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Imagining Tibet: Perceptions, Projections and Fantasies Paperback – 1 Sep 2001


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Scarcely has a region captured popular imagination as has Tibet. In the past century, the Western view of Tibet evolved from backward shamanistic theocracy, to exotic Shangri-la promising immortality, to an enlightened society now ravaged by outside aggression. Where did such ideas come from and why did they change? Imagining Tibet represents the first comprehensive attempt to explore such portrayals of Tibet in their aesthetic. intellectual and spiritual dimensions. It traces the earliest roots of these images in the writings of explorers and missionaries, progressing through the depictions emploed by Theosophists and scholars, uo to contemporary vies of political activists and Buddhist practitioners. Ever since European power encroached on the foothills of the Himalays, Tibet has excited the Western imagination. This important book should be read by everyone interested in the origin and subtext of such fascination and imagery. - Tsering Shakya, author of The Dragon in the Land of the Snows: A History of Modern Tibet Since 1947.

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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Getting Real About Tibet 13 Mar 2002
By James S. Taylor - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This is a great book if you want to learn more about the reality of Tibet, rather than the numerous romantic myths that have been spawned about it in the West. Having lived from my teens to mid-Twenties in a Canadian community where Tibetans were resettled, I can tell you first hand that they are no more good or bad in general than any other people group. Reading a book like this will save you a lot of wasted time in building up fantasies and having them disappointed. It will help you deal with the more obvious problems, like Lobsang Rampa's fictions, as well as gain a more balanced view of the often over-stated claims about Tibetan Buddhism, environmentalism, peacefulness, and all the other projected idealisms that go into changing the actual particulars of real Tibetan society and history into the Shangri-La of Western desire.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Versatile and scholarly discussion 17 Jun 2008
By monyouk - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
based, more often than not, on updated lectures, of which all but one - that of R. Barnett's excellent paper - were given at 'Mythos Tibet' symposium held in Bonn, in May 1996. Participants from various fields of Tibetology, social and cultural anthropology, historical studies, Tibet support activism, etc. guarantee multi- and interdisciplinary approach to interested laymen and specialists alike. Also included are bountiful illustrations, endnotes, incomplete index, and exhaustive bibliography.

The first segment focuses on 'Missionaries & Scholars', and the historical development of certain images they filtered through/(mis)construed. Rudolf Kaschewky - The image of Tibet in the West before the 19th c.: References from Herodotus & Claudius Ptolemaios through the Portuguese Jesuit Antonio Andrade's Ladakhi mission and his Italian brethren Ippolito Desideri's stay in ÜTsang less than a century later, to the Augustinian monk Antonius Georgius's "Alphabetum Tibetanum". John Bray - 19th and early 20th c. missionary images of Tibet. Per Kvaerne - Tibet images among researchers of Tibet.

Part 2 'The Sight of the "Other"' investigates a number of aspects of the Western (and Chinese) views of Tibet "against the backdrop provided by their social, political, and ideological contexts" (p. xii). Alex C. McKay - The British construction of an image of Tibet (highlight, henceforth abbreviated 'hl'): "The failure to establish an image of Tibet fully consistent with the Tibetans' self-image was partly due to both the inherently class-based and imperial perceptions of the cadre officers of [British India] and their alliance with the ruling elite within Tibet. But it was principally the result of Whitehall's refusal to recognize Tibetan independence" (p. 85) -- that is Tibet as a pawn in the 'Great Game' being played primarily by Britain, Russia (at the turn of the 20th c.) and China at the time. Peter H. Hansen - Tibet and the cinema in the early 20th century. Thomas Heberer - Old Tibet a hell on Earth? The myth of Tibet and Tibetans in Chinese art and propaganda (hl): the Hans' projections/misrepresentations labelled 'exotic-erotic, patriarchal-pedagogical, historical (or rather historicizing)-primitive'. Sadly missing from the list - and for that matter, not only from this very article but from the entire tome - is the priest-patron/guru-disciple/spirito-political (mchod-yon) angle that had been a determining factor in the relationship between the heads/luminaries of various Tibetan sects/schools/lineages and the imperial court; especially under the Mongol (Yuan) and Manchu (Qing) rule of China, and to a much lesser extent under the Ming dynasty as well. For more on this, consult the 1990s titles by Seyfort Ruegg.

Poul Pedersen - Tibet, Theosophy and the psychologization of Buddhism. Frank J. Korom - The role of Tibet in the New Age movement. Donald S. Lopez Jr. - The image of Tibet of the great mystifiers (hl): The renowned Buddhologist/Tibetologist singles out surgical fitter Cyril Hoskin turned New Age impostor under the widely known pen name Lobzang Rampa for analysis. He honestly admits that "it is not simply that the scholar needs the dilettante in order to define his identity. [LR] is rather like the glud, the ransom...offered to the demons in a Tibetan exorcism ceremony in exchange for the spirit of the possessed...So Rampa is given to the public, who does not care what the scholar says, and he derives his livelihood in the bargain. In return, the scholar, by renouncing the public, receives symbolic capital by disavowing that upon which he is ultimately dependent..." (p. 199). Peter Bishop - Not only a Shangri-la. Images of Tibet in Western literature. Heather Stoddard - The development in perception of Tibetan art. From golden idols to ultimate reality.

Part 3, dubbed 'Standpoints', contains: P. Jeffrey Hopkins - Tibetan monastic colleges. Rationality versus the demands of allegiance. Robert Barnett - '"Violated specialness". Western political representations of Tibet' (hl) deals with the exiled Tibetan government's changing tactics in light of their Western reception (political and civilian). "[T]hey [the Western one-worlder globalists] offered a language that could be used ambiguously so that the domestic audience would see it as criticizing China while Chinese officials might be persuaded that the criticisms were sufficiently mild so as not to be threatening to fundamental concerns [i.e., profit to a select few and oppression for the masses; one market, one consumer...] They avoided terms referring to total destruction, nationhood, territory, or status (p. 291). [A] shared linguistic framework within which Chinese and non-Chinese political forces can conceal their differences and, by exploiting its ambiguities, find themselves within what is in effect an alliance in diminishing or neutralizing the claims of Tibetan nationalists" (p. 297). Calculated charade and hypocricy, in other words! This rhymes with the remark Hugh E. Richardson (1905-2000; British Trade Agent at Gyantse and Officer-in-Charge at Lhasa from 1936 to 1940, 1946-7; and then in the capacity of representative for the independent government of India from 1947-50) had made: "[t]he British Government...sold the Tibetans down the river...I was profoundly ashamed of the government" (p. 86). For this latter authority's collected writings on Tibetan history and culture, try to obtain High Peaks, Pure Earth: Collected Writings on Tibetan History and Culture ed. Michael Aris (1946-99), London 1998.

Elliot Sperling's '"Orientalism" and aspects of violence in the Tibetan tradition' (hl) demystifies the non-violent notion of the Tibetan politico-religious arena by emphasizing the responsibility of the 5th Dalai lama Ngag-dbang bLo-bzang rgya-mtsho in recruiting the military aid commanded by the Qoshot/Oirat Mongol Gushri khan to overthrow the alliance that had been forged between the gTsang-pa rulers (sde-srid) and the Karma-pa (especially the Red Hat (zhwa-dmar) branch) sect then in power, thereby establishing dGe-lugs-pa theocracy/hierocracy in 1642. The author backs up his assertion by quoting relevant passages from the Great Fifth's autobiography (rang-thar) under the ultra short title "Dukúla". The same source was used by Samten G. Karmay, who arrived at a somewhat different conclusion in laying the blame for the Mongols' armed intervention on the councillor-secretary (zhal-ngo) bSod-nams chos-'phel's (1595-1657) treasonous falsification of his master's order (cf. 'The fifth Dalai lama and his reunification of Tibet' in: The Arrow and the Spindle, Studies in History, Myths, Rituals and Beliefs in Tibet vol. I: pp. 509-10, Kathmandu 1998; this paper originally appeared in French, in the compendium Lhasa, lieu du divin: La capitale des Dalaï-Lama au 17e siècle edited by Francoise Pommaret, Geneva 1997). Helena Norberg-Hodge - Tibetan culture as a model of ecological sustainability: based on field research in Ladakh, we assume. Graham E. Clarke - Tradition, modernity, and enviromental change in Tibet. Toni Huber - Shangri-la in exile. Representations of Tibetan identity and transnational culture. Jamyang Norbu - Behind the lost horizon. Demystifying Tibet. Dagyab Kyabgön rinpoche - Buddhism in the West and the image of Tibet.
In the concluding essay 'Between Shangri-la and feudal oppression. Attempting a synthesis' (hl), convenor-editors Thierry Dodin and Heinz Rather pull together the multifarious threads of former themes.

Bod rang-btsan-zhing rgyal-lo/May Tibet be victorious and self-governing!
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