Friday, November 26, 2010

"Fish Speaking Back to Ichthyologists": Two Blogposts on Chinese Tourists in Tibet

High Peaks Pure Earth has translated two blogposts written by young Tibetan netizens on similar topics, Chinese tourists in Tibet and their attitudes to Tibetans. 

The number of Chinese tourists to Tibet has 
dramatically increased over the past years and this looks set to continue with a number of luxury hotels either just opened or set to open over the next months. This article from UK's The Independent newspaper of November 3, 2010, centres on the opening of the St. Regis Hotel in Lhasa. The article says:
The surge of tourists to the Himalayan region has seen visitor numbers jump during the first nine months of 2010 to 5.8 million, up 23 per cent on the same period a year earlier.
And newly wealthy Chinese want luxury accommodation. "The St Regis Lhasa Resort offers refined luxury and superlative service in a storied city," gushes the breathless blurb on the St Regis website. "Discover Potala Palace and Norbulingka, UNESCO World Heritage Sites and Jokhang Temple, all minutes from our resort."

Tibetan netizens often use their blogs as spaces where they can vent frustration or anger or simply express their feelings on subjects that matter to them. Very often, these are written with a keen sense of irony in tone, our particular favourites have been by the Tibetan blogger "The Lost Curse" who wrote several incredibly sarcastic and witty blogposts that we translated, see here. Sadly this blogger stopped updating since writing about the earthquake in Kham in April 2010, a post that was deleted very soon after it was written. We hope to find this blogger blogging again one day!

Critical to understanding these two blogposts is the stereotypical Chinese view of Tibetans as being uncivilised, backward and primitive. As Tibetan historian Tsering Shakya writes:
The idea of the Tibetan being luohou (backward) is entrenched in the official state discourse on Tibet; and the perception has penetrated the Chinese popular image of Tibet. Yet it is notable how recent an invention this is: it has been systematised only after the conquest of 1959 [...] This makes it all the more shocking to the rulers when elements of this docile and indolent native population protest: like a fish speaking back to ichthyologists.
The following two bloggers are perhaps our fish speaking back to ichthyologists. Both criticise, in a creative and light-hearted way, Chinese tourists in Tibet and their attitudes towards Tibetans. The first blogpost, "I Dare to Ask, What Have You Come to Lhasa For?" was written by Gonpo Dorje in August 2010 and posted on his page on the Chinese language social networking site The post generated many comments, some of which have been translated below. This post was subsequently reposted by another Tibetan blogger on October 3, 2010.

I Dare to Ask, What Have You Come to Lhasa For?

(This essay has been very popular this week, it was written by a friend who came to Lhasa over the summer holiday. It is very well written, so I am going to share it with everyone. Tell me what you think!)

“Have you been to Tibet?” is becoming a more and more popular phrase nowadays, overheard frequently. It appears to be an important requirement one must fulfil, in order to give the impression of a fashionable and perfect life. Is this not crazy?

I don’t want to seem like an old miser, complaining everyday because I have nothing better to do. In fact, I see myself as quite an energetic and positive person in life. However, trying to achieve inner peace does not necessarily mean that one should not vent a little anger from time to time.

Some things, I believe, need to be justifiably critiqued harshly.

The question that I pose is, “I dare to ask, what have you come to Lhasa for?”

Culturally speaking, Tibet has many aspects that are unique to it. You don’t need to be overtly critical here as it already has its own established systems that perfectly express its own organic beauty.

These new tourists (please excuse my harsh words) need to act according to their new environment.

  1. When you come to Tibet, put aside for the time being, your vast framework of knowledge and try to be a little more modest in order to experience and understand this strange and different culture. You will not be able to interpret and describe everything fully using your pre-existing systems of knowledge or language. Obviously some people will always claim to be all-knowing and understand everything completely. When you encounter such types, the only thing you can do is step down graciously...

  2. When you come to Tibet, for the time being try to be a bit more contemplative and attentive, and concede to the fact that you don’t know everything. The Potala Palace in Lhasa has to bear the strain of hosting 4000 tourists every day, a heavy burden you must agree. Therefore, please be a bit more quiet and considerate when visiting this place, you flashy tourists with your sunglasses and cameras. A true traveller needs to read and adhere to notices and signs. If you were to visit Buckingham Palace, do you think they would allow you to be bustling around, disturbing everything in such a manner? China already has too many little emperors who think the world revolves around them, and there is no way of avoiding these people.

  3. When you come to Tibet, you will have to listen attentively to everything your tour guide says, this you cannot avoid. But if the tour guide is only reciting a list of government achievements, and lecturing you about the autobiography of Princess Wencheng, then I ask you this, is this really getting to the true history of Tibet? The central plains of China have always been rich and fertile, and the poor Princess was forced to marry Songtsen Gompo, who ruled over such a barren and backward land. So why and what did she sacrifice her own personal happiness for, is it not clear? This is outlandish fiction told by the tour guides!

  4. When you come to Tibet, remember the famous phrase “Lhasa is Sin City - the place where anything goes”. Both the Jokhang Temple and Potala Palace were built in order to honour Princess Wencheng, and the entire Tibetan cuisine came about because of Princess Wencheng. She is the reason why the moon and stars exist, why the Yangtze River flows. Princess Wencheng is the source and manifestation of everything in the world...

  5. When you come to Tibet, you will probably encounter some strange local people with novel and different traditions. Remember that here, everyone is primitive and backwards, so you’d better not appear to be too “advanced” for their own good. Just humour them by pretending to admire their quaint handiwork, and gawk at the natives’ crude and uncivilised mannerisms... how does that suit you?

  6. When you come to Tibet, you will take lots of photographs. Understand that this is to earn your traveller’s stripes and prove you’ve journeyed far and wide. There’s also no harm if it ensures that those people without the means to travel to Tibet can also be that little bit jealous of you. But have a little heart! Make sure you share those photographs you excitedly took during your travels with other people when you get back, and talk to them about the experiences you had there. This would normally be your moment to preach and show off the super-freedom you enjoy, but this is also the time where things will start unravelling, and doubts will begin to creep in, instead producing a “Me and My Misunderstandings of the World” moment.

  7. When you come to Tibet, you are free to do whatever you want, but please carry yourself as if you are one who is in harmony with the world, even if it is just temporarily for a moment.

  8. When you come to Tibet, I hope that you have a good trip, and that your towering intellect and pre-conceptions don't prevent you from doing so, Tashi Delek...

Gonpo Dorje
The Holy City, Evening of August 17, 2010


Yun Dan: As long as you kind of animals (Tibetans) live among us civilised people there will always be more and more problems, you’ll see. Why do you always focus on the negative side of things? I bet people are going to seek out where you live…

Dong Qian: Why is everyone arguing? We’re all Chinese… why can’t we all just co-exist together without having to bring up the question of ethnicity? Since ancient times people have always thought of one minority as being “good” or “bad”

Gonpo Dorje: Reply to Dong Qian- are we touching on the question of ethnicity here? People are always going to have differences, that fact is undeniable. But at the end of the day, it’s about those particular people who are intolerant of other’s cultures. Who is being self-righteous here? We need to first understand this.

Aliyah: People from the Central Plains thought they were a celestial nation ordained by the Gods, and that the sun, moon and stars all revolved around them. That’s why everyone in the world despised them so much. They did not inherit any of the humility and modesty that was advocated by their ancestors.

SL Tsomu: reply to Dong Qian-  you’re right, everyone in the world wants to live peacefully together, above all Buddhists. But such an idea is easy to say in theory, when you’re not the one always being victimized.

The second blogpost was written on November 14, 2010 by a Tibetan female blogger calling herself "Namtso". Due to the amount of comments that were arriving on the post, and in particular the number of negative comments from 50-Cent bloggers, "Namtso" added a postscript to her blogpost on November 22, 2010, which we have also translated. 

These Kinds of People Should Stay Away From Us!

There’s always a certain kind of person who insists on asking me questions such as: “Where do you live? What do you eat?” After much persistence, I finally give in and answer in an irritated way: “We live in a cave and eat rocks, it that OK?”

Afterwards, they will ask again “Can the Dalai Lama get married? Is he allowed to have a girlfriend? ...A sky burial is when you chop up the bodies right? That’s so barbaric and disgusting!”

To those who bring up these kinds of questions, allow me to pay my warmest “respects” to you and your family.

The internet is so vast and advanced, will it kill you to use "Baidu" just once and look them up yourself?

And, if I ever lose my temper, you'll just say: “I just don’t know! I really want to understand!” Yes, you always have some kind of excuse for your shameless ignorance.

A single utterance of the word “understanding” allows you to unscrupulously satisfy your vulgar psychological need to seek novelty.

A single utterance of the word “art” allows you to harass other people when you visit here, and stick your camera in other people’s faces.

And then you can secretly boast about your insider knowledge of all the sordid and primitive aspects of Tibetan culture, such as the pornographic Buddha of Joy, stories of how the Dalai Lama requested human intestines on his birthday, and the drums made of human skin!

To you, religion is just another scam that you will never be conned by.
To you, belief in a religion is merely for primitive and uneducated people.
To you, compassion is just another word for a fool.
To you, having mercy in one’s heart is merely a show of weakness.

OK, I’m already sick of this dispute. I thank the Lord Buddha for blessing me with my knowledge and understanding. Just leave us alone, and let us be the uncivilised, backwards and incompetent fools you think we are!

We are quite happy this way, we don’t need you to come and save us.

So take your culture and rationale,

And leave us alone!

(Regarding the comments)
Who is the narrow-minded one now??

I wrote this article based on my own personal experiences, and it is fair to say, many other Tibetans have also encountered similar experiences. Nothing has been made up or embellished. However, by recounting these experiences, I seem to have provoked and angered certain people. As soon as they hear a peep from the Tibetan people, they are quick to jump out and hurl abuse. It is hard to say how much these people know about the reality of the situation, having never encountered any of these experiences themselves. You can tell that just by the way they are talking. These people’s prejudice and ignorance simply knows no bounds.

Communicate by talking, learn by reading. But I have to ask, where is your so-called communication and learning? From November 19, 2010, 9pm onwards, you came to my blog and commenced an unrelenting campaign of foul-mouthed insults and attacks. It was a truly ugly experience. In order to not offend other readers, I have removed some of the comments.

However, you continued to hurl abuse and attack, so I have closed the comments section of my blog. You can still leave your abuse on the messageboard/guestbook if you wish.

The monitoring and deletion of the offensive comments continued until 2am in the morning; at that point I had no choice but to close my the entire comment section. This is what it has taught me about your kind of education, your character and culture.

If you hate my opinions, you can simply click the little red X on the corner of the screen and leave. But you all decide to march into battle one after the other, coming here and jumping around all over the place.

What are you really trying to do here?

I’m afraid that your motives are not as innocent as just wanting to “communicate” and exchange opinions.

Ultimately, who is the lackey here, and who is the truly narrow-minded one?

The people will decide what is fair and just.

(Early morning, November 22, 2010)

I’ve been asked the same kind of questions before. I’ve even had someone come up to me and ask, “Why do you Tibetans all dress like beggars? Where we’re from even our children wear designer labels!” I felt so defeated then. If it had not been for my mother, who dissuaded me from arguing with that person, I would have had a few choice words for him! But instead, my mother told me to respect these people because they are our guests here. Although my mother has never read a book before, she is still more enlightened than these people. Hence you can see the true essence of our nation reflected in such a person!!!

Namtso's Reply: To quote the phrase “Our dirt is only physical, a packet of detergent and we will be clean; your uncleanliness is inside your heart, a whole lorry-load of detergent still won’t make you clean.” This is the argument, there’s no need to get angry, just continue to ignore those that taunt you.

They look upon us as if we’re poor, and lacking in material things, like mentally unhinged people!

What to do, I’ve seen and written many of these kinds of things before, but only your post has brought me so much joy. That is, those who try to offer their “assistance” can go away… those who think that just by reading holy texts they will understand everything about the current political situation. They are so ignorant I feel embarrassed for them! Our culture, our traditions…

After reading this post, I’ve thought of a few choice words that I now dedicate just to you: “Soap-dodging, dirty Tibetans, you are like rubbish. We should follow the example of the Americans and put you all on reservations like the native Americans.”

We Mongolians have also experienced this also…
Namtso's Reply: let's work together

Regardless of whether those ignorant people will ever be able to understand the advice that you offer, your sincerity and sense of responsibility is something that every Tibetan should take heed.

RE: comment above

Don’t be so happy to proclaim “Mongolians, Mongolians”, have you taken a look at Outer Mongolia? It’s completely Russian-ised, the language and writing has completely changed, and they think Chinese people are completely vile. Those Inner Mongolians who understand Chinese are even more repulsive. If they are not careful, they will soon become like homeless dogs without a master. What do you think about that, bitch.

Namtso and these Tibetans could argue until the end of the world! They should have a contest, and see who is the better. How about it, so you don’t have people just shouting from their own little dark corners, and consoling each other over their weaknesses. You Tibetans always think you are so great, that you are so noble, merciful and saintly. Why don’t you just disappear off the face of the earth! Then we will see who is the most arrogant.

Oh God, I really wish a higher being was here to watch over you morons. It’s fine for you to all make fools of yourselves in your backwards part of the world where no one else goes, but don’t do it out here in public! So what if you accuse us of being part of the 50 Cent Party? At least we get paid at the end, you’re just arguing blindly for nothing!

Savage Tibetans, you are the monstrous product of breeding between livestock and she-demons! You people will always be slaves because you don’t even count as human, that’s why you will never behave like one. Tibetans before liberation in 1959 would always stick their tongues out, whenever they saw a human they would stick their tongue out, just like an animal.


Sheila said...

ཐུགས་རྗེ་ཆེ་། Your site is fantastic. Thank you so much for the hard work and effort bringing these translations to us!

CedarBough said...

If the government actually cared about decreasing strife between minorities and Han they'd start with some serious education for the tourist guides who allow large groups of tourists to complacently adhere to stereotypes, believe prejudices and act with insensitivity.

I went to Thailand and went on a 4 day tour in a remote area and you better believe the guides made sure we had some ideas how to be respectful of local people. In my own life I frequently give a lecture on Korean etiquette so that people won't be so confused by some of the ways Koreans act, and see how it stems from cultural difference. Why can't the Chinese gov't (while they give out licenses for tour guides) also take some interest in reducing the frictions that tourism brings as reflected in this blog?

Turtlemother said...

I have Just read your blog for the first time; I am glad to have encountered these pages..
some of the comments are very saddening, people are so bitter, and some so hateful ( comments)...
I am a Buddhist student, and do some Bon practices as well. These practices help produce a peaceful mind, and to those who call Tibetans "primitive", I tell you these practices that I do are extremely old (Bon) and extremely sophisticated.
Dear Tibetan people on this blog site: pay no attention to the worldly minded ones...

wishing you every joy........