China and Tibet are getting a lot of media attention. Passions are running high, and simple truths are tough to come by.
What do we English speaking travelers know about China and Tibet?
Few of us have been to Shanghai, or Lhasa, and fewer still can understand any Mandarin Chinese, let alone Tibetan.
In the modern world, what happens high in the foothills of the Eastern Himalayas will impact every one of us, from Sydney to San Francisco. Therefore, it’s important that we actively seek an understanding of China and Tibet that goes beyond packaged news clips and knee-jerk reactions.
As any government propagandist worth his salt knows well, history is malleable. In the PR game of politics, history must be controlled even as it’s being made.
In the interests, then, of genuine, cross-cultural, person-to-person understanding, the kind that’s unfiltered by institutions, this edition of Tales From the Road features dispatches from some of the best writers of our time, reporting live from China and Tibet.
These are the stories that need to be told.
1) “Give China Some Face” by Sascha Matuszak
Sascha is a story-teller vagabond who now lives in Chengdu, a city in the foothills of the Himalayas near the center of the recent Chinese earthquake. In “Give China Some Face” he asks an important question:
Is it possible to have a benevolent, peaceful wave of patriotic love that could surge across China’s borders? I think that entirely depends on how the world reacts to a nation bursting with pride and emotion, as China is now.
Also check out Sascha’s stories of real-life legends of the Tibetan foothills: Crouching Tigers, Rara Gyata and The Lady In The Red Dress.
2) “Tibet Through Chinese Eyes” by Peter Hessler
Peter Hessler is the best native English speaking writer now living in China, and the best suited to articulate the Chinese perspective on Tibet.
3) “A Monk’s Struggle” by Pico Iyer
Pico Iyer’s new book on the Dalai Lama, The Open Road, is one of his best works yet, a labor of many years by one of the world’s greatest living travel writers. “A Monk’s Struggle” is a concise version of the full manuscript.
4) “What Goes Around: A Short Walk In Eastern Tibet” by Mark Jenkins
The great Mark Jenkins doesn’t write much about Sino-Tibetan relations in this beautifully crafted story, but his tale of a journey to a sacred lake high on the Tibetan plateau is just too eloquent to leave out of the round-up.
5) “The Terrified Monks” by Nick Kristof
The intrepid international journalist Nick Kristof snuck into historically Tibetan regions of western China to report on the Chinese crackdown on Tibetan monks for the New York Times. His conclusion?
China is emerging as a great power in this century, and it is famously concerned with saving face. But it loses far more face from its own repression of Tibetans than from anything the Dalai Lama has ever done.
It’s better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness. Let’s start an open discussion below!
I also invite everyone to join the discussion of Matt Kepnes’ excellent article published last week here on Brave New Traveler: Why It’s Useless To Boycott The Beijing Olympics.
Are you a student who wants to learn more about China and Tibet? Check out David DeFranza’s authoritative guide to study abroad options in China.
You can also get in touch with Matador’s Tibet expert, phishtopher, an anthropologist currently researching Tibetan narratives in western China and India.