During the winter of 1974–75, spent in a village not far from the border be-
tween Nepal and Tibet, the radio station that we received most clearly was
the Chinese Tibetan-language transmission from Lhasa. The Sherpa house-
hold whose hospitality I enjoyed listened regularly to this broadcast during
their simple evening supper, and like the local cuisine it varied little from
day to day. As a condiment served alongside the potatoes, throughout that
winter the broadcast treated us to a daily harangue about the evils of Con-
fucius, Soviet revisionism, and American imperialism, with the “thieving
Dalai Lama clique” thrown in for good measure. Though Tibet was just a few
kilometers distant, it seemed part of an alternate universe, a black hole that
would remain forever beyond reach.
Couterpoised to that inaccessible wasteland, the Tibetan refugee com-
munities of South Asia were preoccupied above all with their survival and
that of the civilization whose sole remaining custodians they felt them-
selves to be. Under these circumstances, the conservation of tradition took
precedence over novel creation. Literary Tibetan was one of several areas in
which this disposition was particularly pronounced, and with the exception
of those newspapers and journals that adopted a modern, colloquial regis-
ter for reporting current affairs, Tibetan writers in exile generally favored
strict adherence to the classical language. Those of us engaged in the study
of Tibetan civilization also saw our primary duty in the documentation of
the past. Exiled Tibetans and foreign scholars in a sense thus collaborated in
constructing a Tibet of memory, a Tibet that still spoke in the language of the
ancient masters, revered figures such as the yogi-poet Milarepa, or the theo-
logian Tsongkhapa. If in The Man without Qualities Robert Musil imagined how
Saint Thomas Aquinas might emerge from the centuries into the turbulence
of early-twentieth-century Vienna, in the Tibetan exile his Gedankenexperiment
became a reality.
A mere half-decade after my sojourn among the Sherpa, as China and
with it Tibet was leaving the Cultural Revolution behind, the simple bifur-
cation of Tibet-in-exile as a cultural repository versus “Chinese Tibet” as a
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