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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

Tibet: Transformation and tradition

March 6, 2008

 Tibet: Transformation and tradition
In modern Tibet, the ancient sits alongside the new. For a BBC Four
series, Peter Firstbrook spent a year there, exploring how Tibet's
past is influencing the future of its people.

The bride sits next to the groom, sobbing uncontrollably, a woollen
blanket over her head to hide her puffy face.

It is 0300, the time that the village shaman calculated would be most
propitious for the wedding. He also decided whom the girl should
marry.

Zhongar is 21 years old and was not told she was going to be married
until 12 hours ago.

The rest of the village has been preparing the wedding for weeks.

'Nothing to cry about'

Although her new husband is from the same village, she only vaguely
remembers him from primary school.

It is traditional in Tibet for a bride to protest before the ceremony.

It shows that she is sorry to leave her parents' home. But Zhongar is
not faking it.

Since being told of her impending betrothal, she has been in a room
howling in anguish, the door locked in case she runs away.

None of her female relatives have any sympathy for her.

"It's always like this," says her aunt.

"I went to comfort her and advised her that this is a path in life
that we all have to go through. I was given away in the same way as
she is now, so there's nothing to cry about."

After getting up, I fetch water and milk the cow. Now I spend a lot of
time working in the fields. When I'm free, I have to milk the cows
again, weave and cook dinner
Zhongar

At this point, Zhongar has not been told that she will also be
expected to marry the groom's younger brother when he graduates in a
year's time.

In this part of Tibet, this is common practice. The system guarantees
that precious farming land stays in the same family for generations.

When I went back to see Zhongar four months after her wedding, she had
settled into her new family.

She was under no illusion about the pattern of her new life.

Straddling cultures

Half an hour's drive from Zhongar's village lies Gyantse, Tibet's
third largest town, with a population of about 8,000 people. But it is
like a different world.

Gyantse has seen a huge influx of Chinese migrants in the last 20
years and this can lead to tensions.

Many are of the migrants are traders, which means the more poorly paid
jobs often fall to the Tibetans.

Jianzang, a local hotel owner, straddles both cultures.

He is a trained Tibetan doctor but finds he can make more money in the
tourist industry.

"Most foreign guests have good manners and they behave really well," he says.

"Guests from 'China proper' are not as well behaved, especially those
from poor areas. They want to stay in a good hotel but aren't willing
to pay the price!"

Jianzang's ambivalence towards the Chinese is not uncommon among Tibetans.

They have lived under strict, authoritarian rule since the 1950s and
in the past any sign of dissent by the Tibetan people was ruthlessly
suppressed by the Chinese army.

The monk's girlfriend

Nowhere does this rigid arm of control extend further than in the monasteries.

During the 1960s, it is estimated more than 6,000 Buddhist monasteries
were destroyed, only 12 survived.

Today many are slowly being rebuilt but the lives of Buddhist monks
and nuns are strictly controlled by the government.

The Pel Kor monastery in Gyantse was founded nearly 600 years ago.
Tsephun is one of its few novice monks.

His great uncle Dondrup, a senior monk, arranged for him to be
accepted at the monastery three years ago.

But Dondrup is part of the old Tibet whereas Tsephun has grown up in a
world of television, mobile phones and computer games, and the
differences can lead to conflict.

"In my generation," says Dondrup, "we couldn't watch television. We
had to concentrate on chanting the scriptures. In the old society the
rules were very strict."

As Tsephun turns 16, his great uncle suspects there is a girlfriend on
the scene and is afraid his novice will get the girl pregnant,
bringing shame to his family and the monastery.

Embracing the future

Tsephun is eventually placed with a new master but continues to resent
the restrictions of monastery life.

"He moans about me from morning to night," he says.

"He's too bossy. My master says I always wander about outside and
never read the scriptures at the temple. He's very angry with me."

Yet Tsephun's situation is not unusual, many of the younger monks
visit tea houses, wear ordinary clothes when they are away from the
monastery and have girlfriends.

In many ways, the tension between Tsephun and his great uncle reflects
the changes happening throughout Tibet. Dondrup has never been part of
the modern world and he does not understand its ways.

Tsephun is the new Tibet: a Tibet which is losing its culture and
traditions and becoming more like the rest of China, as it embraces
the 21st Century.
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
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