Agam's Gecko
Friday, August 15, 2008
Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts
Photo: TIPA

isitors to the Beijing Olympics are not likely to find the cheap knock-offs of fake Gucci bags and other counterfeit designer brands the city has become famous for, unless they stick around for a while after the party finishes. All that potentially embarrassing stuff has presumably been cleaned up and stashed away like so many justice-seeking petitioners and other "unsightly" bits of the city. But not to worry, Versace bargain-hunters. When the bulk of international media go home, it will all be brought out again for your perusal (not the petitioners, though).

Even so, it shouldn't come as a surprise that a major counterfeit reproduction of intellectual property will the centre-piece of "key cultural performances" for the Olympics, from Aug. 21 - 23 at the Meilangfang Grand Theatre. Billed as a "hybrid drama," a classic and ancient story from Tibetan Lhamo opera will be jointly performed by the National Peking Opera Theater and the Tibetan Opera Troupe. This Xinhua account fails to mention that the opera itself is a Tibetan classic, Gyasa Belsa, and renames the story to "Princess Wencheng."

The tale revolves around two foreign princesses who were taken as consorts by the powerful 7th century Tibetan king, Songtsen Gampo, who thus formed matrimonial alliances with the royal houses of Nepal and the Tang Dynasty of China. Princess Bhrikuti Devi, daughter of the Nepalese King Anshuvarrnan, became known to Tibetans as Bhelsa, while the princess Wencheng Kongjo, daughter of the Tang Chinese king, was known as Gyasa. The Gyasa Bhelsa Lhamo is actually the story of the two princesses, and the title translation is normally given as "The Chinese Princess and the Nepalese Princess." Some editing has been involved in the Chinese version.

After his marriage to Princess Bhelsa (given with delight by the King and Queen of Nepal, along with precious gifts and a sacred Buddha image), Songtsen Gampo made plans to obtain the Chinese princess Wencheng. But this acquisition was not quite so straightforward, as the Tang king was not well disposed toward the Tibetans. A number of other kings were competing for Wencheng, and the competitions devised by the Tang king comprise much of the story. But in the end Princess Wencheng was bound for Lhasa, against her own wishes and those of her father, and bearing precious gifts (including another sacred Buddha image).

The story of Princess Wencheng (Chinese version) is well known to every schoolchild in China, as it is often used to bolster claims of ancient Chinese hegemony over Tibet. They will know nothing of the Nepalese princess, the senior consort of the two, who has been edited out of the story.

Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts
Photo: TIPA
From the Introduction to the English translation of Gyasa Bhelsa by C.B. Josayma, published in the Tibet Journal:
With his taking of the Chinese princess as his second wife, King Songtsen Gampo achieved yet another calculated accomplishment. The marriage well served Tibet's political and social ambitions. Marriage alliances connect families, and in the case of royalty, also connect countries. With the acquisition of a Chinese princess, Tibet could expect recognition of its political and social independence, as well as attain an inner connection to the court of the Chinese Emperor.

The story tells how delegations from five different countries came to seek the Chinese princess' hand. What the story does not relate is the actual military strategy that was required of King Songtsen Gampo, which eventually forced China to consider Tibet as a formidable neighbor and one deserving of a political alliance through the marriage of its princess. Songtsen Gampo's initial request for the princess of the Tang dynasty was treated with scorn, since Tibet was considered by the Chinese court at the time to be nothing more than a barbarian country. There had also been a request by the ruler Thokiki of Eastern Tartary which the Chinese may have preferred, but King Songtsen Gampo quickly rid himself of this possible rival by summoning up troops and conquering the Tartars. He then sent his men to China to press his request for the Chinese princess. The Chinese chose to fight a losing battle against the Tibetans, thus forcing it to grant Tibet's request of the princess' hand in marriage.

The acquisition of the Chinese princess was a political achievement that positioned Tibet in the strategic middle of the two Buddhist kingdoms of Nepal and China, forcing the courts of both kingdoms to accept its position in regard to trade and cultural exchange.

- Tibet Journal, vol. 18, no. 1 (Spring 1993), pp. 28-29
The Chinese communists are quick to cite their counterfeit version of this unwilling princess given by an unwilling father to a powerful Tibetan king, as evidence that China has ruled Tibet for centuries. In order to manage this, they must naturally re-write the story to their own liking. Otherwise, simple logic would dictate that if Wencheng's marriage is evidence that Tibet belonged to China, it must have also belonged to Nepal (or at least more than half of Tibet, since Bhelsa was the senior queen). Or, looking more closely at the story, since Songtsen Gampo took three more Tibetan consorts, it would have to be 60% belonging to Tibet, 20% to Nepal and 20% to China. With adjustments for seniority.

Ridiculous! Clearly some editing was called for. Again, from C. B. Josayma's introduction:
The story of King Songtsen Gampo and his two queens was completely rewritten in the 1980's by a Chinese playwright to emphasize the great social deeds of the Chinese princess in Tibet. The play was renamed Princess Wencheng and was used as a tool for re-educating Tibetans, Chinese and foreigners of China's historical right to rule in Tibet. The marriage of the Nepalese queen is missing in this version, as the story seeks to argue that the Chinese have been ruling Tibet since the time of the marriage. By recognizing the marriage of the Nepalese princess, it would notably place Princess Wencheng (Gyasa) in her rightful place as a junior wife, which in turn would give the Nepalese (if they had similar colonialistic designs on Tibet) a more valid historical argument for right to rule, as their princess was senior to the Chinese princess, and thus would have a higher position within the court.

- Tibet Journal, vol. 18, no. 1 (Spring 1993), pp. 31
The current Chinese interpretation of the story holds that Wencheng's marriage, and this Tibetan matrimonial connection to the Tang court, was a sign of Tibetan submission. In truth, according to the authentic opera (which won't be performed next week in Beijing), it is a clear demonstration of Tibetan power and influence at that time. Submission is nowhere to be found (apart from the Tang king's unwilling gift of his daughter).

Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts
Photo: TIPA
Strangely enough, the CCP's own China Tibet Information Center bibliography on lhamo opera gives its correct name and a fairer synopsis. Somebody tell Xinhua!
Gyasa and Belsa, Tibetan People's Publishing House, Lhasa, July 1981. 49 pp. 19 cm.

Edited on the basis of a Tibetan play, about Tibetan king Songtsan Gampo's marriage with his Nepalese consort Belsa (Bhrikuti Devi) and the Chinese consort Gyasa (Princess Wen Cheng). The advanced technology brought to Tibet by the two consorts facilitated the development of Tibetan society.
The performances next week of the counterfeit copy of this Tibetan national property would be an excellent venue for some direct action education of China's high-class theatre-going masses. How great it would be, standing next to the red carpet of the Meilangfang Grand Theatre armed with a satchel full of Chinese and English translations of a synopsis of the authentic story, and just hand them out politely to the audience as they enter.

Until the security forces come down hard, drag me bouncing along the pavement into a vehicle to be taken for interrogation and deportation, that is. I'd give it about 30 seconds before that happened, but it would still be great. (psst, sft - we've still got a week)

Labels: ,

Powered by Blogger

blogspot counter