Editor's Notes: This is a short presentation drawn from a Belgian experience by Philippe Paquet, reporter at La Libre Belgique, Brussels, Beijing, October 2006.
It's always difficult to discuss complex matters in a very short time. It's even more difficult when the speaker, appearing before such a distinguished audience, will certainly not pretend to be an expert. My first-hand experience of Tibet is largely limited to the two visits I made to "the Roof of the World" at a twenty years interval, one in 1986 and the other in 2004. These visits were thrilling, very informative and unforgettable, but they don't really allow me to talk at length about the state and future of Tibetan culture. That's the reason why I chose to discuss briefly, today, a couple of topics in the light of the much larger experience that I have of my own, peculiar background.
Belgium, which has been the battleground of Europe for several centuries, is a crossroad of languages, cultures and religions. People there speak French, Dutch and German. They belong both to the Anglo-Saxon and the Roman world, and they are split between Christians (Catholics or protestants) and atheists. There's an important Muslim population born out of Northern-African, Balkan and Turkish immigration. The Jewish community is also significant. The continuing enlargement of N.A.T.O. and the E.U. is bringing a growing number of expatriates: Brussels has already the largest number of embassies and diplomatic missions in the world. In this context, how can we define such a thing as "Belgian culture"? It has become even more elusive now that the E.U. has abolished most of the borders on the European continent. Not only are Europeans travelling more than ever before from one country to the other, but university students are more and more doing their courses in several institutions in various countries, immersed in sometimes deeply different cultures.
Mr.Philippe Paquet is ready to enter into the Potala Palace. By Zhang Xiaoyu
The lessons we can draw from this experience can, in my eyes, apply to a certain extent to Tibet. There is, of course, an original and extremely rich Tibetan culture which has to be protected and promoted. This is something, I believe, the central and local authorities are, today, committed to. At the same time, Tibet can't avoid the effects of globalisation. Since the opening of its borders to the outside world in the early 1980s, it has been exposed to foreign influences in an impressive way. There's a lot of talk in the West about "Chinese influence" in Tibet, but we should be concerned as well by the "Western influence" on the way of life and culture of the Tibetan people. Ultimately, a balance would have to be struck between the preservation of a distinctive, native culture, and its necessary adaptation to a world that has become global. We face the same dilemma in developed countries like Belgium, under the powerful impact of the American culture, for instance, and it would be sheer utopia to believe that Tibet could escape due to the mere protection of its high mountains.
One area that should be of great concern to those really dedicated to the protection of Tibetan culture is language and this is also a field where Belgians have some insight since most of them are at least bilingual. It is obvious that the Chinese language has become the key to success and prosperity for the young Tibetans today. It's the gateway to the best schools and universities, then to a wide range of job opportunities. There's nothing wrong about that, given the fact that Tibet is landlocked, has a small population, is endowed with a limited economic potential (at least for the time being) and has to look beyond its borders for its development. Another aspect that is too easily overlooked is that the Chinese language is also, for the Tibetans, a means of access to a universe of knowledge and a culture larger than their own: not only the literature and the printed maters, but the resources on the Internet have much more to offer in Chinese than in most other languages. To be able to read and write Chinese thus gives the Tibetans not only a competitive edge in the employment market, but opens to them a new world of pleasure and entertainment. The fact is, however, that Tibetan is increasingly becoming a spoken language that fewer Tibetan children are able to write. If it is essential that the next generation of Tibetans be gifted with language skills that include proficiency in Chinese and, most probably, as anywhere else in the world, English, it is also a matter of survival, for their culture that they master their mother tongue, both spoken and written. As the fate of many ethnic minorities or tribal groups shows elsewhere, a language that is not written is doomed to disappear.
Former road maintainer,Dondrup built two primary schools in the north grassland of Tibet. His son Tashi gave up the opportunity to stay in big city and is teaching in these school.
People are charactering sutras at the foot of Mt.Jaori in Lhasa.By Dekyi
Speaking about foreign influences in Tibet, we face inevitably the old debate about progress vs. tradition. The recent opening of a railway line in Tibet has brought this debate to new levels of intensity in Western countries, some people arguing that the ??highest train in the world?? will bring more disadvantages than benefits to Tibet. Again, as a Belgian, it reminds me of the introduction of the railway in my country. The first railway line was opened in the U.K. in 1825, but Belgium was privileged with the first railway service on the European continent ten years later.
At the time, however, people were terrified at the idea of using it because, it was feared, no one who survived a travelling speed of 30 km/hour! Today, people travelling ten times faster aboard the TGV (Train Grande Vitesse, or High Speed Train) between Brussels and Paris or London still find it too slow... This shows how the acceptance of technological and economic progress is a matter of courage, intelligence, lucidity and far-sightedness. The irruption of a railway line where travel was made at best by truck or bus, and most often by horse or by foot, is of course disruptive, both for the environment, the fauna and flora, and the local inhabitants. The potential damage must be carefully assessed and prevented. But no one will dispute the fact that better transportation means progress and happiness. This is especially true of railways. Countries where no rail network was built are often lagging behind. Personally, I don't see why Tibet should be one of these few places. While I'm applauding at the human and scientific efforts that have made possible such an engineering masterpiece, I'0m looking for the day when the train will reach not only Lhasa, but Kathmandu and Delhi, ultimately linking the Yellow Sea and the Indian Ocean. It'll mean that Tibet is definitely freed from its secular isolation and that the horizon for the average Tibetan is not to herd yaks anymore, unless he chooses to.
In three years, stones carved with lines from Tripitaka are piled up to form this sutra dagoba. The three, however, still have much to do before accomplishing their mission.
A Tibetan is releasing lungta at the mountain pass of Drolma Lha at Mt.Kangrinboqe. By Dekyi.
What about the influx of people, and namely of Han Chinese migrants, one would say. Well, human migration is now a world-wide problem. We see it everyday in Western Europe when desperate Africans are pouring into the Canarias at the risk of their lives to enter the E.U. The question we face is to keep the borders open or to close them. The case of Tibet is, of course, somewhat different, but the question put to the Chinese government is about the same: how to balance the economic development to which migrants can contribute with the respect of Tibet's autonomy and the preservation of its distinctive cultural identity? The answer is crucial also for the protection of the environment which, I believe, forms an integral part of Tibet's heritage - people loves Tibet as much for its pristine lakes, rivers and mountains as for its temples, Chortens and Buddhist customs. The pressure of an uncontrolled population increase would be unbearable for such a fragile ecosystem. The current boom in Chinese tourism (which, in a way, is a healthy sign since it's reflecting the deep interest many Chinese have now for Tibet) is already showing strains in overcrowded historical places like the Potala. A lot of touristic sites and beauty spots are littered with rubbish. While policies are involved, to protect forests for example, education has also a lot to do. But this is true of all China, and not only Tibet.