When hearing the word “Tibet”, some people think it as a “mysterious paradise”, while some “nostalgic” Tibetans are struck by change and believe change means destruction.
Then, let’s try to get a glimpse of what Tibet looking like in the eyes of Wensang Jigya, a young Tibetan born during the 1990s.
Tibet is not mysterious, nor is it a paradise.
“I believe Tibet is a most authentic ‘mortal world’. People here need to face all kinds of life problems as others do, experience all kinds of emotions, and aspire to live a better life. Tibet, like other regions, has a rich historical and cultural background. In the past, secret foreign travelers would try to explore Tibet and give an account of their travels and its history. Today there are more and more white-collar workers characterizing themselves as ‘literary youths’ visit Tibet and write series of articles that ‘unveil the mystery’ of Tibet. However, both are bound to be subjective and prejudiced in order to attract a target audience, intentionally overstating or belittling the real situation. All are obvious, intentionally or otherwise continuing to ‘deify’ or ‘demonize’ Tibet. This gives off an illusion to people who do not have a thorough understanding of Tibet, and even leads people astray.”
In response to this problem, Professor Shen Weirong of Tsinghua University says, “Today, Tibet is increasingly being regarded by some people as a Pure Land on which the dreams of the world are placed. Tibetan Buddhist culture has also been mythically transformed into a miraculous cure-all, and Tibet has even become a ‘Utopia’, the synonym for which is Shangri-La, a word created during the western imperialist era. This undoubtedly hinders our understanding and knowledge of a realistic Tibet and Tibetan culture and creates new challenges for us in building a New Tibet and for preserving traditional Tibetan culture.”
The current Tibet is the most authentic Tibet.
“Of course, any ethnic group has its own unique folk customs and traditional cultural heritage, which is precisely the value and historical and cultural background of the ethnic group. But no ethnic group has ever avoided change; they all advance with the times, adapt to the developmental laws of human society and change themselves in order to survive. The same is true of the Tibetan people. It is inevitable to make change on the basis of traditions.
“In this regard, I will give you my own personal experience. In recent years, many young people from my hometown, some of whom are my friends, has developed an interest in photography. Once, a friend of mine shared a photo on his friend circle on the social media platform WeChat of a kind, elderly man wearing a rather shabby sheepskin coat. The caption reads: ‘A real Tibetan.’ Later we discussed this picture over tea. I told him that his photograph was indeed very good, but I really could not understand the caption. Why is it that Tibetans must have this image of wearing thick clothes even in the hottest weather and of having dirty faces and unwashed hair? Appreciating hygiene, maintaining the bare minimum of one’s appearance, surely is a common trend of all mankind. In the past this wasn’t possible, and a high standard of living was limited in every aspect. But there is no need to be like that anymore. Out of the tens of thousands of Tibetan people there that day (and it happened to be a horse racing festival), there were probably only very few people who looked like that. I believe that the real Tibetans are the majority of those at the festival who were neatly dressed, who had cleaned themselves up and looked comfortable, and who are no different from other people, because this is the reality. We cannot ignore tens of thousands of people and only pay attention to one particular person.”
“Ultimately, Tibet is not as unique as is imagined. It is not a ‘paradise’, nor is it a Utopia. It is a real world that is both remote and poetic and where people strive to make a living.”