Chinese Art & Language Classroom

China Tour -- 007: The Tibetan Culture in Shangrila

Shangrila, was mentioned first time in a novel "Lost Horizon" by England novelist Mr. James Hilton in 1933. Since then, people had been finding where it was, until December 17, 2001, Chinese government gave the name "Shangrila" to the capital county (Zhongdian) of Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan. Since then, Zhongdian County was changed name as Shangrila.

I enjoyed Shangrila for its beautiful view and for its unique Tibetan culture.

I often felt that an artist in Shangrila needs not to make a composition of a landscape at all. As along as we make a square with our fingers, it is just a picture. Here are some of the views that you have to visit:

The first national park of China: the Potatso National Park   
The deepest Gorge in the world: Tiger Leaping Gorge
The Meili Snow Mountains: A Prince Snow Mountain
A God Snow Mountain
The Biggest Turning Sutra Tube in the world: Jixiang Shengli Tong

Except the beautiful natural environment and landscapes, I am really interested in the unique local culture.

First of all, the main religion -- Tibetan Buddhism: Tibetan Buddhism was emanated in 8 century and appeared many sects from 11 to 15 century, the main sect in Shangrila is Gelu Sect, also names Yellow Sect. As a Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, all most all of the Tibetans in Shangrila believe it. So, the best architectures in Shangrila are Temples. Everywhere, there are the turn sutra tubes, color flags with sutras, and white towers or Mani sutra heaps for praying for blessings. People stick these colored flags that have been written lection of the Tibetan Buddhism on the heaps or white town, to wish the wind flying the meaning of lection to the world. The biggest and weightiest Turning Sutra Tube in the world is just in Shagrila. It is high 21 meter, diameter 6 meters and weight 60 tons, there are 124 million sutras in it. Anyone turns it one ring, equals he/she has read 124 million sutras. Both of my son and I tried to push it one ring and we blessed in the temple for our family and friends, also we made a donation.

Secondly, the multiplex marriage styles: There are three kinds of marriage styles -- polygamy, polyandry and monogamous in Shangrila according to our girl guide. In the first two kinds or marriage styles, usually, it is several sisters or brothers in the same family to have one same spouse. One of them has a former wedding. Along with time and the economy level is improved, right now, people are tending to the third marriage style now.

Thirdly, the unique funeral ways: There are 5 burial styles for different poeple in Shangrila. Who can use which one is decided by the local Lama (monk).

The celestial burial: it is used by most of monks and adults. After getting the patters, the body is sent to the celestial burial platform and be anatomized and to feed the golden eagles. The other people do not be allowed to visit.   
The water burial: There are 4 kinds of ways to do that. Usually, the body is put into the Tibetan bier and be pushed into the water. It is also for civilians.
Inhumation: there are 3 kinds of inhumation in Shangrila. One is putting the body into a Han bier, several days later, to send it to be covered, then to build a long grave by thick greensward and earth. Two is to make the body to squat into a Tibet bier, there is no an obvious sign and the funeral is simple. The last one is to make the body with the squat style into a big pocket, to be covered into a hole, there is no any bier. Tibetan people believe future and do not believe ghosts. They believe the good people will be in reincarnation. So, only the bad people and sick people can not be in reincarnation, so, they have to be in inhumation.

The cremation: it is considered as saint burial. Usually it is for the Living Buddha and accomplished monks. The body is touched the ghee and be cremate by wood, then to make a tower to save its ashes to be reverence by people.

Pagoda burial: It is for Living Buddha and the accomplished monks. The body is deal with via the embalmment, to be parked in the tower, to be praised by people. Some of them be parked after the body has been cremated.   

Fourthly, the Finery and Tibetan Medicine: as soon as I reached Yunan, the first local person whom I have seen was just our first man guide who was in the beautiful colored Tibetan clothes, then, our girl guide who was in a beautiful dress. Except Finery, Tibetans wear many decorations, such as gold, silver, pearl and carnelian. If they were sick in the far ways place, they would make the golden or silver decorations to be burnt in the fire, to make them into the cold water, then to drink the water to treat the illness. Along with the time, they found that some of the decoration, such as carnelian, after touching the bodies of human, they have had some changed and can help people to improve their healthy. So, the decorations of Tibetans are not only for accessorizing, also some cherish Tibet medicine.

In Shangrila, Living Budhas and accomplished monks usually stand the duties as doctors. According to our girl guide, there are three floors in Tibetan Houses. The first floor is for domestic animals, the second floor is sitting rooms, and the third floor is storage Tibet women have their babies in the first floor, but, there are least Tibetan women to be infected women illnesses in the world according to the statistic by the World Red Cross. One of the important reasons is that they have got the help from the Living Buddha and accomplished monks as their doctors.
Since Tibetan Medicine is so famous and cherish, I could not help to buy two carnelians for both of my son and me myself in Shangrila as decorations, health protections and memory.

Fifthly, Singing and Dancing: As soon as we reached Shangrila, the Girl Guide told us that Shangrila is called the Sea of Flowers and the World of Singing and Dancing. As long as someone can speak, he/she is able to sing; as long as someone can walk, he or she is able to dance. Yes, I did feel that and saw it in person. In our traveling bus, the two guides sang many songs for. Then in a house that we saw how a family sang and danced with so much passion, all of us in the team could not help to sing, to stamp one's feet and to cheer with them together, so that I was a little bit worrying whether the floor could stand the so passional dancing and dancing.

There are so many feelings about Shangrila and I really feel the time I was there too short. So, I wish I will be there and to see and to climb up the Mili Snow mountains some day. Since I have climbed up the 4680 meter on the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain right now, maybe I have had a condition to reach up over 6000 meter high on Mili Snow Mountains?   

For helping you to know more about "Shangri-la" and Tibetan culture, I have made some links below and hope you enjoy them:

Finery of Tibetans No.1
Finery of Tibetans No.2
Shangrila No.3

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please write to shirley@ebridge.cn or shirleyz004@yahoo.com. You are welcome to publish your opinions in Forum For Friends as well.

Shirley Zhang

Written and Edited on Sun, July 22, 2007

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