Useful Notes / Tibet
China owns this now. Damn commies!

Mao: "Our mistake was that we did not disarm the Dalai Lama right away. But at that time we had no contact with the popular masses of Tibet."
Khruschev: "You have no contact even now with the population of Tibet."
Mao: "We have a different understanding of this issue."
Khruschev: "Of course."

The stereotypical setting of The Shangri-La and the subject of a popular political cause.

For centuries, Tibet was a Buddhist theocracy ruled by a duo known as the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Erdeni, both the Tibetans believed to be the Reincarnation of great Lamas from the early 1700s. From the era of Kublai Khan until the fall of the Qing Dynasty, Tibet was under some level of control by Imperial China. Disagreements over how much control tend to center around what political ax the speaker wants to grind. In any case, the chaos of the Xinhai Revolution allowed Tibet to slip out of Chinese control and achieve de facto independence in 1912. During the period between 1911-1949, Tibet is largely closed to outsiders, with the exception of the British based in India. It is during this period in which a romanticized depiction of Tibet, as a land of Buddhist mysticism, became widespread in works of popular culture, such as "Lost Horizon".

In 1950, Tenzin Gyatso became the current (and possibly last) Dalai Lama. That same year, with the Soviets handing Xinjiang over to Red China and the People's Liberation Army crushing the last Guomindang holdouts in Qinghai and Inner Mongolia, Mao Zedong decided Tibet needed to be "liberated" from "imperialist forces". Even though it was essentially independent, Tibet had the potential to become a security problem if it fell under increased Indian or Soviet influence and the PRC had no desire to be forced to play a diplomatic game with them over a state that could be annexed fairly easily. The PRC then proceeded to use Maoist Marxist-Leninism to save Tibet from theocratic feudalism. For most of the 1950s, the Dalai Lama cooperated with China's new communist rulers, but he fled Tibet during a 1959 rebellion against Chinese rule. He arrived in India, where he established a Government in Exile and is based there to this day. The Dalai Lama has since become an international celebrity and met with various world leaders. For the first twenty years of his exile, the Dalai Lama argued in favor of Tibetan independence, but he has since moderated his position to favoring greater Tibetan autonomy within China.

There is considerable debate whether there will be another Dalai Lama after the current one dies. He claims that he will not reincarnate in Tibet unless it is free. The Chinese government claims that it has the authority to select the next Dalai Lama since the Republic of China (Taiwan) does not offer to oversee the process and the reincarnation of the Panchen Erdeni is stable.

It's also worth noting that Tibet has a complicated history with the Kuomintang government, which ruled mainland China from 1911 until 1949, and still exist as an electoral party in Taiwan today. The two sides fought a border war between 1930-1932, in which the Ma clique, a group of Hui Muslim warlords allied with the KMT, drove the 13th Dalai Lama out the neighboring Qinghai province. Following their defeat in the Chinese Civil War, the KMT retreated to Taiwan, but nevertheless, they occupied China's seat in the United Nations until 1971. Up until the 2000s, the KMT government claimed Tibet, as well as Mongolia and the rest of Communist China, as part of the Republic of China.

On a related note, while popular media often portrays the Tibetans as peaceful Buddhists, it should noted that the Tibetans were historically known for their warlike nomadic horse culture prior to the introduction to Buddhism in the region note . At one point, the Tibetans even had an empire that rivaled the Tang dynasty and even temporarily occupied the Tang capital at one point (which is modern day Xian). Much of their warlike nomadic culture slowly died down once Buddhism was introduced in the region, but some of the Tibetan past nomadic lifestyle is still seen today in some areas (as there are many Tibetan nomads who still practice archery and horseback riding as sports).

Views on Tibet
  • The pro-Tibet view: The dominant view in western countries, it casts the Dalai Lama as the wise old sage and the People's Republic of China as The Empire. It argues that the PRC illegally annexed a de facto independent country and has been an oppressive, exploitative imperialist power destroying their people's culture and being generally rather nasty to their people ever since.
  • The pro-PRC view: This view casts the Dalai Lama as a deposed third-world dictator trying to get back his personal fiefdom. It argues that, since Tibet was incorporated into two Mongol and one Chinese Empires starting 800 years ago and was only de facto independent for the century before its (re-)conquest by Red China, it is as much part of China as Britanny is part of France or the Czech Republic is a part of Germany.note  It also points out that PRC rule has brought economic development and improved Tibetan living standards. Of course, claims of heavy-handed repression of all dissent and destruction of Tibetan culture are generally denied - or deemed to be 'the price of modernity'.
  • The third option view: This view argues that while Tibet was a backwards, medieval theocracy dominated by one pan-Chinese and two Mongol Empires and thus shared a certain amount of high-culture with the Chinese nations, like the Mongolians its people were quite distinct from those of most of China's various peoples and the PRC has also been an oppressive imperialist power of the kind it used to condemn so strongly. Therefore, the conflict is one of Grey and Gray Morality.
  • The other third option is that independent Tibet was a small and incredibly underdeveloped country with some serious problems that the PRC has alleviated somewhat by being a remarkably oppressive and unpleasant imperialist power... but that changes to Tibet's Government in Exile mean it'd be rather nicer at running the country than either the PRC or the pre-PRC Tibetan aristocracy (e.g. the Dalai Lama recommending the removal of his position as head of state).

Tibet in popular culture
  • Lost Horizon, which is the Trope Namer for The Shangri-La (it means "Shang Mountain Pass" in Tibetan).
  • Seven Years in Tibet (1997) (Jean-Jacques Annaud, who directed Seven Years in Tibet initially Banned in China but Annaud has since had his ban lifted). It stars Brad Pitt as Heinrich Harrer.
  • Kundun by Martin Scorsese, featuring a cast of non-professional Tibetans, a biopic of the Dalai Lama. Both Scorsese and screenwriter Melissa Mathison are banned to China to this day. Although in the pro-Tibet camp, Kundun does portray the Chinese as Well Intentioned Extremists though the cameo of Mao Zedong as an Affably Evil dictator touched on one too many taboo.
  • The Penn & Teller: Bullshit! episode "Holier Than Thou" argues against the pro-Tibet view.
  • 2012 features a Tibetan family who manages to get on one of the Arks, but an old monk decides to stay behind.
  • Chen Ai Luo Ding (After the Dust Settles): A novel written by a Tibetan author based on his family's accounts before the revolution, about a secluded Tibetian village/citadel encountering early 20th century technologies, culture, and opium. A great hit in China.
  • Xizang Mimi (A Secret In Tibet)
  • Sky Burial The story of a Chinese army nurse searching for her missing doctor husband, while along the way befriending a Tibetian family and a noble woman on the run.

The Tibetan flag
As the last-known flag of Tibet before 1959, this is reused by the government-in-exile, and thus Banned in China. The golden border signifies the spread of Buddhism. At the center is the golden sun of freedom and prosperity, which emits twelve rays, signifying the twelve clans descending from six aboriginal tribes, alternating between red and blue to signify the male and female guardian deities of the region. Directly below it is a white triangle representing the Himalayas. In its center are a pair of Tibetan lions, symbolizing the harmony of temporal and spiritual governance. On one paw they hold a yin-yang symbol, reminding the viewer of the eternal law of karma, and on the other the Three Flaming Gems (Buddha, Dharma and Sangha).