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Counterfeiting History

August 17, 2008

Agam's Gecko Blog
August 15, 2008

Visitors to the Beijing Olympics are not likely to find the cheap
knock-offs of fake Gucci bags and other counterfeit designer brands
the city has become famous for, unless they stick around for a while
after the party finishes. All that potentially embarrassing stuff has
presumably been cleaned up and stashed away like so many
justice-seeking petitioners and other "unsightly" bits of the city.
But not to worry, Versace bargain-hunters. When the bulk of
international media go home, it will all be brought out again for
your perusal (not the petitioners, though).

Even so, it shouldn't come as a surprise that a major counterfeit
reproduction of intellectual property will the centre-piece of "key
cultural performances" for the Olympics, from Aug. 21 - 23 at the
Meilangfang Grand Theatre. Billed as a "hybrid drama," a classic and
ancient story from Tibetan Lhamo opera will be jointly performed by
the National Peking Opera Theater and the Tibetan Opera Troupe. This
Xinhua account fails to mention that the opera itself is a Tibetan
classic, Gyasa Belsa, and renames the story to "Princess Wencheng."

The tale revolves around two foreign princesses who were taken as
consorts by the powerful 7th century Tibetan king, Songtsen Gampo,
who thus formed matrimonial alliances with the royal houses of Nepal
and the Tang Dynasty of China. Princess  Bhrikuti Devi, daughter of
the Nepalese King Anshuvarrnan, became known to Tibetans as Bhelsa,
while the princess  Wencheng Kongjo, daughter of the Tang Chinese
king, was known as Gyasa. The Gyasa Bhelsa Lhamo is actually the
story of the two princesses, and the title translation is normally
given as "The Chinese Princess and the Nepalese Princess." Some
editing has been involved in the Chinese version.

After his marriage to Princess Bhelsa (given with delight by the King
and Queen of Nepal, along with precious gifts and a sacred Buddha
image), Songtsen Gampo made plans to obtain the Chinese princess
Wencheng. But this acquisition was not quite so straightforward, as
the Tang king was not well disposed toward the Tibetans. A number of
other kings were competing for Wencheng, and the competitions devised
by the Tang king comprise much of the story. But in the end Princess
Wencheng was bound for Lhasa, against her own wishes and those of her
father, and bearing precious gifts (including another sacred Buddha image).

The story of Princess Wencheng (Chinese version) is well known to
every schoolchild in China, as it is often used to bolster claims of
ancient Chinese hegemony over Tibet. They will know nothing of the
Nepalese princess, the senior consort of the two, who has been edited
out of the story.

 From the Introduction to the English translation of Gyasa Bhelsa by
C.B. Josayma, published in the Tibet Journal:

"With his taking of the Chinese princess as his second wife, King
Songtsen Gampo achieved yet another calculated accomplishment. The
marriage well served Tibet's political and social ambitions. Marriage
alliances connect families, and in the case of royalty, also connect
countries. With the acquisition of a Chinese princess, Tibet could
expect recognition of its political and social independence, as well
as attain an inner connection to the court of the Chinese Emperor.

"The story tells how delegations from five different countries came
to seek the Chinese princess' hand. What the story does not relate is
the actual military strategy that was required of King Songtsen
Gampo, which eventually forced China to consider Tibet as a
formidable neighbor and one deserving of a political alliance through
the marriage of its princess. Songtsen Gampo's initial request for
the princess of the Tang dynasty was treated with scorn, since Tibet
was considered by the Chinese court at the time to be nothing more
than a barbarian country. There had also been a request by the ruler
Thokiki of Eastern Tartary which the Chinese may have preferred, but
King Songtsen Gampo quickly rid himself of this possible rival by
summoning up troops and conquering the Tartars. He then sent his men
to China to press his request for the Chinese princess. The Chinese
chose to fight a losing battle against the Tibetans, thus forcing it
to grant Tibet's request of the princess' hand in marriage.

" The acquisition of the Chinese princess was a political achievement
that positioned Tibet in the strategic middle of the two Buddhist
kingdoms of Nepal and China, forcing the courts of both kingdoms to
accept its position in regard to trade and cultural exchange." --
Tibet Journal, vol. 18, no. 1 (Spring 1993), pp. 28-29

The Chinese communists are quick to cite their counterfeit version of
this unwilling princess given by an unwilling father to a powerful
Tibetan king, as evidence that China has ruled Tibet for centuries.
In order to manage this, they must naturally re-write the story to
their own liking. Otherwise, simple logic would dictate that if
Wencheng's marriage is evidence that Tibet belonged to China, it must
have also belonged to Nepal (or at least more than half of Tibet,
since Bhelsa was the senior queen). Or, looking more closely at the
story, since Songtsen Gampo took three more Tibetan consorts, it
would have to be 60% belonging to Tibet, 20% to Nepal and 20% to
China. With adjustments for seniority.

Ridiculous! Clearly some editing was called for. Again, from C. B.
Josayma's introduction:

"The story of King Songtsen Gampo and his two queens was completely
rewritten in the 1980's by a Chinese playwright to emphasize the
great social deeds of the Chinese princess in Tibet. The play was
renamed Princess Wencheng and was used as a tool for re-educating
Tibetans, Chinese and foreigners of China's historical right to rule
in Tibet. The marriage of the Nepalese queen is missing in this
version, as the story seeks to argue that the Chinese have been
ruling Tibet since the time of the marriage. By recognizing the
marriage of the Nepalese princess, it would notably place Princess
Wencheng (Gyasa) in her rightful place as a junior wife, which in
turn would give the Nepalese (if they had similar colonialistic
designs on Tibet) a more valid historical argument for right to rule,
as their princess was senior to the Chinese princess, and thus would
have a higher position within the court." -- Tibet Journal, vol. 18,
no. 1 (Spring 1993), pp. 31

The current Chinese interpretation of the story holds that Wencheng's
marriage, and this Tibetan matrimonial connection to the Tang court,
was a sign of Tibetan submission. In truth, according to the
authentic opera (which won't be performed next week in Beijing), it
is a clear demonstration of Tibetan power and influence at that time.
Submission is nowhere to be found (apart from the Tang king's
unwilling gift of his daughter).

Strangely enough, the CCP's own China Tibet Information Center
bibliography on lhamo opera gives its correct name and a fairer
synopsis. Somebody tell Xinhua!

Gyasa and Belsa, Tibetan People's Publishing House, Lhasa, July 1981.
49 pp. 19 cm.

Edited on the basis of a Tibetan play, about Tibetan king Songtsan
Gampo's marriage with his Nepalese consort Belsa (Bhrikuti Devi) and
the Chinese consort Gyasa (Princess Wen Cheng). The advanced
technology brought to Tibet by the two consorts facilitated the
development of Tibetan society.

The performances next week of the counterfeit copy of this Tibetan
national property would be an excellent venue for some direct action
education of China's high-class theatre-going masses. How great it
would be, standing next to the red carpet of the Meilangfang Grand
Theatre armed with a satchel full of Chinese and English translations
of a synopsis of the authentic story, and just hand them out politely
to the audience as they enter.

Until the security forces come down hard, drag me bouncing along the
pavement into a vehicle to be taken for interrogation and
deportation, that is. I'd give it about 30 seconds before that
happened, but it would still be great. (psst, sft - we've still got a week)

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