Drop That: Cruising the Xinhua Bookstores in Lhasa

About forty minutes before I was due to vacate downtown Lhasa, I scampered across town over to the largest Xinhua bookstore (naturally, it was right across from the Tibet Autonomous Region Party Committee Headquarters, the nerve center of political power in Tibet).  There I found a few things: collections of Mao’s writings about Tibet, a new text based on reminiscences of an old Guomindang cadre in Tibet about Lhasa from 1944-1949, a hefty tome with a Carmina Burana style cover translating Melvyn Goldstein’s 1990s big book on the Demise of the Lamaist State, a new Party history of Tibet that has a slender but present chapter on the Cultural Revolution, and also the fact that apparently one cannot get a map of Tibet in the Tibetan language in Tibet.  (One can, however, get a map of all of China and East Asia which is exclusively in Tibetan.)

Probably one of the most interesting texts I found was published in January 2009, an extensive text “for the study of cadre” obviously prepared in response to the March 2008 uprising in Lhasa.  Edited by Niu Zhifu (牛治富), the title is 西藏”四观两论”:干部读本 (Xizang siguan lianglun: ganbu duben, or, Four Views and Two Theories on Tibet: Reading Materials for Party Members). I’m in and out of this text in staged encounters as plowing straight through it would cause contusions of various kinds, but here are some interesting facts I have gathered thus far between its golden covers:

The editorial committee, consisting of 15 people, includes 4 Tibetans; it is full of course of the ever-present imperative towards development (fazhan/发展) as well as the standard keywords of “integration and harmony”.

(Speaking of fazhan, just as the word “sinicized” has entered the vocabulary, perhaps one can also speak of getting “fazhan-ized” in the sense of converting wholesale to a way of life in which incomes, roads, and living standards become one’s guiding forces, or having a kind of fascination [or fazhanation, if you will] with economic data).

A great deal of basic education is contained in this text about China’s religion policy in Tibet, and we learn that China has signed a number of UN Declarations on religious freedom, but also that non-believers (particularly those under 18) have a right to be protected from proselytizing even by their parents; e.g., children under 18 years of age should not be allowed to enter monasteries as pupils until after their fully bilingual and secular standard education is completed.

In the Cultural Revolution, we learn, “Tibet had the same experience as the rest of China”; we learn that the Party is now promoting an appreciation for the scientific value of Buddhism even as it classifies Buddhism into 5 types, that ancient histories can be reinterpreted as homage to today’s Beijing by substituting “中央政府/Central Government” for “国王/king.”

Further, the document emphasizes the potentially dangerous character of Tibetan Buddhism by noting its international character (literally, its “boundary-leaping” character), that the religion has adherents all over China, that the Dalai Lama is a splittist, that religion is often tied to imperialism, but all the same that today’s PRC is still just less than 100 years removed from an immense historical epoch during which the church exerted tremendous power over the state.

Hu Jintao is perched in this document not so much as an original thinker, but as a successor to Jiang Zemin, the man whose calligraphy litters Tibet (one can find it ostentatiously on the Monument to the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet opposite the Potala Palace, and in the Potala Palace itself, and exhorting schoolchildren in rural Jiangze!) and whose strategy continues in Tibet, with often rapid strides away from the compromises extended by the reformer Hu Yaobang in the early 1980s.

Finally, in addition to Marx Marx and more Marx, we get statistics for the entire Chinese nation:

– 13,000 monasteries

– 200,000 monks (including lamas)

– 120,000 nuns

– 1700 living Buddhas


  1. Your tag: nationalities theory.
    I have no brief one way or another re Tibet and abandoned academia ages ago, but here goes. Pointed out in a number of posts, that Benedict Andersons Imagined Communities could be of use in explaining modern Tibet. Feudalism @ almost universal illiteracy: PRC intervention and then the spread of literacy/print media which in term engendered Tibetan national identity vis a vis the Han.

    On the subject of Marx. Chinese theoreticians – meet a couple of uni types who dealt in this arcane disciple – are beyond ignorant, when it comes to understanding even basic concepts. One even had the temerity to then to tell me he was also an expert on Althusser, Lacan and Foucault.

    On a lighter note, I found a copy of Mein Kamph in mandarin in a Fuzhou flea market.

  2. I’d recommend choosing a new template – on this current one, and in this browser, the right sidebar doesn’t even appear when I’m loading the homepage with a number of posts in a row.
    That’s also why I’m commenting here, rather than under “About”.

    1,700 Living Buddhas? In China alone? And I thought that Shingtsa Tenzinchodrak was a very special someone…

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