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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

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

November 30, 2010

By High Peaks Pure Earth
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 RenRen.com. 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.

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...

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.

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!

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...

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?

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.

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.

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
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