This is going to be a book of immense appeal to a lot of people, commercially and politically. Scholars and laymen interested in the Tibet issue will certainly want to have a copy, not for a decoration of their bookshelves but as a sort of “referee\’\’ between two opposing teams of heavy boxers. For a long time, western sympathizers of Tibet have shunned any works written by Chinese, but they read passionately every book written by the Dalai Lama and other Tibetans and their sympathizers. Nor was the Chinese record of being receptive to western criticism any better. The psychological barrier caused by one\’s hatred towards an enemy should not be underestimated in any culture. The British, for instance, systematically muffled Sin Fein leaders\’ voices up to the 1990s. The capacity of the Chinese to shun what they don\’t like to know or hear and the propensity to acting like an ostrich is equally great. They have been refusing to even talk to the Dalai Lama directly. In a similar case, they have adopted a policy not to refer to Taiwan\’s president by his name Cheng Shuibian, but simply as "Taiwan\’s new leader".
To be fair to the Chinese, whose stance on Tibet I hardly agree, and would not be the last to criticize, the open-up policies initiated by Deng Xiaoping have enabled China to publish quite a number of western books they think not overtly detrimental to the Chinese interest. There are now a lot of western books on Tibet translated and distributed widely, including Goldstein\’ s book, and Tucci\’s as well as almost all the early explorer\’s travel stories, thus forming a rich source of information about Tibet. And it is this availability of western books and information about Tibet that enabled a new generation of Chinese independent scholars to look at Tibet from a new angle, in a new light, as Wang Lixiong did in his new and controversial book The Sky Burial.
It is truly remarkable that there could emerge from China an independent evaluation of Tibet\’s fate, remarkable precisely because the cleavage between the Chinese view and Tibetans and their western sympathizers\’ view is so great that almost no one in China has ever had the courage and far-sight to confront this difference and ask why this is so. Courage is a too feeble a word to describe Wang\’ s gallantry. Rather, a Chinese phrase “danshi\’\’ (courage and insight) would be more accurate, especially for a Chinese scholar from a brutal regime that lays claim to Tibet so passionately. For a Chinese scholar from a cultural tradition that plays a heavy “politics of difference\’\’ in their loyal criticism, casting a doubt on China\’s ethnic policy or record in managing its ethnic affair such as Tibet, or least studying it objectively, requires more than just courage. It requires a political stance, a correct understanding of the issues involved, and also the responsibility of an intellectual for humanity rather than the narrowly defined national interest which citizenship and political loyalty demand. So here goes my first praise to Wang Lixiong. And precisely for this reason, for westerners and Tibetans to have a better understanding of the alternative Chinese perspective (not alternative to the Western or Tibetan, but alternative to the official Chinese), I strongly recommend it be translated and made available to the wider world.
August 2, 2000
The book is written in Chinese, and is 569 pages. In addition to the prologue, epilogue, maps, photographs and 5 appendix items, the main text is arranged into 5 sections with 16 chapters. The following are the author\’s main ideas, summarized by each section with a caption
I. Sovereignty–The Conflict of Opinions Between East and West, pp. 13-144 Chapter l-4
The concept of sovereignty discussed today is a modem idea, defined by Western academics and politicians. It is therefore difficult to explain and understand the historical political status of Tibet using this modem terminology.
China and Tibet have co-existed for over 1000 years. This history includes many wars and border disputes, however because of the distance between the regions and their respective inaccessibility, these conflicts were never prolonged, and settlements were often found. In pre-modem times, as long as the Tibetans and the Chinese did not openly challenge each other, and when imperial China could enjoy symbolic submission from the Tibetans, both sides could govern their people according to their own traditional ways. It is even the case that when the Tibetans symbolically gave their submission to the imperial court of China, they could receive China\’s financial and military support.
Due to the natural geographical barriers and the lack of oxygen on the high Tibetan plateau. outsiders can reach and survive in Tibet only with great difficulty. Tibetans were thus able to live in relative isolation for thousands of years. With the arrival of British and other Western influences in the early 20ot century however, international politics began to influence and complicate the debate on Tibet\’s status.
By the 1 950s, when the Western world began to pay attention to the intensifying conflict between China and Tibet, the Chinese People\’s Liberation Army had already taken control of Tibet and established the Chinese controlled Tibet Autonomous Region government.
Today, the Dalai Lama and his followers live in exile in India and have mobilized an international campaign for a free Tibet. Because the Dalai Lama has utilized many Western political concepts such as sovereignty, self-determination and human rights to assess the Tibet Question, he has found much international support.
II. Revolution –The Way to Solidify Sovereignty, pp. 145-264 Chapter 5-6
Mao Zedong originally intended to use peaceful means to settle the Tibet Question and planned to let the Dalai Lama and his government remain in control of Tibet\’s religious and political functions. When the Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959, Mao ordered his troops not to stop him and not to harm him.
By 1960s, however, this policy was reversed, and the Chinese government officially denounced the Dalai Lama and began to implement Communist revolutionary policies in Tibet. These actions were intended to better integrate Tibet, and solidify China\’s control over the region.
Since this change in policy, Tibetans have experienced the same hardships that have fallen upon other regions of China as result of democratic reforms and the Cultural Revolution.
Ⅲ. Religious wars, pp. 265-375 Chapter 7-10
When Chinese Communism was forced onto Tibet, it competed with Buddhism for the ideological foundation, which grounded almost all Tibetans. The initial conflict was very obvious and heated. As Communist policy was implemented, and many received redistributed land and wealth through the Communist Party\’s actions, many Tibetans saw the Party Chairman as more powerful than the Dalai Lama, and turned their allegiances to Mao and his ideals. Most were looking for change, hoping to find better lives. During that period of time, Mao\’s Communism was just like a new religion in Tibet. When Mao died, however, Tibet\’s enthusiasm for Communism\’s promise also collapsed.
The subsequent administration, led by Deng Xiaoping, shifted China\’s religion policy to a more moderate stance, allocating funds to repair monasteries, and allowing more monks to be initiated. As a result, many Tibetans turned back to Buddhism, and the Dalai Lama\’s religious and political influence and prestige returned to him.
Among those Tibetans who had already adjusted to the Chinese way of life, many became more aware of their ethnic identity, and began to form nationalistic ideas and to find ways to resist Chinese ideological oppression.
The Communist leadership has not yet found an effective way to resolve the situation in Tibet, and has resorted to military force to quell any pro-Tibetan movements. Currently, there are large numbers of Han Chinese in Tibet, however few are permanent residents because of the harsh environment and living conditions.
IV. Modernization — Tibetan Civilization is Splitting, pp. 377-445 Chapter 11- 13
Since 1970s, China has sought to modernize Tibet, to improve the lives of its residents, and justify its occupation of the region to the rest of the world. This drive for modernization, however, has proven costly to the Chinese government.
Because of Tibet\’s harsh environment and inaccessibility, the reality of modernizing the region has moved far beyond the means of the regional economy. The Chinese government has provided large subsidies, and started incentive programs to encourage Chinese individuals and organizations to enter into work contracts in the region. Because of the difficulty in attracting trained and educated Han Chinese workers to such a remote location, local Tibetans have also been organized to join the work projects. These Tibetans are now the real beneficiaries of the projects. On the other hand, the modernization of Tibet has become a heavy burden to the Chinese government and has also brought new problems to Tibetan Society.
V. International Boxing Match Decided By A Western Referee, pp. 447-536 Chapter 1 4- 1 6
Despite the Chinese government\’s efforts to modernize Tibet, and allow greater religious freedom, the Dalai Lama continues to make appeals to the antinational community for intervention. These appeals, however, have produced an increasingly complicated dynamic between the Dalai Lama, China, and the rest of the world.
Because of the great growth in China\’s economy over the past two decades, and the economic interest of most nations to retain friendly relations with the Chinese government, most governments have been unable to support the Dalai Lama. The Chinese government has thus been able to follow hard line policies to keep tight control over Tibet, without risking the denouncement and intervention of other nations.
In order to seek a compromise on the future of Tibet, the Dalai Lama has recently toned down his appeals, and tried to improve relations with the Chinese government. His current, more conciliatory stance does not push for Tibetan independence, and instead acknowledges the benefits of remaining within China. Ai the same time, he has also associated himself with Taiwan and the dissident Chinese community outside of China, to push for their common goal Of removing China\’s Communist, non-democratic administration. This drive for self determination and individual freedom has been closely watched by the Chinese Communist leadership.
The following are the reviewer\’s opinion on the book– SKY BURIAL: THE FATE OF TIBET
l. What do you regard as the purpose and main arguments of the work?
The author wants to present a true and balanced picture of Tibetan history and culture, with emphasis on current Sino-Tibetan relations. In his discussion of the debates surrounding Tibet\’s political status and cultural history, Mr. Wang gives both local and global analyses of the Tibet Question, examining the many influences that have created the current situation. The book poses questions, provides context to understand them, and offers explanations. The author, however, does not believe that there are any possible solutions to the conflict.
2. What are the special strengths of this work? Weaknesses?
It is the first objective, unbiased book on Tibet ever written by a Chinese author, in China under the Communist system, and an important contribution to the field of Tibetan studies. Although the author is a native-born Han Chinese and educated in China, he does not write about Tibet with the political agenda, which characterizes almost all books on the su6Ject out of the People\’s Republic of China. Mr. Wang does not try to persuade readers that Tibet has always been a part of China, nor does he show that there would be ways to solve the Tibet question any sooner. Instead he presents a balanced look at conflicting accounts of the debate, from both Tibetan and Chinese perspectives, assessing the mistakes and assertions made by both sides.
The book also uses many rich and illustrative stories, personal observations and anecdotes. Because Mr. Wang has been to the Tibetan areas many times and traveled extensively during the researching of this book, his experiences are valuable and insightful contributions to the subject. Reading SKY BURIAL: THE FATE OF TIBET is much like reading a novel, with its narrative element and compelling story.
Although the author states that this book was not an academic pursuit, the extensive research done and sheer amount of notes and quotations from different publications provide an important contribution to the academic community.
The author)s position as a Han Chinese, not familiar with the Tibetan language, sometimes makes it difficult for him to get into the Tibetan community to collect the true information and the emotional feelings of the Tibetan people.
The author does not provide a bibliography and index in his book. Should the book be translated and published in English, these items would be a valuable supplement.
3. What do you see as the audience for this book, Would it find classroom use (and, if so, what kind of courses and would you use it in your course)? Or would it be more of interest to general readers`, Or both,
I teach a university level class on the History and Culture of Tibet. Mr. Wang\’s book is an ideal textbook for my class, because it has a very concise history of Tibet of the last 1 300 years and a very detailed discussion on relations between China and Tibet. This book has much to offer the academic community and would be appropriate for courses in anthropology, political science, history, geography, Asian studies and international relations. In terms of general interest, because the book is written in a simple, narrative, style, and because of the current popular interest in Tibet, the Dalai Lama, and Buddhism, there would be strong general interest in this book.
4. If appropriate, please compare the proposed work with others in the field.
There are two prominent scholars in the field of Tibetan studies: Melvyn C. Goldstein of the Case Western Reserve University and Orville Schell of the University of California, Berkeley. They both have been to China and Tibet and know the land, the people and their culture very well. Their recent books can be used for comparison: The Snow Lion and Dragon: China, Tibet, and the Dalai Lama, by Goldstein, Virtual Tibet: Searching for Shangri-La from the Himalayas to Hollywood, by Schell. Goldstein\’s book is very brief, only 1 52 pages. It is designed for the readers to use it as an introductory course in the field of Tibetan studies. However, he does offer his suggestions to China and the Dalai Lama, and encourages them to make compromises in order to solve their problems. Schell\’s book is 340 pages. He writes about Tibet with a very different approach: through the eyes of the Westerners. Since Hollywood stepped into the debates surrounding Tibetan religion and the Dalai Lama, the Tibet Question has become part of America\’s pop culture. In Schell\’s book, readers can find Tibetan mysticism, politics, historical events and the modern Hollywood version of Tibet. As compared with the two American authors\’ books, Mr. Wang\’s work has much more substantial content of the current situation in Tibet. In particular, the personal interviews and the amount of Chinese sources utilized by Mr. Wang are far more than those used by the two Americans.
5. Is the scholarship sound?
Yes. Mr. Wang has done meticulous research in Chinese and Western language documents. While his main sources are Chinese documents, Mr. Wang combines his own, objective observations, personal interviews as well as some translated Western works to create a well-researched and very informative book.
6. Do you recommend publication,. Why or why not,
Yes. Since the Dalai Lama started his life in exile, the Tibet Question has been widely discussed around the world. Very few books offer readers a complete account of Tibet, and many authors have written with their own agenda and pre-formulated opinions on the debate.
In this respect, Mr. Wang\’s work is an eye-opening and important document. He presents the facts, viewpoints from the pros and cons, and some analysis, and then allows the reader to use his or her own judgment to make sense of the conflict. Because Mr. Wang does not propose a solution for the Tibet Question, his book is an open-ended story, and may inspire readers to explore the subject more deeply. This is a very healthy approach to a very complicated topic.
7. If appropriate, may we use your name and excerpts from your review for promotional purposes should the book be published, We will send the author an anonymous copy of your review whether you answer yes or no to this query, unless you request otherwise.
Yes, you may use my name and my view for promotional purposes.
Manuscript Review: Sly Burial by Wang Lixiong Sly Burial is an extremely important book in the history of Chinese writings about Tibet, and is also an important contribution to the field of Tibetan Studies in general. The author seeks to break out of the morass created by the contradictory propaganda produced in and for Beijing and Dharamsala and, by viewing the situation from a new perspective, come up with a new way of thinking about Tibet that can provide alternatives to the current stalemate. As one of the first books published in China to take both sides of the "Tibet Question\’\’ seriously, Sly Burial is a must-read for anyone interested in the past, present and future of Tibet. While clearly written from a Chinese perspective, the book is unique in its balanced treatment of the history and current state of the \’\’Tibet Question.\’\’ Drawing primarily on Chinese and translated Tibetan and Western sources, the author explores the historical roots of Sino-Tibetan relations. the origins of the \’\’Tibet Question\’\’ and the factors underlying the current political impasse. Written in clear and accessible language, the book provides a great service in elucidating the general Chinese view of the Tibetan issue while maintaining a relatively neutral perspective on this highly contentious debate.
A major selling point for the book is the author\’s open-minded analysis of the historical and contemporary Chinese discourse on Tibet. Unlike most contemporary Chinese writers, who are often writing in service of the PRC state, the author takes pains to debunk the received wisdom so many Chinese citizens continually reiterate about Sino-Tibetan relations. In his first chapter, for example, the author boldly calls into question the veracity of several core Chinese beliefs about Tibet. He deconstructs the mythic figure of Princess Wencheng, for example, and argues convincingly that her journey to Tibet was a result of Tibet\’s military superiority rather than an outgrowth of the cultural supremacy of the Tang Dynasty (pp. 1 4- 1 7). He also pokes holes in the idea of centauries of Chinese rule over Tibet, by reminding us that the Yuan Dynasty was really the Mongol Empire (pp. 1 7- 1 9). While these revelations are not new – many Tibetan and Western authors have pointed them out in the past – it is interesting to see them coming from the pen of a Chinese author. One of the main strengths of the book, which the author demonstrates early on, is its willingness to call into question the received wisdom about Tibet and to present the issues in a new light.
While I have not had the time or energy to cross-check the author\’s many footnotes and references, I generally found his scholarly habits to be of much higher quality than usually demonstrated by Chinese scholars, particularly in relation to works on Tibet. The fact that he has obviously taken pains to refer to Western writings on the Tibet issue, and that he takes seriously what those works have to say, is a testament to his professionalism and objectivity. Knowing from experience how difficult it is to access such materials in the PRC, I found it quite impressive that he took the time to seek them out. His use of the existing Chinese literature, both historic and contemporary, is also quite thorough. In addition, he draws regularly on materials gathered during his own travels in Tibet, and thereby provides the reader with a great deal of new and interesting information, especially concerning the roles and attitudes of Han Chinese who have lived or are living in Tibetan areas.
The manuscript is not without its problems, however. It is quite long, and repetitive in some places. The author also is not without his own ethnocentric biases, which emerge frequently in the text. For example, I was somewhat put off by his suggestion in the introduction that Tibetans are basically liars (p. 1 0). The fact that the author does not read Tibetan limits his use of materials to those available in Chinese, which is also a shortcoming of the work. But these weaknesses also reveal a great deal about the emotional underpinnings of the issue at hand, and in some ways actually contribute to the book\’s value as a teaching text.
In addition to appealing to the growing audience interested in Tibet, I believe a translated version of the manuscript would prove very popular as a textbook in undergraduate and graduate courses. When teaching an undergraduate course entitled \’\’margining Tibet\’\’ at the University of Washington, for example, I found it very difficult to locate nuanced treatments of the Tibet issue written from a Chinese perspective. Although there is a growing body of Western writing on the issue (including Mel Goldstein\’s recent monographs and edited volumes), there is virtually nothing available in English that takes the Chinese perspective on Tibet seriously. What works do exist in English are primarily the product of PRC state organs, such as the Xinhua News Agency and other state-run publishing houses and research institutes. What is sorely lacking, and what continues to contribute to the cartoonish Western understanding of the Chinese view of Tibet, are more subtle readings of the Tibet issue written from a Chinese perspective and with serious attention paid to the Chinese literature. This book meets a very definite need in this respect. In addition, I think the book would prove to be a popular addition to more general courses about modern Chinese history and society, to courses focused on minority studies in China, and to courses in political science and international relations. Tibet is everywhere these days, but there are very few works available that provide such a unique perspective on the issues in both historical and contemporary context.
In sum, I think this manuscript is one of the most interesting works on Tibet to come out in recent years. It is particularly interesting that it has come from an author in the PRC. When I first heard about the book, I was surprised that a PRC national had dared to write, much less publish, such a work. I am glad to see that Westview is considering making it available to a wider international readership, and I strongly encourage you to continue with your efforts to bring an English edition to press.
A caution to the press: If you do decide to proceed with the translation and publication of this work into English, I encourage you to look for a translator who knows both Chinese and Tibetan, so that Tibetan terms that have been translated or transliterated into Chinese in the original manuscript can be accurately translated or transliterated into English. There is often a huge gap between the Chinese translation or transliteration of a Tibetan term and the common English equivalent. If the Chinese terms are used as the primary referent for the English translation, the result is often incomprehensible to the reader more familiar with the Tibetan context. Such translations/transliterations can also be offensive: for example, the common use of terms such as \’\’Lamaism (lamajiao)\’\’ and \’\’Living Buddha (huofo)\’\’ in Chinese writings on Tibet are often considered by Tibetans and Tibet scholars to be inappropriate or even insulting. If you want this book to appeal to readers outside the Chinese Studies framework, it is important that you take these issues into consideration. You might also wish to consult with the author to see how he views this issue.