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Tragedy in Crimson: How the Dalai Lama Conquered the World but Lost the Battle with China Hardcover – February 1, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Johnson, foreign correspondent for the Miami Herald and former Beijing bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers, weaves together interviews with monks, nomads, exiled activists, and the Dalai Lama himself in this evocative account of China's escalating suppression of the Tibetan people and their traditional way of life. He witnesses the Tibetan capital's transformation to a "theme park for visiting Chinese," where Tibetans are now in the minority—an agenda China pursues with its minority communities: annexation followed by dilution, then erasure of the indigenous cultures. The gulf between the Han Chinese and Tibetans is mirrored in Beijing's dealings with the Dalai Lama, Tibet's leader in exile since 1959. Revered by the West, reviled by the Chinese, the Dalai Lama is a controversial figure among his own people—especially the young who advocate complete independence from China rather than the Dalai Lama's "Middle Way." Despite garnering celebrity allies and visibility for the Tibetan cause, the Dalai Lama is largely ineffectual: China's stranglehold continues and his own people "are only dimly aware of the freedom concerts" and campaigns conducted on their behalf. A sobering, engrossing, and important account of an imperiled culture. (Feb.)
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“Tim Johnson’s book [Tragedy in Crimson] has the virtue of great timing… Johnson does cast considerable light on what is at stake. . . . Cultural knowledge is fading. Johnson even finds a Tibetan either too cut off or too fearful to admit he has ever heard of the Dalai Lama.  That leaves Tibet clinging to what Johnson calls the “Hail Mary” strategy, a faith that Tibetan culture can outlast China’s Communist party. One expert points hopefully to the case of East Timor, which seized independence from Indonesia after the fall of Suharto in 1998. But Johnson has spent six years watching the awesome progress of the Chinese economy and the adaptability of the Communist party. He is not holding his breath.”
Financial Times
“[Johnson] saw how strong the forces the Tibetan exile movement is up against are, not just because Beijing is committed to holding on to the strategic region but also because most members of China's ethnic Han majority lack sympathy for Tibetan complaints. Tibet is on lockdown. Foreign governments are less willing to support the overseas movement as China's influence grows, and Beijing's strategy to solve the Tibet problem with economic development, repression, and propaganda is failing.”
—Andrew J. Nathan, Foreign Affairs
 “Tim Johnson’s Tragedy in Crimson is a tour d’horizon, a wide-ranging overview of the political, economic and cultural terrain in Tibet and the broader forces that will impact its future. . . . Tragedy in Crimson richly describes and analyzes the many cross-currents that swirl around the fate of Tibet. . . .  In its sweep and depth of coverage, [Tragedy in Crimson] is basic reading for anyone seeking a firm grounding in current developments in Tibet and an appreciation of possibilities and options going forward.”
Washington Independent Review of Books
 “Tragedy in Crimson is about China and Tibet, but has lessons for us. . . . Johnson believes the way China deals with Tibet says something about how an increasingly powerful China may deal with its close neighbors and even the United States. . . . The politics and history he writes about are leavened by his portraits of people and their lives… a good primer on how China wields its power.”
— Seattle Times
 “As recent events in Egypt have shown, governments that one day appear invincible may the next lie in tatters. And if the 14th Dalai Lama were a betting man, he’d probably put his money on China being the next strong power to fall. . . . Though his sympathies are clearly with Tibet, Johnson mulls the Dalai Lama’s optimism with sincere doubt. He laments the sapping of Lhasa’s soul by the boom of Chinese commerce, but can’t help marvelling at the railway partly responsible for it… Johnson speculates that Tibet will be further swallowed up by China when the popular Dalai Lama dies, a nearing eventuality. And what lies in the balance isn’t so much the beacon of enlightenment the humble Himalayan country is often built up to be, but a rich, nomadic culture that subsists peacefully on Tibet’s rolling grasslands.”
Macleans (Canada)
“[The Dalai Lama] is 72 and one day soon the Tibetans will have to search for the 15th reincarnation, inevitably a child, who will have to continue to lead the Tibetans in a David-and-Goliath fight.  The prospect is alarming, as China grows ever more powerful and assertive. It is why the veteran American correspondent Tim Johnson has chosen to assess what has gone so wrong for the Tibetans. In Tragedy in Crimson, he travels around the world investigating why a movement that has become so well organised and backed by A-list Hollywood celebrities has failed so dismally to achieve any of its aims.”
The Spectator (UK)
“If Beijing's leaders feel compelled to assert claims to Tibet and Taiwan, it is because these places are not merely territorial interests—they are ideological, even existential, challenges to communist rule.  In ‘Tragedy in Crimson,’ Tim Johnson, a former Beijing bureau chief for the Knight-Ridder and McClatchy newspaper groups, reports on—as his subtitle has it—‘How the Dalai Lama Conquered the World but Lost the Battle With China.’ The exiled leader is revered by Tibetans and by politicians and celebrities around the world, but he is still under siege by the Chinese Communist Party, 60 years after China invaded Tibet and eventually drove him into exile. . . .  [The Dalai Lama’s] work has yielded considerable achievements, including democracy in exile and the preservation of Tibet's culture and religion. ‘It is hard to imagine how a Tibetan leader could have risen more suitably to the times and challenges,’ Mr. Johnson writes, in clear admiration of the Dalai Lama's resilience and moral purpose.  Indeed, the story of ‘Tragedy in Crimson’ contains many elements of triumph.”
Wall Street Journal
“The word “tragedy” in this title is apt; the book is engrossing and informative but not optimistic. . . . [Johnson] writes with informed passion, insight, and clarity … A vivid and up-to-date picture for interested readers at all levels.”
Library Journal
“[Johnson] weaves together interviews with monks, nomads, exiled activists, and the Dalai Lama himself in this evocative account of China's escalating suppression of the Tibetan people and their traditional way of life. . . . A sobering, engrossing, and important account of an imperiled culture.”
Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
Tragedy in Crimson is an insightful and comprehensive account of the complexities of the relationship between Tibet and China. Essential reading for all concerned with the future of Tibet and Tibetan culture.”
—Isabel Hilton, author of The Search for the Panchen Lama
“In Tragedy in Crimson, Tim Johnson cuts through the propaganda and hype to provide what is long overdue – a clear-eyed and dispassionate look at the predicament of the Tibetan people.  Johnson has the sharp and objective eye of a journalist from long experience covering China.  His thoroughly up-to-date and forward-looking account examines the Tibetans’ uncertain future, after the eventual passing of the current Dalai Lama.  Johnson introduces the reader to the 25-year-old  hip-hop loving, iPod-wearing Karmapa lama (nicknamed “His Hotness” by a swooning American fan), now being groomed as a protegee of the Dalai Lama, and to a Tibetan princess (daughter of the Panchen  Lama and Chinese mother) who was educated in California and is fluent in Valley Girl speak.  Johnson deals with China’s encroachment on Tibetan culture in recent decades, but he doesn’t rehash the old ground so much as look to the bigger picture.  The real threat is China’s growing economic might, which makes the world’s leaders increasingly reluctant to stand up for Tibetans’ rights.  The Dalai Lama might have his A-list Hollywood supporters, but Beijing with a phone call can get – to cite a recent glaring example from 2009 – South Africa to deny him a visa to attend a conference of Nobel peace laureates.”
—Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times Beijing bureau chief and author of Nothing to Envy
“This book is a must-read for anyone interested in Tibet.  A former China correspondent with evident sympathy for the Dalai Lama's plight, Johnson traverses the gulf between the world's fastest rising materialist power and a dispossessed culture that has become a beacon of spirituality for millions across the globe.  What he finds is at once tragic, heroic, Machievellian and absurd.  From Hollywood stars and video-game-playing living Buddhas to Communist censors and thuggish monks, Johnson does not flinch from the anomalies, hypocrisy and contradictions in the pro-Tibet camp, but he also shows great compassion in trying to understand its weakening struggle against marginalization.  Ultimately this is not just a book about Tibet and China, but an exploration of a timeless human dilemma: how to reconcile virtue and power.”
Jonathan Watts, author of When a Billion Chinese Jump



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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 333 pages
  • Publisher: Nation Books; 1st edition (February 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1568586019
  • ISBN-13: 978-1568586014
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,642,564 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By wogan TOP 500 REVIEWER on April 9, 2011
Format: Hardcover
"Tragedy in Crimson' is a lesson, not only in Tibet and the Dalai Lama, but also a lesson in China - its astonishing changes in recent years and its extreme sensitivity to past wrongs by foreigners and an education in China's authoritarian capitalism. China, it seems just waits for the Dalai Lama to die and this book explores some of the questions of what will happen at that time.
The view of the Chinese authorities towards the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan people both in the past and present is well covered, as well as the view of many Chinese of what they feel are the misperceptions of the west concerning Tibet. Although Johnson's view is highly sympathetic toward the Tibetans, he presents the arguments and views of China as well as the growing celebrity following of the Dalai Lama.

There are interesting observations on the physical problems of traveling to Tibet and its high altitude, the difficulties of a journalists obtaining permission to go there and the amazing rail line that has been built from Beijing to Llasa. The situations of the Tibetans themselves in the cities, and the Tibetan nomads and the dissidents is explained in depth.

Tim Johnson was able to interview the Dalai Lama and the Karmapa, the 2nd most venerated Tibetan Buddhist Llama in exile and the daughter of the Panchen Lama. Their history is also explained as well the rumors of the Panchen Lama's poisoning. Johnson visited and interviewed Tibetans in China, Nepal and India and depicts clearly their restrictions, their thoughts and their treatment.

Whether or not the question of how the Dalai Lama conquered the world and lost the battle with China is answered , this book is certainly a good description on the state of affairs surrounding the Dalai Llama. The information presented is more of a statement on the history of the Dalai Lama, his followers and his present situation and that of the rising power of China.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By John L Murphy TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 11, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This follows the stadiums full of cheers for the Dalai Lama's righteous but perhaps quixotic cause by many Western supporters with an insistent voice of reason. As an experienced China-based journalist, sympathetic to the underdog but determined to tell the truth, Tim Johnson's well-placed to hear the Mandarin side of the debate and the PRC's position as it crushes dissent in Tibet and abroad. That is, post-2008, few articles and fewer books have emerged to date chronicling the shift towards heavier suppression and heightened surveillance as Chinese bullying escalates and as the rest of the world capitulates to the economic superpower's demands for cooperation with the anti-Tibetan crackdowns.

What happens is that China lobbies in American corridors of power for a narrow view: any pro-Tibet stance legislators may adapt equates for a return to barbaric theocracy and despotic feudalism. This contradicts, of course, the Dalai Lama's reiterated position for a truly autonomous Tibetan entity, if not the desperation of a marginalized people who, as the internal exile poet Woeser laments here, find it now impossible to change their own destiny, as marginalization accelerates and the environment, ecologically and culturally, faces irreparable damage. He shows how discrimination against Tibetans continues in universities and jobs, and how as in Lhasa Han and Hui Muslim immigration weakens the native culture and their means of making a livelihood in an increasingly desacralized tourist trap. Full of brothels, many owned by government, party, or military, this symbolizes Tibet's subservience.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Anne-Marie on November 16, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book allows you to take a trip up into the remote mountains of Tibet, experience its rugged landscape, and eavesdrop on conversations with the Dalai Lama himself. There is a complex drama taking place, with a traditional people tackling the challenge of a hegemony-bent China, and more insidious challenges brought by an encroaching modern world arriving at its doorstep.But the heart of the story is a lushly detailed journey to one of the world's most fascinating places, and Tim Johnson will take you there. This book is a must-read for policy wonks, human rights experts, backpackers and adventure travelers.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By DavidMc on April 8, 2011
Format: Hardcover
"Tragedy in Crimson" is a book for followers of what has been happening on the Tibetan Plateau and in Dharamsala in recent times. You would be starting at a good place to read other books on the history of Mao's invasion of Tibet, the Dalai Lama's subsequent flight in Chinese soldier garb, and his proclaiming a "Government in Exile" in India. Those issues are not so much a subject of the book as is the Lama's vast influence throughout the world and the ways in which the fragile Chinese Communist Party seeks to subvert his authority over the Tibetan people, who worship him as a god-king, and to propagandize their own citizens against His Holiness, disinforming them in ways that allow them to believe that he is a rogue statesmen out to gain western support in order to gain full autonomy for his people while attacking the Chinese single party rule system. This, even though the Dalai Lama has made clear that what he seeks is respect for Tibetan tradition and religious freedom in this ever-ebbing world.

Included, is a very interesting and fun chapter about the now in exile hip-hop loving, video gaming, and apparently heart-throb 17th Karmapa many think may play a major role in whatever form the unofficial Tibetan gov't in Dharamsala takes after His Holiness' passing. Another is about a Chinese groomed, Western educated, valley-girl speaking "Tibetan Princess" who is now living back in China. Some think the same kinds of things about her as with the Karmapa, though after reading this chapter about her, I am left completely unconvinced that this could be so, and I think the author vaguely feels the same.
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