Monday, May 17, 2010

Review of "Seven Years in Tibet" - the movie

["he can smile and smile, and still be a villain..." -- Hamlet]

The book glosses over the fact that the author, Heinrich Harrer was a devoted Nazi [who escaped from a WWII British enemy alien internment camp] and taught the then-teenager who is now the Dalai Lama his world-view. The Dalai Lama learned his basic notions of the world outside Tibet almost exclusively from the Nazi Harrer. The movie omits to mention it at all.

The book deals at least somewhat with how parasitic and exploitive the wealthy Lhasa upper class was, all at the expense of the desperately poor Tibetan common people. Tibetan peasants were somewhere between feudal serfs and outright slaves of the monasteries which owned almost all of the arable land in Tibet. The movie mentions this not at all.

Both book and movie do show how profoundly religious and superstitious the Tibetan people were but each shows only slightly how the upper class shamelessly used that religiosity to mercilessly exploit the people.

Both book and movie depict the Chinese as evil invaders. Neither mentions that China had ruled Tibet for centuries before the collapse of Ch'ing authority in 1912 and that there were Chinese imperial troops stationed in Lhasa until 1913. In fact it was the authority of the Dalai Lama god-king that was a relative novelty, not Chinese rule.

Neither mentions that Chinese revolutionaries had good reason to kick out members of a particularly nasty and exploitive regional landlord elite, one that ruled and exploited the poor not just through money and property as elsewhere in China, but one that even more despicably ruled through religiosity and superstition.

The Chinese general is shown in the movie as being rude and disrespectful to the ever-so-charmingly-smiling god-king. It is never mentioned that he would have been well within his rights as a revolutionary general to have had everyone in the royal family stood against a wall and shot, as the Bolsheviks did with Tsar Nicholas II and his family at Ekaterinburg 1n 1918.

The Dalai Lama is portrayed as a nice man with a wonderful smile and a warm, enveloping presence. It is pretty much never mentioned that he is also a deposed absolute monarch seeking to reimpose his absolutist clerical-monarchical rule on his people and return to the shocking property and social relationships of the pre-revolutionary era. The Dalai Lama was a combination Tsar and Pope of a pious, obedient people, and his regime milked it for everything it was worth.

It is never mentioned in book or movie, or indeed almost anywhere at all, that the Chinese Communists took the land away from the monasteries and gave it to the peasants who actually worked it. The modern day Tibetans who so desperately want the Chinese out, never mention any desire to return the land the Chinese gave them back to the monasteries.

Nor is it ever mentioned in Western discussion that much of the agitation for Tibetan independence coming from within Tibet is motivated by ethnic hostility to Han (Chinese) immigrants to Tibet. This makes the independence movement look less like a liberation movement and more like an Arizona-style bigotry against immigrants.

Tibet, as a part of China, faces a future of growing literacy, public health, prosperity, improved living conditions, connection to the outside world with roads, rail, and airports.

Tibet as an independent kingdom under the Dalai Lama would face a future as tiny remote marginal impoverished and backward country. Its main sources of income would be tourism and drugs, much like Nepal today - or worse.

Which is why "Free Tibet" bumper stickers are fixed onto a layer of ignorance as much as onto a layer of plastic.

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