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Useful Notes / Tibet

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Mao Zedong: 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.
Nikita Khrushchev: You have no contact even now with the population of Tibet.
Mao: We have a different understanding of this issue.
Khruschev: Of course.

A former country in East Asia, 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 (there were emperors prior), 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 and the Mongols. Disagreements over how much control tend to center around what political axe 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 14th and 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. That the Chinese government claims to be able to control whether the Dalai Lama will reincarnate will come off as Insane Troll Logic to anyone with even a passing familiarity with Tibetan Buddhism. Notably the current kid incarnation of Panchen Erdeni was taken in 1995 by the Chinese government and replaced. Chinese officials have only disclosed regarding the whereabouts of the kid that "The reincarnated child Panchen Lama you mentioned is being educated, living a normal life, growing up healthily and does not wish to be disturbed." The Dalai Lama has separately confirmed the well-being of the Panchen Lama through his own sources. To makes matters more complicated, the Chinese government would rather use the Qing Empire-era method of picking new Dalai and Panchen Lama, the so-called Golden Urn, which boils down the process of finding reincarnations via... drawing lot from an urn. Historically, this was used with grudging acceptance of the Tibetan monks, who simply draw "the right" lot from the urn after first identifying the proper child, but nowdays it's Pekin doing the "Dalai Lama lottery".

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 occupied the Tang capital Chang'an (modern-day Xi'an) for a while. 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), and Tibetans are closer culturally to the Mongolic and Turkic peoples than to the Chinese. The Tibetan Mastiff is held in high regards by Tibetans.

The Kingdom of Bhutan, sandwiched between China and India, was culturally part of Tibet until the 17th century. It was founded by a Tibetan Buddhist lama who had disagreements with the Dalai Lama of that time and decided to form a dominion of his own. Dzongkha, the country's national language, is descended from Old Tibetan and written with the Tibetan script (though it is mutually unintelligible with modern Tibetan) and Tibetan Buddhism is the country's state religion. Many Westerners view it as basically "Tibet if it were independent".

Having Tibet as a playable faction in historical video games makes sense, but due to China's strict censorship laws having Tibet as such a playable faction most likely means the game being Banned in China, as this would be seen as promoting Tibetan independence.note  This is why popular historical video games such as Civilization, Age of Empires or Total War will never have Tibetans as a playable faction, as these games will risk having the game banned in mainland China (as Paradox Interactive had to find out the hard way when Hearts of Iron was banned in China for depicting Tibet as a separate faction and all the sequels followed suit). Interestingly enough, however, Paradox Interactive also made two strategy games, Crusader Kings 2 and Europa Universalis series, that have Tibetans as a playable civilization; yet those games aren't banned in China (although the Chinese official releases would most likely have stringent censorshipnote ).

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. However, this view tend to romanticize feudal Tibet as a peaceful land of mysticism, and tend to overlook the fact that the majority of Tibetans were illiterate and often subject to torture by the aristocrats who owned most of the land.
  • The pro-PRC view: The "official" view of the Chinese government as well as many Chinese nationalists. 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. This view usually calls for Tibet to remain part of China out of pragmatism, but calls for wider political reform in China, with greater respect to the rights and self determination of the Tibetans. Many Chinese dissidents, as well as Dalai Lama himself in recent years, hold this view.
  • The other 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). Since the current Dalai Lama called for a "middle way" approach in regards to Tibet's sovereignty, many younger Tibetans in Dharamshala tend to hold this view and calls for an independent Tibet.

Tibet in popular culture

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Blissful Land is a slice-of-life manga by Ichimon Izumi about a young doctor-in-training who finds himself engaged to a foreign girl in 18th-century Tibet.
  • The Brave Fighter of Legend Da-Garn had Hawk Saber debuting in one of its cave and was later revisited.
  • Fushigi Yuugi features the Sairou Empire, which is an Expy of Tibet. Its primary deity is Byakko, the White Tiger, although it does seem to have practitioners of both Hinduism and Buddhism in it, and it is notable for accepting these other religions, instead of insisting that people worship Byakko.
  • Kuranishi has written two manga series set in Tibet: Ruten no Terma stars a Japanese man in search of his missing brother in modern Tibet while Tsuki to Kin no Shangri-La/Shangri-la for moon & diamond stars a young boy who is mysteriously left by his father at a Tibetan temple.
  • In Saiyuki, as the gang passed through there, Gojyo became affected by the stronger Minus Wave.

    Comic Books 
  • The Secret of the Swordfish is about a World War III waged by a militarily overpowered Tibet; while this country is nominally Tibet in the story, it actually looks more like an expy of both Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. It has been written before the Chinese invasion.
  • Tintin in Tibet takes the hero to the region in search of his old friend Chang Chong-chen who has gone missing after his plane crashed in the mountains.

    Films — Animation 
  • Psycho-Pass: Sinners of the System - Case 3: Beyond Love & Hate concerns a future "Tibet-Himalaya Alliance" which is wracked by a war between 3 factions, although the movie itself takes place entirely in Bhutan.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 2012 features a Tibetan family who manages to get on one of the Arks, but an old monk decides to stay behind.
  • Butter Lamp: Short film in which a series of Tibetan families pose for portraits; symbolic of the destruction of Tibetan culture.
  • The Cup uses a backdrop of Tibetan diaspora to give it a far more humane, rather than idealised view, portraying a football obsesion surrounding the 1998 World Cup
  • The 2004 Chinese film Kekexili: Mountain Patrol takes place in the remote Hoh Xil region of northeastern Tibet and is allegedly based on the actions of a volunteer mountain patrol that worked to combat illegal poachers in the 1990s.
  • 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.
  • Seven Years in Tibet (1997) - Jean-Jacques Annaud, who directed it, got Banned in China, but Annaud has since had his ban lifted and even directed a co-production with the Chinese. It stars Brad Pitt as Heinrich Harrer.
  • Xizang Mimi ("A Secret In Tibet"; 2013)

  • 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.
  • Lost Horizon, which is the Trope Namer for The Shangri-La (it means "Shang Mountain Pass" in Tibetan).
  • 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 noblewoman on the run.

    Live-Action TV 

    Video Games 
  • The Hearts of Iron series depicted Tibet and Xinjiang separate factions alongside with Manchuria and Taiwan under Japanese control. Unsurprisingly, the game is banned in China for depicting these regions either under Japanese control or being separate independent factions.
  • Life Is Strange: True Colors features one of the locations called "Treasures of Tibet", complete with a flag displayed outside the store. Unfortunately this caused quite an outrage with Chinese nationalist who review bombed the game for merely displaying the flag of Tibet as they view it as a symbol of independence.
  • Tomb Raider II has a series of levels set in Tibet, where Lara finds the Talion Key needed to access the Temple of Xian.
  • Uncharted 2: Among Thieves ends in Tibet with the lost city of Shambala finally being found. Notably, a good chunk of the finale takes place in a small village where authentic Tibetan is spoken by the people there.

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).