Book Review: Vanishing Tibet

Vanishing Tibet, by Danny Conant & Catherine Steinmann

Fortunately, this book is mostly made up of artistically taken photographs.  I am generally someone who prefers solid text to pictures, but in this case the pictures express what is most worthwhile about this book and the text even detracts from the enjoyment one could have in this book.  This is unfortunate.  My own feelings about this book are mixed.  Like many Westerners, I have at least some interest in the freedom of the Tibetans from Chinese oppression, and this book certainly plays to those sentiments.  On the other hand, the authors of the book appear to assume that readers will be interested in or even sympathetic to the Buddhism which has also long oppressed the Tibetan people, which I do not [1].  To be sure, the authors felt it necessary not only to decry the Chinese behavior in Tibet but also to promote the religious beliefs of the Tibetans, with their own oppressive religious elite.  Those readers who have a higher opinion than Buddhism than I do will find this book to be far more enjoyable than I did, and those who are less interested in remote parts of the world will likely find even less to praise and enjoy than I did.

In terms of its structure, this book is divided into two parts.  At less than 100 pages, this is not a demanding book to read.  The first fifteen pages (numbered in roman numerals) consist of introductory discussion that praises the resilience of the Tibetan people, comments on the oppression they have suffered, and gives some discussion as to their religious beliefs as well as the artistic choices made in taking and developing the photographs of the book.  The remainder of the book is taken up by photographs taken over the course of several decades of Tibet.  The photos themselves are heavy on Tibetan religion, with photos monks, monasteries, prayer wheels, and other heathen accessories to worship.  They show the beauty of Lhasa as well as the destruction of many traditional buildings so that new Chinese immigrants can move in.  The best of the photos show the weather-beaten and often timid Tibetan people themselves, a people who truly deserve a much better fate then they have received in history.  God willing, they are a people who will know before too long freedom both from Chinese oppression as well as the influence of heathen religion.

What is one to make of this book?  This is a book whose positive reception depends on the reader not only being hostile to Chinese efforts at what the authors term as “cultural genocide” of the Tibetan people but also being favorable to the Dali Lama and to Buddhism as it is exists in Tibet.  I happen to be somewhat split and so my opinions are mixed about this book.  I would have appreciated this book far more if the photos had been less heavily directed towards the worship that goes on in Tibet and if the text had not highlighted that as well.  As is often the case, I tend to appreciate it when authors focus on what unites me with them and not what divides us apart, and religious (and political) worldviews tend far more often to unite than divide.  It is likely that few people will read this book apart from those who have a high degree of interest in Eastern religion, which is probably for the best.  One can cheer on the rugged and difficult and oxygen-deficient Tibetan climate in beating back the Chinese demographic invasion without being entirely content with the Tibetan culture as it would be on its own.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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1 Response to Book Review: Vanishing Tibet

  1. Pingback: Audiobook Review: Great Courses: Buddhism: Part 2 | Edge Induced Cohesion

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