News / Asia

Q&A with Lezlee and Stefan Halper: 'Tibet: An Unfinished Story'

FILE - A Tibetan monk walks along the halls of the Jokhang Buddhist temple in Lhasa, Tibet.
FILE - A Tibetan monk walks along the halls of the Jokhang Buddhist temple in Lhasa, Tibet.
The West has long been fascinated with Tibet; its culture, its stunning landscape and myths beyond belief. For the past 60 years, the fascination has been in conflict with Chinese occupation of the region and a forced integration into Han Chinese society. Western response has been limited in direct forms. Indirectly, a soft power has been at work aiming to allow Tibetans to live as they choose. Lezlee Brown Halper and Stefan Halper have spent more than a decade researching Tibet’s struggle and putting it into perspective in their book, Tibet: An Unfinished Story.
   
STEFAN HALPER: We traveled out to Tibet in the late 1990s. We were actually guests of the Chinese government, which was an interesting thing. They were trying to show us around China and get us to think positively of China. But when we got to Tibet, at our request, we encountered a situation which was absolutely horrific. The Tibetan monks, the monasteries, were under tight surveillance. We found we could not have conversations with monks, even on the stairways, which weren’t being recorded, both audio and video.
 
We sensed a real fear amongst the population in downtown Lhasa. We slowly began to realize that the Chinese had systematically proceeded to deconstruct Tibetan society. We were deeply affected by that. You have to acknowledge that the Chinese have put a great deal of money into Tibet. The assumption has been “well if we [China] improve the material well-being of these people, they will sort of move away from their culture and accept China as the motherland.” This is what has not happened.
 
STEVENSON: A large problem for Tibetans and other groups is they have very little or no leverage to affect their position or change what has happened with the Chinese coming in, and very little support from the outside as well.
 
STEFAN HALPER: There is no leverage as you say available to the local Tibetans to resist this Chinese influx. But there is an odd type of leverage available within the global community. Tibet exercises a unique soft power. It is the power of moral condemnation. People around the world look at what the Chinese are doing in Tibet, and they ask very probing questions. What kind of culture could be doing this to these Tibetan Buddhists? That power of broad condemnation and criticism, that’s really driving the Chinese nuts because they don’t have a way of containing it. That leads me to think that this six-decade long occupation of Tibet by China has really benefitted neither China nor Tibet.
 
STEVENSON: Where does Tibet go from here and how will the West approach it?
 
STEFAN HALPER: In the West, and we talk about this a good deal in the book, we have come to be fascinated with the myth of Tibet. It started with Herodotus in the fifth century who claimed to see gold digging ants. It went on to the 1400s where the missionary Odoric came back with tales of fantastic beats, women with teeth as long as boars tusks, led to the sense that Tibet was a truly mystical and sometimes frightening place. That myth was picked up when the British were there in the 18th and early 19th century, and the whole myth continued with [U.S. President Franklin] Roosevelt who named [the presidential mountain retreat] Camp David as Shangri-La, and on into the present time.
 
America presents itself in global terms as having certain beliefs and values and wanting to by a beacon of rationality on issues. Unfortunately, we have not managed to see those values or principles reflected in the Tibetan experience. There are a lot of reasons for it. The fact is Tibet really is on the other side of the world. It is not bounded by water. We have no obvious way in to be helpful. So where do we go from here? China relies upon the rivers that flow from Tibet to provide water to large portions of central China. So they are not going to give the area up. But they might moderate their domestic governance. If we could encourage that, that would be a wonderful thing.

Jim Stevenson

For over 35 years, Jim Stevenson has been sharing stories with the world on the radio and internet. From both the field and the studio, Jim enjoys telling about specific events and uncovering the interesting periphery every story possesses. His broadcast career has been balanced between music, news, and sports, always blending the serious with the lighter side.

You May Like

Video Experts Warn World Losing Ebola Fight

Doctors Without Borders says world is losing battle against Ebola, unless wealthy nations dispatch specialized biological disaster response teams More

Video Experts: Rise of Islamic State Significant Development in Jihadism

Many analysts contend the group - which grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq - has been rebuilding for years More

US-Based Hong Kongers Pledge Support for Pro-Democracy Activists

Democracy advocates call on Chinese living abroad to join them in opposing new election rules for their home territory More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearancei
X
Elizabeth Lee
September 02, 2014 8:57 PM
Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearance

Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Experts See Rise of ISIS as Significant Development

The Islamic State’s rise seems sudden. It caught the U.S. by surprise this summer when it captured large portions of northern Iraq and spread its wings in neighboring Syria. But many analysts contend that the group - which grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq - has been rebuilding for years. VOA's Jela de Franceschi takes a closer look at the rise of ISIS and its implications for the Middle East and beyond.
Video

Video Israel Concerned Over Syrian Rebels in Golan

Israeli officials are following with concern the recent fighting between Syrian rebels and government forces near the contested Golan Heights. Forty-four U.N. peacekeepers from Fiji have been seized by Syrian Islamist rebels and the clashes occasionally have spilled into Israel. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forces

A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video US Detainees Want Negotiators for Freedom in North Korea

The three U.S. detainees held in North Korea were permitted to speak with foreign media Monday. The government of Kim Jong Un restricted the topics of the questions, and the interviews in Pyongyang were limited to five minutes. Each of the men asked Washington to send a representative to Pyongyang to secure his release. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti has our story.
Video

Video Turkmen From Amerli Describe Survival of IS Siege

Over the past few weeks, hundreds of Shi'ite Turkmen have fled the town of Amerli seeking refuge in the northern city of Kirkuk. Despite recent military gains after U.S. airstrikes that were coordinated with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, the situation remains dire for Amerli’s residents. Sebastian Meyer went to Kirkuk for VOA to speak to those who managed to escape.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.

AppleAndroid