Sunday, February 28, 2010

Creating Shangri-la

By Anthony Vasquez

The meeting between President Barack Obama and the Dalai Lama in the White House earlier this month briefly put Tibet in the headlines once again. Beijing’s public show of disappointment with the event was expected.

For many in the United States, Tibet is viewed as a land of peace, a place where for centuries spiritual liberation has been found amid the Himalayas. Beginning in the late 1980s, the Free Tibet movement has given the current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, a chance to tell the world of China’s invasion and occupation of Tibet and continuing human rights violations there.

Of course, it is not as though Tibet had a utopian society before the People’s Liberation Army made its way onto the Tibetan Plateau in 1950. As with most things, it is more complicated than that.

Donald S. Lopez Jr., author of Prisoners of Shangri-La, uncovers the sources of some myths about Tibet, myths which Lopez argues that when told as fact undermine an honest appraisal of contemporary Tibet and the Tibetan people’s future.

In “Seven Things You Didn’t Know about Tibet”, Lopez outlines his argument. Here is an excerpt from the article:

"Shangri-La" is a fictional name for Tibet. James Hilton invented the name in his 1933 novel Lost Horizon, which was made into a film by Frank Capra in 1937. "Shangri" has no meaning in Tibetan; "La" means "mountain pass." The name is apparently a garbling of Shambhala, a mythical Buddhist kingdom in the Himalayas. "Shangri-La" quickly came into common usage as a place where all that is good and true is preserved.

The Chinese government has capitalized on the allure of Tibet. In 2002, a town in Yunnan Province was renamed to Shangri-La and the tourists have been pouring in.


The China Beat
Reading Round-Up: Barack Obama and the Dalai Lama
February 18, 2010

The Wall Street Journal
Shangri-La, or Not
By Leslie Hook
November 3, 2008

BBC News
Regions and territories: Tibet

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