Thursday, May 10, 2007

In Exile from the Land of Snows

from the diary: “Friday 8/28/87

“a very good book about Tibet and the Dalai Lama”

The next day I wrote, “Wow. This book on Tibet is amazing. I discover I knew nothing about Tibet. So much I’m learning is horrible – the Chinese invastion and subjugation of Tibet. Ak!”

A good synopsis of the book is here. “John Avedon chronicles the destruction of Tibetan religion, culture and language by the Chinese, as well as the efforts of 100,000 Tibetan refugees to preserve their ancient heritage under the guidance and inspiration of the Dalai Lama.”

An excerpt appears at Powell’s. The excerpt concerns the search for the latest incarnation of the Dalai Lama (the highest lama). “[Tibet’s regent] Reting Rinpoche witnessed a remarkable sight. On staring at the clear alpine waters [of lake Lhamo Lhatso], he discerned three letters from the Tibetan alphabet float into view: Ah, Ka and Ma. The image of a great three-storied monastery, capped by gold and jade rooftops, followed. A white road led east from the monastery to a house before a small hill, its roof strikingly fringed in turquoise-colored tiles, a brown and white spotted dog in the courtyard. Later, the Regent dreamt of the same humble farmer's home, this time with oddly shaped gutter pipes emerging from the roof and a small boy standing in the yard.”

In the story author John Avedon tells in In Exile from the Land of Snows the Chinese army invaded Tibet, an independent country, and incorporated it through violent conquest into the Chinese state. Contrasting that story with another a reviewer notes, the Chinese regard the invasion as the liberation of an oppressed province, “a feudal society similar to medieval Europe but subject to much harsher conditions. [Indeed,] venereal disease afflicted 90 per cent of the population and smallpox 30 per cent in the early part of this century.” The Tibetans, naturally, strewed the streets with flowers to welcome the Chinese. Being as flowers don’t much grow that high up in the world no doubt they threw snowballs and the Chinese took them for flowers.

Avedon’s account of the escape over the mountains of the court of the Dalai Lama is thrilling stuff.

The Tibetan government in exile (in India) has a website.

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