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Eat the Buddha: Life and Death in a Tibetan Town Kindle Edition
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“[Demick’s] method is programmatic openness, deep listening, a willingness to be waylaid; the effect, a prismatic picture of history as experienced and understood by individuals in their full amplitude and idiosyncrasy.”—Parul Sehgal, The New York Times
“This remarkable book offers a unique insight into Tibet's plight, allowing the reader to understand what it is like for its people to be tossed about in a political storm they neither want nor understand.”—Daily Mail
“You simply cannot understand China without reading Barbara Demick on Tibet. Her work is fair-minded, chilling, awe-inspiringly rigorous, and as vivid as cinema.”—Evan Osnos, author of Age of Ambition
“Barbara Demick has produced an elegiac narrative of a frontier town that is a hotbed of resistance on the Tibetan plateau. With novelistic depth and through characteristically painstaking research, Demick offers a poignant reminder of the enduring power of memory to illuminate untold histories.”—Tsering Shakya, author of The Dragon in the Land of Snows
“Barbara Demick’s new book is essential reading for anyone interested in China and Tibet. The reporting is rich, the writing is beautiful, and the stories will stay with you. I couldn’t put it down.”—John Pomfret, author of The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom
“Deeply and meticulously researched, Eat the Buddha tells the story of the beautiful area of eastern Tibet . . . Demick is to be given highest honors for her unflinching account, and her readers will be rewarded with a transformative encounter with the real lives of some extraordinary people.”—Robert A. F. Thurman, Jey Tsong Khapa Professor Emeritus, Columbia University
“Demick provides the missing human dimension in coverage of twenty-first-century Tibet, including the legacy of resistance that has engendered tragic protests by self-immolation, and all the anguish and paradoxes of lives heavily surveilled by the Chinese government, yet largely invisible to the greater world.”—Booklist
About the Author
- ASIN : B01NAOZXE1
- Publisher : Random House (July 28, 2020)
- Publication date : July 28, 2020
- Language : English
- File size : 26723 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 313 pages
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #68,444 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Well, I think it's safe to say the Chinese government isn't going to like this book very much.
I have to admit I didn't know a lot about Tibet or its history before I picked up this book. I'd heard of the Dalai Lama, sure, but only through Hollywood stars I (perhaps unfairly) judged to care only for causes vapid and inconsequential. The plight of the Tibetan people is one many of us have heard of but of which few know the details. This book introduced me to the brutal persecution of an ethnic minority by their government. It has lasted nearly a century and shows no signs of ending.
The first meeting of the Tibetan people and the Chinese Communist Party did not go well. It was the 1930s and the Red Army was in retreat from Chiang Kai-shek and some troops found themselves on the Tibetan plateau, which seemed to them like a strange planet full of people who did not look, live, worship or eat like them. The Communists introduced themselves to the locals by stealing all their food. They literally ate icons of the Buddha made of a flour paste, hence "Eat the Buddha."
Tibetans had never experienced famine before. They had a centuries old system of nomads and farmers, each trading for barley and animal products respectively. But, thanks to the CCP, they would come to know hunger quite well. Mao insisted Tibetan society remake itself in the "Han Chinese way" in the new socialist world order. The diet staples of milk and cheese were brushed away as oddities and Tibetans were called to collectively farm crops that couldn't survive the climate.
"The nomads were made to hand over animals to the collectives that didn't know how to keep them alive, and to farm land that would never produce crops."
Tibetans measured wealth in animals and horses that died in battle were counted as casualties. Mao's Great Leap Forward took away the only richness they had known and told them to be glad they were now free.
Even after the decades of suffering, the modern Tibetan people say they could accept Chinese rule, if the government would stop maligning the Dalai Lama. I don't think it's unfair to say the CCP is *obsessed* with the Dalai Lama. He is the intense focus of CCP propaganda. Tibetans are warned not to get sucked into the "Dalai Clique." Tibetans were denied passports just to keep them away from the influence of the Dalai Lama. Those who attempt travel to where he lives in exile have to pay $10,000 to human smugglers to cross the border into Nepal whereas Han Chinese can fly to Kathmandu for $250. Easing up on the Dalai Lama might improve Chinese-Tibetan relations, the CCP seems unwilling to let go.
Overall, this book is a fascinating insight into the Tibetan people and the history of their conflict with the ruling CCP. One thing I love about Barbara Demick's books is that they are just so readable. If you're a reader accustomed to fiction and finds nonfiction a slog, try one of Demick's books.
"Eat the Buddha" is not quite as good as the author's previous work "Nothing to Envy," which is one of my all time favorites but still very much recommended.
I chose Tibet.
Why? I’ve always had a fascination regarding places in the world that I will likely never go to. I like to immerse myself in these areas because they get so little attention or serious consideration by so many in the West. So when I saw that Barbara Demick, who wrote one of my favorite books ever, Nothing to Envy, was turning her sights to Tibet, I was there with bells on.
Demick focuses on one specific region of the Tibetan Plateau, specifically Ngaba, a town that has been a focal point for a lot of recent upheavals, protests of which, more recently, have been known for monks self-immolating, for example. Ngaba has been cut off from the world for longer than just about any other area of Tibet, and the Chinese officials have been very careful about what information gets out about any of this. For example, I had no idea that some of the monks who lit themselves on fire actually survived, and are now living in hospitals in terrible condition, with amputated limbs and the like, and brought out to march out some party lines for people when necessary.
"There’s a saying that when there is a fire in Lhasa, the smoke rises in Ngaba."
Eat the Buddha starts out in the 1950’s, with a princess, right around the time when Mao was annexing the Tibetan Plateau. Through a series of interviews, Demick weaves together the stories of people who lived in this region when things were happening, like the Cultural Revolution, failed farming campaigns (the Chinese didn’t quite understand that not everything grows at high elevation with a very short summer so there was a lot of starvation). Some of the people interviewed didn’t end up in Tibet. The aforementioned princess, for example, ended up in China, with a poor class background, and then worked as forced labor for several years after a whole bunch of “reeducation” campaigns, which were horrible, abusive, and death was a common result of them.
"The Communist Party had identified feudalism and imperialism as the greatest evils of society. Their dilemma was how to destroy feudalism without becoming imperialists themselves; they couldn’t simply force “reforms” on the Tibetans. In order to live up to their own lofty propaganda, they needed the Tibetans to carry out reforms voluntarily, joyfully. To convince them, they dispatched young Chinese recruits, some of them still in high school, to spread the word."
Demick moves throughhistory smoothly, often weaving in custom, religious belief, and lore as she goes. She also does a great job at examining the larger, more sprawling Tibetan history which is, perhaps, incredibly misunderstood by the wider world. We tend to see Tibetans through the Dalai Lama, a man known for compassion and promotion of peace. I wasn’t aware of the long sprawl of warring tribes, and kings, tribal battles, even the time when a Tibetan king rose up, and brought an army down on China, overtaking a city, which is a deed that is still spoken about with reverence all these hundreds and hundreds of years later.
The book is broken up into spans of time, which helps readers follow what’s going on. It also helps to understand how previous policies and events were used as the backdrop for how things changed and what happened later. How the failed Cultural Revolution led to a time of tolerance, and how that led to a time of upheaval again. Everyone seemed to have an idea of how to deal with Tibetans, while the Tibetans themselves were largely shunted off to the side, ignored, and/or treated terribly. The slow wasting away of their cultural heritage left a generation of Tibetans who cannot read or write their own tongue. Religious history, which has been the backbone of their culture, is regarded as sacred to the older generation, and laughed off by the younger, who have been inundated by Chinese anti-religious propaganda regarding the “Dalai Clique.”
"Tibetans of this generation refer to this period simply as ngabgay—’58. Like 9/11, it is shorthand for a catastrophe so overwhelming that words cannot express it, only the number. But there are some evocative figures of speech. Some will call it dhulok, a word that roughly translates as the “collapse of time,” or, hauntingly, “when the sky and earth changed places.”
It reminded me, in some ways, of some things I’ve read about Russia, specifically regarding Russia’s push to annex areas like Ukraine, and even Georgia, where the culture was slowly bled out of the people. Stalin, for example, got really upset when he was in seminary school because he wasn’t allowed to speak, read, or write Georgian, his native language. It was against the law. Before that, there had been a tug-and-pull between Russia and Ukraine, where writing and language was likewise made illegal, a criminal act to partake in. This slow bleeding of culture is not new to our world, but books like this, where the slow degradation of the language and culture of a people, and the examination of the price of that, is a really stark reminder about how important words are, and how foundational culture can be, and when it’s gone, or starts bleeding away, just how impacted people are.
In modern days, the history of Tibet has, if anything, gotten more complicated. In my own research after reading this book, I have noticed a huge push from Chinese tourism companies to get tourists into the Tibetan Autonomous Region, and many people have answered the call. This leads to things like sacred rights, traditions, and the like being boiled down into something you can sell at a gift shop. It has increased revenue to those in the right places, and brought more awareness to the region, but the flow of information both into and out of the area is still very constricted and controlled, and there seems to be quite a dramatic wealth gap, and there’s still a generation of Tibetans who are becoming strangers to themselves.
Furthermore, around the time of the Summer Olympics in Beijing, there were absolutely incredible uprisings in Tibet, which started out peacefully, in the hopes that the eyes of the world on China pre-Olympics would keep the government from cracking down on any peaceful protests. Monks organized themselves into groups, with the hopes of raising awareness to the plight of the Tibetan people. It didn’t quite work out the way anyone wanted it to, and a wave of self-immolating monks and nuns followed in quick succession. There was violence, and a lot of blood and death and pain.
Ngaba was a great place to focus this book, as it seems to be one area where all the roads seem to connect in a fashion that allowed Demick to write a book that gives a pretty detailed, good overview of what has happened, and is currently happening in Tibet. This book made my heart hurt. On the other hand, it opened my eyes to just how misunderstood this region of the world is, and just the kinds of struggles that happen day in, and day out, when you are under this kind of pressure to change, transform, become other than what you are. There are no easy answers to any of the situations presented to readers here, and some of them will make you tear up, and hit you pretty hard, but it’s books like this that, I think, are so important. There’s an entire world out there going through things that I cannot fathom. Unless books like this continue to be written, and the authors who dare to push the boundaries dare to keep pushing them, people, like those interviewed in this book, will remain silent, voiceless victims.
Demick, in Eat the Buddha, gave an intimate voice and an outlet to a struggle that the world really needs to know more about. Masterful and important, defying boundaries imposed by governments, and unafraid to try to understand a point of view that has spent over fifty years being repressed and silenced, this book rivals Nothing to Envy in every possible respect.