assignment: Shangri-La, China

assignment: Shangri-La, China

Greetings from the torrid, sun-baked, desiccated desert of the American West.

In this hybrid essay, we share the good and the bad along with some unpleasant history and bring facts to your attention that you may not have been aware of.  In the upcoming photo essays of our current China series, the mood will be more upbeat with much less text and with nicer images.

Shangri-La in Tibetan means the ‘sun and moon in heart’, an ideal home only in heaven. This Chinese tourist attraction is located in western Yunnan province.  The surrounding county averages an elevation of more than 3,000 meters (close to 10,000 feet) above the level of the sea.

In our first image, we see our photographer with Tibetan girls.


Lucy with Tibetan girls


Although Shangri-La is not in Tibet proper, but is near to Tibet, we will provide some historical context – accurate context.  (My knowledge of Tibetan history, limited as it is, is drawn from much earlier studies and books read prior to the coming of the Internet.  I caution readers about relying on assertions from modern “official” Chinese sources.)

(For those not interested in the history, you can scroll down to the many photos below.)

While the world’s attention was focused on the Korean War (1950 – 1953), Chinese forces occupied Tibet.  The Tibetans know this as the year of the iron ox (1950 – 1951).  An abortive uprising in early 1959, allowed the young Dalai Lama and some Tibetans to escape to northern India (a hazardous, arduous trek over remote Himalayan passes).  In defense of its actions in Tibet, China asserts that Tibet has always been “an integral part” of China. Let’s briefly examine this claim.

It is true that during the Ching (or Manchurian) dynasty (1644 – 1912), the Chinese exercised a certain rather limited “suzerainty” over Tibet, but they never had effective control over Tibet (even though the Ching occupied some eastern Tibet border areas adjacent to Chinese provinces).  Centuries earlier, in the eighth and ninth centuries, the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907) and the Tibetans were in armed conflict but eventually achieved a peace that acknowledged the two countries’ respective areas of control.  The Tang did not annex Tibet nor incorporate it into China.  During the Sung Dynasty that followed the Tang, Tibet was largely left alone and the Tibetans had a long period of internal disunity. The Sung Dynasty’s attentions were increasingly focused on a succession of incursions and small-scale invasions in the north by various nomadic groups from the Mongolian steppes and from Manchuria.  In fact, we see the Sung Dynasty in the last half of its existence referred to as the Southern Sung as north China fell to northern barbarians early in the 12th century.

The only time that China and Tibet were ruled as a unit was in the 13th and 14th centuries when these were both ruled by the foreign Mongols (referred to by the Chinese as the Yuan Dynasty, 1279 – 1368).  But, it must be noted that Tibet succumbed to Mongol rule (in the 1240s) prior to the completion of the Mongol conquest of southern China (under Ghenghis’ grandsons, Mongke (died 1259) and then Kublai (died 1294)), and Tibet gained its full independence from Mongol rule (by 1358) prior to, and independent of, the Chinese expelling the Mongol rulers during the 1360s (and establishing the Ming Dynasty, 1368 – 1644).

Subsequent to achieving their independence and restoring a Chinese dynasty, the Ming built the Chinese economy up but left Tibet to rule itself.  They made no attempt to annex Tibet or occupy it for any length of time.  We see early Dalai Lamas during this period being recognized as the de facto head of state in Tibet.  (There is debate here among historians on this point.  Tibet may have been a “tributary” state (paying tribute) to Ming China, but it was not annexed and made an integral part of China during this time.)

Thus, as one can see, there is no substance, no truth to the claim that Tibet “has always been an integral part of China”.  The Tibetans are (and have been) a different people, with a different language and different culture, and with a separate and distinct history (who only desired to be left alone).  It seems that the existence of an independent Tibet was a grave insult to Chinese pride in the minds of Mao and his cohorts!

In various UN documents, there are high-sounding words about the right of peoples to self-determination.  The sad plight of the Tibetans is yet another example where this right has been denied to a people.

The wanton destruction of the Tibetan culture and the brutal oppression (with many deaths and much suffering and hardship) of the Tibetan people since the 1950s is a terrible crime against humanity that many people in the world are ignorant of or do not fully appreciate.  The Chinese leaders in Beijing operate from the premise that might makes right.  We see this today in the South China Sea as China (with its navy) is bullying the countries of the region (Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia) in its attempts at securing the oil resources of the region.

Now, let us start our photo tour.

Here we see a Tibetan style building in Shangri-La.


Tibetan building


The local tour guide pictured here.


China 100 local tour guide


Lucy with a local young woman.


China 99


Making Tibetan tea.


making Tibetan tea


Lucy with a Tibetan man. Coincidence – that the clothing is almost the same color?


Lucy with Tibetan man


Recently constructed homes.


China 98


Loose live stock.


China 97


Local food stall.


China 95


Another view.


China 96


A recently constructed temple from a distance.


China 94


A closer view.


China 93


Nearby buildings.


China 92


Ongoing construction.


China 91


Different view of earlier temple.


China 90


Another nearby scene.


China 89


We have seen the good, and now we turn to the bad.  Tourists were told that there was a recent fire in this town that did much damage still visible in these remaining images.  What is puzzling is there is so little evidence of charred, blackened materials destroyed in the fire.  Perhaps, these have already been removed by the local authorities as this is a tourist attraction.  In the last pics below, one may wonder if the fire was also accompanied by an earth tremor.  (I am wondering if the rarefied air is adversely impacting our photographer pictured here.)


China 82


Some destruction shown here.


China 80


Another view with clouds in sky.


China 86


Closer in now.


China 85


More local damage.


China 88


Deep blue sky seen here.


China 87 burned down area


More damage.  Hope we are not stressing the point to excess.


China 81


Stone, concrete and brick construction.


China 84


Another view.  Reminiscent of a war zone.


China 83


Next essay, we will change the venue and the subject matter.  Stay tuned.

Copyright 2014 –

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