A New Take on China's `Shangri-La'. THE LURE OF TIBET. Film reveals the attraction this religious, mysterious, mountain region holds for Chinese
ENCHANTED by the bold-blue sky and ancient culture of Tibet, film director Xing Yingyi left China's teeming lowlands in 1987 for the high and vast Tibetan plateau. The young director set out to film Tibetan nomads. But he came back with a documentary that reveals more about the sense of romance and grand destiny Chinese feel when looking to the far horizons of the Tibetan frontier.Skip to next paragraph
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``An irresistible, subliminal call drew me to Tibet - my journey fulfilled my destiny as a filmmaker,'' Mr. Xing says.
The recently released documentary, ``Vast Northern Tibet,'' depicts a messianic nationalism behind Beijing's policy toward the Himalayan region. It explains the strong sentiments driving Beijing's efforts to crush with martial law the most violent pro-independence unrest in Tibet in three decades.
Like other Chinese films on Tibet, Xing's movie is valuable for exposing as much about the Chinese behind the camera as it does about the Tibetans in front of the lens.
The documentary illustrates how Tibet and its people beguile many Chinese with a simplicity, piety, and natural purity that they feel lacking in their own society. It shows how many Chinese, while viewing the region as sovereign ground and strategically critical, increasingly see Tibet as a Shangri-La, much as did the first Western travelers to the region early this century.
Filtered with this idealized view, the documentary demonstrates more sympathy for Tibetan culture than do other Chinese films on Tibet. It reflects how Beijing, since 1980, has shown a limited tolerance for the Tibetan traditions that it brutally repressed after annexing the region in 1950.
``Vast Northern Tibet'' also approaches its subject with greater political balance than have other Chinese films, although in the end it applauds China's efforts to pull the impoverished region into the modern world. Despite heavy government censorship, it avoids the extremes of earlier films that have ranged from Maoist chauvinism in the '60s to a sensationalistic portrayal of the rugged Tibetan life style in the '80s.
Earlier Chinese films on Tibet suggested that many Chinese view Tibetans as settlers elsewhere have viewed aboriginal people, imposing their own prejudices or standards on another culture.
In the early '60s, China released a propagandistic feature movie entitled ``Serfs'' that highlighted the excesses of former Tibetan landlords. Through the highly political film, Beijing attempted to justify its violent ``liberation'' of the former theocracy and its efforts to replace Tibetan Buddhism with Maoism.
``A Lover Without Love'' and ``Horse Thief,'' both released this decade, also present Tibetan society as oppressive and backward - fertile ground for a Beijing-sponsored socialist revolution. The former film, a gunslinging ``western,'' exploits the stereotypical roughness of the Tibetan frontier in such a sensationalistic fashion that it was panned by Tibetan officials and banned by the state.
``Horse Thief'' is heavily tinted by the lens of Chinese experience. It portrays the dilemma of a Tibetan who must betray his strong devotion to Buddhism and steal so that his family will survive. The thief's dilemma is a metaphor for how many Chinese during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) had to reconcile Maoist extremism with the need to survive, says a Chinese film critic on condition of anonymity.