Global Reading Challenge ~ Country # 37) China

Just a reminder – I’m reading books by authors born in the country I am using for the challenge, which explains how a book about Tibet, became my choice for China. Sun Shuyun is from China, but the book is about the year she spent in Tibet, following a village Shaman & his family, a hotel owner, a rickshaw driver, a party worker, some Monks & a doctor, learing about the Tibetan way of life.

I have to admit that I know almost nothing about Tibet & Buddhism & even less about the Chinese rule of Tibet, which is what made me want to read this book so much. I realise that I could have watched the tv show – I’m sure I could have found it somewhere, but I find you often get more out of books than you do out of watching a tv show or movie on the same subject.

Sun Shuyun predominately follows the Rikzin family, Tseten (the village Shaman) his brothers Loga & Dondan & Yangdron, their shared wife. We also follow their children & Mila, the brothers’ father. Through Sun Shuyun we learn of Tibetan culture, the rituals of the monks (both male & female), the incredible poverty which grips the country & a bit about the impact that China has had on this desolate country. The Tibet portrayed in Sun Shuyun’s book is one of centuries old customs (some of them now illegal under Chinese rule), being pushed pulled & brushed aside by communist China. But also of how these customs flourish in many places in spite of this. We learn of how the Monks were banished from the monestaries, how they were tortured by the Chinese government until they became informants & turned on each other. We learnof the rampant alcholism, the illiteracy (& how students are not legally allowed to learn Tibetan at school, they must learn in Chinese & speak Chinese), the high infant mortality rates & the practically non-exsistant healthcare.

While it may seem that this is all negative, it is really far from that. The Tibetan customs are fascinating, the funeral rituals, the Sky Burial (the body of the dead is cut into small pieces & fed to vultures), the wedding ceremonies (where the bride doesn’t know she is getting married, is kidnapped, locked in a room for days & married against her will, wailing all the while – for show), the resilliance of the Monks, the acceptance that while medicine may be able to fix things, the Shaman comes first. The Tibet presented in A Year in Tibet is a country caught between two worlds – modern & not. After reading A Year in Tibet, I feel I know a little more, have more respect for the Tibetan people & what they have gone through & foremost, have discovered a country I would dearly like to visit!

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