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

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally Draws Thousands in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs