Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Tibet and the Wood-Horse Year

As we enter the Wood-Water Year, it is time to look at the past year and try to decipher the Roof of the World’s future.
A few month ago, an advertisement in chinanews.com described Tibet thus: “Tibet with its mystery is the spiritual Garden of Eden; and is longed by travelers home and abroad. Only by stepping on the snowy plateau, can one be baptized by its splendor, culture, folklore, life, snow mountains, saint mountains, sacred lakes, residences with local characteristics and charming landscape.”
What does it mean for the future of Tibet?
The first point to be noted is it appears that China does not consider the Land of Snows as a ‘frontier’ inhabited by Barbarians anymore.
Let us have a look at history.
IN an excellent book, Tibet and Nationalist China’s Frontier (1928-19549), Hsiao-Ting Lin describes the political scene in China in 1943. He says: “the changing international arena prompted keen discussion in China, from the highest official level to the grassroots, about the grandiose restoration of past territorial rights not only over areas lost to the Japanese, but also over former Qing imperial possessions in Inner Asia.” In other words, Tibet and Eastern Turkestan (Xinjinag).
Hsiao-Ting Lin continues: “The growing attention on reclaiming China's lost frontier territories was underpinned by two basic beliefs. Politically speaking, wartime Han Chinese intellectuals expected American support to ensure the establishment of China as a great power, so they were convinced that the central government was in a better position than ever to restore Chinese territorial control over border regions.”
But for Nanjing, there was another interest in the ‘frontiers’. As Hsiao-Ting Lin explains: “Economically and strategically, scholars and the mass media in Chongqing also asserted that abundant natural resources, such as furs, animal skins, gold, and forests, in the traditional border areas would be of great military significance to wartime China in its battle against the Japanese. They believed that the upturn in the war situation after Pearl Harbor had provided the government with a perfect opportunity to open up previously unexploited frontier territories for the benefit of the whole country.”
In his book China's Destiny, published in the spring of 1943, Chiang Kai-shek pointed out that the five major peoples within China were merely various clans of the same racial stock. He said: “our various clans actually belong to the same nation, as well as to the same racial stock. That there are five peoples designated in China is not due to difference in race or blood, but to religion and geographical environment. In short, the differentiation among China's five peoples is due to regional and religious factors, and not to race or blood. This fact must be thoroughly understood by all our fellow countrymen”. The Tibetans were again included in the Empire.
Mao followed in the steps of the Generalissimo and on January 1, 1950 declared that Tibet had to be liberated. The broadcast of the New China News Agency proclaimed "the task for the People's Liberation Army (PLA) for 1950 is to liberate Taiwan, Hainan and Tibet... Tibet is an integral part of China. Tibet has fallen under the influence of the imperialists."
During the following months China would repeatedly assert that Tibet was part of China's territory. According to the Communists’ terminology, in the last months of 1950, Tibet was ‘peacefully liberated’; a year later, the first Chinese troops entered Lhasa.
The Tibetan people never willingly accepted to be part of the People’s Republic of China. Eventually, an uprising of the Tibetan population took place in Lhasa in 1959 and the Dalai Lama, the temporal and spiritual leader had to flee and take refuge in India.
China itself went through turbulent years and it is only in 1979 that a first effort was made by Beijing to solve the Tibetan issue. Here again it failed and the Dalai Lama had no other choice but to ‘internationalize’ the issue by appealing to the US Congress (1987) and the European Parliament (1988).
This too did not work, even though the Tibetan leader had by that time dropped his dream of independence.
The hardliners in Beijing dictated the China’s Tibet policy; in the following years, force and repression were extensively used to solve once and for all, the ‘problem’ of the restive region. This too did not work.

Tourists on the shores of the Namtso lake
Tourism as a solution
It is probably why Beijing has chosen a ‘softer’ option to tackle the Tibet issue: it could be done by flooding the Roof of the World with Han tourists.
Recently, Zeng Wanming, a Vice-Chairman of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) visited Beijing. He met Shao Qiwei, the Chairman of the National Tourism Administration. Zeng told Shao that in Tibet, the tourism development has fully achieved its objectives.
Shao Qiwei quoted the Fifth Tibet Work Forum (held in January 2010) during which it was decided to transform the Roof of The World into a major world tourist destination; Zhen added that Tibet was also important due to its strategic location (is it a reference to the dual use of the infrastructure, civilian and military?). The relevant ministries were asked to implement the ‘national strategy’ and support this ‘important work’ for Tibet’s development. In the new scheme, the responsibility of the National Tourism Bureau in Beijing was the planning, project arrangement, policy support, personnel training, intelligence support [to monitor the Tibetans?], financial support, and material aid. Beijing fully backed the project to make Tibet an important world tourist destination; the leadership believed that it would improve the region’s economy and promote Tibet’s development.
Representing the TAR government, Zeng Mingwan, expressed Tibet’s gratitude to Beijing and spoke of accelerating the transformation of Tibet as an important region in the world tourism map.
While in Beijing, Wan Mingwan met different organizations involved in tourism to coordinate the actions between the regional (the TAR) and central (Beijing) governments.
As I often mentioned, Tibet is fast becoming the largest entertainment park in the world; thousand times larger than Disneyland.
As seen from the quote above, the Central Government in Beijing markets the Land of Snows as the ultimate ‘indigenous’ spot for the Chinese people to spend their holidays, it has become Tibet’s USP (Unique Selling Proposition).
Today, Beijing is on the way to achieve what could not be done in the 1980s: submerging (or immersing) the Tibetan population under waves of Han Chinese. It is a much more sophisticated (though in appearance softer) way. Is the Tibetan leadership in exile aware of this important decision of the Fifth Tibet Work Forum? I have never seen any protest from their side.
Tibet has two unique assets: first, its physical reality. The beauty of the landscape, the imposing mountain ranges, the purity of the air and the rivers, the dry pure sky (especially when compared to the sky of China’s great metropolis); Tibet is the ideal place to visit and have a break from the fast pace of the polluted mainland.
The second advantage is the rich historical past of the Roof of the World, the Land of the Lamas. In Tibet, you can find everything, says the Chinese propaganda: a beautiful Chinese princess falling for the powerful emperor and converting him to Buddhism; the monasteries and nunneries, seat of a wisdom lost in the mainland; the folkloric yak or snow-lion dances; the Losar (New Year) festival; the Shoton (yoghurt) festival; the beautiful colourful handicrafts; the exotic food, you name it, …and a couple of millions of Tibetans (in the TAR) who can guide you through the mega-museum.
When 13 millions of ‘tourists’ pour in a relatively small place like the TAR, the local administration has to be ready to properly receive the visitors and provide them with entertainment. It is what the Communist leadership has been doing during the last couple of years (for example by ‘rebuilding’ old Bakhor area in Lhasa).
As mentioned earlier on this blog, Dong Tianlin, an official with the local tourism bureau in Lhasa affirmed that Lhasa alone received nearly eight million tourists in 2013. This is out of 13 million for the entire TAR.
Xinhua commented: “Renowned as the ‘Sun City’, Lhasa saw a 22.76% year-on-year increase in tourist arrivals from China and overseas last year.” True, Lhasa is still a ‘Sun City’ compared to foggy Beijing, but for how long?
In 2013, tourism revenues in the city reached a whopping 1.34 billion U.S. dollars, an increase of 25.47% compared to 2012. Dong proudly stated that tourism has become one of the leading economic growth engines for the TAR.
Another area of ‘progress’ is the number of cars in the streets of Lhasa. It is quite frightful.  Xinhua mentioned: “With over 150,000 cars in Lhasa, and the number growing by 200 a day, the bittersweet joys of the modern auto industry are hitting the ancient city hard.”
One understands why China says that Tibet is 'doing well'.

Representation of Gesar of Ling
The Epic of Gesar of Ling
For the purpose of making Tibet as a tourist attraction, Beijing has decided to promote the Roof of the World’s ancient culture. Take Ling Gesar (or Kesar) for example. An article published by Xinhua quotes one Jampel Gyatso, a Tibetologist and director of the King Gesar Research Center at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Gyatso asserts that China knew of the epic since centuries: “Research on King Gesar, the world longest epic, began in the Ming Dynasty, about 200 years earlier than aboard.”
In a first step, the ‘old’ links between the Tibetan Epic and the Middle Kingdom are highlighted. The Chinese News Agency says that Jampel Gyatso's words have overturned a long-term old view of some foreign scholars that study on King Gesar first began abroad.
China admits the depth and age of the Tibetan culture: “King Gesar, the world's longest epic, is a ballad about a half-human, half-god Tibetan king in the 11th Century who conquered the devils of other tribes and sought to help ordinary people. With more than 120 episodes, King Gesar is considered the crowning masterpiece of Tibetan folk literature.”
Beijing also takes pride that in 2009, Gesar was inscribed into the intangible cultural heritage list of UNESCO.
The story of the legendary King apparently does not collide with the Communist ideology of the leadership in Beijing; so, why not use it. Xinhua thus describes the Epic: “Born in the Tibetan Plateau, the great epic tells the story of how the Tibetan hero, King Gesar, subdues demons and monsters and brings benefits to local Tibetans. Reputed as the ‘Oriental Homer's Epic’, the existing collected and sorted King Gesar has reached over 15 million words, the longest in the world.”
The Tibetologist Gyatso adds: “China now has formed a King Gesar research group, which was consisted of senior, middle-aged and young scholars mainly from Tibetans, while Hans, Mologians [Mongolians?] scholars are also included. …Collecting and sorting of King Gesar is an unprecedented feat in Tibetan cultural history."
In November 2013, the Chinese media announced: “Renowned god-taught ballad singers performed story-telling of King Gesar in Lhasa …in a move to bring the ancient Tibetan art closer to local residents.”
Reading the article one has the impression that the Tibetans had never heard of Gesar before. It is rather strange: “Intangible Cultural inheritors of national and regional levels chant excellent stories of King Gesar during the event, the first of its kind held as a performance publicly, which was co-organized by the Mass Gesar Association of Nagchu Cultural Bureau and several cultural media companies in Lhasa.”
It is certainly new for the Chinese tourists.
Should the Tibetans be proud that ‘their culture’ is now rediscovered by China? They have probably not a say in the matter.

The Tibetan medicine
Another example is the Tibetan System of Medicine or Sowa Rigpa (‘The Art of Healing’).
Beijing has decided to apply for the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage status for the Tibetan Art of Healing. Beijing has submitted an application to the Ministry of Culture of China who in turn will take the issue with the Paris-based UNESCO. According to Xinhua: “The Tibet Autonomous Region launched the application process in 2013, and has recently finished preparation of written materials and videos for application.”
China says that Tibetan medicine which originated from the ‘Qinghai-Tibet Plateau’ in the 7th century is one of the world's four traditional medicines: “It has been well known in neighboring countries such as Nepal, Mongolia, Russia, Bhutan and India as well as European countries in the 8th century.”
It further explains: “For centuries the Tibetans has continued to summarize their medical practice and learn from the traditional Chinese medicine, Indian medicine and Arabian medicine, and has developed its own medical theory, medicinal materials and therapies.”
This unique medical system “created and inherited by peoples living on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau” is known in China as the ‘Treasure from the Snowy Land’. The Chinese media says that the Tibetan medicine is praiseworthy not only for the quality of the medical treatment it provides, but also because it reflects the ancient culture of Tibet; further Tibetan medicine is able to combine, outpatient treatment, dietary advice and daily health care, says Xinhua.
What to say more? China has finally been acknowledged the ancient Tibetan culture to its true value.
Does it make the life easier for the Tibetans? Apparently not!

Tsangyang Gyatso Festival in Tsona
Tsangyang Gyatso, the Sixth Dalai Lama
It was recently announced that the former residence of Tsangyang Gyatso, the Sixth Dalai Lama, has been approved to be a special historical and cultural site under government’s protection. According to chinanews.com, it is of great significance for the study of Tsangyang Gyatso’s life story.
The official media of course omits that the Sixth Dalai Lama was born in Tawang in India and that the Fourteenth Incarnation is today considered by certain officials in Beijing as a ‘devil in monks robe’.  Xinhua says: “Tsangyang Gyatso is a famous poet in Tibetan history besides his religious and political identity, having composed dozens of vintage poems.” It reports that a century ago, Zeng Jian, a scholar then working at Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission, collected poems of Tsangyang Gyatso and translated them into ancient style Chinese poetry.
Adding that another venerable academic and Tibetologist, Yu Daoquan, also translated Tsangyang Gyatso's poems, not only into modern Chinese but English too.
The place where the Sixth Dalai stayed after being discovered by a delegation sent by the Regent Sangye Gyatso has been restored in Tsona county of Lhoka prefecture. The place is located a few kilometers north of the McMahon Line. Chinese ‘historians’ say that the residence was built by the Regent, Sangye Gyatso after he discovered the Sixth Dalai Lama.
The ‘residence’ on the Chinese side of the McMahon Line is said to be two-story house, originally owned by the Tibetan ‘local’ government. It apparently became a privately owned property after the so-called liberation in 1951. Xinhua admits: “It started rotting for lack of upkeep after liberation. Having been severely corroded by rain, only the ground story survived with tumbledown timbers”.
Beijing is now quickly restoring the Tibetan heritage to ‘pacify’ the local people and sell a good package to the Han (a few selected foreign) tourists.

The Wood-Horse Year 
One can bet that the Wood-Horse Year will see an improvement of the ‘grid system’ used to monitor the lives (and communications) of the Tibetan people. The population in the cities, in the monasteries and in the villages will remain under tight control of the ‘security agencies’ sent by Beijing to keep the region 'stable'.
As this movement is bound to amplify during the coming months, a solution the ‘Tibetan problem’ is not in sight; further the new policies may increase the resentment of the Tibetan populations.
Indeed the future is bleak.

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