RED TIBET. COMMUNISM IN THE LAND OF SNOWS by Robert Stefanicki is a non-fiction about the current situation of Chinese-occupied country. The lynchpin of the narrative are three journeys to Tibet made by the author in 2001, 2006 and 2013. Each time he used a cover of a tourist and was accompanied by a Tibetan friend serving as a guide and translator.
Throughout the book shrewd observations intermingle with conversations with people encountered on the way, tales from Tibetan history, essential for understanding the present situation, as well as accurate quotes from old travel reports and, not least, the most refreshing thoughts by contemporary thinkers like Wang Lixiong or Tsering Shakya.
Worth to stress that although the author clearly sympathizes with the idea of free Tibet, he is careful to avoid existing clichés. In that aspect “Red Tibet” resembles “Tibet Tibet” by Patrick French (HarperCollins 2003) – but Stefanicki starts his story where French actually ends: at the beginning of this century.
The narrative commence at the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the “peaceful liberation” of Tibet in July 2001. The author confronts self-praising statements by the Chinese officials with the reality encountered in Lhasa. Then the readers are taken to Potala and Jokhang, where battered monks tell their stories, and to the nunnery where the most prominent political prisoner of that time Ngawang Sangdrol originates. Then you have the fascinating story of a “good will collaborator” – a man who all his long life believed that communism is good for Tibet.
The second part, written in 2006, is a journey through the areas of Tibet placed outside the Tibetan Autonomous Region. The author visits cities and monasteries, spend time with the nomads, lives with a Tibetan family in Litang (Sichuan), sneaks into Larung Gar – possibly the largest religious institute in the world, part of which was just razed by the communist authorities in a manner resembling the Cultural Revolution.
In the last part of the book the author visits exiled Tibetan communities in Kathmandu and Dharamsala, and goes back to Lhasa, a city that has now changed into a metropolis. He smuggles a packet of “magic pills” for monks of the former state oracle in Lhasa, given to him by Dalai Lama’s monks. Then looks under the paint of a recent renovation of Lhasa’s Old Town, explains the wave of self-immolations, checks if the massive programs to settle Tibetan nomads are voluntary – as the government claims – or forceful.
The author is so skillful and adroit, his narrative so lively and neat, his background knowledge so deep, that I dare to say that the reader interested in Tibet don’t need any other book, since “Red Tibet” will give him the access code to the Land of Snow – wrote Adam Szostkiewicz, columnist to “Polityka” magazine.