Weekend Reading

Recollections of books carried back and forth on the elevated train -- in a long-term, though belated, attempt to learn something about the world.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Heinrich Harrer : Seven Years in Tibet

Tibetan independence has been a politically sensitive subject ever since this book was first published in 1952.

What's good about Harrer's narrative is that he focuses on just what he's seen - both the good and the bad of the Tibetan monarchy.

But there's no disputing that he had joined the Nazi party -- so it's not surprising that the trappings of absolute authority appealed to him, especially when it coincided with his personal benefit - and one can note - that this appears to be what most concerns the author. He wants to have a good time -- which for him at that time, meant adventure - climbing new peaks and seeing new things. He appears to have had no connections with anyone back in Germany - it's as if he were an orphan with no siblings.

This story ends when Harrer fled the country after the Chinese invasion in 1951 (no fun in sticking around with a lame-duck regime)-- so there's no discussion of the consequences of Chinese rule - except in a postscript that accuses them of genocide.

But the glimpses of Tibetan rule in the late 1940's do not especially flatter that regime, even if Harrer was quite happily surprised about his quick rise at court to become a personal friend of the teenage Dalai Lama.

Tibet was ruled by an aristocracy of 200 families and the abbots of the major monasteries - and this system seemed to have had little concern for welfare of the rest of the population - which Harrer shows living on the edge of starvation, with minimal infrastructure (nothing more than footpaths) and at the mercy of bandits.

And despite their deliberate isolationism, they seemed to have had no problem with obtaining and using whatever products of modern civilization pleased them.

After the disintegration of the Chinese state in the warlord era of the early 20th C., Tibet enjoyed a 40 year window of autonomy within which the ruling class might have attempted to adapt its country to the modern world, as say, the Japanese had done during the Meiji era. Instead -- they sought nothing more than personal advantage and were utterly alone and helpless when the People's Liberation Army began to mass at the border.

Assuming that the protective deities were in control of the situation - it's not too farfetched to imagine that they may have decided to let that theocratic state with its 6000 monasteries pass into history. As Herrer describes them, none of the top clerics seemed all that enlightened, and the lower orders of monks were like gangs of hoodlums.

One item of interest is Harrer's report on the coup attempted by the 7th Rimpoche. Did he really mail a bomb to the monk who succeeded him as regent? In this kind of closed society, the only reports are rumors - so who knows what really happened.


Anonymous obat rematik said...

thank you for share

July 21, 2014  

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