“A Fake Potala Palace and the Myth of Princess Wencheng” By Woeser

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High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a blogpost by Woeser written in August 2013 for the Mandarin and Tibetan services of Radio Free Asia and published on her blog on August 24, 2013.

In this blogpost, Woeser continues on the themes of history and the attempts by authorities in Lhasa to re-write and, as in this case, re-tell history. This epic theatrical spectacle of Princess Wencheng‘s journey to Lhasa that was being performed in a 4000 capacity open air purpose-built replica Potala Palace in Lhasa did not escape the notice of the outside world, follow the links to read statements by International Campaign for Tibet and Tibetan Political Review.

Read more from Woeser on the dramatic changes currently taking place in Lhasa today in “The Disappearance of Tromsikhang’s Different Lives” and “Our Lhasa in on the Verge of Destruction, Please Save Our Lhasa!”

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“A Fake Potala Palace and the Legend of Princess Wencheng”
By Woeser

 

August 1 was the anniversary of the establishment of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which was when the real drama, “Princess Wencheng”, referred to by the government as Lhasa’s (Tibet Autonomous Region’s) “Project Number One”, was officially performed for the first time. Why did they choose this day? Does Princess Wencheng have anything to do with the PLA? Some people say that the play symbolises military victory and successful occupation. Is that really so? Even though the Tang Dynasty over 1000 years ago has been called the “Golden Tang Dynasty”, it still had to adopt the “peace through marriage” policy to maintain a good relationship with its neighbouring countries and guarantee peaceful border areas; so they let a fragile 16-year-old girl carry out the task that would normally be carried out by a national army. Well, it was by no means as brilliant as it seems.

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Propaganda poster of the theatre piece

For this play they especially built a theatre situated in Bumpari, in the eastern parts of Lhasa. Far away and separated from Potala Palace by Lhasa River, it looks like a freshly fabricated counterfeit of Potala Palace. No matter whether under natural or artificial light, it immediately calls to mind the image of fake antiquities being sold on some rug in the streets, only in the middle of a very dark night, it finally disappears. The theatre and the play swallowed up an overall sum of 750 Million Yuan. According to official media reports, many cadres came to the actual site numerous times to guide the construction, so it is obvious that the mission of this “Project Number One” is to “prove” that today’s rule over Tibet is totally legal; a project of such importance thus clearly called for the careful and strict guidance and repeated inspection by officials.

Using a digital camera with a particularly long lens, we were able to witness how this fake Potala Palace came into being; I wrote on my blog: having a political and economic agenda, the myth of Princess Wencheng has finally turned into weapon for brainwashing, making use “of the most advanced lighting and sound technology, and being an artistic manifestation of the ‘Golden Age’”. Is this “Golden Age” the past golden Tang Dynasty? Or is it the golden Communist China today? Or could it be the golden China of the past and present? So Princess Wencheng has been used to realise the great “Chinese Dream” – or rather, a dream of Sinicisation.

Prior to this, Party officials held the “First Princess Wencheng Symposium” in Lhasa. According to the forum introduction, “as part of the launch of Princess Wencheng Park in the Tibetan creative tourist industry area as well as the upcoming large-scale real drama, academics, artists, journalists and businessmen are invited to engage in high quality discussions revolving around the ‘Image of Princess Wencheng’, ‘Princess Wencheng entering Tibet’ and ‘Han-Tibetan unity’ in the context of the history of Tibet.”

Well, let’s have a look at what the omnipotent Princess Wencheng has allegedly achieved:

1. Potala Palace “was built by the Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo when he took Princess Wencheng as his wife”.
2. “Princess Wencheng was the main founder of traditional Tibetan Buddhism”.
3. The sacred mountain Bumpari, east of Lhasa, was named by Princess Wencheng.
4. Princess Wencheng invented the thangka.
5. The Tibetan saying “Tashi Delek” was passed on by Princess Wencheng and her followers.
6. Highland Barley was brought to Tibet by Princess Wencheng from Chinese areas.
7. And so on and so forth.

In a nutshell, the narrative of those in power has completely transformed the story of how traditional Tibetan culture has come about, leaving all the burden of uniting this big country on the shoulders of an ancient Chinese girl. When she entered Tibet she was indeed a young girl of 16, but in this reconstruction of the story, she appears even more grand than Sun Wukong (Journey to the West). She is omnipotent, knows everything and can do everything, as if nothing could have existed without her; Tibet only has a civilisation because of her. The question is, do you believe this? This little girl has been made to appear so divine that she already does not resemble a human being anymore. Even though there do exist some legendary tales about Princess Wencheng, the authors of these stories, as the earliest historical records about her show, were not Chinese but Tibetans themselves who enjoyed writing stories or even putting theatre plays on stage. People have enjoyed and accepted this legend over the years, so that today’s CCP, clinging on to the idea of one great unified country, is borrowing a Tibetan people’s story and to continue to deify it, turning it into today’s Princess Wencheng; they even try to consciously transform her legend into the “truth”, this really is a great lesson.

With regards to the Tang Dynasty Emperor marrying one of his daughters out to Tibet, Wang Lixiong wrote in his book “Sky Burial: The Fate of Tibet”: “it is true that respected historians would never go as far as regarding marrying out a Princess as a proof of a country’s power, but exaggerated views of Princess Wencheng being very important for Tibet are nevertheless all too common. This is because Princess Wencheng when entering Tibet brought with her civilisation, including medical knowledge, technology, cooking techniques, different new vegetables and even Tibetan Buddhism. Even if some of these claims may be correct, if one unduly emphasises them, it becomes a sign of national arrogance, as if the Chinese could simply marry out one single daughter and hereby completely transform the civilisation and history of another people and use it as a proof of generations of unity. Reality has already proven that this is merely wishful thinking.”

In fact, this is a vast project that rewrites history and “wipes out” the memory and culture of an entire people. For many years, supported by power and money, these kinds of projects have been blossoming everywhere, sweeping everything away. One can predict that this commercial theatre play put on stage in a fake Potala Palace will be a must-see of future tourist groups visiting Lhasa. They can brainwash people and make money at the same time. Those that will be harmed, however, are the Tibetans who have been invaded and deprived of their history.

August, 2013

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This post is also available in: Chinese (Simplified), Tibetan

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