The struggle for modern Tibet is an unusual book that takes the reader to some remote corners of the earth, in the mountains of Tibet. The culture and life there is very unique and interesting, albeit not easy. The author saw the need to tell the world about “real-non-Shangri-la-Tibet”. He clearly shows that the life of a simple man in the Tibet is very different from the life of the noble and the elite.
The book is an autobiography of a man who was not satisfied with the traditions and limitations presented by the culture. He decided to pursue his dreams in spite of odds.
From the childhood he was fascinated with the writing skills his father possessed. He wanted to learn himself, but he realized that the education is not encouraged and supported. The Tibetan society was constituted in such a way, that there was not much need for education. It seems everybody had their niche in life and it was hardly possible to change it. The author describes very frankly and honestly very distinctive Tibetan traditions which might be non-acceptable or even repulsive to Westerners. However, Tashi found them to be reasonable and accepted them as a part of his native culture.
There were other elements of Tibetan culture that Tashi was very unsatisfied about. The simple routine life was many people’s lot in life, and their social role and status was predestined. Corruption was wide-spread in the country, therefore, to achieve something “connections” and “gifts” were important. There was hardly a chance to have a control over one’s life. Tashi’s first marriage was prearranged, even though at the time young man was 18 already. When he moved in with his in-laws, he had to take orders from his wife’s father and brother and to labor heavily while at the same time his desire for education was greatly discouraged. Tibetan society did not see the need for it. Tashi’s father-in-law reasoned: “you are very good at learning, but you can never get a high post. All you’ll ever get is a lowly position where you sit all day with nothing to do. So why waste your time and energy on this fruitless activity?” (31). However, the urge to keep on striving toward the goal leaded him on the path to his dream.
To achieve his goal of getting education, Tashi could not lead a regular life of a simple worker. From an early age he knew he wants more from life than the ordinary simple life he saw. His quest for the education started “by the stroke of luck” (11), when he was called to serve for Dalai Lama. Chinese army entered Tibet and even though some social changes were introduced by the new government, many things were left with no change. At that time Tashi made his ways to India.
The time of agricultural and social reforms brought unrest to the country. People were scared and many were fleeing Lhasa. At that time Tashi was in India and he had an opportunity to work for the Dalai Lama directly. One of his tasks was interviewing Tibetan refugees to record accounts of Chinese atrocities. He found the task very difficult as many people, being uneducated and illiterate, could not express their experience and what they witnessed. Many of them did not even know the real reason for their escape. They were simply scared by rumors and overtaken by panic. So Tashi seized the opportunity to continue his learning in the United States. He received the education and returned to Tibet to fulfill the commandment given to him by the Dalai Lama at exile: “Be a good Tibetan. Study hard. And use your education to serve your people and your country” (199).
However, that decision coast him dearly as he encountered hostility, lack of trust and other effects of the Cultural Revolution that was taking place in Tibet. He was arrested as a “counterrevolutionary” and interrogated. To “help” interrogations, he was often beaten. Then, he was imprisoned and served his term in prisons in China and Tibet. He saw that the other prisoners in his cell were teachers, intellectuals, and officials from school. He realized that these were the people who could really help the country make progress, yet to maintain its identity. Progress is what he wanted for his country the most. The Chinese were inflicting changes on the country and forcing the progress, however, those were at the cost of the national identity.
Tashi summarized the struggle: “I adamantly do not wish to return to anything like the old Tibetan theocratic feudal society, but I also do not think the price of change of modernity should be the loss of one’s language and culture” (200). Education is the solution for that struggle. Until now, Tashi Tsering is furthering education in his countries by building schools in the remote areas of Tibet.