Tibetan culture 'live and kicking'

October 24, 1997

SINCE the Chinese People's Liberation Army marched into Lhasa in 1951, the worldwide Tibetan movement has campaigned vigorously about the destruction of the country and culture.

But a meeting of Western academics on Tibetan studies in Beijing has expressed surprise at United States congressman Frank Wolf's recent remarks that "Tibetan language and culture are being destroyed" and criticised him as being "arrogant and ignorant".

Republican Frank Wolf, who sneaked into Tibet disguised as a tourist, said his four-day tour to Tibet revealed how the region was being "swallowed" by China with mass arrests and brutal repression, and that Tibetan language and culture are being destroyed. He called on the West to "take urgent action to save" the ancient Himalayan Buddhist culture.

Academics from the US, Britain, Germany and Australia attending the 1997 Beijing Seminar on Tibetan Studies contested Mr Wolf's arguments, claiming that from their own experience Tibetan traditional culture is flourishing.

Their views were criticised by Tibetan pressure groups in the West for being over-influenced by the official Chinese position.

Cohn Mackerras, professor of Tibetology at Griffith University and chairman of the Modern Asian Studies School in Australia, said: "Wolf's remarks are nonsense. It's absolutely nonsense.

"He claims to know everything, but his remarks obviously show he knows nothing of the Tibetan culture and obviously he has never been to Tibetan rural areas," Professor Mackerras said.

Professor Mackerras, who has made five visits to the Tibet Autonomous Region as well as the Tibetan areas of Qinghai, Gansu and Sichuan provinces, claimed "Tibetan culture is stronger than ever before."

"Religion, architecture and Tibetan arts will always remain. There will be more blending of cultures, but I don't think that the distinctive Tibetan culture is going to be lost or disappear."

He said he was aware many in the West say the Chinese government is destroying Tibetan culture, but it was at variance with what he had seen. "I sincerely believe the Chinese government is extending every possible effort to preserve Tibetan culture," he said.

University of California professor Nancy Levine said policies adopted in Tibet appeared to take local conditions into account. "Modernisation is reshaping people's way of life. There is no need for people to work 30 days a month nowadays, and residents have more time to travel, which are good things."

Richard Strassberg of the department of East Asian languages and cultures, University of California, Los Angeles, said he believed there was a "revival of traditional culture in Tibet and much was being done to preserve grottoes, paintings and renovate temples".

"I appreciate there are people who want to preserve the old city of Lhasa," said Peter Schwieger of the University of Bonn, Germany, who has toured 11 towns and villages in Tibet since 1986.

"I had the impression when I went there last time there were positive changes. They now appreciate the cultural history of Tibet more than before."

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