British Perceptions of Tibet in the late 19th to the early 20th century

For centuries Tibet has been a place of intrigue in Western minds. From as early as the time of Herodotus (484-425 BCE) the mythical perceptions of Tibet were already present in the West. In Herodotus’s third book of his work Histories apodeixis he describes fox-sized ants who would lived nearby tribes of people who lived north of the Indians. The fox-sized ants would dig up the sand to construct their underground homes while unearthing amounts of gold dust in the process. In the mornings gold-seekers would quickly come to gather up as much sand as possible before fleeing from the pursuing giant ants.1

As centuries passed the beliefs associated with Tibet in the West were no longer confined solely to these types of “mythical” and “mystical” beliefs, by the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the British perceptions of Tibet were now not only based from that of myth but also of historical images derived mainly from the academic research of British officials. The British perceptions of Tibet and Tibetans during this period were diverse, and in some cases conflicted by opposing perceptions, but they were largely rooted or influenced by British imperialist aims. To many British perceptions, Tibet was a mysterious and unexplored frontier that intrigued curiosities, imperialist desires, as well as fears; to others Tibet was the land of a people who were believed to be an immoral, dirty, ignorant and over-religious race of people; and to others Tibet was the land of a degenerative form of Buddhism that acted as a blinding influence on the Tibetan people with a despotic ruling class of Lamas who extorted the Tibetan people. However, although the British perceptions of Tibet in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries were diverse, they were heavily influenced by the imperialist colonial desires of the British.

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Family’s odyssey a history lesson

Tale of Tibetans’ exile unfolds as woman studies her uncle’s life
Sep 11, 2009 04:30 AM

Dasey Wangkhang Silva is the niece of one of the first two Tibetans to come to Canada. She is documenting that pivotal time in history.
Dasey Wangkhang Silva is the niece of one of the first two Tibetans to come to Canada. She is documenting that pivotal time in history.

Stuart Laidlaw

Faith and Ethics Reporter

Dasey Wangkhang Silva is worried.

Her oldest relatives are getting on in age and soon they will be gone – taking with them the stories of an important chapter in her people’s struggle to survive.

“Their memories are too important for us to lose,” she says. “I want to keep them alive.”

She has already lost her uncle, Tsering Wangkhang, who died 10 years ago. He was one of the first two Tibetans to come to Canada at the invitation of Pierre Trudeau and Bata Shoes in the 1970s. She fears the story of how this country opened its arms to the followers of the Dalai Lama will soon be forgotten.

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MODEL TIBET VILLAGE: Tibetan Residential Quarters in New York or New Jersey‏

A Tibetan Residential Quarters, an exclusive Tibetan community, will be built in either New York or New Jersey. This project will be undertaken by the Tibetan Housing Society, with the Office of Tibet, New York, providing necessary support and guidance.

An apartment complex of two and three bedroom units will be built, and the units will then be sold off to individual families. The apartment complex, which is to be a model Tibetan village, will contain a temple, a day care center, a recreation center, a basketball court and a library.

The following proposal contains further information. Please contact Ms. Tenzin Dickyi at  and 212-213-5010 ex 14 if you need the proposal in Tibetan.

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Should We Really Boycott Lhasa Beer?

The TibetTruth Blog (See here) has been running a campaign against the Lhasa Brewery Company Ltd. and it’s importer Lhasa Beer USA, labeling the product as:

…yet another form of cultural oppression waged against Tibetans by the occupying communist Chinese regime. Its mass production and ready availability is producing worrying levels of alcoholism among the Tibetan population.

I was shocked to hear about the statistics concerning the alcoholism problem in Tibet, outlined in the post Alcohol-China’s Weapon of  Choice,” on the TibetTruth Blog (See here).

According to a 2008 field-study, in part conducted by Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College in London, the extent of alcohol related disorders has reached 31.6% for males and nearly 10 % for women. While a 2003 investigation recorded that “Alcohol use disorder was the most serious problem in Tibet with a point prevalence of 41.89‰ and a lifetime prevalence of 43.6%.A number of associated mental health problems were also noted amongst those Tibetans examined with neuroses reaching a level of 26.7% and over 20% instance of anxiety related disorders.

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Be Cool – Be Tibetan

In my life there have been a few rare occasions when I wished I were younger. Such futile sentiments are usually followed by a mixture of nostalgia and regret. Sitting now in a coffee shop, watching the Tibetan pop vocal group Yudruk perform Milam, I am struck by these feelings once again. I wish I were experiencing this as a younger man. I wish I had had the chance to be cool and be Tibetan when I was a young college student in Beijing.

In those days, I struggled to express who I wanted to be. Looking back, I can see that I was searching for a way to be “cool” and be Tibetan at the same time. Of course, back then, the term cool didn’t exist, either in Tibetan or Chinese. And whatever it was, “coolness” was the last thing associated with Tibetans in the Chinese imagination. As a young Tibetan who grew up in the Chinese education system, we didn’t yet know how to live outside Chinese imagination.

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BBC to Help the Chinese Government in the Exploitation of Tibetan Culture and the Marginalization of Tibetan People

On May 25th, Chinese media released stories on the BBC’s decision to broadcast a promotional commercial in December on its World Channel free to help promote Lhasa’s tourism (See article here)

At the West China Counties International Investment and Cooperation Forum held in Hong Kong late April, the BBC World showed great interest in Lhasa’s tourism and promised to make a short film costing 100,000 Yuan on the topic.

“This will be the first time for Lhasa to publicize its tourism worldwide. With this 30-second short film, we hope to enhance Lhasa’s international image, help the world know the city better and attract more people,” said Gao Fu, deputy director of the Lhasa’s Tourism Bureau.

This decision by the BBC must be reversed. By choosing to collaborate with the Chinese government in publicizing Lhasa’s tourism the BBC will only add to the exploitation of Tibetan culture, the marginalization of Tibetans in Tibet by supporting the dominance of Chinese owned businesses and enterprises who overwhelmingly control the tourism industry in Lhasa, and the spread of the Chinese propaganda on Tibet that is administered to the tourists in Tibet.

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