May 05, 2012

Tibetan Plateau

the Tibetan Plateau

In 2008, Vitas recorded a modern folk song and video about Tibet, which in itself is not strange to the Chinese; it is a song about a beautiful unspoiled* area that includes most of Tibet, part of which greater China claims. It is called the Tibetan Plateau, in Chinese, Qinghai-Tibetan (Qingzang) Plateau.

My question is, is this song controversial? This is very ambiguous.

The song is sung by both Tibetan and non-Tibetan Chinese singers.** In fact the composer was a Korean Chinese. Although written only a few years ago, it is in a traditional style and the lyrics avoid anything political or even current. It speaks of the landscape and the ancestors; and depending on which translation you use, the Divine.

Yet anything that refers to the relationship to Tibet, and how China used to be, is making political statements, no? There is also political controversy over how to handle the plateau's unstable ecology.

Classic Tibetan dance steps

Imagine my surprise when I discovered this about the timing of his song: it seems to have come out one month after a member of British Parliament removed Tibet's status as a suzerainty, which had given her a certain amount of self-goverence while still under China. The MP said the removal would change nothing; but people have protested that this weakens Tibet's amount of autonomy.

This removal came in October 2008-- and one month later, November 2008 (as far as I could determine), Vitas came out with this song about Tibet, I believe the first song he sang in Chinese.

Could this timing be a coincidence? Is that a political statement? Is he criticizing China from the point of view of Tibet? Or is he on China's "side"? Or just drawing attention to the beauty of Tibet?

Vitas in rehearsal with Tang Tsan

He sang this song in duet (video is below) at the BTV [television] Spring Global Gala 2010. I wonder how significant it is that they choose a "traditional" song that is modern, instead of an actual traditional song. And even the words "MY" Tibetan Plateau can sound- intentionally?- like a political statement of ownership. But this is a negative view. There is also a positive way to understand the Chinese embrace of the song.

Here is Vitas singing the song in duet with Chinese singer Tang Tsan. It is a dress rehearsal, not the final televised version, but the sound here is clearer. If you ever wondered what a "countertenor" is, this should explain it. Notice the Chinese dancers in red behind them, with classic Tibetan dance steps.
Some of the lyrics are at the end of this post.


Tibetan dancers in classic dance steps

An artist has the prerogative to touch any issue, hold it up, yet be on NO side, having a sort of "diplomatic license." I believe this is Vitas's choice. This is one of the great advantages of the arts, the "diplomat" that crosses all borders, forging peace. What Vitas probably wants to be, himself: the backdoor diplomat who enters singing. The one who brings in emotions and ideas that build bridges and heal.
Vitas at China's BTV Gala 2010

Maybe Vitas is drawing attention to Tibet for his own reasons. A song of Tibet dovetails with what matters to Vitas: a "traditional" folk song- and yet modern, symbolizing China in modern times rediscovering ancient spirituality and culture.


A Russian stands- both in geography and emotion- halfway between the traditions of east and west. The Russian has all the knowledge and customs of western society, and his great masterworks have been greedily appropriated by by the western canon. Yet a Russian retains the emotionalism and mysticism.
Building bridges
(Vitas has children from 
audience come onstage)

A Russian makes a good emissary of peace between east and west, through the traditional back door that Russians have always used even through their decades of Communism- circulating their dancers, singers and other performers around the world. Interesting to note that relations between China and Russia are tentatively beginning.

In an interview, Vitas said, "I always return to China as if I return home."


Here are some of the lyrics. They express feelings that this beautiful landscape inspires: a connection to ancient times, and possibly the ancient spirituality, though it's hard to be sure from the different translations.

Where you see two lines close together, these are two different translations. Note that the second translation is more openly spiritual. It is in italics.

who gazes at the blue sky day and night
Who always looks up to the Divine

who thirsts for the eternal vision
And dream about immortal life

It is my Tibetan Plateau
The Tibetan Plateau is my holy highland


*great efforts are being taken to keep it unspoiled, though there is controversy.

** The phrasing is controversial. Where China do not refer to "Tibet" but as a region of China, westerners see it as part of the country of Tibet; where China refers to "ethnic Tibetans," westerners call them Tibetans.

Most of my information on China comes from the book China Road by Rob Gifford, 2007.

I have taken much liberty with my guesswork. Please let me know anything that I have gotten wrong!

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