My Land And My People: A book review

No wonder why I purchased this book. But the Dalai Lama is always a mystery to me. That could be the reason why I spent some dollars three months ago.

For some reason, I’d like to write this post in English. This is the “one more thing” I learned from Dalai lama. If you want to be really popular, you’d better learn to speak and write in English.

My Land and My People
My Land and My People by His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet

Since Dalai Lama is still a taboo in mainland china. His books are literally not available anywhere. When I visited Seattle in 2009, I had the chance to purchase one copy of The Art Of Happiness. It’s a printed book. There’s a picture of Dalai Lama on the cover. It’s hard to hide that in public. Therefore, I didn’t finish that book till today. Thanks to Kindle, the book finally has a disguise. Nobody could guess what I was reading. I can read Dalai Lama’s book in a place like Tian’anmen Square (It’s a political joke which foreigners hardly understand.).

Dalai Lama was not a daily topic in public propaganda. I can’t remember the first time when I heard his name. But I bet it came with terms like “reactionaries” and “secessionists”. When I have access to internet in late 1990s, I was somehow confused. Dalai Lama was not a bad figure overseas. He looks like an ordinary old man, a highly knowledgeable monk and nice guy. But why his name must be censored? I got no answer. I even didn’t know he is a laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize until the 2008 Tibet unrest. This ignorance made me sad and angry. That’s why most books I read on Kindle are biographies and memoirs.

The book was first published in 1962. To me it’s a biography rather than a political document. In this book I found something nobody told me before. For the very first time I read about the history before 1959 liberation (which was an invasion in Tibetan’s eyes). According to this book, I learned the following. Tibetans were happy with feudalism system and the isolation. The Fourteenth Dalai Lama was not a good politician. Tibetan people love the Dalai Lama and are willing to protect His Holiness with lives. The Dalai Lama never officially claimed the independence before the exile just because he didn’t think that was necessary[1].

It’s time to recall what I learned about Tibet in high school history class. Although I always got an F, I can’t forget the fundamental things. Tibet had a semi-feudalism system before the 1959 liberation. The land lards were crucial. They even cut off human parts as a punishment. Tibetan people were poor. There was serious famine and almost every Tibetan peasant suffered. To ensure that level of authenticity, pictures were there as proofs. That’s what textbooks taught us. As a teenager in such an educational system, I had no motivation to find out the true story.

But I read something different in this book. On page 5, there’s a description on Tibetan daily life[2]. It wasn’t as hard as I was instructed. On page 40, Dalai Lama introduced the monks got promotion[3]. It was somehow democratic rather than hereditary.

I think the problem comes with misunderstanding. Tibetans are religious people while communists are atheists. The high ranked communists might understand the values of Tibetans but those solders might not. Different values can bring dramatic opinions to the same situation. Like what described on page 134, Chinese general send two low level officers to Dalai Lama asking His Holiness to attend a theatrical show. Under such a tension of unrest in March 1959, how could Tibetans believe this was not a conspiracy?

There’s one more thing I’d like to talk about different values. Since the communists are atheists. It’s awkward to spread religion to normal people. I remember there’s a ridiculous description on this topic in Peter Hessler’s book The River Town. In the page 336, the school dean rejected the idea of teaching A Christmas Carol because “the communist party is very sensitive about spreading religion”. It isn’t hard to understand what Dalai Lama said on page 100. “The Chinese government said their people had religious freedom, but one could see that no future was planned for religious foundations. They were being starved to death and allowed to decay.”

The theory Dalai Lama talked about in the appendix are far too complicated to me. I’m made to an atheist. I have no intention to read and understand. But what I learned from this book is respect. Too many sad things happened because of misunderstanding, which usually comes after disrespect.

But I won’t say who is right and who is wrong. The current situation is far too complicated than what I expected. This is a blog post on the book. I’m just a person who loves biographies. It’s ironic that I failed in almost every history examinations in high school. But my history teacher will be gratified that I finally started to read something on history 🙂

If you’d like to spend some time to hear an intimate narritive story of a great spiritual leader, buy this book. You will have a chance to know the Dalai Lama more.

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Footnotes:

[1] When we won our complete independence, in 1912, we were quite content to retire into isolation. It never occurred to us that our independence, so obvious a fact to us, needed any legal proof to the outside world. (Page 65)

[2] Normally, we had five workers on our farm, and much of the work was done by the family, but during the sowing and harvesting season for a few days we had to hire from fifteen to forty men who were paid in kind. And in our village there existed the custom of helping each other whenever a family stood in need of help or found itself in any difficulties. (Page 5)

[3] But on the other hand, promotion to higher ranks in the monasteries and among officials was democratic. A boy could enter a monastery from any social class, and his progress there would depend on his own ability. (Page 40)

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