Dances with Yaks
Tibet in Film, Fiction and Fantasy of the West 
Jean Jacques Annaud’s Seven Years in Tibet may not have met with much critical acclaim, but its makers can console themselves that they have come up with the ﬁrst feature ﬁlm where, I am given to understand (for I have not seen it yet), Tibet is represented as a real place. And that is, at least from the Tibetan point of view, a deﬁnite improvement on things. In all previous ﬁlms having to do with Tibet, like the classic Lost Horizon (1937), the dreadful musical remake (1973), Storm Over Tibet (1952), Hammer ﬁlm’s Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas (1957), and The Golden Child (1986), Tibet or the Tibet-like settings are straightforward fantasy lands, like Oz or Tatooine.
Jokey asides and references to Tibet occur now and then in other ﬁlms, mostly comedies, and are, of course, as expected, unvaryingly clichéd. Tibet is either a kind of ultimate spiritual hideaway, as in The Millionairess (1960), The Razor’s Edge (1984) and Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls (1995), or a repository of magical power as in The Road to Hongkong (1962) and The Shadow (1994).
This “magic and mystery” stereotype of Tibet had, of course, an earlier, though still peripheral, manifestation in popular Western literature. George Orwell in an essay discussing the books of his childhood, mentions “Dr. Nikola, Guy Boothby’s exciting Tibetan thrillers”. He unfortunately tells us nothing further except that a real visit to Central Asia or Tibet would in comparison probably be a letdown.
One of the best known references to Tibet (or more speciﬁcally to a Tibetan) in Victorian literature is in Rudyard Kipling’s Kim. The innocent, kindly yet wise Teshoo Lama, Kim’s benefactor and companion both on the Grand Trunk road and the road of life is probably Kipling’s most generous and enlightened depiction of an Asian. Kim is also his richest and most mature work. Nirad Chaudhiri, the controversial Indian writer and ultimate autodidact, considered Kim, pace Edward Said, to be the best novel about British India.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, an ardent spiritualist, could not, of course, resist the spell of Tibet. In 1894 when he wanted to revive the Sherlock Holmes series for The Strand Magazine — he had killed off the great detective two years earlier — he has Holmes explain to an astounded Dr. Watson what had happened during the intervening period: “I travelled for two years in Tibet, therefore and amused myself by visiting Lhassa, and spending some days with the head Lama. You may have read of the remarkable explorations of a Norwegian named Sigerson, but I am sure that it never occurred to you that you were receiving news of your friend.”
Tibet is also the setting for a little-known sequel to one of H. Rider Haggard’s most well-known works, She. Once an immensely popular writer, Rider Haggard has, unlike Conan Doyle or Kipling, completely fallen out of favour with modern readers. He is though, still highly regarded in Russia and China. “She” or Ayesha, whom her native subjects somewhat resignedly address as “She Who Must be Obeyed” is the ruler/divinity of a lost civilisation in Africa. She is not only bewitchingly beautiful but has been kept young throughout ﬁve centuries by regular dips in the “Fire of Life”. For the sake of her English explorer lover she overdoes the “Fire of Life” immersions and perishes. In the sequel Ayesha, The Return of She, which I mentioned earlier, Rider Haggard resurrects this Jungian anima ﬁgure at a monastery in Tibet where she is, once more, worshipped by benighted natives — this time Tibetans.
This fascination in the West for a land of magic and mystery in the heart of Asia may have its origins in medieval European legends of a lost Christian kingdom somewhere beyond Europe and the Islamic world, ruled by the mysterious priest-king Prester John. The signiﬁcant presence of Nestorian Christians in China and Central Asia (possibly even Tibet) during the Middle Ages certainly contributed to this legend. This heretical Christian sect was quite successful in these distant lands, converting the Kerait Mongols and possibly some other tribes to Christianity. In the mid-twelfth century a papal ambassador was sent by Alexander III to Prester John. It vanished without a trace.
Aside from the Nestorian connection, this story of a Christian kingdom in High Asia could have arisen from some external similarities between Tibetan Buddhist church rituals and Roman Catholic ones: for instance in the burning of incense (especially in hand-held, chain-suspended censors favoured by both churches), the confessional, liturgical music, the sprinkling of holy water and even in something as humble as the blessing of ﬁelds by village priests. But the most obvious of resemblances between the two churches are, of course, in their respective monastic systems and in the institutions of their priest-kings, the dalai lamas and the popes.
An early Jesuit traveller to Tibet, Ippolito Desideri, though certainly opposed to Buddhism in the doctrinal sense, wrote positively about the Tibetan church and indeed quite admiringly of the morality, piety and faith of the Tibetan people. In contrast, the works of pioneering British experts on “Lamaism”, like L. A. Waddell, are undisguisedly hostile. It is a sneaking suspicion of mine that these points of correspondence to Catholicism, rather than the outright “pagan” aspects of Tibetan Buddhism are what might have provoked this subliminal Calvinistic (or C of E) type of reaction. Simplistic, constipated and arrogant Victorian notions of “reason and progress” (fairly similar to Communist Chinese views) probably also contributed to this hostility.
This bring us to the fact that the Tibetan stereotype has not been static, and sometimes varied depending on the political climate. Around the time of the Younghusband expedition (1904), British accounts of Tibet play up the general backwardness of the country, the dirt, the ignorance of the peasantry and the fanaticism of the monks, at the expense of the usual romance, adventure and mystery. To an extent it resembles Communist Chinese propaganda, and propaganda is what it was: a contrived moral justiﬁcation for the armed invasion of a peaceful neighbouring country. Once Tibetans had properly acceded to imperial supremacy though, reportage on Tibet in the West, especially in Britain, seems to take on a more congenial tone. This, of course, also had to do with the relative increase in information on Tibet and the writings of sympathetic political ofﬁcers as Sir Charles Bell. But the fantastic, magical elements never quite disappeared.
The negative stereotype of Tibet re-emerged in the West in the sixties and seventies when the intellectual climate was one of near unquestioning admiration for Communist China and Maoism.
That Tibet held a place in the imagination of the Victorian public seems to be indicated in a passage from H. G. Wells The History of Mr. Polly. Alfred Polly is the archetypal English “Everyman” of his period: lower middle class, in trade, respectable and repressed. Polly escapes the mediocrity and frustrations of his petit bourgeois life by reading, a favourite book of his being the second volume of the travels of Abbé Huc and Gabet to China and Tibet:
He followed those two sweet souls from their lessons in Thibetan under Sandura the Bearded (who called them donkeys, to their inﬁnite beneﬁt, and stole their store of butter) through a hundred misadventures to the very heart of Lhasa, and it was a thirst in him that was never quenched to ﬁnd the other volume…
Abbé Huc’s account of the remarkable journey he made with his superior Father Gabet from 1844 to 1846, across the border regions of the Chinese Empire up to Tibet, which was published in 1850 under the title Souvenirs d’un voyage dans la Tartarie et le Thibet, enjoyed an enormous success both with general readers and among literary circles in France. Simon Leys tells us that half a century later Leon Bloy noted in his journal that reading Huc remained for him “a supreme resource” whenever he felt that he was “dying of boredom”. Fifty years earlier, his old master Barbey d’Aurevilly had been one of the enthusiastic critics who applauded the ﬁrst publication of the book. Readers ignored the informative — and hence, factual — side of the book, to focus upon its extraordinary aspects. His amazing stories were taken for pure products of imagination. The book was given to children to read in the same fashion as they were given Jules Verne’s novels. An English translation by William Hazlitt, Travels in Tartary, Thibet and China, was published in 1851.
This Gallic fascination for Tibet gained further impetus early this century with the writings of Madame Alexandra David-Neel who, like Huc, had somehow actually managed to make the incredible journey to Lhasa. Her accounts were also, like the good Abbé’s, not lacking in the marvellous and the bizarre. The inﬂuence of such works could probably account for the slightly odd turn in the conversation that the Mexican poet Octavio Paz had with the mad surrealist poet Antonin Artaud when they ﬁrst met in 1947 at Saint-Germain des Pres. Paz tells us that Artaud bemoaned the ruining of Tibet by progress and industrialisation. Later in the evening Artaud “went on talking excitedly about Tibet”.
But the book that truly ensured Tibet’s magical image for all time was Lost Horizon by James Hilton. Published during the period between the two World Wars, it appears then to have had a fairly profound impact on a generation that had gone through a war unprecedented for the scale of human slaughter. In the immediate post-war period, many in Britain and Europe turned for solace to beliefs like Theosophy and spiritualism. Lost Horizon, the book, and subsequently the ﬁlm, also appeared when the ﬁrst warning rumblings of World War II were beginning to be heard, and so probably contributed to its millenarian atmosphere.
And the name “Shangri-La” has found a place in the English language as a catchword for a secret haven of peace and spirituality lost to mankind. Camp David, the country retreat of the presidents of the United States was initially named “Shangri-La” by FDR himself.
This fascination for Tibet in the West is not without a sinister obverse. The Nazis were intrigued by the theory of Tibet being the possible site of the original Aryan homeland, and even by the somewhat odd notion that the Tibetans themselves were a lost Aryan tribe. Heinrich Himmler dispatched an expedition (largely sponsored by the SS) to Tibet in 1939 under Captain Shafer, ostensibly as a scientiﬁc expedition, but with secret instructions to locate the Aryan homeland.
Getting back to the matter of Tibet in popular literature; since the publication of Lost Horizon the Shangri-La image of Tibet has been revived, fairly regularly, in other novels and stories, one of the best being the Rose of Tibet by Lionel Richardson, and in less successful efforts as Derek Lambert’s The Kites of War, and Gil Zeff’s Tibet.2
One of the most original and unusual works of ﬁction on Tibet is a collection of short stories by Pierre de la Terre, entitled Tales of the Dalai Lama. Arthur C. Clarke’s “The Nine Million Names of God”, the story of a computer programmer making a disturbing discovery in a Tibetan monastery, is an eerie science ﬁction yarn with a Twilight Zone twist at the end.
Most comic books dealing with Tibet seem to be published either in France, Belgium or the Netherlands, and somewhat removed from my rather limited Anglophone purview. The few I have seen, though, appear to be of high quality. Of course everyone has enjoyed Herge’s Tintin in Tibet, but I am informed that a French series, The Adventures of Jonathan 3 is also excellent. The one English comic book on Tibet that I know of, The Black Pearl, is a “ripping” good read. It is a well-researched and tight action story of Khampa guerillas in Mustang taking on the Red army, aided by the female James Bond of the sixties, Modesty Blaise.
The most consistently popular writer on Tibet is probably Lobsang Rampa, actually an English plumber, Cyril Hoskins. Though his many works: The Third Eye, Doctor from Lhasa, The Cave of the Ancients, Living with the Lama, etc., belong, properly, in the category of ﬁction (Hoskins claimed they were based on recollections of his previous existence in Tibet) — they were regarded, till fairly recently, by quite a few in the West as the authentic testimonies of a Tibetan spiritual master.
One would presume that these days with the opening up of Tibet to tourism, and the Dalai Lama himself being completely accessible to Westerners — what with his many visits and lectures in the West — that the “rampaesque” fantasies of Tibet would have been replaced by a more down-to-earth appreciation of the country and its problems. But an examination of the many new travel books on Tibet and the numerous New Age-type works on Tibetan religion and “culture” (invariably with an introduction by the Dalai Lama himself), leaves one with the uncomfortable feeling that nothing substantial has changed in the West’s perception of Tibet since the days when books such as The Third Eye and Lost Horizon constituted the bulk of available literature on Tibet.
One indicator of this seems to be the quality of the attention and sympathy Tibetans receive internationally, which is at present considerable. But somehow it all never quite translates into hard political support for the Tibetan cause. Often it seems that the very reason Tibet attracts so many people in the ﬁrst place is what makes this attention so inconsequential.
Tibet’s appeal to the West stems primarily from some variation or the other of the “Shangri-La” story — of the hidden kingdom of ancient learning and lost wisdom, deep in the heart of Asia, and it is the powerful mythic elements in this perspective that seem to interject a dreamlike quality into Western awareness of the Tibetan situation, making it appear less immediate, real or consequential than other conﬂicts and crises around the globe. The discomforting realisation of China’s immense size and power — especially economic power — could also be an unconscious factor in the reluctance of many to see Tibet in its reality.
The Shangri-La fantasy has, of course, primarily to do with the emotional needs of certain people in the West. It should therefore come as no surprise that in nearly all works of imagination about Tibet, the country and people come across merely as the mise en scène for the personal drama of white people. In Hilton’s Lost Horizon, the protagonist, Conway, is English. The head Lama is European, as are most of the top brass of Shangri-La. The Tibetans are essentially superstitious peasants and labourers, hewers of wood and drawers of water — coolies — for the white elite of Shangri-La. The intermediary between the white elite and the native Tibetans is, appropriately enough, a Chinese, who acts as the major-domo of the Shangri-La Monastery.
Tibetans by and large do not seem to consider such condescending characterisations of their country and culture objectionable. In fact, although they may not be accurate or altogether ﬂattering, these depictions of Tibet are considered good publicity for the Tibetan cause. In a limited sense they are, but in every such representation, where Tibetans or their land and culture serve only as a background or foil to the more important business of the white protagonist, there is an inherent and the underlying premise that Tibet is only relevant if it serves the purposes or needs of the West.
Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness can be read as an attack on Belgian colonial exploitation and subjugation of the Congo. Yet Chinua Achebe, the distinguished Nigerian novelist, assailed Heart of Darkness as racist. In Culture and Imperialism, Edward Said tells us that Achebe believes that Heart of Darkness is an example of the Western habit of setting up Africa “as a foil to Europe, a place of negations… in comparison with which Europe’s own state of spiritual grace will be manifest”. Conrad, obsessed with the black skin of Africans, had as his real purpose the desire to comfort Europeans in their sense of superiority. Heart of Darkness projects the image of Africa as “the other world”, the antithesis of Europe and therefore of civilization, a place where man’s vaunted intelligence and reﬁnement are ﬁnally mocked by triumphant bestiality.
Tibet is seen as the “antithesis” of the West not so much in the sense of a “darker” civilization, but rather in the matter of corporeality. The West, whatever its failings is real. Tibet, however wonderful is a dream; whether of a long-lost golden age or millenarian fantasy, still merely a dream.
It is this dream-like “Shangri-La” quality of Tibet, most observed in the medieval ﬂavour of its society and culture, and in its strange esoteric religion, which Westerners ﬁnd most attractive. From tourists to academics this is the feature of Tibet which is focused on, to the exclusion of other aspects of Tibetan life or culture, no matter how important they may be to the Tibetans themselves.
One of the best examples of this can be seen in the works of Galen Rowell. Photograph after splendid photograph — hundreds of them — in calendars, posters and coffee-table books extol the out-of-the-world beauty of Tibet and the innocence and spirituality of its happy people. Practically no allusion is made to the holocaust Tibet has undergone and the foreign oppression and servitude its unhappy people endure even now.
The desire to maintain the cultural purity of such Shangri-La societies as Tibet and Ladakh, or certain Amazon Indian tribes, seems to imply cocooning them from the realities of the outside world, especially from technology, commerce and even politics. Development for such societies is only deemed appropriate when it is non-military, non-industrial, and environmentally friendly. Such considerations are probably well meant and sincere, but they very often ignore that society’s own changing history, its role, however humble, in geo-political strategies, and even the desires of the people of that society who may be seeking change, for whatever reasons of their own.
For instance, in a controversial article 4 the anthropologist Melvyn Goldstein advocated his solution to the Tibetan question, whereby the Chinese would retain political, military and econom-ic control over Tibet, but would allow Tibetans to exist within “cultural reservations”. It is difﬁcult to see anyone seriously advocating such a solution to the Palestinian question, or the problems in Northern Ireland or Bosnia, or anywhere else in the real world for that matter, and not being dismissed outright as an arrogant, condescending advocate of old fashioned imperialism.
When Claude Lévi-Strauss said that “anthropology was the handmaiden of colonialism”, he was probably not looking as far ahead to the kind of “New Age” colonialism that the few surviving ancient or primitive cultures left in this world have to put up with, but the connection he postulated to anthropology still seems to hold good.
Helena Norberg-Hodge, in her book Ancient Futures, celebrates the traditional Ladakhi way of life and excoriates the tourism and development that she feels is destroying the ecological balance and social harmony of this “Little Tibet”. What such advocacy conveniently ignores is the harsh geo-political climate in which such an essentially frail society exists. In this case, it is not so much the strength of the traditional Ladakhi culture but rather the Indian army, the progressive political system of the Indian Republic, and probably even exposure to Western tourism, which have allowed Ladakh to retain its identity and a considerable part of its old way of life. Just across the border, inside Tibet, a culture unprotected by a modern army and antagonistic to change and progress, has suffered near extinction.
Calling on people in underdeveloped societies to live passive, traditional and ecologically correct lifestyles — and not emulate the wasteful lifestyles of people in Western consumer societies — is no doubt laudable, but somehow does not sit too well coming from someone who most probably owns an SUV or has running hot and cold water in his or her home.
Slavenka Drakulic, the East European feminist writer, in her book How We Survived Communism and Even Laughed, describes her reaction to Fidel Castro’s statement on TV saying that he would not let every Cuban have a car on ecological grounds. “As Castro uttered that sentence, I shivered with cold. At that very moment I detected for the ﬁrst time in his words a frightening totalitarian idea in ecology. He was asking his people to give up a better standard of living, even before they had tasted it, in order to save the planet, to renounce in advance something that was gloriﬁed as the idea of progress. It seemed to me that asking for post-consumer ecological consciousness in a poor, pre-consumer society was nothing but the act of the totalitarian mind.”
Though the “Shangri-La” stereotype is a Western creation, Tibetans, especially the refugees, are gradually succumbing to a similar fantasy idea of their lost country. This shift in perspective is somewhat self-conscious in those aware of its strong selling-point in the West, but in ordinary refugee society the change is more subtle, as life in exile takes on the routines of permanence and the collective goal of returning to Tibet becomes an increasingly distant dream.
The promotion of the image of pre-’59 Tibet as the land of peace, harmony and spirituality is one of the main tasks of the Tibetan leadership in exile. Among other things, this endeavour has unfortunately required a certain amount of rewriting of Tibetan history, especially modern history. One such revision is in the playing down of the role of the armed uprising against the Chinese since 1956 and the fostering of the ﬁction that the popular resistance against the Chinese was non-violent and led, Gandhian-style, by the Dalai Lama.
The Western viewpoint before which the Tibetan leadership strives to maintain a positive image, is essentially a New Age one, and many policy decisions made by the Tibetan government-in-exile in the last decade reﬂect this. The national struggle for an independent Tibet has been replaced by a squishy agenda of environmental, paciﬁstic, spiritual, and “universal” concerns that have little or nothing to do with Tibet’s real problems. The Dalai Lama’s recent statements that Tibetan independence was not as important as the task of preserving Tibetan Buddhist culture reﬂects, in a sense, not just His Holiness’ frustration at Beijing’s intransigence on the Tibetan issue but the inﬂuence of his Western followers for whom the problems of Tibet, the nation of the Tibetans, is nowhere as relevant or important as that of Tibet, the repository of a secret wisdom to save a materialistic and self-destructive West.
The propagation of the Shangri-La myth of Tibet, whether by the West or by the Tibetans themselves, has not gone entirely unquestioned nor unchallenged. Tsering Shakya in “The Myth of Shangri-La”, Lungta (special issue on Tibetan writers), and Donald S. Lopez Jr. in “New Age Orientalism: The Case of Tibet”, Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, Spring 1994, provide an impressive study of the myth and its negative effect on the understanding of the real country and its problems.
In two lectures, “Orientalism and the Dalai Lamas” and “Ethno-Nationalism and the Tibetan Issue” which he gave at the Amnye Machen Institute on 13 October 1994 and 31 January 1995 respectively, Professor Elliot Sperling introduced a historical and diametric perspective to the accepted view of the institution of the dalai lamas and the Tibetan Buddhist church (and doctrine) as being inherently paciﬁstic. Last May an international symposium, “Mythos Tibet”, was organised by the University of Bonn, where a good beginning was made in deconstructing the Shangri-La fantasy. This article (and the Harvard lecture) grew out of my own modest contribution to the proceedings of the conference.
At the conclusion of his article Donald Lopez contends that for Westerners to indulge in the Shangri-La fantasy of Tibet is “to deny Tibet its history, to exclude Tibet from a real word of which it has always been a part, and to deny Tibetans their role as agents participating in the creation of a contested quotidian reality.”
However hopeless their cause, or marginal their survival at present, Tibetans must live their own reality and resist being lured into ethereal and marginal (though often ﬁnancially proﬁtable) roles for the fantasies of the West.
At the beginning of this article I mentioned that Seven Years in Tibet was the ﬁrst feature ﬁlm where Tibet was represented as a real place. Having ﬁnally seen the ﬁlm, I must say that, though certainly well intentioned, the movie continues to perpetuate the fantasy stereotype of Tibet, and in fact adds some new features to the myth. Seven Years in Tibet is not a good ﬁlm, but it is doing fairly well at the box ofﬁce, probably because of the general sympathy for Tibetans in the West. In an otherwise caustic review (The New Yorker, 17 December 1990), Pauline Kael tells us why a similar ﬁlm, Dances with Wolves, did so well with the American public: “They (Kevin Costner and associates) are trying to show the last years of the Sioux as an independent nation from the Sioux point of view. And it’s that sympathy for the Indians that (I think) the audience is responding to.”
My main objection to Seven Years in Tibet was that, unlike the book, it reduces Tibet to mere background for the personal drama of a white man. I don’t think it would be unfair to say that the Heinrich Harrer character in the ﬁlm spends most of his seven years in Tibet in ostentatious soul-searching and grief for the son he has abandoned in Austria. The sense of wonder and high adventure that the book conveyed is sacriﬁced to this overwrought and essentially unconvincing melodrama.
Nearly every Tibetan in the ﬁlm seems to be a potential Dharma teacher with such cringe-making lines as “you Westerners prize achievement, we in Tibet value harmony”. The young Dalai Lama does it, of course, but when aristocrats, tailors and what-not pitch in with their own pseudo-spiritual observations it is a painful experience. Probably the most ridiculous scene in the ﬁlm (for Tibetan viewers at least) was the one of Tibetan labourers and monks frantically rescuing earthworms from a building site, and the entire Namgyal Monastery performing pujas for the worms’ spiritual beneﬁt. (“In past life, this innocent worm your mother, your father. Please no more hurting!”)
To underscore the paciﬁstic nature of the Tibetans, the Tibetan army is depicted as a motley bunch dressed in a variety of ragged chubas and cast-off uniforms, topped with the occasional British army surplus helmet. The Tibetan army was, admittedly, not as powerful and impressive an institution as the church, but the soldiers wore proper uniforms and were equipped with standard issue Lee Enﬁeld riﬂes. In fact, this modern army created by the Thirteenth Dalai Lama had roundly defeated an invading Chinese army in 1918. In the movie some Tibetan soldiers are even shown using bows and arrows against the Chinese invasion force!
Aside from the initial violence of the invasion, the Chinese in the ﬁlm are represented as being neither particularly oppressive nor threatening. Harrer wanders around Chinese-occupied Lhasa even more freely than a present-day tourist. When he roughs up the collaborator Ngabo Ngawang Jigme, Ngabo’s Chinese guards make no attempt to stop him. In reality, Harrer had wisely left Tibet before the Communist forces had arrived. Westerners who hadn’t, like Robert Ford and Geoffrey Bull, were immediately arrested, accused of being imperialist spies, and subjected to severe “struggle” and “brainwashing”. They were also given stiff prison sentences. Those were the early years of the Cold War and the Korean War, when Red China was viewed with fear and hostility in the West. Nothing of this atmosphere is conveyed in the ﬁlm.
It would be foolish, probably even unfair, to expect historical accuracy in a Hollywood movie, but if the ﬁlm makers were going to reinterpret events and show Harrer in Tibet after the Communist invasion, why not then use the opportunity to communicate to the audience the uniquely inhuman qualities of Chinese Communist oppression: the denunciations, public struggles, executions, etc., and maybe also the Tibetan Resistance.
For instance, in real life Harrer’s friend Tsarong took part in the Lhasa Uprising. After the Uprising was crushed, Tsarong was imprisoned and died in prison the night before he was to be publicly humiliated. In the ﬁlm he is shown leaving Lhasa with his furniture and household goods perched precariously on the back of yaks and mules. Admittedly, mention is made of Chinese atrocities, but only at the end of the ﬁlm in a scrolled message just before the credits.
Jean Renoir once told Satyajit Ray, “You don’t have to show many things in a ﬁlm, but you have to be very careful to show only the right things”. The makers of Seven Years have, in the main, been unable to do this, but in some things like the impressive replication of old Lhasa in the Andes, and the costumes, they have succeeded fairly well. The casting of the Bhutanese boy Jamyang Wangchuk as the young Dalai Lama is inspired. The young actor’s natural charm and spontaneity make even his awful dialogue lines not too unbearable.
I have been told that, in a typically misguided display of devotion to the Dalai Lama, Tibetan actors and extras on location in Argentina protested about the casting of a Bhutanese national as His Holiness. I hope this account is not true but if it is, someone there should have told the protesters that this perceived act of lèse majesté pales to insigniﬁcance when we look back in Tibetan history and learn to our horror that a Mongol and a Monpa child were selected as actual dalai lamas — the fourth and the sixth respectively.
Tibetan Review, January 1998
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1. Based on the the Inaugural Lecture of the Modern Tibetan Studies Forum at Harvard, given on 8 October 1997. The concluding observations on the ﬁlm, Seven Years in Tibet, are a subsequent addition.
2. Other ﬁctional works on Tibet more recently encountered: The Rainbow Annals by Grania Davis and The Flame and the Fury by John Brennand, both lent to me by my friend Tashi Tsering. Om: The Secret of Ahbor Valley by Talbot Mundy was discovered at the Strand in New York. An Indian writer, R. P. Bambi (who also taught at the Tibetan Refugee School at Dalhousie) is the author of two novels, The Crusaders of Tibet and The Bombers of Kyithang. The former seems to have been the inspiration for a similar novel, Lama by Frederick Hyde Chambers.
3. Some months after the publication of this essay in the Tibetan Review, I received a set of these delightful comic books (signed by the author) from M. Hubert Declear of Kathmandu.
4. “The Dragon and the Snowlion: The Tibetan Question in the Twentieth Century”, China Brieﬁng, 1990, New York, Asia Society, 1990. Reprinted in Tibetan Review, March 1991.Dances with Yaks,