Is Beijing right to insist that Tibet has always been Chinese? Is the Dalai Lama ‘the monk in wolf’s clothing’ (Beijing again), the ‘black hand’ behind the recent violence in Lhasa and the instigator of the disorders during the Olympic torch processions? Above all, what has happened in Tibet after fifty-eight years of Chinese occupation?
There are two sorts of books about Tibet. There are scholarly ones by academics, mostly in the US, which do not appear at Borders, Waterstone’s, or even Daunt Books. Then there are the books by authors whose main qualification, of which they make a meal, is their long friendship with the Dalai Lama, who, if they are lucky, writes an introduction saying that, for an outsider, this is a nicely written book, and besides I like him. These authors don’t read Tibetan or Chinese and insist that they are not real scholars. But Sun Shuyun’s A Year in Tibet is unique. Neither academic nor sentimental, it supplies information and analysis from which even Tibetanists will learn. Its main contributions are these: China has eroded, probably forever, some of the bedrock of Tibetan culture, and done little to improve health or education outside Lhasa. But equally impressive is how much of traditional life endures.