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From: Shanghai Daily 2011-08-07 09:55:00
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The spread of Tibetan culture (II)

A few kilometers away from the Potala Palace, tourists were checking into the St Regis Resort Lhasa, the first high-end hotel in Tibet, which opened to the public on May 30. The 162-room luxury hotel was designed by Jean-Michel Gathy, the designer of the One & Only Reethi-Rah Resort in the Maldives.

Gathy tried to blend local culture into his work. One wall in the courtyard is painted in lama red. But to avoid a direct religious connection, the red wall was covered with surreal grid lines.

Seeking a balance between heritage and modernity is a tough issue not only for Gathy, but also for modern Tibetans.

Just as American scholar Samuel Huntington wrote in his book, "The Clash of Civilizations," "the processes of economic modernization and social changes throughout the world are separating people from longstanding local identities."

Ngawang Dondrop is the first trained doctor in Western medicine in Shannan Prefecture, where the originator of Tibetan characters, Thonmi Sambhota, was born.

"While Tibetan medicine has begun to gain popularity in other parts of China and the world, its application in Tibet keeps decreasing," says Ngawang.

Jin Wei, author of the book "Tibet: Assistance and Development" and a scholar who teaches at the Party School of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, mentions one missed target against the backdrop of rapid economic growth.

"The idea of gross national happiness pursued in Bhutan deserves our close attention, especially for Buddhist Tibet," Jin says.

"Good protection of cultural diversity is also an indicator of good governance," Jin says.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has listed Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple and Norbulingka among its World Heritage Sites, while epic Gesar singing and Tibetan Opera have been placed on the list of intangible cultural heritage.

Kunsang Yangzom loves hip-hop but chose to study Tibetan opera at Tibet University, together with 17 classmates.

Founded in the 14th century, Tibetan Opera was on the brink of being lost as audiences lost interest.

It was usually staged during the annual Shoton Festival.

Kunsang says she is trying to fuse Tibetan musical elements to hip-hop tunes and make fusion shows.

Tibet is located at the crossroads of diverse civilizations, including those from ancient India and Persia. Old Tibet used to be a melting pot in the heart of Eurasia.

Lhasa has a mosque, which was built in the 10th century when Islam swept Eurasia. It is near Barkhor Street, opposite Jokhang Temple.

Yala, imam of the mosque, says, "All Muslims visiting Lhasa come to the mosque. The recitation of the Koran is unique in Lhasa as it is filled with Buddhist chanting."

Tibetan culture is also going global. ZAMAA, a local livestock guild in Gannan exports 5,000 yak soft-nap scarves every year to France, at prices comparable to products by Hermes or Louis Vuitton.

In the view of Alai, a Tibetan novelist, globalization might help the spread of Tibetan culture.

"I have readers well beyond China," Alai says. "I'm working to have more."

The 51-year-old novelist won China's top literary award in 2000 with his 1998 work, "The Dust Settles." It chronicles the waning days of the once-powerful Tibetan chieftains and the rough, extraordinary life of serfs in the 1940s.

The English edition of his novel was later published by Boston-based Mariner Books in 2003 under the title "Red Poppies," making Alai a member of an elite group of Chinese authors whose works have been translated and sold abroad.

"Globalization is an irresistible trend that no area can block, neither the area itself nor any external forces," Alai says. "It's unfair to exclude Tibet from this process."

Alusong treasures the Deng ethnic identity, but feels uncomfortable when members of his ancient clan are observed like rare human specimens.

"We may change our silver cups to mugs," the nostalgic chieftain says. "But any cup would still contain the same buttered tea."

[editor : ]
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