State of Tibetan culture

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State of Tibetan culture

Postby Sherlock » Wed Jun 19, 2013 2:49 pm

I recently returned from a trip to the Tibetan regions of Sichuan.

Now of course my perspective is limited since I don't really live there, but it seemed to me that Tibetan culture is mostly quite vibrant there, and there isn't any real forceful government presence aiming to stamp it out.

For a rather small population speaking different dialects, the Sichuan Tibetans (whether Kham or Amdo) are culturally united; many still wear traditional clothes and even when wearing modern clothes they make them recall traditional clothing in some way, such as with oversized jackets approximating the look of robes or with different ornaments. Tibetan men usually have longer hair than Han Chinese and might wear more jewellery. Tibetan women like wearing long skirts and high heels, something comparatively rarer among Han.

They have a shared pop culture across all of Sichuan and Qinghai, the majority of the Tibetan pop music on Youtube is actually from Sichuan. I've met some young laypeople who never learnt Tibetan writing in school and others who did and still use it on their smartphones.

Religious freedom is something else of course, in Larung Gar there isn't much government presence but I heard about soldiers being planted in various gompas as well as saw a beautiful gompa with gilt roofs surrounded by a concrete wall with a large barracks-like building next to it.

In terms of culture I think Chinese have lost far more than Tibetans actually. Tibetans can still openly walk about in their traditional clothing without batting an eyelash, have a writing system suited for their own language which they can still use even if not with the "wider" world, and are very connected to their roots. Chinese still have some bits of regional culture left such as their dialects, regional food etc, but by and large are far more divorced from their cultural heritage than the Tibetans.

Unlike the opinions expressed in some other posts elsewhere on this forum, I don't think cultural homogeneity for the sake of stability is good or necessary. As far as I saw though, Tibetan culture is far from moribund, maybe it is quite different in the TAR.
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Re: State of Tibetan culture

Postby Nilasarasvati » Wed Jun 19, 2013 3:47 pm

That's really encouraging to hear...I personally would prefer to go to Sichuan than the TAR though. But I'm probably a reincarnated yak from Kham, so...
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Re: State of Tibetan culture

Postby tingdzin » Thu Jun 20, 2013 3:15 pm

What the OP said is a little bit encouraging, but Tibetan culture is/was far more profound than dress and even the colloquial language(s) spoken there. Tibetan culture, in my view, was one of the only world cultures that had sophisticated intellectual and artistic traditions while simultaneously preserving (even if perhaps by chance) many elements of archaic human culture that had disappeared from most other places in the world. Even if there is not currently a militant approach to stamping out what is left of Tibetan civilization on the part of their Chinese overlords, other factors such as the eradication of the nomadic lifestyle (dictators always hate nomads), the utterly rapacious approach to the exploitation of natural resources (Tibetan culture being intimately tied to its physical environment), and the serene Chinese belief in their own racial and cultural superiority (even though the most valuable aspects of Chinese culture have also disappeared or are disappearing) probably mean that those factors that made Tibet unique are destined for the history books.
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Re: State of Tibetan culture

Postby Sherlock » Thu Jun 20, 2013 4:51 pm

tingdzin wrote:What the OP said is a little bit encouraging, but Tibetan culture is/was far more profound than dress and even the colloquial language(s) spoken there. Tibetan culture, in my view, was one of the only world cultures that had sophisticated intellectual and artistic traditions while simultaneously preserving (even if perhaps by chance) many elements of archaic human culture that had disappeared from most other places in the world. Even if there is not currently a militant approach to stamping out what is left of Tibetan civilization on the part of their Chinese overlords, other factors such as the eradication of the nomadic lifestyle (dictators always hate nomads), the utterly rapacious approach to the exploitation of natural resources (Tibetan culture being intimately tied to its physical environment), and the serene Chinese belief in their own racial and cultural superiority (even though the most valuable aspects of Chinese culture have also disappeared or are disappearing) probably mean that those factors that made Tibet unique are destined for the history books.


As far as I saw, there was no wanton destruction of the environment for extraction of natural resources, at least where I was going. Hydroelectric dams, power lines aren't quite the same thing. This is only within Sichuan of course, there were stories about Chinese prospectors travelling to Central and Western Tibet apparently in search of uranium that I've seen online and I don't know how well that went.

As for the rest, well, no argument about resettlement of nomads. I saw a TED talk by this South African biologist about how large-scale pastoralism could overcome desertification and who recommended large scale government programmes to remedy it. It made me laugh -- the desertifying region since the first satellite photographs he outlined in his world map, from Africa to Mongolia, consists of land that nomads used for thousands of years without causing desertification and plainly can't be settled through agriculture. No need for government programmes beyond allowing nomads to continue their traditional lifestyles.

You are also assuming that the Chinese are still stuck in the Mao-era mentality or otherwise still retain their old xenophobia. That's not completely true, a lot of Chinese, even among the rich, are turning to Tibetan Buddhism and are becoming more aware of these problems. That's assuming that the PRC will even retain their power more than a century, something I sincerely doubt.
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Re: State of Tibetan culture

Postby tingdzin » Fri Jun 21, 2013 2:25 pm

I am not talking about hydropower, but mainly deforestation, mineral extraction, and wildlife extermination (see the movie "Mountain Patrol", a true story) though the Chinese do seem to have realized that deforestation in Khams can cause severe flooding and erosion problems downstream in China proper, and so have some motivation to slow it down.

Nor was I talking about Mao-era, Cultural-Revolution-type, manic xenophobia, but rather the deeply ingrained belief (long predating Mao) that the Chinese are a superior race, which, coupled with the modern (imported) ideology of rabid nationalism and the perpetual grievance of the "century of humiliation", has led both to the colonialistic approach to minorities in China and economic colonialism of countries like Cambodia and Burma, as well aggressive assertion of dubious territorial claims against others among China's neighbors (but that's another story).
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