Yaks, or Mozart?
October 28, 2006
Only rarely do I read the Business pages of the newspapers, but last night I couldn’t go to bed until I’d finished reading a most thought provoking article in yesterday’s Globe and Mail’s Report on Business magazine, which you can find on-line here if you’re interested. It was about the ways in which Bombardier and Nortel are helping China to change Tibet by the opening of a new railway through the extremely wild, high country between Golmud and Llasa, “Nortel’s GSM-R system [allowing] a wide range of technical signalling, voice communication and text messaging on even the most remote stretches of the Tibet railway…” The quality of the engineering—the networks, the infrastructure, the oxygen enriched railway cars designed by Bombardier—is phenomenal, no question, and the train service and consequent influx of Chinese business men is sure to transform that part of the world. What is debatable though, is whether or not the Tibetans will find their lives improved by this transformation.
It is very like the coming of the europeans to western Canada in the 19th century. They changed things. They aimed to “civilise” the west (or make money out of it) and did so most successfully, but at what cost to the native inhabitants? Now a Chinese spokesman is saying about the Tibetans, “In the past, the herdsmen had weak economic thinking… If they were fed and sheltered, they were satisfied. But […] thanks to technology and development, now they are entering the market economy.”
Is it progress then, not to be satisfied with simple food and shelter any more? Is it better to pay less respect to the animals one must kill for meat, by starting to butcher them wholesale without the dignity of a traditional “crying ceremony” for the sanctity of each life? Is it more civilised for the tourists in Tibet’s capital to “swarm into [the] temples and grab the monks for photos, even in the middle of theological discussions”? The Globe and Mail article raises such questions.
A Nortel spokesman has a more optimistic point of view. He says that the new developments in communication between Tibet and China will “reduce bias and improve tolerance,” which cannot help but be a good thing.
If the tide cannot be stopped, perhaps we should all try to think in this way.
I am thinking of Sydney, Australia, not so long ago a place as wild and remote as Tibet. Tomorrow afternoon at Sydney’s Town Hall hundreds of local school children from the city will be singing in a performance of Mozart’s Requiem. I am proud to add that my son and daughter-in-law will be playing in the accompanying orchestra. Now that is what I call civilised. Mozart, if he’d known about this concert, would have been amazed.