Cultural Policy: History Book Banned, Tibetan Culture Declared "Non-Buddhist" -
   A play has been banned and a book withdrawn from sale in Tibet in the  run-up to a new campaign to "make socialist literature and art prosper".  The campaign orders Tibetan writers to reflect the views of the working  class, redefines Tibetan culture as non-Buddhist, and attacks resistance  to Chinese cultural influence in Tibet.  

   The banning of the two works, both of which were accounts of 17th  century Tibetan history, came to light after they were publicly  condemned in the speech which launched the literature campaign in the  Tibet Autonomous Region, delivered by the region's Party Secretary on  11th July.  

   The new campaign, which singles out for attack Tibetan historians and  researchers at the University of Tibet, condemns the teaching of  religion at the University and the inclusion of Buddhism in the study of  Tibetan history and culture.  

  The banned book and the play were both about the Potala Palace, formerly the seat of the Dalai Lamas' government in Lhasa, and included references to Sangye Gyatso, the chief minister of the 5th Dalai Lama (1617-82), who was responsible for constructing much of the Palace. 

 "The political tendencies and ideological contents of literary and artistic works are not controlled strictly and accurately," said Party Secretary Chen in his 11th July speech, according to the text published in the official Tibet Daily on 16th July and issued in translation by the BBC Monitoring Service last week. 

 "There are also a small number of literary and artistic works which, by turning things upside down, extol what should not be extolled, and even go all out to sing the praises of the separatist chieftain Di-ba Sang-jie Jia- cuo," Chen continued. 

 There are no previously known reports of Chinese condemnation of Sangye Gyatso as a "separatist" leader, but official Chinese histories criticise him because during a face to face meeting in Beijing in 1693 he tricked the Qing Emperor Shengzu into giving him an honorary title by handing him a letter of greetings from the 5th Dalai Lama - who had in fact died 11 years earlier. The Emperor found out about the death in 1695, by which time Sangye Gyatso had appointed the 6th Dalai Lama without informing China. Gyatso then rejected further requests from Shengzu, including a demand that the then Panchen Lama should be sent to Beijing. 

 The banned play, "Potala'i Sangdam" or "Secrets of the Potala", was produced by the Lhasa Theatre Troupe in 1996 and toured China until the Tibetan authorities banned it late last year, citing unspecified "political reasons". The play was based on a film produced by the same group which has been banned for at least six years, reportedly because it showed the 5th Dalai Lama meeting the Chinese Emperor Shizu in 1652 without performing a kow-tow. 

 The book that has been withdrawn was a lavishly illustrated guide to the treasures and history of the Potala Palace with commentaries in Chinese, Tibetan and English edited by the scholar Thubten Gyaltsen. The book was withdrawn in about December last year, reportedly because of official disapproval of a portrait of Sangye Gyatso which was included in the book. 

  - Tibetan Culture "Non-Buddhist" - 

 Party Secretary Chen's attack on Tibetan scholars is part of an new ideological definition of Tibetan culture, refuting in particular the view "equating Tibetan national culture with Tibetan religion, alleging that the Tibetan national culture is actually a Buddhist culture and that there would 

  "Buddhism is a foreign culture," said Chen, describing the idea that Tibetan culture is Buddhist as "utterly absurd". Tibetan culture flourished for over a millenium before the introduction of Buddhism in the 8th century. 

 "The view of equating Buddhist culture with Tibetan culture not only does not conform to reality but also belittles the ancestors of the Tibetan nationality and the Tibetan nationality itself," he said. 

 The speech criticises "some others [who] say that college teaching material will be void of substance if religion is not included and that in that case, colleges would not be real colleges ... They have no reason whatsoever to make such an allegation." The attack is believed to refer to Tibetan staff at the University in Lhasa who have complained about a plan to reduce the religious content of Tibetan studies. 

 Chen attacks unnamed people "claiming to be authorities" who have made "such shameless statements confusing truth and falsehood", and goes on to link them to the pro-independence movement. 

 "Comrades who are engaged in research on Tibetan culture should be indignant at such statements. Making use of religion in the political field, separatists now go all out to put religion above the Tibetan culture and attempt to use the spoken language and culture to cause disputes and antagonism between nationalities," says Chen. "This is the crux of the matter," he added. 

  - Sinification Essential - 

 The new ideological position on Tibetan culture also defines foreign, predominantly Chinese, influence as essential to ensuring the strengthening of the culture. "All comrades who are conscious and strive for cultural progress should welcome cultural exchanges and be a promoter in this regard," says Chen. The remarks suggests that any opposition to sinification will be seen as opposition to social progress and improvement. 

 "It is absolutely necessary and beneficial to have cultural exchanges between various nationalities," Chen explains. "Advocating cultural segregation by the Dalai clique is aimed at practicing political separatism". 

 Chen later makes it clear that the exchange should be mainly with China. "They were created together by comrades of Tibetan and Han nationalities in literary and art circles, which were a result of learning from one another and of their concerted efforts," he says of his favourite Tibetan songs. 

 "Tibetan literary and artistic works cannot do without exchanges and merging with cultures of other nationalities. A prerequisite and a large background are that the Tibetan nationality stands erect among the 56 nationalities of the Chinese nation," he notes, arguing that the Tibetan Empire became prosperous in the 8th century because it sent Tibetans to study in Chang'an, the then Chinese capital. 

 Although the main purpose of the nation-wide literature campaign is to encourage selectivity in the "study and use for reference of foreign cultures", the campaign in Tibet does not refer to selective borrowing from Chinese culture. 

 Chen's attack on the view which regards Tibetan culture as unvariegated or as mainly Buddhist is in line with most modern scholarship on the subject, as is his view that cultures gain from absorbing outside influences. 

  - Threats - 

 The "progessivist" and secular definition of culture in Tibet indicates increasing sophistication in China's ideological handling of the Tibetan dispute, but it is likely to cause serious concern among Tibetan intellectuals because of implicit threats in the speech against any critics of the new position. 

 "Only the Dalai clique can make such shameless remarks. To win some support from the international hostile forces, he has to tell some tales and fabricate some lies to malign our country and its policies," Chen says of the argument that Tibetan culture is at risk. "What merits our attention is that there are some people in the interior of the country who are also peddling such arguments," he adds. 

 The Party Secretary refers to "the Dalai" seventeen times in his speech, defining any divergence from the new position on culture as support for the exile leader and the pro-independence movement. Support for the movement is a criminal offence in Tibet. 

 "This is retrograde, old-fashioned Marxism," says Professor Ronald Schwartz, a Canadian sociologist who specialises in Tibet. "It takes culture in Tibet very seriously and sees it as a threat to the regime in a way that Beijing would not if Chinese writers were exploring these little avenues." 

 "Ever since the liberalisation there has been this group of intellectuals in Tibet who have stayed out of politics visibly at least because they saw their function as preserving Tibetan literature and culture," says Professor Schwartz. "For over a decade they have been able to recruit their students and teach their classes, and what he has finally done now is to go for that group, which had been immune until now." 

 The use of these arguments by the Party leadership could explain why China has recently encouraged the work of leading Tibetan and western intellectuals researching pre-Buddhist Tibet. Study of the pre-Buddhist era, when Tibet had no political links with China, had until now been seen by academics as a way of avoiding recruitment by Chinese politicians seeking support for Beijing's sovereignty claims. 

 The tone of the campaign is likely to accelerate the existing slow-down in Tibetan publications in Tibet and China. There is only one fully operative Tibetan-language printing press in the Tibet Autonomous Region, and funding for academic and literary publications has been hard to obtain since 1992. 

  - Nation-wide campaign - 

 Each province and region of China is expected to carry out its own version of a nation-wide campaign launched in May to "promote and prosper socialist literature with Chinese characteristics". The campaign is based on a speech on advancing literature and art issued by President Jiang Zemin in December last year. 

 The national campaign calls for an end to the adoption in Chinese art of Western-inspired decadence - probably a reference to pornography, which is now prominent in Chinese fiction - and for more artistic creativity and discussion, as well as study of classical Marxist theory on culture. Writers and artists are also told to mix more with "the people" and to serve socialism. 

 The Tibet campaign does not mention artistic creativity and discussion or advocate "letting a hundred flowers bloom and a hundred schools of thought contend", the slogan which dominated Jiang's original speech on culture last December. 

 In the Tibet campaign speech - unlike the published national speeches - Party Secretary Chen applies a class analysis to Tibetan culture, dividing it into working class culture and ruling class culture. 

 Ignoring the distinction between working class and upper class culture is equivalent to the Dalai Lama's claim that traditional Tibetan culture is under threat, says Chen, pointing out that this is based on the assumption that there is only one culture in Tibet and that the Dalai Lama and his serfs all did the same work or shared the same culture. "What he [the Dalai] called the restoration of traditional religion, culture, and history, in short, means the restoration of the system of unification of the state and the church and the serf system," said Chen. 

 Chen's definition of working class culture does not include any reference to religion and implies that both religion and "things enjoyed by the upper ruling class, which constituted the culture of the ruling class," should not be taken up by contemporary Tibetans. 

 The speeches by President Jiang and the People's Daily commentaries had avoided class analysis, did not mention the working class, and listed fine arts, photography, literature, film, and calligraphy amongst praiseworthy art forms. 

 The Tibet Party Secretary commends art created "by working people", which he defines as "folk dances, poems, songs, and regional dances" created by members of the working class. He describes these art forms as "the inexhaustible source of traditional national culture which we should inherit". The phrase relates to Chen's other principal argument, which is that all except for the best aspects of traditional culture should be rejected and discontinued. "In inheriting the culture, it is necessary to analyse it, to discard its dross, and carry forward the good part of it. The development of national culture is a result of "developing what is useful or healthy and discarding what is not"," said Chen, quoting Chairman Mao. 

 Works held up as exemplary in the Tibet campaign are mainly socialist songs and dances, notably three Tibetan songs from the 1950s - "On Gold Mountain in Beijing", "Bitter Becomes Sweet After the Arrival of the Communists", and "Emancipated Serfs Are Singing". 

 Praise is also given for a contemporary work called the "Wall-Building Song" because it is "about the life of working people" and "ideologically and emotionally reflects the happiness, anger, grief, and joy of the masses". Raidi, Chen's immediate deputy, is cited as praising a recent dance piece called "Emancipated Serfs Go to College". 

 In the same speech Chen returned to the issue of increasing Chinese-language education in primary schools, first raised by one of his deputies three months earlier. "In Tibet, it is practical and correct to vigorously develop bilingual teaching according to the provisions of the "Law Governing Regional National Autonomy"," Chen said, again linking any disagreement with this to "discord sown and sabotage carried out by hostile forces". As in the April statement, the speech was unclear about whether the change means an increase in the number of lessons devoted to learning Chinese or in the number of subjects taught through the medium of Chinese. 

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[This Version: 20 August 1997]
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TIN News Update / 15 August, 1997 / total pages: 3 ISSN 1355-3313