DEMYSTIFYING TIBET: Unlocking the Secrets of the Land of the Snows by Lee Feigon

DEMYSTIFYING TIBET: Unlocking the Secrets of the Land of the Snows

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An impeccably researched, spirited history of the Land of the Snows, by East Asia specialist Feigon (Colby College; China Rising, 1990, etc.). It is Feigon's intent to disabuse us of the notion of Tibet as ""a snowy Shangri-la inhabited by spiritual, peace-loving, yet simple people in splendid isolation."" This he does, admirably, on the political level, charting the course of the land's tumultuous history, from the early influence of Buddhist and Bon religious practices to the rise of the monastic culture, through the vagaries of the rhubarb and wool trades, the conflicts among religious leaders (the Dalai Lama, Panchen Lama, and the Karmapa), and Tibet's ancient, grating, twined relationship with China. Indeed, Feigon devotes much effort to lambasting the Chinese for their long and ugly association with the Roof of the World: Their claims of suzerainty and assumptions of superiority, their dumping of nuclear waste and erection of gulags in northern Tibet, the horrors of the Cultural Revolution visited upon the land in the 1960s, the crushing of recent gestures toward independence (though Feigon, to his credit, gives ample mention of British and American efforts to destabilize the volatile political situation). Where Feigon stumbles is in trying to convince the reader that Tibet is not a land of mystery for Westerners. In one breath he derides our fevered images of Tibetan ways (poor old Alexandra David-Neel, with her levitating monks, is a favorite target), and in the next breath he waxes elegiac on the colossal glories of the Potala, the strangeness of sky funerals, the princesses sent to Tibetan nobles from as far away as the Middle East, the lawlessness of the Golok nomads. Sounds pretty wild from here; what's achieved by pretending it's not? Feels like a good dose of cultural relativism. Though overly preoccupied with the role of China, a historically encyclopedic depiction of the forces that shaped today's Tibet, right down to the way tea is prepared. Still and all, this is one land of wonder.

Pub Date: Jan. 5th, 1996
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Ivan Dee