Magazine article The Spectator

'The Division of Heaven and Earth: On Tibet's Peaceful Revolution', by Shokdung. Translated by Matthew Akester - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'The Division of Heaven and Earth: On Tibet's Peaceful Revolution', by Shokdung. Translated by Matthew Akester - Review

Article excerpt

Tibetans were once fabled warriors. Their empire, at the summit of its power in the eighth century, extended to northern India, western China and central Asia. The Arabs, making inroads into central Asia, were in awe of them. And China, according to an inscription commissioned to memorialise Tibet's conquest of the Tang Chinese capital of Changan in 763, 'shivered with fear' at their mention. But the Tibet annexed by Mao Zedong in the 20th century bore no trace of its imperial past.

When the People's Liberation Army struck in 1950, Tibet, having metamorphosed over a millennium into a reclusive hagiarchy, possessed neither the vocabulary to parley with the communists nor the strength to resist them. Its response to this worldly threat was to retreat into ritual. A 15-year-old boy called Tenzin Gyatso, identified some years before as the 14th Dalai Lama, was hastily confirmed as Tibet's supreme ruler. His delegation to Beijing the following year signed away Tibet's sovereignty without consulting him. What ensued was a protracted act of gratuitous savagery. Mao called it 'liberation'. Monasteries were razed, monks executed, thousands of nonviolent protesters massacred, and many thousands more detained, starved, tortured, uprooted and carted away to communes to toil in conditions so severe that some resorted to cannibalism in order to survive. In 1959, the Dalai Lama, facing imminent capture, escaped to India.

At no point in their history, the influential Tibetan author Tragya, who publishes under the pen name Shokdung ('wake-up call'), writes in The Division of Heaven and Earth, were Tibetans made to endure such sustained misery. Swiftly banned by the Chinese Communist party when it was first published in Tibet in 2008, the book is now available for the first time in English. It is a haunting indictment of China's colonial project in Tibet, and if the charges contained in it are so bruising for Beijing, it is because the person making them was not long ago regarded by the CCP as a fellow traveller. Shokdung attained notoriety in the 1990s for his attacks on Tibet's religious 'tumour of ignorance'. Beijing immediately sought to co-opt him.

The uprising of 2008, when thousands of Tibetans streamed into the streets demanding an end to Chinese occupation and the return of the Dalai Lama, upended Shokdung's world. China expelled journalists from Tibet and set its military loose on the protesters. It was a bloodbath. …

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