Briefly, the Communist Party of China gained control of central and western Tibet after a military victory at Chamdo in 1950. Many Tibetans have been killed and imprisoned since then, and thousands have left the country to live in India and elsewhere. Today, the Communist Party of China rules occupied Tibet under Chinese President Hu Jintao. However, Tibetans both inside Tibet and in exile, recognize the Tibetan government-in-exile, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, based in Dharamsala, India as their legitimate government. March 10, 2009 marked the fiftieth anniversary of one of the most important dates in Tibetan history, the National Uprising of 1959, when Tibetans demonstrated against Chinese rule and the Dalai Lama was forced to escape into exile (and has lived there ever since).
This new book, by activist, artist, and author Canyon Sam, presents a striking portrait of Tibet, rugged and remote and spiritual, through the true stories of four Tibetan women: an educator, a freedom fighter, a gulag survivor, and a child bride. Canyon Sam is a third-generation Chinese American from San Francisco. Originally she had planned to spend a year in China, but instead traveled to and fell in love with Tibet in 1986. As a Chinese American, Canyon Sam felt a sense of guilt over how the Chinese treated Tibetans, but she realized that the Chinese Communist Party and rulers (who are not elected), not the Chinese people collectively, are responsible. During her stay in Tibet, she interviewed many Tibetan women about their lives. In 2007, she revisited the women who had been a part of her oral history project, and the result is this book. She whittled down the manuscript to the stories of four courageous and resilient women, Choekyi Namseling, Rinchen Dolma Taring, Sonam Choedron, and Mrs. Paljorkhyimsar, who give a more personal, hidden account of Tibet's history, and the author also discusses the changes brought by the controversial new railroad which links Beijing-to-Lhasa, the sky train.
As one of the first to read and review Sky Train, I am grateful. I learned a great deal about a part of the world I was quite unfamiliar with. It was difficult for me to read parts of this book--the years of torture and harsh treatment received in prison are especially awful--but the spirit and strength and humor of these women is inspiring. This is an illuminating book about Tibet's people and history, and it highlights the remarkable strength of Tibetan women.
"Though Chinese forces had obliterated almost all the monasteries, seized the land, killed a part of the population, banned Buddhism, and run tens of thousands out of the country, including their leader, the Chinese were never able to destroy the spiritual faith and values Tibetans held inside."
~Sky Train, Canyon Sam
Special thanks to Canyon Sam and Rachael Levay for sending me this book.