At the invitation of the Chinese government, a group of foreign journalists were allowed to visit an eastern Tibetan region in Kardze Prefecture, now Sichuan Province, at the end of August. The town near Daocheng Airport in the Hengduan Mountains was renamed "Shangri-La" in 2002 in reference to the mythical mountain paradise in James Hilton's 1933 novel "Lost Horizon." The report by one of these journalists in the newspaper “The Irish Times” leaves a surprising amount of space for the Chinese perspective on Tibet. This raises the suspicion that China wants to use this guided trip to counter the massive criticism recently expressed about the “Sinicization policy”.
A “bilingual kindergarten”, a “bilingual school”, a clinic and a Tibetan monastery were visited. Criticism of the boarding schools for Tibetan children with the risk of alienation from their culture is mentioned rather casually. For the most part, however, the report paints a very positive picture of China's Tibet policy and one that is certainly desired by the government. He also mentions the Chinese invasion, but this was led through eastern Tibetan regions where Tibetan “rulers and warlords” ruled.
Apparently bilingual education
First there is a report about a kindergarten and a primary school, accompanied by several color photographs showing well-dressed children and a lavish, very well-kept facility. According to teachers, from the first kindergarten class onwards, the children are taught “immersively” in Mandarin. The tenor of the report is that the children got used to the new language over time and that they would inevitably have to learn the Chinese language for later life anyway. In addition, the boarding school is the best solution for parents and relatives working in the region. Apparently 34 of the 37 teachers come from Tibet. The hosts emphasize that there are also 6 hours of Tibetan lessons per week and courses in Tibetan folk dance and Tibetan sports.
Roughly the same optimistic tone of ethnic equality can be heard in the section about the clinic for traditional Tibetan and Chinese medicine. The head doctor of the clinic, whose Tibetan name is only given in Chinese transcription, describes traditional Tibetan medicine to journalists, but in the end he says that modern "Western", Tibetan and Chinese medicine will merge in the future and that is all about the goal of “health”.
Monastery with no connection to the Dalai Lama
At the end there is a report on the visit to the Sangpiling Monastery, where the journalists are shown a picture of a lively religious life. Apparently 500 monks live there and the monastery can accommodate up to 5 believers. The abbot, whose Tibetan name only appears in Chinese as “Qiang Ba Ta La,” describes the monastery as being in the Gelug tradition of the Dalai Lama. However, “according to its historical tradition” it follows a “protective deity” whose worship the Dalai Lama has advised against since 000, and so there is no longer any connection to him. It is clearly emphasized that the Dalai Lama has decided in favor of separation. [Apparently the monastery follows the Shugden tradition, from which the Dalai Lama distances himself. In Tibet, Shugden monks were often seen at party and government functions. Members of the Shugden tradition regularly demonstrated in front of the venue with shouts of abuse during the Dalai Lama's foreign trips. The Shugden movement abruptly dissolved itself in 2016; AROUND]. The abbot further explains: “On the one hand, the state guarantees our religious autonomy and independence in the practice of our religion, on the other hand, the monasteries and monks love their country and respect the state and follow all its laws and regulations.” There is an “irreversible trend” towards “modernization, technology and digitalization”. The monastery would not oppose this but would accept it for its own benefit.
The Irish Times, 9. September 2023
Image: Book cover “Lost Horizon” by James Hilton