human dislocation and mass resettlement?
Education and Pastoralism. In his article "Translating ecological migration policy," research scholar Tsering Bum suggests that resettled pastoralists should be called not "ecological migrants" but "education and healthcare migrants" (see Further Reading). To what extent does the quest for modern education shape the family's decision to relocate to the resettlement project in The Valley of Black Foxes? In the story, their decision leads to tragic outcomes. What could be alternative pathways to realizing the desire for education for the next generation of pastoralists? How can education and educational systems for children and families living on the Tibetan grasslands be reimagined? What might that look like?
Wanag, the Black Fox. What does the wanag -- the black fox -- represent in this story? How and to what extent does this metaphor work to signify the current conditions faced by Tibetans more broadly?
Reading in Tibetan. For those reading the story in both its original Tibetan and in English translation, what did you notice about the storytelling experience across languages? How did the experience differ? As always, we hope you'll encourage your Khabda participants to try reading the story in the original Tibetan -- we look forward to hearing how it goes and where their efforts lead them!