Today, Lhasa has become a big stage where grandiose projects that aim to change our history by imitating the past are being played out. A big stage where casually dressed plain-clothes police lurk on rooftops of the city’s monasteries and private residences, sometimes even pretending to play with Tibetan beads. But, even when the smallest whispers have been silenced, this big stage fails to hide the countless fears that exist in this city….
At dawn, I take my DSLR camera and see through the lens a ”copycat” Potala Palace now seating across the Lhasa river. This building, labeled by the Tibetan Autonomous Region and the city of Lhasa as their “Number One” project, is a theatre built round the clock to be the stage for the mega-production “Princess Wencheng”.
Under the influence of political and economic agendas, the myth of Princess Wencheng is finally becoming a “brain washing” tool. The play will use the latest modern electronic technology to celebrate the revival of an old “splendor”. But, when we talk about celebrating a “splendor” are we celebrating the splendor of the Tang Dinasty, or rather China’s current big nationalistic splendor? Perhaps this is an attempt to use the Princess Wencheng’s myth to materialize the glorious “China Dream”, which in fact is nothing more than a “Sinicization Dream”.
Several leaders from the Tibetan Autonomous Region have paid visits to inspect the production of the mega-play “Princess Wencheng”, official media reports that a total of 750 million Yuan (equivalent to more than 120 million dollars) have been invested into this unprecedented project. This is clearly a top-project for the TAR’s and Lhasa’s government, it aims at using an art form such as a play to consolidate a historical narrative, which “legitimizes” China’s current ruling over Tibet.
Not long ago, Party cadres organized in Lhasa the first “Symposium on the Princess Wencheng”, according to relevant information, during the symposium the Tibetan Bureau of Tourism had presented proposals for building “Princess Wencheng” themed gardens and theatre plays. Many academics, artists and journalists were invited to the symposium to discuss how to use the historical reference of “Princess Wencheng” as a central piece to promote “national unity between Han and Tibetans”.
According to official media, the play will be unveiled on the 20th of this month, and has hired 500 actors. According to their official microblog (Weibo) the average entrance fee will be 500 yuan (90 USD).
Now, the Party is trying to create a new myth around the Princess Wencheng, attributing to her much more influence than she really had…. The points below illustrate some of the new “achievements” attributed to Princess Wencheng under the new narrative:
1- The Potala Palace was built in her honor by the Tibetan King Songtsan Gampo
2- Princess Wencheng is regarded as one of the main founders of Tibetan Buddhism
3- The sacred mountain Bhumpa in Tibet was named by Princess Wencheng
4- Princess Wencheng invented Tankas
5- Princess Wencheng was responsible for transmitting the greeting “Tashi Delek”
So, clearly we can see that in reality this is a project to re-write history, to “wipe out” the historical memory and culture of a people. In fact, this has been taking place for a long time, but nowadays this policy will flourish under a more consolidated power, and the support of a much more solid economy. We can predict that future tours that visit Tibet will have mandatory visits to this “copy-cat Potala Palace” and attendances to the big propagandistic commercial performances that will take place there. In fact this is a “win-win” project that can both make money and be a tool for “brainwashing” people with propaganda.
Regarding the marriage of the Princess Wencheng to Tibet during the Tang dynasty, Wang Lixiong has written about the “Princess Myth” in his book “Sky Burial” :
“Many Chinese people see Sino-Tibetan relationship through the myth of the Princess Wencheng. As if marriages between Chinese and other cultures will mark sovereignty in favour of China. This is a ridiculous logic.In reality, at the time Tibet was very powerful, its influence reached the Pamir Mountains and other Turkish and Arabic areas located in the West, towards the North it reached what is now Xinjiang and Gansu in the Hebei corridor. Towards the East, it occupied large territories of China’s Sichuan and Yunnan. At that time Tibetans acted as conquerors, and often setup camps and brigades in central Asia. The founders of the Tang dynasty had Turkic ethnic origin, and they viewed cross-national marriages as a political way to appease its neighboring areas. It is easy to understand, to marry a princess was considered a much smaller cost than to deploy the army and its generals. The royal palace had many daughters, and the Emperor did not marry its natural daughters but daughters that belonged to the “imperial clan”. During the Tang dynasty there were more tan 15 princesses married to other nations.
I refer to the history of these princesses to convey how different the reality is from how it is now presented. From a historical perspective, to marry a princess to another nation does not constitute a proof of sovereignty over that nation; but nowadays it has become the norm to “enlarge” the role Princess Wencheng played in Tibet. As if culture and civilization existed in Tibet only after she married to the Tibetan King. We now see that many achievements are being attributed to the Princess, from developing medicine, to help boost industrial artisanship, influencing culinary traditions, bringing vegetable seeds, including Tibetan Buddhism is now said to have been brought by Princess Wencheng.
Even if there were some truth in these facts, overly emphasizing and underlining them will make a nation’s aspirations seem exceedingly grandiose. As if China marrying a Han daughter to another nation would mean that nation’s history will change instantly, and this would become an irrefutable basis to prove that the two cultures have bonded for generations and centuries. However, reality has proven this is nothing but a myth.”(translation from a dear friend)