Customer Review

Reviewed in the United States on August 5, 2020
"As context, the estimated death toll of 300,000 Tibetans during this period is greater than the massacre in Nanjing by Japanese occupying troops, for which the Chinese government insisted on repeated apologies. Except... the Chinese government has never apologized."

Well, I think it's safe to say the Chinese government isn't going to like this book very much.

I have to admit I didn't know a lot about Tibet or its history before I picked up this book. I'd heard of the Dalai Lama, sure, but only through Hollywood stars I (perhaps unfairly) judged to care only for causes vapid and inconsequential. The plight of the Tibetan people is one many of us have heard of but of which few know the details. This book introduced me to the brutal persecution of an ethnic minority by their government. It has lasted nearly a century and shows no signs of ending.

The first meeting of the Tibetan people and the Chinese Communist Party did not go well. It was the 1930s and the Red Army was in retreat from Chiang Kai-shek and some troops found themselves on the Tibetan plateau, which seemed to them like a strange planet full of people who did not look, live, worship or eat like them. The Communists introduced themselves to the locals by stealing all their food. They literally ate icons of the Buddha made of a flour paste, hence "Eat the Buddha."

Tibetans had never experienced famine before. They had a centuries old system of nomads and farmers, each trading for barley and animal products respectively. But, thanks to the CCP, they would come to know hunger quite well. Mao insisted Tibetan society remake itself in the "Han Chinese way" in the new socialist world order. The diet staples of milk and cheese were brushed away as oddities and Tibetans were called to collectively farm crops that couldn't survive the climate.

"The nomads were made to hand over animals to the collectives that didn't know how to keep them alive, and to farm land that would never produce crops."

Tibetans measured wealth in animals and horses that died in battle were counted as casualties. Mao's Great Leap Forward took away the only richness they had known and told them to be glad they were now free.

Even after the decades of suffering, the modern Tibetan people say they could accept Chinese rule, if the government would stop maligning the Dalai Lama. I don't think it's unfair to say the CCP is *obsessed* with the Dalai Lama. He is the intense focus of CCP propaganda. Tibetans are warned not to get sucked into the "Dalai Clique." Tibetans were denied passports just to keep them away from the influence of the Dalai Lama. Those who attempt travel to where he lives in exile have to pay $10,000 to human smugglers to cross the border into Nepal whereas Han Chinese can fly to Kathmandu for $250. Easing up on the Dalai Lama might improve Chinese-Tibetan relations, the CCP seems unwilling to let go.

Overall, this book is a fascinating insight into the Tibetan people and the history of their conflict with the ruling CCP. One thing I love about Barbara Demick's books is that they are just so readable. If you're a reader accustomed to fiction and finds nonfiction a slog, try one of Demick's books.

"Eat the Buddha" is not quite as good as the author's previous work "Nothing to Envy," which is one of my all time favorites but still very much recommended.
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