The Dragon in the Land of Snows: A History of Modern Tibet Since 1947, and: The Autobiography of a Tibetan Monk, and: Tears of Blood: A Cry for Tibet (review)
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Manoa 12.2 (2000) 183-184



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Book Review

The Dragon in the Land of Snows: A History of Modern Tibet Since 1947

The Autobiography of a Tibetan Monk

Tears of Blood: A Cry for Tibet

Literature & Culture

The Dragon in the Land of Snows: A History of Modern Tibet Since 1947 by Tsering Shakya. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999. 574 pages, cloth $29.95.

The Autobiography of a Tibetan Monk by Palden Gyatso with Tsering Shakya. New York: Grove Press, 1997. 288 pages, cloth $24.

Tears of Blood: A Cry for Tibet by Mary Craig. Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint, 1999. 380 pages, cloth $26.

The Dragon in the Land of Snows is the even-handed history of modern Tibet that's been much needed. Without such a balanced account of the country's recent travails, Tibet has been in danger of vanishing twice: first into the grasp of the PRC, which invaded and occupied the nation in 1950, and then into mythologized and misinformed notions of Tibet's culture and people. Impressively researched and written, The Dragon in the Land of Snows makes use of political documents and sources that have not come to light before, and clarifies to a great extent such difficult issues as the internal struggles of the Communist Party under Mao Tse-tung, the dynamics of the Cultural Revolution, the mediating role of the Dalai Lama, and the influences exerted by Cold War intrigues inside Tibet and throughout the region. It's clear that author Tsering Shakya is sympathetic to the plight of his countrymen, but his account is remarkably restrained, seeking fundamentally to be objective and leaving out, for the sake of dispassionate scholarship, the enormity of the events that impacted the lives of Tibetans.

In a separate context, however, Shakya relates precisely the horrifying effects of Chinese occupation on individual lives. The Autobiography of a Tibetan Monk is the harrowing first-person account of Palden Gyatso, who related the details of his life to Shakya during some three hundred hours of interviews in 1995. Tortured, starved, and subjected to horrendous living conditions, Palden Gyatso endured thirty-one years as a political prisoner of the Chinese. During his imprisonment, which began in 1959 when he was twenty-eight, he never gave up his dedication to Buddhist compassion for all beings--he had become a monk at age ten--nor stopped resisting the cruelty of his Chinese captors and their relentless efforts to break his spirit and "reform" his thoughts. In 1992, he escaped from Tibet and made his way across the border into Nepal, continuing on to India. He not only carried with him his eyewitness report of the Chinese depredation of Tibet and its people, but also managed to smuggle out electric cattle prods, stun guns, handcuffs, and other torture devices frequently used by prison guards --proof against the claims of the Chinese government that torture was forbidden in its prisons.

A third recent book that helps us understand the conditions in Tibet between 1950 and the present is Mary Craig's Tears of Blood. Clearly and forcefully written, Craig's history unfolds not through the lens of international politics but primarily through her interviews with numerous individuals who lived through the events of the last half century; in this regard, her book is an important companion to the other two reviewed here. Like The Dragon in the Land of Snows, it challenges the [End Page 183] official Chinese version of historical events; and like The Autobiography of a Tibetan Monk, its countermemory is rendered in the words of ordinary Tibetans who survived tremendous human-rights abuses.

All three of these books are necessary to an understanding of Tibet's past and present: some 1.2 million Tibetans--twenty percent of the population--were killed or died of starvation from 1950 to 1980; more than 100,000 people were sent to prison camps; and contemporary reports tell of hundreds of sterilizations and late-term...