Nobody can agree on precisely where Tibet’s borders lie, which is perhaps fitting for a country through which global powers have swept for all of its 2000 year history, and whose spiritual message has now permeated worldwide. Today, Tibet is in the throes of negotiating repressive measures, embracing modernity and trying to re-establish a strong Tibetan national identity
Van Schaik traces the history of Tibet from the glory days of the Tibetan Empire in the seventh century, through the spread of Buddhism across Asia and the rise of the Dalai Lamas, to its ‘patron-priest’ relationship under Kubali Khan’s Mongol rule in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and trade with European pashas. The survey continues with Tibet’s entanglement in the ‘Great Game’ between Britain and Russia in the early twentieth century, the brief proclamation of its independence, falling under Chinese Communist rule in the 1950s, and the subsequent troubled history of more recent decades.
Through the layers of history and stories that Tibetans have woven about themselves, Van Schaik looks carefully at core questions: What is Tibet? How did it become part of China? What does that mean to Tibetans? Finely wrought and without prejudice, this is a sensitive, warm and superbly informative book.
Sam Van Schaik is an expert on the early history of Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism. He is based at the British Library in London where he works for the International Dunhuang Project. He is also a lecturer at the School of Oriental and African Studies and is the founder of the website www.EarlyTibet.com