Join our Mailing List

"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Archives plundered to render long-lost Tibet

October 6, 2008

Jill Rowbotham
The Australian
October 5, 2008

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 5, The Lost World of Tibet, 7.30pm, ABC1

EXOTIC barely begins to describe 1930s Tibet, where 20 per cent of
the male population were monks and life revolved around the 68 annual
religious festivals. The main street of Lhasa looked medieval, 200
families made up the civil service and the top jobs were reserved for
the 30 of highest status.

Polygamy and polyandry were accepted and no one thought life could be
any different.

This documentary presents an opportunity to literally get the picture
of this vanished society through archived films of Tibet as it was
before the 1950 Chinese invasion tore away centuries of culture and
tradition and forced into exile its human symbol, the 14th Dalai Lama.

It is almost too easy to slip into the hyperbole of tragedy when
talking about nations that have suffered and lost, but with Tibet
there is no need to exaggerate. This documentary makes the point
without labouring it.

And while Tenzin Gyatso is the most exposed religious figure on the
planet after the Pope, seeing him as a five-year-old, stiffly but
closely posed with his family on arrival in Lhasa, and later
recalling his fate, only the hardest heart could remain unmoved.

Cleverly, these producers sought his co-operation and so there he is,
a large-as-life septuagenarian peering at this old film and exclaiming over it.

"My mother was very, very gentle, almost I never saw her show any
temper, a very nice woman," he says. "At the beginning she was
illiterate; later, with her own effort, she could read." The Dalai
Lama is a proud and loving son who notes how much hemissed her during
a monastic childhood that required their frequent separation.

If some feel he tends to laugh too much, perhaps the source of this
can be found in his memory that as a 10-year-old, he realised people
liked him to smile.

But it wasn't all work and pressure: he recalls picnic season and the
opera. The program also includes colourful scenes of aristocratic tea
parties, although he did not attend them.

At 16 the Dalai Lama was enthroned, becoming the temporal as well as
spiritual leader of the nation. He returned from a 1954 visit to
China to take his exams. Mao's parting shot was to tell him,
"Religion is poison." Without much preparation, he was required to
debate the abbots at three monasteries and recalls his relief when it was over.

Spiritual relief, that is, but the decision to send him into exile in
1959 brought an additional respite: as he reached southern Tibet,
ready to cross into India, he says the thought of it "made some
exciting feelings -- freedom!".
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
Developed by plank