An interview with photographer Nancy Jo Johnson about Tibet.
February 6, 2002 9:05 PM   Subscribe

An interview with photographer Nancy Jo Johnson about Tibet. Johnson paints a depressing picture of the state of Tibetan culture under Chinese rule. Adding insult to injury, China is building a new monument to commemorate the 1951 "liberation" of Tibet in front of the former winter home of the Dalai Lama.
posted by homunculus (6 comments total)
Write some articles. Take some pictures. Protest a little. But at the end of the day, the region will still be developed by the Chinese, businesses will continue to open in Lhasa, and Tibet will remain an autonomous province of China.
posted by dai at 11:48 PM on February 6, 2002

I felt very conflicted as I read this article.

On the one hand, barring completely unforeseen circumstances, it is a given that Tibet is Never going to be liberated from China. Chinese occupation and subjugation of Tibet is evil. But no one on the world stage is going to do anything tangible about it(again barring unforeseen circumstances). The Tibetans can not win their their country back themselves.

Tibetans in Tibet (from what I have read and heard) have been very poor under Chinese occupation. (per this article that appears to be changing). They were almost like second class citizens. They were also people who were living in a time warp. It is all very well to look from outside and appreciate the spiritual wealth of the Tibetan people. But the fact was - twentieth century almost passed them by. Robbed of their leadership, oppressed by the Chinese, the Tibetans shrunk inwards and took solace in their history and heritage. They were denied the chance to get acclimatazed (for lack of better words) gradually to the post-colonial asia the way the rest of South Asia were. The intrinsic culture was bound to evolve/mutate with time -even with Dalai Lama there. What is sad is not that tTibet is changing, but that it is changing on Chinese terms, in Chinese milieu rather than in a Tibetan cultural milieu. That being said, who are we - we who didnt raise our voice when they needed us - to begrudge them their material well being?

Secondly, what Johnson is referring to - has been happening to a greater or lesser degree to the nouveau riche throughout Asia. Japan has a thriving underground that looks down on its heritage. in India, kids in many upper middle class families speak in English with their parents and in Nepal - up in the sub-Tibetan plateau, I met kids who were begging in French. It is a phenomena that is not unique to Tibet. Pico Iyer wrote an excellent book on the subject.

Lastly, Stalin too tried his hands in transmigration. It blew up on the faces of his successors in post-USSR Russia. People have been carrying their resentments deep in their heart for the last 50 years and they have been - those who want to - now going back to their roots. You can rob a people of their language, but it is hard to colonise their minds, unless they are willingly giving it away.
posted by justlooking at 12:20 AM on February 7, 2002

[Nice comment, Kaushik. Thanks for it.]
posted by Mo Nickels at 7:08 AM on February 7, 2002

the region will still be developed by the Chinese

what's weird is you could also say their religion is also [trying to be] developed by the chinese. like only government appointed lamas can be true reincarnations. kind of analagous to what the US gov. did WRT native americans i guess and i feel/fear it'll end up similarly.
posted by kliuless at 7:30 AM on February 7, 2002

It is sad for the world as a whole that these places are changing, however it seems inevitable whether occupied or not.
In Tibet it is a change forced upon the people by the Chinese, over the Himalayas in Nepal it is the shiny bauble of Western capitalism which drives the change. In Tibet it was a military invasion which has forced the people to adapt to the new regime, in Nepal it is the huge numbers of western visitors and the influx of western media which has dangled the carrot of a worry and poverty free way of life in the west. All a Nepali sees of the west is a constant stream of pampered, spoiled westerners of either the 'do the world on $4 a day' backpacker variety or the 'window tourist' (their name for well heeled tourists, staying in the air-conditioned poolside hotels conveniently walled off from the populace) so called because they see Nepal through the window of a plane, hotel and bus.
The net effect is that the west is increasingly seen as nirvana by the younger generations. While older Nepalis are still suspicious of the promises the west seems to hold, to the young the west is the place where people are so rich they can travel thousands of miles and spend as much in a week as the average Nepali family have to live on for a year - who could fail to be seduced by that.

I'm rambling a bit but the point I'm trying to make is one that Kaushik made far more eloquently, the only difference between what this article describes and the rest of Asia is that Tibet have had this on Chinese terms, judging by Nepal, I wonder how much different it would be were Tibet to have remained free.
posted by Markb at 8:08 AM on February 7, 2002

It does seem that organizations like FPMT which seek to keep the full Tibetan religious tradition alive may be attempting something impossible. Like any indigenous tradition, Tibetan Buddhism is a way of life which doesn't fully translate into Western / Chinese households of working people, modern technologies and higher education. Perhaps we'll be lucky, and the idea that the most important goal for society is the production of enlightened human beings will simply emerge in some other form. Thanks for sharing your eloquent reflections.
posted by sheauga at 3:13 PM on February 7, 2002

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