Luang Prabang is known for the distinctive architecture of its buildings, and from temples to houses, there was much to catch the eye. However, while I found the city visually exciting, I know little about the history of architectural styles I saw. The designs of some buildings resembled the Lanna style that is common in Chiang Mai, about 225 miles to the southwest in Thailand. Others like the structure pictured here are rather different than anything I have seen before. Learning more about how Luang Prabang came to look like it does is a project I hope to undertake before I make a return visit.
The building in this photo, which stands out from its surroundings and caught my eye immediately, is along one of the main streets of the city, not far from the Luang Prabang Royal Palace (now a historical museum) more or less in the center of the city’s UNESCO World Heritage site. I went looking for information about this structure, but found nothing except a photo in Google Maps. In that photo the building was opened up – it appears to house a shop selling clothes on the ground level. I am not sure why it was shuttered the day I passed by. Maybe the place was closed for the low tourist season in May.
The Tsechu River flows swiftly through the center of Dartsedo, a small city nestled in the mountains of the Tibetan region of Kham. In Chinese the city is called Kanding and the river Zhedou. By Chinese reckoning, Dartsedo is located in the western part of Sichuan province halfway between the border of the Tibet Autonomous Region and Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province. You can search for Dartsedo on Google Map, but you will be directed to Garze, the name of the Tibetan autonomous prefecture in which Dartsedo is located. Google Earth renders the rugged terrain surrounding Dartsedo in dramatic fashion.
The photo here, which I took when I visited Dartsedo in 2007, appears in the 2013 Tibet calendar issued by the International Campaign for Tibet. I just received a copy of the finished calendar and it was quite satisfying to see the picture in print.
Donating a photo to a calendar is a rather pathetic gesture when it comes to helping Tibetans save their homeland and their culture from the brutal Han Chinese colonialism that is the core of the Communist Party’s policy towards Tibet. But I was glad I could do it in any case.
It is more than a little disheartening to follow the news from Tibet. Fifty four Tibetans have set themselves on fire to protest Chinese oppression. (Latest Self-Immolation in Tibet Brings Total to 54) The international community has paid scant attention to this tragedy. The kind of outrage one would expect such sacrifice for a cause to generate has never materialized and there has been little pressure put on Beijing to rethink its approach to Tibet.
Within China virtually all of China’s Han majority (about 95% of China’s 1.3 billion people) accept the Party’s Tibet narrative, which begins with the fanciful claim that Tibet has always been a part of China. They tend to believe without question the tale that is hammered home constantly in state-controlled media: China is helping backward Tibet develop. Even well-educated Han Chinese, who are skeptical of much of what their government says, seem unable to connect the dots between ongoing unrest in Tibet and failed government policies towards Tibet. On more than one occasion I was informed in authoritative tones that Tibetans are the ignorant, ungrateful and undeserving recipients of much largesse and many privileges showered upon them by the Chinese state.
I have read some speculation that Xi Jinping, who will become head of the Party and state apparatus next month, may be open to rethinking China’s Tibet policy. Perhaps. But, while Xi will sit at the head of the table during Politburo meetings, any significant changes to Tibet policy would require a consensus among that group. It is difficult to be optimistic.