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Sense Of Place In Tibet And Shangri-La - With A Free Essay Review


“Tibet is simply one of the most remarkable places in Asia. It offers fabulous monasteries, breathtaking high- altitude treks, stunning views of the world’s highest mountains and one of the most likeable peoples you will ever meet.” With this quote the image of Tibet has been created by one of world’s most famous travel guides Lonely Planet. However, Tibet holds more than a religious place. According to Davidson and Milligan a sense of place is a “place that must be felt to make sense”. Tibet can be seen as a sense of place because for example locals have a certain feeling of belonging with that place. There are things which they can only find when they are in Tibet. Like Agnew and Duncan describe, it “refers to the emotional, experiental and affective traces that tie humans into particular environments.” But not only locals see Tibet as something extraordinary, also people from far away come all the way to Tibet to experience it on first hand. Motivations are such as the religion (for example pilgrims), culture or leisure. For tourists who are especially interested in some adventure they can visit places where monasteries are less visited. The landscapes of Tibet are as diverse as its culture itself. In the north one can find grassland, in the west mars-like deserts can be found, in the south Himalaya snowy mountains can be seen and in the centre are valleys and big lakes. Going through Tibet one can observe how Tibetans live their everyday life. With that, one is able to experience their culture. Behind every single place is a story. This shows the way Tibet is shaped by its great history. According to Lonely Planet the key to Tibet’s soul is one of the many pilgrim routes . Many tourists have come to get out of their everyday life and to experience Tibet in a calm and friendly way for relaxation. These different aspects show that Tibet offers a great diversity and with that every single one of us will have a different impression, when one will go there to experience it.

This paper will show the relation among sense of place and place for tourists in Tibet and later for Shangri-La. It tries to explain that a place is mostly shaped by the cultural aspect, especially by the locals and therefore a sense of place will attract tourists. To go more in-depth about this statement this paper will also describe issues of place-making, the sense of place based on the case of Tibet. As places are mainly made by culture it is first important to understand the culture and the history of Tibet.

Literature review

According to Steele “a place results from an interaction among the unique cultural and physical characteristics of a setting and the personality and behavior of an individual in that setting.” Through that certain attachment to a place, a sense of place is the “key way in which human, culture and environment are united ”. Human Geographers like Buttimer, Relph, Tuan and Graefe describe that the “sense of belonging and a sense of purpose to their lives are attached personally to place, people ”. Another author is Shamai who states that a sense of place is a set of “feelings, attitudes, and behavior”. In line with that Williams and Stewart define sense of place as the collection of meanings, beliefs, symbols, values and feelings that an individual - or a group of individuals – associate with a particular physical location. Also it is said by Fredrickson and Kerr sense of place is considered as deep feelings, described as spiritual, ethical, emotional, aesthetic, cultural or existential. Apparently there have been many authors defining and describing the sense of place. Most of the literature approach sense of place from individual aspects in a specific setting. The authors mostly talk about four main aspects. It is something emotional, cultural, spiritual and aesthetical. Although most of the literature approached it from an individual level, it can also be collective and its values come from a place. Relative to tourism sense of place is an important aspect. Sense of place is a crucial part of the experience of visitors. Place is experienced as a deeply important, even spiritual, quality of a setting .Tibet is an example where a place is taken and made a place for a political and cultural action. Maxey summarizes, the cultural world is produced through the acts of each of us engage with every day. Everything we do, every thought we have, adds to the production of the social world. “We are in a sense all activists, as we are all engaged in producing the world.” Therefore it can be said Tibet has been shaped and created as a place since it has been influenced by so many cultures and has been through historian events. Nevertheless, to understand how Tibet is made as a place it is significant to understand Tibet itself first.

Geographical location of Tibet – Shangri-La

Tibet is located to the south and west of Burma, India, Bhutan, Sikkim and Nepal. It is also in the southwest of China and in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Tibet’s region can be alienated in three geographic parts: the west which is also the North-Tibet Plateau and it is positioned among the Kunlun Mountain and Kangdese Mountain and Tonglha Mountain and Nyainqentanglha Mountain, the south has valleys which are among Kangdese Mountains and Himalayas and the east consists of canyons and is characterized by gradually decline in altitude (also known as Henduan Ranges) . Tibet’s capital is Lhasa, which means “The land of gods”. This shows how religious Tibet is and how important it is to its inhabitants.

“Yet, the gardens were empty of people and it seemed that I was the only visitor to this paradise. […]Oh realm of Shangri La, by the great creatures you were made! […] “

“Shangri-La” was a fictive place but many people have the image of a utopian place in Tibet when they hear the name “Shangri-La”. As the authors of “Lonely Planet” illustrate it is “lodged in western psyche . Nevertheless, this term is originally from James Hilton’s novel “Lost Horizon”, which deals with a place utopian place in the Himalaya where people live in harmony and do not age . This probably explains why people imagine Shangri-La as a kind of paradise. What readers read in books is memorized by them. With the image the readers get, they become curious about the place. Nowadays, especially Westerners use the term Shangri-La to advertise Tibet since “it evokes imagery of oriental mysticism . Today the name Shangri-La is a real place. The Zhongdian County was renamed in May, 2002 into Shangri-La due to advertised reasons for tourism.

Culture of Tibet

According to Gerald D. Berreman Tibetan culture is defined by Tibetan language, Lamaistic Buddhism, and a combination of pastoralism and settled agriculture. It is one factor, which give Tibet a kind of meaning.

Tibet’s culture shows a great diversity. It shows influences of Mahayana Buddhism, Tantric Buddhism and the shamanistic religion of the Himalayas . However there is more. In this paper culture is defined in four different aspects. First the language, then the art and science, then the beliefs and religion and at last the social activities

Tibetans have their own language. Their language is called the Tibeto-Burman language of the Sino-Tibetan language family. Their language is influenced by the Chinese, Indian and Mongolian language.

Second of all, the” Tibetan traditional arts focused in religious worship” . It includes “scroll paintings of deities, sculpture, carved altars, religious texts, altar implements, statues of precious metal inlaid with gems, appliquéd temple hangings, and operatic costumes for religious performances, religious music, and religious singing. ” Many of those “crafts were carried out by monks in monasteries” . To conclude about Tibetans Arts and sciences it can be illustrated as followed: “Tibetan writing and literature includes works on history, philosophy, medicine, mathematics, and astronomy as well as works of fiction and poetry. Local peasants produced utilitarian household objects for their own use or purchased them at a local market. Women wore multiband front aprons, regionally specific headdresses, and jewelry. ”

The third aspect is the beliefs and the religion. Tibetans are deeply religious. Their religion is the Tibetan Buddhism. Almost the entire population is Buddhist except for minor amount who is Muslim, which “is a syncretic mix of Indian Buddhism, Tantrism, and the local pantheistic religion.” The religion is practiced in public and are organized with religious holidays .

The last aspect is the social activities. Tibetans have dances and singers in their culture like every other common culture. They dance on streets and dress up .Their folk art has figures of Buddha and figures made of yak butter. Tangka is a painted wall-hanging depicting Buddhist theme .

In all those aspects it can be seen and confirmed that Tibetan culture is highly diverse and gives that place an addition to its special meaning.

History of Tibetans and Tibet

[…]”A hurried farewell to Lhasa,

Where the fear is in your breathing, in the beating of your heart,

In the silence when you want to speak but don’t,

In the catch in your throat.” […]

This short part of the poem “On the road out of Lhasa” shows the fear of the inhabitants and can reflect Tibetans history. Its history is a combination of “invasion and intrigue, of soaring religious debate, reincarnation, miracles and murders, all taking place under the backdrop of one of the world’s most extreme environments.“ From a “warring expansionist empire to an introspective non-violent Buddhist nation”. This is how Tibet’s history can be sum up. Nonetheless, it all started with the arrivals of Tibetan in K’iang in central China. At that time (5th century B.C.) Buddha was living in India, Confucius and Lao-Tseu in China. The history can be alienated in two parts: The first with the establishment and the end of the Tibetan Kingdoms and the second one with the establishment and the end of the Dalai-Lama Theocracy. During both periods no distinction can be drawn among the civil and religious problems. The Tibetan King Sron-Tsan-Gampo was very powerful and a menace to the Chinese Empire during the 7th century. Many famous buildings and holy places were built. When the Tibetan leadership in Asia was weaker, the Mongol Khan considered Tibet as a sacred country and secured it. This protection continued when Mongol Dynasty reigned over China. The Chinese Ming emperors also accept the leadership of Tibetan Buddhism in all China. Tibet lived peacefully up to the recent period. The first European travelers to visit Tibet were very impressed by the country and its inhabitants. Tibet was told and considered as a mythic country. By the end of the Second World War, the Mao-Tse-Tung army overpowered Chang-Kai-Chek and entered peaceful Tibet. After setting up a pro-Chinese administration, the first decisions brought a severe famine, suppressed civil rights and enforced the Chinese language. In March 1959 Lhassa population requested the Dalai-Lama to escape in India, against his will. In the 1970s, during the Cultural Revolution the Red Guards damaged nearly 2000 official buildings and holy places and burnt nearly all the Tibetan libraries and books to get rid of the Tibetan civilization and language. For the last four years a strong repression came up in monasteries, in spite if the presence of Europeans journalists and tourists. Under Chinese rule serfdom was abolished and in 1965 Tibet was made an autonomous region. A railway from Beijing to Lhasa was built in 2006. It is also the highest railway in the world. However, in March 2008 Tibetan resentment against Chinese resulted into riots in Lhasa.

Images of Tibet from different perspectives; Tibet in the eyes of foreigners

In the literature review of this report it has been concluded that making sense of place is often times related to the individual feelings and opinions to a site. This part will go in deeper meaning of different individual beliefs and experiences of Tibet.

- “I see different Tibet” by a French hotel tycoon tours.

- “The police on the streets are kind and polite” by Guzman Escardo

- Foreign students at Tibet University regard Tibet as their ideal home, and China as a compelling destination.

Those are only a few examples of different opinions but every single one has a different impression of Tibet. Nevertheless some of the people or countries who are interested in Tibet have different ideas of what they want from Tibet than the ideas of what Tibetans want from their own country. Chinese for example claim that Tibet traditionally belongs to China .

China even sends Chinese people to build up the infrastructure and claim that they helped Tibet for their economic development .A Tibetan once had a talk given in Bombay on 17 March 2000 as part of the week-long ‘Festival of Tibet 2000’ organized by the Friends of Tibet (INDIA) and Tibetan Youth Congress, which said that Tibet that “never before 23 May 1951- when a conquered and defeated Tibetan government was forced to sign an unequal ‘treaty’ - the so-called ‘17 Point Agreement on Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet’ - had the Tibet ever surrendered its independence. “This is the reason why China claims to be part of China. Tibetans are longing for independence, but that might require working together with India to maintain Tibetans culture, which is crucial to Tibetans. As the Dalai-Lama said “Tibet is an important place; it is strategically important, also economically. Although the Chinese proudly say that they spend a large amount of money in Tibet to develop it, but on the other side if Han Chinese keeps on coming and bringing their culture in, the losses of Tibetans culture is the result .India also plays a significant role in influencing Tibet. First it “hosts the Dalai-Lama’s government-in-exile in Dharamsala. India Also supports Tibet political and morally the Tibetan government-in-exile .Another point is that Tibet’s religion originated from India’s religion .Already in the past many Tibetans came to India to visit holy places and later on vice versa. Resulting from different stakeholders of influencing Tibet one can see that Tibet is affected and shaped by its historian events and by its different stakeholders who claim to have a right about deciding about Tibet.

Making the place Tibet – Shangri-La

"When we shape the world, we create places. “ Throughout the paper Tibet has been discussed from different aspects. But because Tibet is an interesting place it is also an interesting destination for tourism. How are people shaped by Tibet, and how is the place created then? In the following this should be answered. So there is there is Tibet as a country and Shangri-La as a particular place within Tibet. Around Shangri-La is a typical case, where a story is used to make it attractive for tourists. There have been several studies about tourism who have described the creation of myths about tourist destinations . Since Zhongdian County was officially renamed Shangri-La County it attracted even more tourists than before. This name was much more common among tourists, especially western tourists. This is because of the novel of James Hilton, who was mentioned earlier. In shaping and creating Tibet – Shangri-La has many stakeholders who acquire an interest in building it up to a tourist destination. Here most of the population is Tibetans. Therefore they have the strongest influence on creating a shaping Tibet – Shangri-La. Most of the bureaucrats, who can actually do something in influencing Tibet, are Tibetans or they are members of other nationalities .Those bureaucrats have been working out a five-point-plan in which preventing the losses of Tibetans culture is a significant point. According to the Tourism Department Shangri-La also stand for ‘preserving nature and culture’. With this statement it can already be seen how important the Tibetans culture is for its inhabitants. This also goes along with the expectations of tourists and especially western tourists. It has been said “Tourists like the exotic, to return to nature. They don’t like modernization. Foreign tourists will make up the majority of tourists who visit this area in the future. Other areas are too developed, and this area will attract them” . Here one can see that with preventing the losses of Tibetans culture will result in more tourists coming. Seeing the nature and the locals united as one, in a place many stories are around, will attract tourists. It is not enough to just read what books have been told, but it is to the importance for tourists to experience that place on first hand. This goes in line with Korski’s statement: ‘People are searching for a new world. No money, no power, no politics. This is the place people have dreamed of, from the book and the movie.’ However, Mr. Xuan says that it is not for tourists. Moreover, “it’s for real people looking for a real place where there is harmony. If Shangri-La is only for tourism and three-star hotels, I say no. There are blue skies, not like Beijing,” he adds. All those aspects Shangri-La can offer and make it so special and different. It seems like that all stakeholders who have a great influence on creating Tibet – Shangri-La want it to be seen as a kind of paradise.

The primary goal of the Chinese authority is to promote the image of China as an unified, multicultural and multiethnic state, where the ‘minority nationalities’ represent the more colorful and exotic varieties of Chinese culture, whereas the Han represent the more ‘modern’ and cosmopolitan culture. In this case the minorities are the Tibetans. However, there is still the possibility that China wants to modernize Tibet, because it keeps on sending Han Chinese to Tibet in order to “help” them.

Nevertheless, Shangri-La has come to symbolize ‘the longing of human beings for a perfect and peaceful world’, where there is ‘complete harmony between man and nature, and man and man’ .Shangri-La’ provides an answer for the dreams of urban Chinese, attracted to a place where people live ‘in harmony with each other and the environment’ .This is something what attracts tourists from all over the world, no matter whether one is a Chinese tourist or one is a Western tourist.

Although tourists bring a lot benefits to locals because they can make living there is a bad side of tourism. Monasteries can become overcrowded because of the great number of tourists coming every day to experience the religion . With that many tourists coming everyday locals will not have the chance of having a calm and silent way of living their everyday life or even to practice their religion without being observed by tourists.

In the case of Tibet – Shangri- La, Chinese people are looking for a place of ‘peace and harmony’, ‘clean water and blue skies’ and ‘friendly people’ and a landscape of nostalgia . Today many Chinese visit Tibet because of those aspects. China is modernized in a way that they cannot find those aspects in their own country anymore. At least not in the way they can find it in Tibet or especially in Shangri-La. Since Tibetans originated their religion from India they always have been visiting each other’s holy places, especially Tibetans visited India a lot. For Tibetans it is a place like nowhere else. They have seen a lot through years. But at the end it is that they want to be independent and not ruled by others. They want to maintain their culture and practice their religion freely.


In this paper many aspects has been discussed. Goal of this paper was not only to confirm the statement that a place is mostly shaped by the cultural aspect (culture in this case has been defined earlier already) especially by the locals and therefore a sense of place will attract tourists, but also to understand Tibet as a country and later Shangri-La as a place within Tibet. It was furthermore to understand how different stakeholders shaped and created Tibet as it is now or as a sense of place. Moreover it was also to understand how Tibetans deal with the fact when their place becomes a tourist destination.

Tibet was invaded in the past many times, although at some point their history they were a strong country. But since Tibet became a Buddhist country it did not harm anyone. But because China keeps on wanting to own Tibet, Tibet has struggled a lot until it became autonomous. The whole world has seen how Tibet finally became autonomous. Being a lot in the media raised people’s curiosity about that country. But not only since a few hundred years Tibet had become interesting. It already happened when James Hilton published his novel about Shangri-La in Tibet, which was at that point only a fictive place. With tourism expanding over the years and all over the world, Tibet became an attractive destination. In this paper Shangri-La was especially discussed. Shangri-La which brings up keywords like “paradise”, “nature and human as one”, “utopia”, “the exotic” and many more.

Tibetans were more in the center of attention because of them wanting to become an autonomous country. Getting their freedom and just to live as they want to. However, there is the point that since they are autonomous now, that they want to be seen differently. Tibetans wants to be understood and appreciated. Tibetans have the chance to do so, because many tourists are coming to experience Tibet on first hand.

This place so many people have been talking about it, in books and in the media. But how does it look like in real. This is exactly why tourists come from far or near to experience it. The history of Tibet has been shaping Tibet in many ways and those events have been shaping the inhabitants. All this had a great impact on their culture and their way of living. With so many impacts on one country or one particular place Tibet – Shangri-La is a place full of exotic and interesting culture.

Even though looking at different perspectives how people feel about Tibet then even within the country the Tibetans might feel differently about their place. Young and old people might be differently attached to their place. Old people normally are attached to the not modern way of living, whereas young people prefer to life in a modern way.

Concluded it can be said that historian, like religion, literature (novel of James Hilton) or stakeholders who claim to “own” Tibet, circumstances lead to a social creation of places. The place Zhongdian County has a new meaning by renaming it into Shangri-La. This new meaning is shaped by the novel of James Hilton. It gives the place a symbolic value and meaning at the same time. Shangri-La is popular term, even though it is the official name now, to promote it for tourism, because it is more likely to be known from the novel already. The county’s name has been changed also for marketing reasons. Whether locals were against it or not remains unclear in this case. All in all one can see that Tibet – Shangri-La is a sense of place because it holds so many stories, which shaped the place and made it to the place as it is today.



When you are writing an essay that is largely comprised of information, it is always a good idea to at least give some indication of the point of such information, but it seems to me that your invocation of the concept of "sense of place" is a fairly artificial way of justifying your brief overview of certain historical and cultural facts about Tibet. Ideally, one of two things ought to happen in the essay as an essay concerned with the problem of "sense of place." Either

(1) The historical and cultural information that you present could be used to clarify the peculiar nature of Tibetans’ sense of place. You would therefore need to make a particular argument about how Tibet's historical and cultural phenomena contribute to the sense of place that is prevalent there, and you would need to somehow clarify what that sense of place is like. In this case, the essay would be primarily about a particular aspect of Tibet: Tibetans' sense of place.


(2) The information about Tibet could just be an example (perhaps one example among others, or perhaps presented just as a particularly telling example) of how a sense of place develops in general. You would therefore need to focus on the concept of "sense of place" and that which is currently confined largely to your introduction (thoughts about the meaning of "a sense of place") would be developed throughout the essay. In this case, the essay would be primarily about a particular concept: "sense of place” in general.

At present, large parts of your essay don't quite do either of these things, although clearly the essay is more like (1) than (2). Your conclusion offers a more comprehensive view than the introduction of the topics covered in the paper, but it also overstates what has actually been accomplished in the essay. Part of the problem, I think, is with the very concept "sense of place," which I suspect you have misunderstood. You seem on occasion to be suggesting that "sense of place" is a property of "place," whereas in fact it is a property of sensible creatures (e.g., humans). For instance, in your introduction you say "Tibet can be seen as a sense of place because for example locals have a certain feeling of belonging with that place." The second part of that sentence seems to make sense, but the first part does not. It is not clear to me whether the problem is initially one of a simple error (perhaps you meant to say "Tibet can be seen as _having_ a sense of place"), but even if that were the case, the sentence would be problematic. You could reasonably claim, however, that people in Tibet have a strong sense of place, and focus your essay on demonstrating why that is the case. You could focus your essay, in other words, on the project of answering the question, Where do people in Tibet, whether natives or visitors, get this strong sense of place, and what is the nature of their sense of place? Up to a point your essay is answering that question, but it does not do so explicitly or consistently. Again, to generate a unified, purpose-driven narrative, you also need to have a firm grasp of the topic, and it is not clear to me that you have that yet.

It is perhaps symptomatic of this problem that you divide your essays into sections (Geography, Culture, History, Images of Tibet, Making Tibet, Conclusion). Doing that allows you to avoid developing a continuous argument or even narrative. Once you’re done talking about the geographical location, for example, you simple move on to another topic (culture), without including either a reflection on the relevant of the section on location to the overall purpose of the essay, or a transition to the next part of your essay. It's not clear, in fact, why you have a section on the geographic location at all. You do say, before the section begins, that "to understand how Tibet is made as a place it is important [note correction] to understand Tibet itself first." But that doesn't explain why you are going to talk about geographical location. It is clear, however, that you are interested in foreign perceptions of Tibet; in particular you are interested in misperceptions. You introduce that topic in this section with your reference to the fictional origin of Shangri-La. So how has the geographical location of Tibet helped form these perceptions and misperceptions? How does the location enable or contribute to the power of the "imagery of Oriental mysticism" that in this section of your essay is said to be evoked by the name "Shangri-La"? What does the location generally have to do with the concept of "sense of place" that your essay is concerned with? Obviously, the same kinds of questions could be asked of other sections in your essay. Your section on culture does conclude with a statement about that section's significance for your overall argument, but that statement ("In all those aspects it can be seen and confirmed that Tibetan culture is highly diverse and gives that place an addition to its special meaning") is very vague. Your section on the history of Tibet makes no such statement at all.

My point here is not that you should remove that section on geographical location (or any of the other sections) from your essay, but rather that you haven't yet properly included it in your essay as such. It is there, as a section, but the point of its being there is not clearly articulated. You start talking about location, and then you stop talking about location, and move on to something else. You need to create logical transitions between your different topics and integrate your different sections into a unified, purpose-driven, argument-driven narrative. If you do that, of course, then you can get rid of the sectional division of your essay altogether, which would be ideal for a short essay.

Best wishes, EJ.
Submitted by: htrang

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