Translation:Development is the best way to preserve Tibetan culture
Below is a translation by Allen of an article recently published by Han Fang Ming in Singapore’s Lianhe Zaobao. Han is a member of Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). CPPCC plays an advisory role to the Chinese government. Han is a businessman and an investment banker. Currently living in HK, Han specializes in issues involving Tibet, Hong Kong and Macao and overseas Chinese.
By Han Fang Ming (2009-03-11) The Preservation and Development of Tibetan Culture has garnered much attention from both abroad and domestically. The government’s publication of a white paper on the Modern Development of Tibet in November 2001 and a white paper on the Preservation and Development of Tibet Culture in September 2008 provide reports, facts, figures, and insights that will allow many to gain a more accurate understanding of the changes going on in Tibet.
China is a nation made up of 56 national minorities. Over time, the various nationalities have mixed and commingled to create a tapestry of cultures and societies that make up China today. While China does have a proud history, China also represent a dynamic, living culture – not a society that is locked in time. As a living society, China – including all her national minorities – must learn to adapt to changing circumstances and meet head on the challenges brought by the modern era.
In times of change, it is inevitable that people’s livelihood will be affected, accompanied by a loss of certain elements of tradition, lifestyles, arts, and culture. Some may think this is sad and cruel, but China cannot afford to fight the times. China must embrace the future and learn to evolve, adapt, and prosper.
In uncertain times like now, we often see two radical camps of approaches to development. On the one hand, we have those who are prepared to welcome everything that is new while denigrating or abandoning everything that is old. On the other hand, we have those holding fanatically onto everything that is old, fighting everything that is new. My take is that what is important is not whether things are new or old, but whether they satisfy the needs of the people and development. Both extremes of blindly chasing after the new or stubbornly holding onto the past are against human nature.
The process of modernization can be compared to a fast moving train. You can try to hide from it, but there is no way to stop it. Like it or not, lifestyles and traditions of all cultures everywhere have always been under pressure to change. For many people, the first instinct may be to resist because it is nature to fear the unfamiliar and the unknown. But we must also learn that peoples and cultures that do not change and adapt ultimately die.
I have been all over the Tibetan Autonomous Region. I have witnessed many forms of traditional lifestyles and cultures. In some places, I see continued hardship and backwardness. In other places, I see entrepreneurship and an open minded willingness to interact with the broader world.
I realized that a diversification was happening in Tibet. I can point to an example involving traditional furniture making. Traditional Tibetan furniture are relatively well made and adapted to last a long time. Because a lot of labor go into the making of traditional furniture, they are also often very expensive. With Tibet’s closer integration with the rest of China, people now have more choices regarding what furniture to buy. People can choose between the old style of furniture – or non-Tibetan machine made furniture that are often more stylish at a fraction of the price. Are some Tibetans’ choice to buy non-traditional furniture threatening Tibetan culture? I don’t think so.
Closer interaction with the world is forcing many traditional Tibetan furniture makers to innovate and adapt. Rather than damaging Tibetan culture, this interaction – traumatic as it may be for some – will ultimately ensure that Tibetan culture will not only survive – but also prosper – in the modern era.
It may be a misnomer to focus single-mindedly on “preservation” of cultures. Tibetan culture is a living culture. Change is part of the evolution of any living culture. Some traditional elements will be kept and embraced as part of daily life; others will be transformed for a new era; yet still others will be relegated to the the museums. Han Chinese have not demanded to wear Han dynasty costumes even though the costumes were an important part of traditional Han culture. Mongolian Chinese will not be giving up their motorcycles simply because Mongolians traditionally rode horses.
I have a few recommendations for the way forward for further Tibetan development.
1. the government should coordinate a more concerted effort at documenting all aspects of traditional art and handicraft. The government should also redouble efforts at creating a directory of living folk artists, artisans, craftsmen, etc. as well as an index of their skill and trade.
2. the government should pass legislation aimed at protecting important aspects of Tibetan culture, providing funds to support cultural activities deemed especially important by the local populace.
3. the government should begin creating a world-class museum of Tibetan culture showcasing all aspects of Tibetan culture, including all styles of art, music, dance, customs found throughout the Himalayan plateau.
4. the government should publish in-depth white papers reviewing the development of Tibet on an annual basis. This will help both people in the country and abroad interested in Tibet to gain a better appreciation of the state of affairs in modern Tibet.
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