Robert Barnett is an Associate Research Scholar, Director of the Modern Tibet Studies Program and an Adjunct Professor of Contemporary Tibetan Studies at the Columbia University Weatherhead East Asian Institute.

Professor Barnett founded and directs the Modern Tibetan Studies Program at Columbia, the first Western teaching program in this field. He ran an annual summer program for foreign students at Tibet University in Lhasa from 2000 to 2005 and teaches courses on Tibetan film, television, biography, and other subjects. He researches and teaches courses on the topics of modern Tibetan history, culture and politics; film and television in Inner Asia; and nationality issues in China.

Professor Barnett has edited or written a number of books on modern Tibet, including A Poisoned Arrow: The Secret Petition of the 10th Panchen Lama (Tibet Information Network, 1998), Leaders in Tibet: A Directory (Tibet Information Network 1997), Cutting Off the Serpent's Head: Tightening Control in Tibet 1994-1995 (Human Rights Watch, 1996), and Resistance and Reform in Tibet (Indiana University Press, 1994). His most recent book is Tibetan Modernities: Notes from the Field on Social and Cultural Change, co-edited with Ronald Schwartz (Brill, 2008). In 2006 his book Lhasa: Streets with Memories was published by Columbia University Press. Recent articles include " Tsogt Taij and the Disappearance of the Overlords," in Inner Asia (2007); "Women and Political Participation in Tibet," in Janet Havnevik and J. Gyatso, eds., Women in Tibet: Past and Present ( Columbia University Press, 2006); and "The Secret Secret: Cinema, Ethnicity and 17th Century Tibetan- Mongolian Relations," in Inner Asia (2002).

He is a frequent commentator on Tibet and nationality issues in China for the BBC, CNN, NPR, CBS, The New York Times, the Washington Post, and other media. He runs three projects on development and education in Tibet that include training programs in ecotourism and conservation.

Before joining Columbia's faculty in 1998, Professor Barnett worked as a journalist and researcher in the United Kingdom, specializing in Tibetan issues for the BBC, the South China Morning Post, VOA, the Guardian, the Independent and other media outlets. From 1987-1998, Dr. Barnett was director of an independent Tibet news and research project in London. He has also worked as a journalist for the South China Morning Post (Hong Kong), the BBC, The Observer (London), The Independent (London), and other news outlets.

Last Updated: February 5, 2015

Conversation

12.21.16

Did Oslo Kowtow to Beijing?

Isaac Stone Fish, Stein Ringen & more
In 2010, the Oslo-appointed Nobel Peace Prize committee bestowed the honor on imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. Furious with the selection of Liu, a human rights advocate, who is currently serving an 11-year prison sentence on spurious...

Conversation

10.20.15

Britain: ‘China’s Best Partner in the West’?

Isabel Hilton, Sebastian Heilmann & more
This week, Xi Jinping is in Great Britain for a state visit, his first since assuming leadership of China nearly three years ago. Britain’s government under David Cameron has signaled—increasingly loudly in recent months—that it hopes to usher in a...

Conversation

02.05.15

What’s the Case for Heads of State Meeting the Dalai Lama?

Francesco Sisci, Robert Barnett & more
On Thursday in Washington, the Dalai Lama attended the annual National Prayer Breakfast hosted by President Barack Obama, angering China's leaders in Beijing who have long called the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader a "splittist" and...

Books

06.09.14

Voices from Tibet

Tsering Woeser and Wang Lixiong, Edited and Translated by Violet S. Law
Tsering Woeser and Wang Lixiong are widely regarded as the most eloquent, insightful writers on contemporary Tibet. Their reportage on the economic exploitation, environmental degradation, cultural destruction, and political subjugation that plague the increasingly Han Chinese-dominated Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) is as powerful as it is profound, ardent, and analytical in equal measure, and not in the least bit ideological. Voices from Tibet is a collection of essays and reportage in translation that captures the many facets of an unprecedented sea change wreaked by a rising China upon a scared land and its defenseless people. With the TAR in a virtual lockdown after the 2008 unrest, this book sheds important light on the simmering frustrations that touched off the unrest and Beijing’s stability über alles control tactics in its wake. The authors also interrogate longstanding assumptions about Tibetans’ political future. Woeser’s and Wang’s writings represent a rare Chinese view sympathetic to Tibetan causes, one that should resonate in many places confronting threats of cultural subjugation and economic domination by a non-indigenous power. —Hong Kong University Press {chop}

Conversation

02.13.14

Are Ethnic Tensions on the Rise in China?

Enze Han, James Palmer & more
On December 31, President Xi Jinping appeared on CCTV and extended his “New Year’s wishes to Chinese of all ethnic groups.” On January 15, Beijing officials detained Ilham Tohti, a leading Uighur economist and subsequently accused him of “separtist...

China’s ‘Liberation’ of Tibet: Rules of the Game

Robert Barnett from New York Review of Books
Much of the talk about Vice President Joe Biden’s four-day visit to China last week centered on the man who hosted him: Xi Jinping, expected to become the country’s next president in 2012. Biden’s office has said that the principal purposes of his...

Thunder from Tibet

Robert Barnett from New York Review of Books
1.Every so often, between the time a book leaves its publisher and the time it reaches its readers, events occur that change the ways it can be read. Such is the case with Pico Iyer’s account of the fourteenth Dalai Lama, the exiled leader of Tibet...

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Atlantic
01.31.13

The Chinese Communist Party's repression of its Tibetan minority now extends, apparently, to travel. Few Tibetans have been issued passports since last spring. Beijing has yet to comment officially about this issue, but its approach to Tibet has stiffened since cracking down on anti-government protests in the territory in 2008...