This was highly recommended by my aunt who shoved me a few book by this author. I don’t particularly like translated work, but this Epic Love Story of Tibet fascinated me. So instead of starting with the book that has made Xin Ran famous, I read this book first.
Having began creative non-fiction (CNF) in my MA course last week, I realised midway that I was actually reading a CNA instead of a fiction. This story was narrated by Shu Wen, an elderly Chinese lady in a Tibetan garb that the author has met one day but who subsequently disappeared.
Set during the China-Tibet conflict in 1950s, this story tells how, after being married for just less than one hundred days, Shu Wen’s husband, himself also a doctor, was sent to Tibet as a medical soldier. He was declared dead but without any details from the army. In despair, Wen sets off to Tibet in search of him by joining the army, believing that he is still alive, but missing.
Her adventure begins when her troop rescues a Chinese-speaking noble Tibetan woman Zhuoma who in turned saves them from being killed by the Tibetans. The Tibetans allow Wan and Zhuoma to leave, for Wan to continue her search for Kejun and for Zhuoma to search for her servant and love, Tiananmen. The woman meets with an accident and is rescued by a nomadic family, which Wen learns that Tibetan women are polygamous when she finds the mother, Saierbao in bed one morning with her brother-in-law instead of her husband.
Wen’s search is long and arduous as mountains have to be traversed and only when weather in the Himalaya region permits. Messages though words of mouth take forever and without simple communication media like paper or pen. Wen continues staying with Saierbao and her family even after Zhuoma is abducted by bandits, learning the Tibetan way of life of but still continuing her search for news of Kejun, whom she eventually learns from a Tibetan old hermit Kejun saves, decades later, that he has died sacrificing himself to save his troop. Cut off from the outside world without news or the concept of time other than the seasons – Summer and winter, Wen has no knowledge that the Tibetan- China conflict has ended.
The author tries to treat the China-Tibet conflict as evenly as possible, giving us how ordinary Chinese laymen were told the great deed they were doing to unite Tibet to China, only to learn, to her horrors, how Tibetans, instead of welcoming the Chinese, are resisting them and treating them as the enemy. Reading the book has given me the incentive of making Tibet my next holiday destination, which I had resisted before as I heard how the Chinese has colonise Tibet physically and culturally. The nomadic ways of the 1950s may have disappeared and and I am not sure if sky burials, where corpse are fed to the vultures as ways of returning to nature, still exist. It may seemed brutal at first but after reading this book, I changed my mind. Why not this perfectly natural way of returning back to Mother Earth?
Story aside, I found a tiny editorial error which amazed me. On page 60 of this book: Although she knew (missing – there) must be other nomadic families in the region because…
Interestingly, the book ends with a letter from the author to Shu Wen, requesting for Wen to contact her.