|Traditional slingshot throwing promoted|
It says: "The central government has been strengthening protection and support for the traditional folk culture of Tibet and the living standards of the farmers and herdsmen have been rising in recent years. This has given traditional folk culture fresh vitality in the modern age and become important in allowing different parts of Tibet to display their regional characteristics, attracting domestic and foreign tourists and increasing the income of farmers and herdsmen."
The Party's mouthpiece explains further Beijing's policies: "Since the beginning of the new century, efforts have been underway in Tibet to promote cultural development and protect Tibetan culture. This has created a favorable situation in which traditional and modern cultures are blended, equal attention is being paid to development and protection, both public cultural programs and the commercial culture industry are developing and cultural development is accompanied by economic returns thus blazing a road of cultural development with both Chinese characteristics and Tibetan features."
Is Beijing truly 'brazing' a new road?
What is the meaning of 'Chinese characteristics and Tibetan features'?
This paper will try to explore these questions, looking at some of the recent developments in Tibet.
On March 9, 2013, President Xi Jinping visited the Tibet delegation during the National People’s Conference in Beijing. In his speech, the Chinese President pledged that under his leadership, Beijing would pay the same close attention to Tibet as previous 'leadership groups' and would continue to emphasize “the maintenance of stability and leap-frog style development” following China’s own special pathway and according to Tibet’s special characteristics.
How to decipher this message?
The significance of ‘maintenance of stability’ is clear and has been mentioned by many authors, including human rights groups such Human Rights Watch.
China has put in place a tight Internet control as well as diverse measures, such as a ‘grid’ system to control the restive population of the Tibetan plateau.
What is less known is the region’s leap-frog development with ‘Tibet’s special characteristics’. This is something relatively new.
Many believe that it originates from the Fifth Work Forum on Tibet held in Beijing in January 2010 which decided, amongst other things, to transform Tibet into an important international tourism destination.
The end result seems to be changing the face of Tibet through the revitalization of its age-old cultural heritage.
This paper raises a question: is it a genuine move to give a greater cultural autonomy to Tibet or is it a purely opportunistic policy? Or can the sting of new policies described in this paper, be both authentic and opportunistic?
This comes at a time when the Dalai Lama once again voiced his concern over the situation in Tibet, saying the language and religion face serious threats: “Hardline officials continue to target Tibetan language and religion,” he recently said, adding “If Tibetan Buddhist culture is damaged in Tibet, who knows what will happen .”
The Dalai Lama, who follows a ‘middle path’ approach, also asserted: “We retain a strong dedication to our religion and culture and because of aspirations we have made in the past, we have not let our heritage down. After 60 years, the issue of Tibet is still alive. Awareness of Tibet is still growing.”
By promoting certain aspects of the culture of Tibet, Beijing appears to try to undermine the Dalai Lama’s status in the eyes of the Tibetans. Can Beijing succeed?
|Game of Sho|
Have you heard of ‘sho’? Probably not!
Sho is a traditional table-top game played in Tibet.
‘Sho’ means ‘dice’ in Tibetan. It is played by two to four male-players, usually three, who play on a board limited by a circular line of 64 shells.
Each player has nine playing pieces, often old coins are used for the purpose. Two six-sided dice placed in a wooden dice cup are shaken and then slammed down onto a dice pad, traditionally made of yak leather stuffed with yak wool; the pad is kept at the centre of the board, within the circle of shells.
The first player to move all nine coins from the beginning of the board to the end is the winner.
Xinhua recently reported that the 11th Tibet Autonomous Regional Games will be held from August 29 to September 5 in a Stadium in Lhoka Prefecture in Southern Tibet.
Xinhua says that ‘sho’ has been “listed into competitive events of the Regional Games for the first time”, explaining that “sho is one of the traditional Tibetan folk entertaining games, which plays an important role in Tibetan people’s daily life and attracts a wide range of masses [sic].”
The inclusion of sho, as a Tibetan sport activity, “fully embodies the sport competition close to the masses and stimulating the masses’ interest in participating in sports”, according to Xinhua.
Is it a sign that something is changing in Tibet? A sign that the Central Government in Beijing is becoming more considerate towards the customs and traditions of the ‘local’ Tibetan population?
For decades, Han Chinese showed a contemptuous attitude towards Tibetans and their culture, which for centuries, they considered as backward.
In recent years, the situation has evolved and the relation is somehow different, even if the so-called stabilization of the restive region is mostly of synonymous with repression and suppression of human rights. Many features of the Tibetan culture are today acknowledged and respected, even in some cases promoted (though sometimes in a ‘sinicized’ manner).
Still remains the harsh treatment of the so-called dissidents. The case of the young Panchen Lama selected by the Dalai Lama twenty five years ago and who since then, has been kept under house arrest by the Communist Party proves that the situation is not rosy in Tibet.
Beijing is keen to always differentiate between the cultural and political aspects of the Land of Snows, though when required, they use the ‘cultural’ to prove a ‘political’ point.
However another factor has recently come into play in the atheist Middle Kingdom and its relation with the Roof of the World: religion.
|It is 'cool' to be Buddhist|
An article published by The Global Times , a CCP’s publication reprinted in the People’s Daily, is telling.
The reporter says: “While more young people in the US are moving away from religion, in China, ostensibly a nation of atheists, many young adults like Liu say they feel a strong connection to Tibetan Buddhism. ”
Liu Wen is a 29-year-old white-collar worker in Beijing; he practices Tibetan Buddhism, “a religious doctrine that has long been worshipped in China's Tibet Autonomous Region.”
Of course, there is not a word about the Dalai Lama in The Global Times article. He is still considered as a sort of devilish character in government circles in China.
Liu told the Beijing newspaper that today, the only thing more trendy than moving away from religion is moving towards religion.
Interesting, isn’t it?
Liu added: “Everyone is talking about Tibetan Buddhism now. Pop stars are talking about it, my friends are talking about it. …It is cool. It is even cooler to sing Tibetan prayers in Hip-hop! "
It is hard to believe but the mouthpiece of the Communist Party says: “To many people, Tibetan Buddhism and Han Chinese Buddhism are alike in many ways. Tibetan and Chinese Buddhism are two different practices that were formed on the same teachings. Chinese Buddhism has attracted many Chinese followers because it connects with Chinese culture and history. But Tibetan Buddhism offers the follower a wider range of practices and rituals that are believed to reach enlightenment faster.”
This is not historically correct, but this does not alter the point that we are trying to make.
In the 8th century C.E., a dispute arose between the two schools of Buddhism that were at that time spreading in Tibet.
The first one - the Chinese school, probably influenced by Taoism - was of the opinion that enlightenment was an instantaneous revelation or realization. It could be obtained only through complete mental and physical inactivity and renunciation. This system of thought had spread throughout China.
The second school taught by the Indian Pandits - known as the ‘gradual school’ - asserted that enlightenment was a gradual process, not an ‘instant’ one, requiring long study, practice and analysis and the accumulation of virtues and good deeds. Shantarakshita had brought these teachings from Nalanda University in India. Having prophesized the dispute, the old abbot indicated that one of his Indian disciples, Kamalashila, would come from India to defend the theory of the Indian school.
Over a period of two years (792-794), the famous debate known in history as the ‘Samye Debate’ took place in Samye.
Hoshang, a Chinese monk, represented the ‘instant school’ and Kamalashila who had come from India as prophesied by his guru, defended the Indian view.
At the end of the debate, Kamalashila was declared the winner and the king issued a proclamation naming the Indian Path as the orthodox faith for Tibet. The document was written on blue paper with golden letters and distributed throughout the Empire.
It is significant that today The Global Times speaks of Tibetan Buddhism as a “movement [which] is flourishing and has become fashionable among young people in recent years. Many young non-Tibetan people wear Buddha prayer beads on their wrists as fashion accessories, but not necessarily as a mark of religious devotion. ”
Li Decheng, the director of the Institute for Religious Studies under the China Tibetology Research Center admitted that “many young people find Tibetan Buddhism more attractive than other religions because they think it is mysterious."
This is probably true. After decades of boring Marxist indoctrination, the youth of China is looking for something more ‘exotic’, something deeper too.
It is not only the pure air of the mountain which explains why more than 12 million Chinese tourists visited Tibet last year.
Li Decheng told The Global Times: “It is also because it offers psychological comfort to these young people who find themselves lost amid China's rapid social and economic changes.”
Take the monastery at Larung Gar in Kartze Prefecture of today’s Sichuan province, the number of monks, many of them Han Chinese, varies between 10,000 and 40,000. It is a lot more than any of the large monasteries such Ganden, Drepung, Sera or Labrang Tashikhyil, when Tibet was an independent Buddhist nation.
Can we witness a renaissance of the old culture of Tibet through Buddhism?
The revival of a game like ‘sho’ and the fact that it has been ‘acknowledged’ by the Communist government in Beijing tends to show that something is happening on the Roof of the World.
Promotion of Tibetan Cultural Heritage
While Buddhism seems to attract more and more young and old Han Chinese, Beijing seems to be doing some efforts to promote the Tibetan culture in its own way, often ‘with Chinese characteristics’.
The Chinese Government, as well as the local Tibetan Government in Lhasa have recently been promoting ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage’ on a big way.
An entire section of the website is dedicated the ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage’ of Tibet.
It includes traditional arts and crafts such thanka and mural painting, incense making, propagation of Tibetan medical system, promotion of the King Kesar of Ling’s life or financial support for ‘veteran cultural heritage inheritors’.
In this paper, I shall deal with few examples.
The motivation of the PRC’s government to sponsor these old and precious cultural aspects of the Roof of the World is, of course, debatable.
Many will argue, that the main objective is to attract more tourists on the Tibetan plateau, thereby making of Tibet, one of the prosperous provinces (or autonomous regions) of the PRC … in the process, spoiling the pristine environment.
But it can also be said that it is the first time since the early 1980’s that the Tibetan culture is acknowledged as a precious heritage of the Roof of the World …and China.
|King Kesar of Ling|
Let us first look at the case of the Tibetan mythic King Kesar of Ling (also spelt Ling Gesar).
Xinhua writes about one Sitar Doje [Dorjee] “a typical Tibetan herder's son, but is endowed with a special talent: he can recite the world's longest epic poem for hours on end without faltering. ”
The Communist Party mouthpiece continues: “The 23-year-old Tibetan is the youngest known singer of ‘King Gesar’, a ballad that tells how the half-human, half-god Tibetan king of the 11th Century conquered the devils of other tribes and sought to help ordinary people.”
According to Xinhua, Sitar was born to a poor herding family in Chamdo Prefecture in 1990. The boy never read or even heard about the epic during his childhood, but at the age of 11, he had a strange dream which changed his life. It is the Communist news agency which quotes him: “I dreamed I was taken by a group of armed soldiers to a tent on a grassland I'd never been before. There, someone forced a huge pile of books into my mouth. "
Sitar now believes that his skills are ‘god taught’. By Ling Gesar himself? Perhaps!
As he woke up after his dream, Sitar felt sick; there was something clogged in his chest, he could not breathe; it was like if he had to choke up something. When he finally managed to open his mouth, words started to freely come out. He still remembers: “I was out of control and sang for two hours."
In his Sadeng Village Primary School, his friends thought that he had gone mad; his Tibetan teacher Sonam Gyaltsen, however realized that the boy was singing verses of the Great King’s ballad.
The teacher, says Xinhua, performed some rituals and burned incense to ‘purify’ the boy and began recording Sitar’s singing.
Several years later, Sitar Dorjee was officially acknowledged as a ‘singer of the epic’. His recordings are now played in schools all over Tibet. He has recorded some 200 hours of the King Gesar’s legendary prowess for a government-run cultural heritage preservation society, explains Xinhua.
Today, Sitar is studying Tibetan language and literature at Tibet University in Lhasa. He is often called upon to recite the Epic on stage or record his rendering at local radio stations.
The Xinhua reporter writes that when he narrates the epic, Sitar seems possessed, though it is not said how this phenomenon is ‘ideologically’ explained by the Party, Sitar nevertheless explains: “I can see vivid war scenes: how the king and his men fought, how their knives were wielded and how the swords flew,” adding: “I've taken down about 50,000 words of the epic in Tibetan, and I hope someday these manuscripts will be published and translated into Chinese and even English."
Sitar Dorjee now learns English: "Hopefully, I'll be able to sing the King Gesar ballad for a larger audience. I'd be very proud if people from across the globe could all appreciate Tibetan culture," he said.
Xinhua affirms that the 1,000-year-old epic of King Gesar, with its 120 episodes, is considered the crowning masterpiece of Tibetan folk literature and that there are some 150 known Gesar singers in Tibet from different ethnic background (Tibetans, Mongolians and some from the Tu in Qinghai Province). Amazingly, most are illiterate herders or peasants.
Yungzhung Dawa, the head of the cultural heritage bureau in Chamdo Prefecture told Xinhua: “All claim they were suddenly able to sing the ballad after a strange dream or a serious disease. It remains a mystery how they actually acquired the ability."
And Xinhua concludes: “China, in its three-decade campaign to preserve the one-million-line epic, has made 5,000 hours of recordings of the singing and compiled 36 publications.”
The story of the mythic King has even given rise to a new field of scholarly study known as ‘Gesarology’.
In April 2014, The People's Daily reported that Tibet has built up the first Gesar multimedia resources library: “At present, it has completed the record for the works and the performance accent of five local artists from the north of Tibet. ”
The Party’s mouthpiece asserts that the Gesar resources library will consist of six parts, including the classic performance, oral history, performance accent, paean, dance and historical relics.
In November 2013, a report of China Tibet Online already announced: “Intangible Cultural inheritors of national and regional levels chant excellent King Gesar’s competition. At was the first of its kind of event held as a public performance; it was co-organized by the Mass Gesar Association of Nagchu Cultural Bureau and some cultural media companies in Lhasa.”
Tsering Dradul, an inheritor of national intangible cultural heritage, who has been chanting Gesar stories for over 30 years told the reporter:"The ballad singers used to chant Gesar stories in rural areas, which are now showed on stage. Nowadays, people of various ethnic groups can experience the charm of King Gesar art by themselves. I am very proud of being an inheritor of Gesar, and I hope it will be more widely known. "
Xinhua reminded its readers that in 2009, King Gesar was inscribed into the intangible cultural heritage list of UNESCO.
Can you believe that this is happening in a Communist country?
During the reign of Songtsen Gampo (569–649 CE), the Tibetan capital was moved from Yarlung to Lhasa and a fort was built where the Potala Palace stands today. Perhaps one of the greatest merits of this king was the fact that he sent his Minister Thomi Sambhota to India with sixteen students to study Buddhism and Sanskrit. On their return, they created a new script derived from a Gupta script to render the Buddhist scriptures into Tibetan (it is still used today).
A large number of Indian pandits, tantrics and siddhas attracted by the Roof of the World and its nascent mysticism, made spirituality the main link between India and Tibet for the centuries to follow.
Now, China Tibet Online reports that a Thonmi Tibetan Script Museum (‘the first of its kind in China’) will be located in Thonpa township of Nyemo county, which is the hometown of Thonmi Sambhota, founding father of Tibetan language.
The Thonmi museum, which will cover an area of 1200 square meter will “exhibit replicas of valuable Tibetan historical documents rarely seen by common visitors. Ancient calligraphy stationery is also displayed in the museum. ”
It will probably be one more occasion to give a slight twist to the history of Tibet, though the article explains that visitors will see samples of various styles of Tibetan script in a short time, ‘which is the quickest way to witness the evolution of Tibetan language’.
It is a positive development and hopefully, it will be mentioned that the Tibetan script derives from a Gupta script from India.
During the last National People’s Congress, Yu Zhengsheng, who is chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and a member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo, met the Tibetan delegation on March 10 (which is celebrated outside Tibet as the National Uprising Day).
Yu Zhengsheng took part in a 'panel discussion' and stressed the importance to adhere to the 'rule of law' in Tibet.
It is clearly the leadership's first and foremost preoccupation.
But Yu Zhengsheng also said that Beijing wanted concrete measures to be taken to support Tibet's economic and comprehensive development, to improve people's well-being and ensure long-term peace and stability in Tibet.
Tibetan language had an important role to play in this scheme.
Yu’s wish has now filtered down to the 'local' authorities in Tibet, who have enacted new 'regulations' to implement Beijing's wishes.
According to Xinhua: "Authorities in southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region enacted a new legally-binding regulation to safeguard the heritage and development of the Tibetan language. ”
The Chinese news agency reported: "The Tibetan Language Work Committee and other authorities in the plateau region have finished drawing up a draft regulation on the ethnic language."
An ethic Tibetan Chodrak, who is the committee's deputy director (he is also the mayor of Lhasa) explained that the regulations, which have gone through four amendments, are expected to be implemented in September this year. For Chodrak, the regulation "enshrines the study, usage and development of the Tibetan language in law and clearly shows the attention being paid to the issue by the central and local governments."
He boldly asserted that the rumor that Tibetan language is dying is totally groundless.
According to the local Communist authorities in Tibet, "the new regulation will provide a legal protection for the rights and freedom of the people of Tibetan ethnic group to study, use and develop their language."
It sounds good, but will it be implemented?
The authorities in Lhasa "hope that it will play a role in boosting the region's overall development in the economy, politics and culture."
They affirm that "the Chinese government encourages bilingual education at schools in Tibet and other ethnic regions."
If one believes the official propaganda: "In Tibetan areas, most classes are taught in Tibetan, though Mandarin and English classes are also on the curriculum. Teachers in Tibetan areas are given on-the-job training to help with their bilingual teaching, in Tibetan and Mandarin."
It is not the first time that the Chinese authorities 'decide' to promote Tibetan language. According to the same official communique: "The region promulgated the Several Provisions of the Tibet Autonomous Region on the Learning, Use and Development of Tibetan Language in 1987. ...In 1988, the Tibetan Language Work Steering Committee of the Tibet Autonomous Region was set up, later renamed the Tibetan Language Work Committee. ...In 2002, the region issued the Provisions of the Tibet Autonomous Region on the Learning, Use and Development of Tibetan Language after amending the 1987 version. "
Only the future will show if the new scheme has more success that the previous ones.
On April 25, Xinhua reported that “Tibet has carried out a series of work on the legal protection of Potala Palace and palm-leaf manuscripts, making its cultural relics protection in a more legal and scientific way. ”
Tenzin Namgyal, a vice director of the Cultural Bureau of Tibet who is Tibetan, stated that Tibet had completed the revision of the “Regulations on Cultural Relics Protection in Tibet” and “Regulations on Protection of Potala Palace in Tibet”, legal documents which ‘regulate’ the cataloguing and preservation of arts objects and monuments on the Tibetan plateau.
According to Tenzin Namgyal, the next stage is to work on the “Regulations for the Protection of Palm-leaf Manuscripts.”
What does it mean?
It probably signifies that Tibet has put in place a legal framework “keeping the national law as its main body and framing its [own] regional regulations”.
Namgyal told Xinhua: “The legal system serves as an important legal guarantee, which standardizes various activities on cultural protection, ensures the sound development of cultural heritages undertakings and improves the administrative level through legislation .”
The new regulations do not say anything about the freedom for the Tibetans to practice their religion; but it is a different issue. It is the reason why the resentment of the Tibetan population against the Chinese runs so high and makes fragile the ‘stability’ of the region.
For most of the Tibetans it is irrelevant whether “27 cultural relics in Lhasa, Lhoka and Shigatse were examined last year with detailed inspection reports and deliberations ”, they want Buddhism to remain a living faith, not a ‘well-preserved relic’.
The same Tibetan administrator admits that the regulations have more to do with “cracking down the crimes related to cultural relics” for which “the security of the cultural relics in Tibet has been much improved.”
One sees the same dichotomy in each of these new ‘regulations’, which for the Tibetans may have some positive aspects but which in general mean much more control from Beijing.
In the meantime, the Chinese government has submitted an application to the Ministry of Culture of China asking the latter to approach the UNESCO to give Tibetan Medicine the status of ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage’.
Already in 2013, Xinhua mentioned that the Tibet Autonomous Region had started the process for the application to UNESCO by preparing materials, videos and papers to argue the case of Tibetan medicine.
Beijing appropriates the Tibetan medical system (traditionally known as ‘Sowa Rigpa’ or ‘Art of Healing’), affirming: “As one of the world's four traditional medicines, Tibetan medicine originated from the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau in the 7th century. 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 proclaimed Sowa Rigpa as the ‘treasure of the Land of Snows’: “a unique medical system created and inherited by peoples living on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, which not only includes medical treatments, but also reflects Tibetan culture. It has played a role in combining medicine, outpatient treatment, making dietary or daily health care .”
The fact that the first treatises were strongly influenced by the Indian Ayurvedic system is not mentioned by Beijing in its application.
The Xinhua article says: “For centuries the Tibetan group 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.”
It is also forgotten that, the Tibetan system has historically originated from Western Tibet, close to the Indian border. The promotion of this indigenous system, completely different from the Chinese system of medicine is another example showing that Beijing is going ahead in propping up ‘local’ culture for the sake of showing it as part of the Middle Kingdom.
|Jokhang Cathedral: relics for tourists?|
Another Chinese website says that 2 billion yuan (325 million US dollars) were being invested in ‘Tibetan Key Cultural Relics’.
Quoting the same Tenzin Namgyal, it says: “During 15 years from 2001 to 2015, government has invested over 2 billion yuan for protecting some important cultural Tibetan relics. ”
The article affirms that “Tibet is one of the key protected areas in China with distinctive and abundant cultural relics resources, bearing historical memories about splendid cultures of Tibetan and other ethnic groups.”
Tenzin Namgyal explains: “Previously, government has invested 380 million yuan (62 million US dollars) in protection and maintenance works of the Potala Palace, the Norbulingka Summer Palace and the Sakya Monastery, and carried out 22 culture relics’ conservation projects with 570 million yuan (92 million US dollars). Moreover, government planned to spend 1 billion yuan in protecting or repairing 46 important historical sites and museums.”
Namgyal then give a list of the ‘archeological’ sites benefiting of the largesse of the Central government: “Among 46 cultural relics’ renovation projects, six of which including the Nyethang Drolma Lhakhang temple, Ramoche temple [in Lhasa], and Galden Champaling monastery [in Chamdo] etc, have been already completed. In addition, 25 renovation projects such as Guge Kingdom sites [Western Tibet], Gandan monastery Phuntsokling temple, Reting monastery are [still] under construction. ”
Apparently Tibet has 4,277 registered cultural relic sites and over a million pieces of historical relics, covering literatures, seals, potteries, thangkas (painted scrolls) according to latest ‘archeological’ surveys.
Once again, there is no doubt that this should be encouraged, but the plateau cannot remain a relic only, even for the young Han Chinese searching for a new meaning to their lives, a living culture is essential.
Relics should be the expression of a living faith. Can Beijing or the ‘local’ Communist government showcase ‘relics’ without true religious freedom? It is doubtful.
|Gedun Choepel Museum|
The case of Gedun Choepel is another example of changing and confused ‘ideology’.
In June 2013, China Tibet Online reported: "A museum in commemoration of Gedun Chophel [Choepel], a Tibetan humanism pioneer and scholar, is expected to be completed in Lhasa in July, 2013."
The Chinese website commented: "With a strong Tibetan flavor, the Gedun Chophel Museum is part of the Lhasa old town's protection project, covering an area of 1,269 square meters and consisting of three stories ."
According to the Communist publication: "[Gedun Chophel] pursued truth, upheld humanist spirit, turned his conception of history from Buddhist theology to humanism, and made important contribution to Tibetan modern academic and intellectual history."
It is true that Gedun Chophel was an exceptional individual. He saw what was wrong in old Tibet and tried to bring about change in the society. But in 1949, despite appearances to the contrary, Tibet was changing; the Kashag had decided to send a delegation to visit the neighbouring countries. Suddenly many in Lhasa understood the necessity of a written history showing that Tibet had been an independent nation for two thousand years. Gedun, who had been imprisoned soon after his return to Tibet in 1946, was freed and invited to write a new history of Tibet. But by this time he was a broken man and had started to drink heavily. His closest disciples considered his drinking and smoking habits to be the conscious suicide of a yogi. This could be debated, but it is clear that he was a desperate man.
The fact that he was asked to write a history of Tibet by the Kashag (Tibetan Cabinet) is a proof of his sincere nationalism; Gedun knew that Tibet had to fight to regain its past glory.
In the last years of his life, Gedun often used to go to the parade ground in Lhasa and watch the training of the Tibetan army. He admired the Great Kings of Tibet who once ruled over China and were able to keep Tibet united. He resented the 'political' divisions between the three provinces of Tibet. One day, he jokingly said: “For more than thousand years, the Dharma has impregnated the spirit of the Tibetans and what can we do now? One ironic solution would be to take the Jowo (the main statue of Buddha in the Central Cathedral of Lhasa) the symbolic nostril of all the Tibetan Buddhist tradition in Tibet and to install in the middle of the Tibetan territory, between Kham, Amdo and Central Tibet, in order to unify Tibet with the religion.”
He knew that if the Tibetan society was unable to reform itself from inside, outside forces would come and do it. He was also aware that the blow would come from China. He told some of his disciples: “The Chinese remember what has happened thousand years ago, and they always think to get rid of the barbarians [from Tibet].” He also said: “The Guomindang is projecting to build a road which will penetrate inside Tibet, pretending that way to solve 'the Tibetan problem' in a time frame of three hundred years. The Chinese think in long term, and they are our mortal enemy. The Communist Chinese are going to come. Take care of your language, written as well as spoken .”
In other words, preserve your language which is synonymous with cultural identity.
Just one month after the Communists entered Lhasa (September 1951), Gedun passed away. The sad irony of the story is that Communist regime in Lhasa is now planning to open a museum in memory of the Tibetan scholar.
But it is only one side of the coin. According to Radio Free Asia (RFA): "Authorities in western China’s Sichuan province have blocked plans by Tibetans to observe the 100th anniversary of the birth of famed Tibetan writer and thinker Gedun Choephel, as Beijing continues to crack down on public assertions of Tibetan cultural and national identity".
About the ban, RFA explains: "The action came despite recent moves by Beijing to present Gedun Choephel to Tibetans as a 'progressive' figure in modern Tibetan culture ."
A gathering was organized to discuss Choephel’s life and influence on August 24, 2013 in Ngaba town (in Chinese, Aba) of Ngaba Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (Sichuan province). RFA says that "local authorities objected a few days before the event. ...It was planned by a group of young monks from different monasteries in the Ngaba area and by young local laypersons, and the monks and other Tibetan youth had raised the needed funds.”
However, when the Communist authorities learned of the plan, the organizers were told they could not have the event.
RFA says that "local Tibetans were disappointed by the officials’ action, ...the local community liked such discussions on Tibetan culture, and the events had become popular .”
Apart from the Museum in Lhasa, there is also a Gedun Choephel Gallery of Modern Art on the Bakhor, in Central Lhasa.
It is sometimes difficult to understand how the Middle Kingdom works!
|Tsangyang Gyatso Festival in Tsona|
The strangest amongst the latest ‘cultural promotion campaign’ is the case of the 6th Dalai Lama, born as a Monpa in Tawang district of Arunachal Pradesh (this is considered as South Tibet by the Chinese authorities).
China Tibet Online quotes some ‘tibetologists’ who affirm that “the real 6th Dalai Lama Tsangyang Gyatso is far from the image of ‘a master of love songs’ fancied and chased by people in recent years.”
The Xinhua affiliate cites a poem of the Monpa Dalai Lama: "From the top of the east mountain rises the silver moon, which is like a maiden that appears in my heart," to say that, though the popular ballad is loved by many Chinese people, yet, Tsangyang Gyatso’s identity of ‘a master of love songs’ has been refuted by several Tibetologists.
Bawam, a Tibetologist at the Tibet Academy of Social Sciences explains that the lyrics are part of the practice of Tantric Tibetan Buddhism: “That so-called love song is actually a meditation realm of Tsangyang Gyatso when he practiced Buddhism cultivation."
Tantric practices today rhyme with Communist ideology!
Mao would refuse to believe it.
The Xinhua article says: “The 6th Dalai Lama Tsangyang Gyatso is a prestigious lama good at writing poems. Born in 1683 at Tawang County at Monyul area in today's Lhoka Prefecture in southern part of Tibet Autonomous Region [in Arunachal Pradesh of India], he was later escorted to the Potala [in Lhasa] .”
It is true that his exquisite poetry is known today by all Tibetans and Monpas and is still sung during long evenings around a fire after a few cups of chang (barley beer).
Academicians will continue to fight about whether Tsangyang Gyatso was a great Tantric master or an ordinary man too; if his poetry contains an esoteric teaching written in a secret language or are only the verses of a libertine. He may have been both, maybe he had come a couple of centuries too early (like Gedun Choepel).
He loved freedom and could not bear the prison that seems to have been life in the Potala, he felt suffocated in the darks rooms housing thousands of gods and wrathful demons. He preferred the company of his friends. How could he have not felt oppressed in the midst of the power struggles and intrigues between aristocrats in Tibetan government in Lhasa, the Mongol chieftains and the Emperor of China?
Was he remembering the days when he was a kid in Urgyeling, near Tawang) and used to escape to roam around the barley fields and the rhododendron bushes?
Palsang Norbu, an assistant dean of the Tibet Academy of Social Sciences told Xinhua: “In fact, people are far from knowing the real Tsangyang Gyatso and we need to unveil his actual image in history ."
The most interesting aspect is that it appears that a lot of research is conducted on Tsangyang Gyatso today in China. Palsang explains that are only 62 works are confirmed to be original poems by the 6th Dalai Lama and the rest of the ‘Works by Tsangyang Gyatso’ have not been proved as yet.
Palsang says that to know about the real and inner Tsangyang Gyatso, scholars should not simply rely on other's research findings but need to read original Tibetan documents and historical records about Tsangyang Gyatso.
Isn’t it interesting? At the same time, the present Dalai Lama is considered be a ‘devil’, one more dichotomy.
Of course, as always that is an undercurrent, a political message, “Tawang was part of Tibet and is therefore part of China”.
Why not promote Yonten Gyatso (1589–1617), the 4th Dalai Lama, born in Mongolia? Tsangyang Gyatso is undoubtedly more interesting, politically at least.
|Yak Museum in Lhasa|
Lhasa Municipal Administration of Cultural Heritage recently announced that the first ‘Yak Museum’ opened in Tibet on May 18, 2014, the International Museum Day.
The communique says: “Themed mainly as yak and yak culture, Tibet Yak Museum, one of Aid-Tibet projects of Beijing, was located in Newu New District, Lhasa, covering an area of 8,000 square meters.”
The Lhasa Administration further explains the need of such a museum: “Mostly found on high-altitude Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, yaks gradually adapt themselves to the environment by long-term evolution. Closely linked to Tibetan people’s life, yaks have accompanied local inhabitants for thousands of years.”
Apparently the Yak Museum will have 3 parts: natural and scientific yaks, historic and humanistic yaks and finally spiritual and artistic yaks (sic).
Li Liangqi, deputy director of Lhasa Municipal Administration of Cultural Heritage told the Chinese new agency that the Yak Museum will showcase: “details about yaks, such as the origin, domestication, Tibetan culture they create together with Tibetans, as well as yak culture embodied in the art works”.
One could hope that it is out genuine love for the Tibetan culture and National Animal that the Chinese are opening such a Museum.
Unfortunately at the same time, there has been a massive reallocation of the nomads on the Tibetan plateau.
The Global Times explained: “Living in the mountains brought many difficulties to the villagers such as education, transportation, water supply, medical care and even marriage," said an official surnamed Zhao of the town of Zhenluoying in Pinggu district in Beijing Municipality. The Chinese official adds that relocation brings much convenience to the life of the nomads as well as job opportunities; further it is also be good for mountain forestry (sic).
It is difficult to understand how emptying the mountains of its traditional inhabitants can help 'mountain forestry'.
The same theory has been applied in Tibet where the chang-thang, traditionally the habitat of the Tibetan nomads, has been emptied of its nomads to ...'preserve' the environment.
Last year a report of Xinhua News Agency affirmed that: “China has settled nearly 50,000 Tibetan nomads into sedentary communities in a drive to protect the remote alpine region's fragile ecology from their herds”. The report continued: “49,631 people from nomadic families were settled over the past four years …[after being] relocated from a rugged region on the Tibetan plateau that is home to the headwaters of three of Asia's major rivers, the Yellow, Yangtze and Mekong. ”
|Tourists love yaks|
It appears that Beijing’s concerns about the ecological safety of the three rivers led to Qinghai starting, in 2003, to resettle herdsmen from the reserve known as Sanjiangyuan. In 2005, Beijing gave a first grant of 7.5 billion yuan (1.10 billion U.S. dollars) for ecological reconstruction of the area and the relocation of herdsmen.”
Beijing, which is now promoting the ‘Yak Culture’ was generous with the nomads …and the yaks. Mr. Li affirms: “to help the herdsmen adapt to their new life, the provincial government has offered vocational training and set up a fund to encourage them to start their own businesses.”
Some of them can probably be employed in the Yak Museum.
There is however a serious dichotomy between the ‘ecological’ resettlement program of the nomads and the yaks and the opening of a Yak Museum in Lhasa which is obviously to attract Han tourists to the plateau.
If the 'bright pearl’ of Tibetan culture is to become more brilliant, isn’t it strange that the man who is the living heart of this culture has no place in the Chinese new scheme?
It is obvious that as long as Beijing rejects the Dalai Lama as a ‘splittist’ and refuses any dealings with him, the ‘pearl’ cannot really shine.
Beijing’s latest cultural policy, set up after the Fifth Tibet Work Forum in January 2010, is a definite improvement on previous restrictive schemes implemented in the past, particularly on Tibetan language and culture.
However, most of these measures seem geared to appease the Tibetans in order to ‘stabilize’ the region and attract more and more tourists (15 million are expected in 2014).
Though Tibetan Buddhism seems to be playing an increasingly significant role for the people of the Mainland, in Tibet it remains at the level of preservation of ‘ancient relics’. Tibetans are not free to practice their religion, the way they did for centuries; joining monasteries and the activities of monks remain severely restricted by the State.
The use of persona such as King Gesar of Ling, Tsangyang Gyatso or Gedun Choepel obviously has hidden political connotations. Only a few facets of the lives of these local heroes are used to illustrate the care the Central Government and the Communist Party shows for the local faith. This is particularly true for the last two (Tsangyang Gyatso and Gedun Choepel), whose revolutionary sides are concealed from the Chinese and Tibetan public.
And why ‘promote’ only one Dalai Lama? What about the 13 others, particularly the present one who has done so much for the preservation of the ‘cultural heritage’ of Tibet?
An interesting aspect of the present ‘cultural liberalization’ is connected with the current (or absence of) negotiations with Dharamsala. The Dalai Lama wants a ‘genuine autonomy’ for the Tibetans, in which the local government would look after subjects such as education, culture or religion.
By ‘liberalizing’ and generously funding these aspects, the leadership in Beijing is doing what the Dalai Lama is asking for (minus the Dalai Lama himself and minus freedom). But the Communist leadership will now argue that the Central Government has never done so much to protect and preserve the ancient Tibetan culture and that an administration under the Dalai Lama would not do better.
Dharamsala can however rightly say that the relations between Buddhism and the people living on the Tibetan plateau should be living ones, not restricted to museums or geared to attract tourists.
The situation has to be watched carefully.
Will the hardliners (or ‘leftists’ in Communist jargon) continue to occupy the centre stage and more importantly, can one day Beijing offer a true cultural autonomy to the Tibetans, taking the Dalai Lama on board?
Right now, it is doubtful.
This would have, of course, incalculable implications for Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia too. It is why Beijing may continue to tread cautiously. In the process, the ‘pearl’ will continue to look more Chinese than Tibetan.