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Protect Tibetan culture through development
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13:23, March 27, 2009

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By Li Hongmei People's Daily Online

Controversial dust over the protection of Tibetan culture, unsettled for decades, has virtually driven a wedge between experts on Tibetan studies and thereby tended to produce two extremes in thinking—one is to brace for a new change by completely abandoning traditions, and the other to retreat to 'good old days' by unyieldingly fending off modern civilization. But facts manifest neither could come to fruition.

The wheel of history is moving forward and human society is all along in the process of evolution and progress, so are the culture and sub-cultures. However old and unique a culture is, it will by no means resist the impact from another more advanced civilization; and what's more, it will be always a losing battle to attempt to artificially restrict the advancement of a primitive culture.

Inheritance and protection of Tibetan culture will also have to avoid falling into the pitfalls of abusing the protection rights. Tibetan fine traditions and its uniqueness in life style and culture are time-honored and invaluable, and should be carried on and well protected as a treasure for all humanity. For Tibetan people, traditional wisdom and know-how, accumulated over generations and through the acid test, are actually part of their cultural identities. Preservation of their traditional knowledge system will somehow ply strength and energy to the future development of the Tibetan culture as a whole.

On the other hand, Tibetan culture, like many other sub-cultures or minority cultures, will maintain its vitality and essence through development, rather than stand still. Practice has proven that only by constant enrichment and diversification can a culture, whether it be mainstream or subdivision, survive and thrive. In the meantime, the protection of Tibetan culture is not tantamount to the preservation of antiques and relics, as culture in itself is a living force. Some cultural forms are simply embodied in people's every day lives, while others might as well find their way in museums.

Tibet has made much headway in revitalizing its traditional thoughts and culture since the region was finally rid of the shackle of serfdom in 1959. Democratic reform descended upon the snow-capped and reclusive plateau half a century ago, not only bringing about the emancipation of one million serfs, but breathing a new life into the ancient but long pent-up Tibetan culture.

It is well documented that 'old Tibet' under the rule of the Dalai Lama was a reign of terror, a hell to Tibetan people and a prison to Tibetan thoughts and culture. In those days, the Tibetan elites, accounting for less than 5 percent of the then total Tibetan population, monopolized on all the cultural refinements and civilizations, by wielding privileges bestowed on them by the last hierarchic serfdom system in human history.

At the turn of 1900s, serfdom and slavery had already been eradicated on the continents of both Europe and America. But it was not until 1950s that China's central government freed Tibet of the serfdom, the most inhumane system ever and with a strong foothold in Middle Age, thereafter ushering in the Tibetan region an atmosphere of democracy and freedom in realistic sense. Tibet has since turned a new chapter. The emancipation of Tibetan serfs marks an epoch-making progress in human history.

No matter how nostalgic you could be, social progress is unstoppable. The unhorsed Indians may always miss the fenceless 'good old days,' but they can also fully enjoy the modern civilization and social security offered by laws.

Today's Tibetans share the same experience. While acquiring and keeping their traditional culture, they can also absorb some air of modernization. Today's Tibetan people, just as all the others living in a modern society, prefer fashions and resort to the Internet for timely information. Bright and exuberate young Tibetans choose to go out for updated knowledge. In Beijing alone, they can be easily found on almost all the prestigious campuses.

Tibetan culture is an inalienable component in the galaxies of splendid Chinese culture, and entitled to share the fruit of the country's general progress and prosperity. Nobody has rights and power to block its progress with time or peel it off the mainstream culture.

Admittedly, the exclusive state of ecological conditions makes Tibetan culture more fragile as compared with other minority cultures. Mountaineering and explorations could spark climate change, and snow and ice could melt away as a result. With the regional development and natural growth of the population, infrastructure facilities would have to be constructed and, necessary energies and materials would have to be brought in or developed for people's livelihood. This will inevitably give rise to environmental pollution.

Considering the uniqueness and vulnerability of Tibetan culture, the central and local governments have all these years done their utmost to preserve the fine traditions passed down from generation to generation in the Tibetan society, on top of investing the hefty investment of billions of yuan in the renovation of monasteries, temples, and cultural and religious relics, and salvaging the endangered Tibetan sagas and literature. The rescue work of the saga King Gesar is a case in point.

Thanks to the efforts made thus far to salvage and protect the unique side of Tibetan culture, Tibet, pure and holy, invariably maintains a peculiar fascination to the outside world. But by no means should Tibetan culture be fossilized. Stereotyping a culture can do nothing but tarnish the sheen of its charm. Protection of Tibetan culture is to help it always glow with vitality and, attractiveness.

The article represents the author's view only. It does not represent opinions of People's Daily or People's Daily Online.

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