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June 2011 A Tibetan Girl in Beijing

Deng Xiaoping’s “Reform and Opening Up” policy in the 80s was a definite turning point for the Chinese society. China’s societal metamorphosis can be seen as a transition of worship – from the emperor, to Mao, and now to the universal equivalent of money. However, this focus on production has created massive inconsistencies between China’s economic development and its political and societal progression. In turn, it has generated flagrant contradictions in all aspects of society.

Baiqu in London before leaving for Beijing 邯郸学步

(Han dan xue bu) is a Chinese

proverb which describes the absurd tragedy of a man who lost his walk.

A man who lived in the ancient Yen Kingdom heard about the beautiful way that people walked in the Zhao Kingdom. He then decides to go there to learn their way of walking. As he walked the streets of the Zhao Kingdom, he tried to imitate everybody he came across. In the end, he had to crawl back home, as he had not only failed to learn the Zhao walk, but had also forgotten his original way of walking.

the proverbial man from the Yen kingdom. China in many ways is the emblem of globalisation and the internationalisation of capitalism. Domestically, the reflection of its growth can be seen as a nation that swings in limbo between its history and its anticipated future.


iving in Beijing one can see how modern day China can easily be compared to

In the streets of Beijing, you see the sex shops next to the traditional alleys with men huddled around a chessboard; Chinese girls walk around in thigh-high leather boots teamed with Hello Kitty tops, but would not be caught dead smoking in public. All things western are smashed together without any references to their cultural context; drinking capuccino and eating pizza at the same time, “it’s all Italian” they say. It is culture lost in Chinese whispers.

previously-banned web pages are now freely accessible; The party encourages public discussions and polemics against corruption, and lecturers at élite universities openly criticise party policies and are allowed to mention the incident of 1989 in Tiananmen Square.


On the other hand, suspicious groups were capped before anyone could say Egypt, and TV shows are being banned for endorsing superstition and belief in reincarnation. The issue of Tibet and Xinjiang still remain “sensitive”… Chinese students are not afraid to compare Mao with Hitler but refuse to sympathise with the issue of Tibetan autonomy.

Even the government’s appeasement policies for Tibet have backfired. For example,

New Exhibitions in the Museum

Made for Trade – Indian silk textiles, a solar-powered prayer wheel, Maasai jewellery, a brick made of tea, parrot feather ornaments, moccasins with red ‘Stroud’ cloth, lustrous glass beads from Venice... from local markets to global networks this exhibition offers insights into the world of trade through the Museum’s remarkable collections. The exhibition forms part of a five-year project involving ten major European ethnography museums, entitled “Ethnography Museums and World Cultures - RIME”. The project is funded with support from the European Commission. From 18 July 2011 – 27 January 2013

People Apart: Cape Town Survey 1952. Photographs by Bryan Heseltine. For the first time in 50 years an extraordinary collection of photographs offers a glimpse into the lives of South Africans who would feel the full force of the apartheid state through the 1950s and beyond. The images provide a rich and intimate description of life in a number of townships and areas of Cape Town. This exhibition is in conjunction with the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies of British Art and Birmingham City University. From 19 July 2011 - 8 Jan 2012

olitically, China has become more open than I had imagined. The BBC and other

the Han Chinese are indignant towards the government’s positive discrimination policies, which allow ethnic minority students to gain extra points for university entrance exams.

I myself have become a contradiction here. Being a Tibetan and brought up in London, to the average Chinese person I am a strange reflection of China’s primitive past and its modernity. The realisation of my actual ethnic background never fails to induce cries of surprise at my “very un-Tibetan” appearance. Most Hans are keen to visit Tibet but to them, the Tibetan people are still seen mostly to be dark, somewhat backward people. But upon learning of my life in London, a look of comprehension will return back to their faces as if everything now made perfect sense.

In fact, their reaction is not as superficial as one would assume. The West and China do exist as two disparate worlds at different stages of the industrial evolutionary timeline, seemingly unfitting. However, through the expansion of the open market, these worlds have been collaged together to reshape individuals and societies, and tensions have become unavoidable. The development of this tension within the Chinese society, and the existence of individuals such as myself will curtail the fate of Tibet.

Baiqu Gonkar, Student of Chinese Literature, University of Beijing

With friends in Beijing

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