Windhorse Warrior: Why a Chinese Protagonist?

My novel, Windhorse Warrior, is about the Chinese Communist invasion and occupation of Tibet during the 1950s.

Lithang Monastery in 2005

QWhy did you write this story about the Chinese occupation of Tibet from the point of view of a Chinese communist?

A. I’m not Tibetan; I’m an outsider to their culture and society. It would be too presumptuous to write this story as if I were one of them. Actually, I began writing it in the third person focusing on one of the Tibetan characters but it was a Tibetan who suggested I write it from the point of view of the Chinese communist in the story. I was able to represent his point of view because of my experience as a teacher in Hong Kong for many years and my experience visiting Tibet several times as a tourist, an outsider. I taught high school age students at one of Hong Kong’s best private school with similar privileges and entitlements as Chuang Wei Ming, my protagonist in the Shanghai of the 1940s. The school had a week-long Interim travel program every March. Between 2004 and 2008 I took groups of students to the part of Sichuan, China on the Eastern Tibetan Plateau, the region Tibetans call Kham.

Chuang grows up as a privileged son of a capitalist banker in Shanghai. At the end of World War II, after the Japanese leave, he goes to university to study medicine. He meets a vivacious, intelligent young woman who turns his head in several directions. She’s anti-capitalist and leads a student cadre of young communist sympathizers. He resists becoming involved himself until she is martyred in a protest march against the Nationalist Government. Because he has been associated with her, her friends who regard her as a hero, befriend him and help him through his loss. Gradually Chuang understands what the communist movement is all about and joins. By the time Shanghai is taken over, he has split from his family and sadly sees them off as they sail away to Hong Kong.

At a communist rally on campus Chuang volunteers to take the Revolution to the people of Tibet who, he believes, live in an oppressive feudalistic system. He idealistically believes he can take the message for revolution to them and the people will rise up against their corrupt overlords and join the brotherhood of communist nations.

Chuang’s experience, once he gets there, is quite different. He is blown away by the beauty and spiritual power of the landscape, as I have been every time I go there. And like myself, Chaung had prior introductions to the people and their spiritual heritage. Chuang’s martyred girlfriend is half Tibetan, he discovers just before he goes to Tibet. Another prominent person in his life, his Juijitsu and horse riding teacher is Tibetan and instilled a spiritual awareness in him he begins to recognize only after he got to Tibet.

The author with Khampa elders

Originally posted on November 19, 2019.

A New Story: How to Build a Better World

It’s been a while since I watched a TED Talk, but this one caught my attention today because of the headline: ‘A new political story that could change everything.’

So I listened to what George Monbiot, British author and journalist, had to say. (Watch his TED Talk here.) In brief, we have organized our world around particular stories that explain our situation and give us hope for the future. Monbiot’s message is similar to Charles Eisenstein‘s. I have appreciated Charles Eisenstein’s books and talks for many years. While Charles talks more about values, Monbiot talks about our recurring political stories, the ones that change periodically and give us a new direction. 

The recurring theme of these political stories, Monbiot says, goes like this, and I quote from the TED Talk: “Disorder afflicts the land caused by the powerful and nefarious forces of the very mighty State (for example) whose collective tendencies crush freedom, individualism and opportunity. But the hero of the story, the entrepreneur (as in the story of neo liberalism) will fight those powerful forces, roll back the State and, through creating wealth and opportunity, restore the harmony in the world.”

The Buddha infecting the world with a New Story.

The story we are stuck in recycles endlessly — out with the current evil and in with the promise of something good. It has been going on as long as humanity has existed. Once a prevailing system begins to collapse, a hero pops up with a new theme but the same plot repeats itself: the ‘forces of evil’ must be thrown out so a ‘new’ system can restore harmony. This is how kingdoms and empires have functioned and how political parties operate today. 

The endless cycle conditions us as a society for competitive wealth generation. The current, neo-liberal story started in the 1970s and held sway until 2008. Unfortunately, it continues to limp along propped up by people rich enough to control governments and the media.

As a result of our conditioning we no longer trust each other and we feel alone. Greed and self-centeredness is what’s tearing our world apart at every level — from the community level to our planetary environmental crisis. Unfortunately, as long as the old story lives on we will continue to spiral into crisis and chaos. 

There is a New Story but it is being suppressed. In the media we never hear about the imaginative, positive New Story that can take us into the future. The voices of people like Eisenstein and Monbiot are drowned out – are trumped! – by the loud voices of those who cling to the old story. Both Eisenstein and Monbiot, as well as many others, point to the fact that human beings are innately altruistic and crave community. The Story of Separation, as Eisenstein points out, strives to deny us these human values. And Monbiot says, ‘We are a society of altruists but we are governed by psychopaths!’

I’ve given this a lot of thought and struggle to find the way forward. I agree with Monbiot that we need ‘engaged, inclusive and generous communities’ and a return to the idea of the commons. Like Native Americans, Tibetan nomads, and other indigenous peoples who regard the land as a common resource never to be owned or divided, we need to honor the earth’s resources in this way. We need to organize communities to manage common resources by establishing rules of use and care. This can apply to everything from forests and fields to factories. We need to organize our communities so that decisions directly effecting us are made locally. We need to recover democracy from the ‘psychopaths’ who have captured it…and create new rules and methods of elections to make sure financial power never ‘trumps’ democracy again.    

Will a New Story ‘…light the path to a better world?’ I believe so. Enlightened ones like Buddha and Jesus have, long ago, described a New Story that can put an end to the endless round of the ‘new political stories’ we keep coming up. So far we have refused to hear it.

Now we have reached a point of no return. If we don’t change we are going to destroy life on this planet. We have to start telling a story of spiritually enlightened human beings living together in enlightened societies in which we can all thrive. We are, after all and by design, loving and cooperative creatures who yearn to live in a better world! 

If the change is to happen, we need people willing to live this New Story so that it ‘will infect minds across the political spectrum.’

(All direct quotes are from Geogre Monbiot’s TED Talk.)

Originally posted July 31, 2019

A Third Way

In my novel Windhorse Warrior, I described what happened when the People’s Republic of China claimed and occupied the Tibetan plateau in the 1950s. The ancient and isolated Tibetan civilization was, at that point, stagnant and in need of socio-economic reforms. As the modern world encroached on Tibet, it was the Chinese communists who forced their own brand of reforms. Sixty years later, the Tibetan people are second class citizens in their own land similar to Native Americans in the United States and Canada.

Prayer Flags honoring King Gesar, featured in Windhorse Warrior

In Windhorse Warrior, I provide an alternative option. A local community accepts the limitations of their own system while recognizing the oppressive nature of the Chinese communist reforms demanded of them. They are given a choice by the occupying People’s Liberation Army: follow the Red Road of compliance with communist reforms, or walk the Black Road of resistance which means armed conquest. Rejecting both of these options, the people propose a third way; the Golden Way. This is not a compromise but a way of life that more than meets the demands of communist reform while living up to their ancient buddhist roots.

Read the book and find out what the nomads and villagers of Gyawa and Mola propose; then I’d like to hear your suggestions for a third way that might get us out of the situation facing our whole world now.

In my opinion we live in a broken, stagnant civilization not unlike Tibet prior to 1950. Our economic and social systems need reform. Capitalism in the West only creates wealth for the few who control our governments. Communism, especially in China, is broken because it no longer represents the people; like capitalism it benefits only those in power.

What is, or should be, driving reforms? I suggest it is climate change and its many man-made causes! It is not out of the question that, if we continue ignoring our predicament, civilization as we know it may be over by 2050! We need drastic changes but the way we have been trying to reduce our impact on the environment is not going to be enough.

We need something completely new, something everyone can accept, something that will benefit everyone equally; a new socio-economic system based on love. We all want a better world; we know in our hearts that a more beautiful world is possible – but how do we make it happen? Let me know your ideas and, who knows, I might consider including it in my next novel.

Read Windhorse Warrior by R C Friedericks

Available now in bookstores including Barnes & Noble. Order the hardcover or buy a Kindle version from Amazon.