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Manoa 12.2 (2000) vii-xi

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Editor's Note

Twice a year, Manoa's editors gather significant new writing from throughout Asia, Oceania, and the Americas and highlight authors of a particular country or region. Song of the Snow Lion features prose and poetry of Tibet --a nation now subsumed within the borders of China. The volume marks the fiftieth anniversary of Chinese military occupation and the ascendancy of the Dalai Lama to leadership of the Tibetan people. The title refers to the snow lions that appear on the Tibetan flag, representing among other things the country's ancient unity. All but a few of the Tibetan writers featured in Song of the Snow Lion reside within Tibet. About half of the pieces were originally written in the Tibetan language; most of the others first appeared in Chinese-language publications.

As a result of China's seizure of Tibet--and the Communist Party's insistence, backed by its armed forces, that the country has always been part of China--many Tibetans and non-Tibetans alike feel that Tibet now exists freely and openly only outside its former national borders. In referring to the oppression of Tibetans within China and to the more than 100,000 living in exile, Kasur Lodi Gyari, the Dalai Lama's special representative in Washington, D.C., has said, "Today, everything that is Tibet--the culture, the religion, every aspect of Tibet--lives outside."

In the eyes of the United Nations and other international bodies, Tibet has indeed lost its autonomy. But since 1950, Tibetans have demonstrated how a people and culture can maintain a national identity in the face of extraordinary circumstances. During the first twenty years of Chinese rule, one-fifth of the country's population was starved, tortured, imprisoned, and killed as a result of Communist policies; at present, the Party's control is tighter than ever, and it continues to launch campaigns to accelerate sinicization, villify the Dalai Lama's government-in-exile, and quash any hope for the restoration of Tibetan independence. Nevertheless, the people have refused to submit.

Literature has played a significant part in this struggle. After the Chinese military invasion, one of the occupying government's major tasks was to educate Tibetans in the social and political ideals of Communism; to succeed, the government needed a medium for mass propaganda. Soon, however, [End Page vii] [Begin Page ix] the Communists found that their worldview and its terminology were so alien to the Tibetans that the language of the newly occupied people had no lexicon to adequately express Communist theory. Indeed, both written and oral Tibetan were syntactically incompatible with such socialist notions as a classless society. Furthermore, there was virtually no literary tradition in Tibet appropriate for indoctrinating the masses in socialist materialism and the Party's version of Sino-Tibetan history.

The Chinese therefore set out to dominate and colonize Tibetans first by altering the language and then by introducing modernist literary forms--such as secular fiction, poetry, and drama--as well as socialist realist visual images. Strict control was imposed on all expression. However, when the Chinese briefly relaxed censorship in the early 1980s, Tibetans were able to use the new literary forms to discuss among themselves many aspects of their political crisis--including issues of national identity, modernization, and religious values.

In his overview essay, "The Waterfall and Fragrant Flowers," co-guest editor Tsering Shakya explains how secular fiction and poetry emerged during this time. "Clearly, writers in Tibet and China lack the freedom to explore individual sentiments and subjects explicitly. Nevertheless," Shakya writes, "we can see that their work does not always merely follow the diktats of the Party, even when it is written in Chinese and published under the eyes of the censors....Although the line favored by the state and the Party is compulsory and all authors must seem to conform in order to be published, when we examine the writings themselves, their conformity is not quite so clear-cut."

Poet, essayist, and fiction writer Dhondup Gyal was one of the first and most important young Tibetan authors to demonstrate that modern...


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