Posts Tagged ‘China’

Its worn yellowish façade looked faded and weather-beaten from years of abuse at the hands of the harsh Tibetan elements. Juxtaposed to the polished ivory-white bone of its much younger counterparts, the bowl seemed to exude a sort of primeval energy, as if thousands of years of Tibetan history were contained within its brittle exterior.

But did I dare break the most sacred of western taboos, purchasing something made of human bone? Would such an act call forth the ire of the gods, cursing me for dishonouring a person’s remains, or would it, as thought in Tibetan culture, allow the person to continue to live on through use in religious rites and art?

Whatever the consequences, in that moment they were the farthest thing from my mind, as my only worry was that the dried and brittle bone would be too delicate to survive the rest of my trip through Tibet, let alone the arduous return flight home. But pushing away such questions, I began something I never would have dreamed of doing…haggling over a human skull.



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A bolt of lightning tore through the tumultuous Tibetan sky, momentarily illuminating the dirt track in front of our Landcruiser. The driver glanced nervously in his rear-view mirror, understanding fully that an uncomfortably bumpy dirt track would turn into an impassable quagmire if the storm managed to overtake us.

But amidst that darkening scene the sky in front of us told a completely different story, as dark browns mixed with rich reds and vibrant yellows to form one of the most breathtaking sunsets I had ever seen. Then, after just a moment it was all gone and our 4×4 was once again plunged into total darkness. We were racing across the high Tibetan plateau, 5000 meters above sea level, in the middle of nowhere, and our journey to the immensely spiritual Mt. Kailash had barely begun.

Little did I know when I left the sleepy little Tibetan town of Lhatse earlier that day that it would be the last time I saw a paved road for the next four or five days. While I knew that completing a three-day high-elevation hike around Kailash, one of the most religiously significant mountains in all Asia, would take sacrifice, I had little notion the sacrifices would begin days before I actually laid my eyes on the mountain itself.


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The temperature outside was an unfathomable 3461 degrees Celsius, or at least that’s what the information screen mounted at the end of my train car told me. Of course, minutes earlier the display had read -1340 degrees C, so either I was on the surface of Mercury or the device wasn’t to be trusted.

Regardless, the train was a welcome respite from the blazing heat I had experienced the preceding days as I had wandered the surprisingly Western looking streets of Beijing.

I had been in China for only three (3) days and while I quickly had become adept at dodging the ridiculously overpriced tea girls wandering the streets, I had yet to see anything that I would consider distinctly Chinese, or better yet, distinctly communist.

While my experience in rural China would be much different, what I discovered in the metropolitan hubs was nothing like what I had expected: Cultural seclusion had morphed into uncritical cultural adoption, a feeling of communist camaraderie had turned into egotistical self-interest, and the self-titled beacon of communism in the world had, as a matter of fact, become quite capitalistic.

In fact, as one particularly insightful guide had quipped during a tour of the Forbidden City, “the Forbidden City,” indeed much of China, I discovered, “…not so forbidden anymore.”


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Since the People’s Republic of China entered into Tibet over 60 years ago, the communist country has faced one particular lingering issue, one that it simply can’t get control of. You see, the problem for China since its “liberation” of Tibet is that the picturesque Land of Snow nestled amongst the towering Himalayan mountains has been, unfortunately for the Chinese government, filled with Tibetans.

For years the Chinese government has tried everything it can think of to placate the Tibetan masses. They’ve tried oppressing them, killing them, humiliating them, and forcing their politico-spiritual leaders into exile, but strangely none of those tried and true methods of winning the hearts and minds of a conquered peoples has seemed to work.

However, in recent years the Chinese government has instituted a different solution to the Tibetan question, an approach that is deviously simple and devastatingly effective…they’re breeding them out.


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Let’s be honest here, the chances are good that you have no idea who or what the Panchen Lama is, more so who Gedhun Choekyi Nyima is and why he’s important, but as May 17th approaches, the more people who understand the plight of the Panchen Lama, the more that may be done for the cause of freedom for the people of Tibet.

You see, on May 15th, 1995, a few short weeks after his sixth birthday, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima was named as the 11th Panchen Lama, the second highest spiritual and political position in Tibetan Buddhism, by Tenzin Gyatso, the current Dalai Lama.

While none of this may seem all that important to anyone other than Tibetan Buddhists and academics of religion, the story takes a dark turn, as on May 17th, 1995, only two days after he was divined as the next Panchen Lama, Nyima and his entire family were forcibly taken into protective custody by the communist Chinese government, and since that day no one, outside the Chinese government I would assume, has ever seen or heard from any of them.

Now as Nyima approaches his 21st birthday, it’s time again to ask the difficult questions as to his whereabouts, for even if the Chinese government was intending to protect the next Panchen Lama, they have yet to indicate what they are actually protecting him from for all these years.

The story, however, takes an even more sinister turn when you realize that the Chinese government moved quickly to name an alternate Panchen Lama, commonly known as Qoigyijabu, who at the time was a young boy of two communist party parents. It is Qoigyijabu, the Chinese government declares, who is the real and authentic Panchen Lama, a controversy that we’ll see come to its full when the current Dalai Lama dies.

You see, as the second most powerful spiritual and political ruler in Tibet, the Panchen Lama has the duty of divining the next incarnation of the Dalai Lama, meaning that if the Chinese government controls the Panchen Lama, they also control both the future spiritual leader of Tibet and the sect of Buddhism practiced there as well.

While I have yet to visit Tibet, I spent considerable time this past year in Dharamshala, a mountainous Indian city in the north of the country, home too many Tibetan refugees and the official seat of the Tibetan government in exile. Though I already knew of the plight of the Panchen Lama, the seriousness of the issue was brought to my attention as I visited with the locals in this place, many of whom are unsure of the future of their culture, religion, and homeland once the current Dalai Lama passes away.

For those that are versed in Tibetan history, it was Tenzin Gyatso, the current Dalai Lama, who, as a young man was first lured by the promise of power from the communist government, but then, seeing the persecution inflicted upon his people urged for Tibetan independence, who has been the primary driving force behind the continued call for Tibetan freedom from Chinese rule. Upon the death of the current Dalai Lama, there will be few left with the same passion or power to take up the Tibetan cause, and with the Chinese working to infiltrate Tibetan spiritual and political life with their own chosen Panchen Lama, the future of Tibetan culture and religion seems tenuous at best.

In the end, however, as the middle of the month comes and goes, I fear little will change. Nevertheless, I urge you all to spend a few moments considering the plight of both the Tibetan people and Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, who, if still alive, has probably not enjoyed the last fifteen years of his life in Chinese protective custody.

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