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Wenncheng Gets Press Propaganda opera *updated*

August 22, 2008

Bandian Rijiu (L) and Deng Mian rehearse their roles as King Songtsen
Gampo and Princess Wencheng. The curtain goes up on Thursday.
Agam's Gecko Blog
August 20, 2008

Then I found two media stories this morning about the CCP's
re-written and re-named Tibetan classic, to be performed this week as
a "key Olympic cultural event," I was encouraged that perhaps the
background story would now get some attention.

But the Telegraph basically recapitulates the Xinhua press release,
with only a hint at its propaganda value.

Beijing has long sought to portray the princess as an icon of
Chinese-Tibetan harmony.

Quite the understatement, given that the Party has eliminated half
the story (and re-written the other half) to support the notion of
"ancient Chinese rule" over the Tibetan kingdom.

A few more relevant details were expected from Times of London, which
gave it the headline: China to show propaganda opera at Olympics. Yet
writer Jane Macartney also failed to delve at all into the play's
counterfeit nature, which has been well documented by Tibet scholars.

She does at least recognise that this particular Olympic theatrical
finale "does not look like a coincidence," and notes that director
Gao Mukun states its goal as "both to move the audience and to
educate them." (or to "re-educate" them?)

Mr. Gao spent his youth as a star in one of the Cultural Revolution's
"model operas" commissioned by Madame Mao, and he designed this opera
for a 2005 performance in Lhasa to mark the 40th anniversary of
China's formal annexation of Tibet (as an "autonomous" region, hahaha).

The opera was first commissioned by Zhou Enlai, the Prime Minister,
as a propaganda tool to help Tibetans to appreciate Beijing's rule
after a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese domination in which
Tibet's god-king, the Dalai Lama, fled into exile in India.

Enough with the "god-king" already, plain old "king" or "monarch"
would do just fine. If they want to get fancy, try "monk king" or
"dharma king" or even "Buddhist monarch." The King of Thailand is
never called a "god-king" (he also spent time as a Buddhist monk),
although people asked about his divinity sometimes say, "We believe
the heaven gave him to us." Thais know he is a human being, Tibetans
know Dalai Lama is a human being. One of Dalai Lama's most famous
sayings? "I am human being." Why is this so hard to grasp?

In any case, this operatic propaganda tool hasn't done much to "help
Tibetans to appreciate Beijing's rule."

It did not go down too well in those days, and still fails to
resonate with many Tibetans who believe that the region already had a
civilisation before the Chinese princess arrived in 640.

Couldn't the writer have discovered that it failed to resonate not
only because Tibetans did have their own civilisation prior to this
marriage, but because their own classic story has been chopped and
hacked and twisted to serve the occupier's own ends? That a story
about two princess brides, of whom Wencheng was the junior, has been
turned by communist imperialist hands into Princess Wencheng Period,
Full Stop, End of Story?

A certain amount of courage was shown by one of the Tibetan
performers who was asked if he was happy to be in the show.

"What choice do I have? It wasn't so popular among all people in Tibet."

When that quote gets back to the cultural commissars, I'm wondering
how far they might go to find out who the offending player was.

Update: Commenter Dan writes:

"[E]very Tibetan is quite acutely aware that hardly any of their
(pre- and post-640) civilization comes from China, with or without
Wencheng. Many of Tibetans' routines of life, their food staples
(tsampa, dromo...), their everyday traditional dress (chuba) and the
like are of course deeply and undeniably their own. Tibetan cultural
items and practices that do come from outside Tibet's borders come
from India with very few exceptions. (Tibetan traditional histories
universally reject Chinese Buddhism, most explicitly rejecting Ch'an
(Zen), while accepting Indian Buddhism in its entirety. Some early
Tibetan cultural heroes, like Sakya Pandita in the 13th century,
insisted that absolutely all of Tibet's Buddhism must come from India
[here including Nepal] and nowhere else.)

"That's why cutting the the South Asian Buddhist Nepalese Queen
Bhrikuti out of the Tibetans' own history, while at the same time
elevating the East Asian Chinese Queen Wencheng into the cultural
founder-hero she never was, is a desperate and (upon slight
reflection) pathetic face-saving measure to cover up Beijing's richly
merited guilt over what she has done, and is right now doing, in
Tibet. I am confident it will soon be an acute embarrassment to
people of Chinese descent everywhere, every bit of an embarrassment
as the 'Gang of Four' and the 'Great Leap' (which was anything but
forward). Don't tell me they don't know. And if they don't know,
every Tibetan knows. Just ask any Tibetan you know (but first make
sure they know they're free to speak what they know)."

The communists and their supporters always say that Westerners "don't
know Tibet." In a way, they're right. Most Westerners don't know the
half of it.

But Agam, you neglected to quote his other words given in the same story:

"Now you can say this is a perfect marriage between these two art
forms just as the marriage of Princess Wencheng and King Songtsen
Gampo was a marriage between the Chinese and Tibetan peoples."

Yes, I too think he highly overworks the marriage metaphor. But then
I doubt it was intended that we would take it to any of its logical
consequences. That wedding that took place in the 1950's was of the
shotgun variety. Under such circumstances annulment is an obvious
option. At the very least a re-negotiation of the marriage contract.
Especially when so very little love has been lost meanwhile.

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