Posts Tagged ‘Tibet’

Mandarin Chinese is set to replace Tibetan as the official language of instruction in Tibetan schools in Qinghai province.  In an October 2010 decision, the provincial government of Qinghai, which had previously allowed schools offering the nine years of compulsory education to use Tibetan as the language of instruction, indicated that Mandarin must be the language of instruction by 2015.  Xinhua, the official news agency, reported widespread protests to this move October 17-20 in Tibetan areas of Qinghai: Malho (Chin: Huangnan), Tsolho (Chin: Hainan) Tsojang (Chin: Haibei) and Golog (Chin: Guoluo).

The Mayul School, located in Golog, does not need to adhere to this policy since it is a private vocational institution, but if Tibetan is dropped from the regular curriculum, then future students at the Mayul School will be less prepared for their course of study in Tibetan language. These changes might also cause a further deterioration of the attendance rate for Tibetan students, which averages just 2.2 years of education as opposed to over 10 years for Han Chinese living in urban areas.

Students Outside an Classroom Building, Mayul School, Qinghai

The loss of Tibetan as the language of instruction in schools would further endanger the vitality of Tibetan culture and identity, making the role of the Mayul School all the more important as a place where students can study traditional Tibetan culture, while learning foreign languages, in their own language. Preservation of native languages is a right affirmed in the Chinese constitution, which states: “The people of all nationalities have the freedom to use and develop their own spoken and written languages, and to preserve or reform their own ways and customs.” Our hope is that educational reform in Qinghai will align with this constitutional right and allow Tibetan school children to study Tibetan in Tibetan.

– Eric C. Rath


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A September 2, 2010 article in the Guardian spotlighted the environmental degradation of the Tibetan plateau particularly in Qinghai province, location of our grant.  This damage is caused by agricultural mismanagement and global warning.

Yak Grazing, perhaps a vanishing site in rural Qinghai

One impact of environmental degradation is the government’s removal of Tibetan nomads off of the land and  to reservations where they cannot find work and face the loss of their traditional culture. As the article’s author, Jonathan Watts, writes:

“Qinghai is dotted with resettlement centres, many on the way to becoming ghettos. Nomads are paid an annual allowance – of 3,000 yuan (about £300) to 8,000 yuan per household – to give up herding for 10 years and be provided with housing. As in some native American reservations in the US and Canada, they have trouble finding jobs. Many end up either unemployed or recycling rubbish or collecting dung.”

We witnessed the construction of many of these ghettos which consist of row after row of small houses with little other infrastructure around them, as I have written about elsewhere on this blog. The full text of the Guardian article is available here.

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At events like family gatherings, it is clear that Tibetans have almost limitless ways of entertaining themselves using little more than their imaginations and a large repertoire of games.

Running Yogi

One of our favorite group games is “Horse Thief.”  People divide into two teams, and line up facing each other.  A representative from one side called the “buyer” walks to the other side and speaks to one of the other team members, who is the “seller.” asking how much each one of his horses cost.  (The other team members pretend they are the horses).  Part of the fun of the game is the negotiations between the buyer and seller over the cost of the horses.  “How much is this poor horse?  500?  That’s too much!”  During the course of the discussion the horse buyer tries to get close enough to one of the horses on the opposite team to slap him or her on the shoulder to “steal” the horse.  If the buyer turned thief can run back to his team without the tagged player tagging him, then he gets to keep the horse and the other player joins his team.  Players take turns being the buyer, seller, and horses.  The game continues until one side has stolen all the horses from the other side.

Another game involving two teams is Sun and Moon (nyima,dawa).  A judge finds a stone and makes enough markings on it so that everyone will recognize it and be able to tell it apart from other stones on the ground.  Both teams line up side by side with their backs facing the judge.  The judge hides the marked stone behind the players.  After the stone has been hidden the judge tells the players, who turn around and race trying to find the stone.  When a member from one team finds the stone, he tries to run back to the judge.  Members from the other team try to tag him on the head (or tackle him to the ground), but the person with the stone can throw it to his teammates.  When someone gives the stone to the judge without being tagged, then he scores a point for his team.

Watching the games

A group game where people compete against one another is the Tibetan variation of “Duck, Duck, Goose.”  Players make a circle and one person who is “it” walks around the circle carrying a hat or another object.  The player can choose to drop the hat behind any of the other players.  When he does that, the players race around the circle.  The player who dropped the hat tries to run back and sit down in the tagged player’s spot.  The tagged player tries to tag the person who dropped the hat.  The looser becomes it and has to dance or sing for the others in the middle of the circle.

A non-competitive group game is called “Dragon.”  Everyone holds hands in a long line.  One end of the dragon is the head.  The head of the dragon starts walking pulling the other team members behind.  The head picks a spot between two players and darts under their joined hands, and then chooses a spot between two more players and darts under their hands.  The rest of the dragon follows in this ever faster dash between the players, everyone trying to hold on as the dragon twists and turns.  In a variation of this game the group divides up into two teams with the team members holding on to each other from behind to form two dragons.  The dragons then fight trying to knock each other over.

— Eric C. Rath

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Lamasan Statue

H.H. Orgyen Kusum Lingpa, better known as Lamasan, whose vision established the monastic complex and town of Longen, passed away last year, but his presence endures in many ways.  One tribute to his memory is a life-size and very life-like statue created by one of his Chinese devotees.  That statue maintained vigil in the prayer hall during the recent prayer service (monlam).  Yesterday it was moved to Lamasan’s compound to a seat in his winter home.

Lamasan's Compound

Lamasan's Summer (left) and winter (right) residences

Lamasan's Statue in the Winter Residence

Surrounded by pictorial and sculptural reminders of his faith including large photos of his teachers, the statue of Lamasan appears so lifelike that at any moment it might pick up a drum and begin to pray.

Lamasan Statue (detail)

– Eric C. Rath

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Drawing Two Lines

Two white lines on a blackboard form an angle, then a plane for other forms to appear, round shapes that become a head, a torso, then limbs.  A female form appears.  Naked at first, but with a few more chalk lines added — and seldom erased — Dorje, the teacher of traditional art at the Mayul School gives form to a goddess by adding details: folds of flesh, cloth drapery, and jewelry, until he at last steps back, views his work and draws in the eyes to complete the goddess Tara now adorning the classroom blackboard.  The model, which took 10 minutes to complete, is ready for the twenty students in the class to copy.

Dorje Drawing

Dorje who was trained in the Rekong tradition of painting, which is the most prominent in this region, also spent three years in Lhasa studying art.  He currently teaches 70 students in the Mayul school in a program partially funded by our grant project.  He has been teaching since here since the autumn of last year.
While visiting the school this summer we are attending Dorje’s morning and afternoon art classes, each with about 20 students, teenage boys and girls, who are monks and laity.  In some class sessions he lectures about traditional Tibetan art, providing the historical, religious, and cultural context for producing traditional paintings.  These are mounted on fabric, appear on the walls of religious buildings, and elsewhere.  Religious institutions in Tibetan regions of China patronize traditional painters and so do lay people.  And Tibetan art has a well established and growing international market, making traditional painting a lucrative vocation for the Mayul School’s graduates who are able to pursue it.  A completed painting, which could take seven months to finish, sells for about $1,500 locally, and it commands much more on the international market.  This is a lot of money in a town where a filling lunch of dumpling soup and a side dish costs only $1.50 at a local restaurant.

Tara in a Classroom

Even the Tibetan students who are not able to become professional artists will develop a greater appreciation for their cultural heritage, which is an equally important goal of our project.

— Eric C. Rath

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Construction of the school is complete.  Here are a few recent photographs.  There will be a dedication ceremony on July 17, and information about that will be posted.

Mayul School with Temple Stupa in Background

School Grounds: red administration building and blue dorm

Students and Classroom Building

School Hallway

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Our first week in China was in a nomad tent, attending a festival associated with the Tibetan charity we are working with. Like an outdoor music festival in America, everyone camped out for four days. Instead of adolescents and a few aging hippsters, the crowd at this Tibetan festival were largely nomads, monks, nuns and yogis. They came together not for music, free love, and the rest of the Woodstock experience, but rather for a religious purpose. But this does not mean that they did not have fun.

Nomad Tents at Dawu Festival

The focus of this particular festival outside the town of Lost Horse (Dawu in Tibetan), was on Buddhist teachings in the morning and religious ritual in the afternoons. The main stage was a large tent able to accommodate several hundred monks, nuns, yogis, and a few visitors. Outside were several hundred more Tibetan lay people able to hear the teachings through loud speakers.

Lay people attending the festival

This was a chance for everyone to wear their best clothes. Nomad men dressed in brightly colored shirts and outer robes with thick belts inlaid with silver accompanied by women who wore large orange coral necklaces, or matching heavy earrings and their hair braided down their backs.

The wilder parts of the event happened during the tantric empowerments in the afternoon. Hungkar Rinpoche gave four empowerments from his father Kusum Lingpa’s teachings: Orgyen Dzambhala (Jambhala) the divinity of wealth, Tara, Avalokiteshvara, and Amida Buddha. He repeated the Dzambhala empowerment again on the fifth day to allow nomad couples to attend either day– after all, someone has to stay behind and watch the yaks.

Hungkar Rinpoche

Though solemn, the empowerments allowed monks to have some fun, while the pious laypeople looked on. Younger monks and yogis — some of grade school age — had been fidgeting and goofing off all day as might be expected. But when it came time to offer ceremonial scarfs (khathak), all of the monks and visitors enjoyed throwing them toward the center of the tent, usually hitting someone in the back of the head in the process. Generally it does not hurt to be hit by a silk khathak except if something is tied to it or if it is wet and then it feels like being smacked in the back of the neck with a wet towel.

Clowning Monk

Visitors assuming that religious ceremonies should be solemn might misunderstand the horseplay, but that misses the point. First of all the event is a cathartic release for monks, especially the younger ones, who live by a strict monastic regimen. Second, it reaffirms the importance of joy, happiness, and even goofing around a little to Buddhist practice as long as these lead one to become less rigid, more spontaneous, and joyful.

— Eric C. Rath

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