The World is a Silk Road

The history of the ancient trade routes now known as “The Silk Road” is a tale of profound cross-cultural influence among peoples – Chinese, Turks, Persians, Indians, Koreans, Japanese, Europeans, Malays, Tibetans, Egyptians, East Africans. It was multicultural before there was anything labeled multicultural.

Of course, it was a silk road long before it was the Silk Road, a name given to multiple East-West trade routes by a European geographer in the 1870s. The Silk Road. It’s a good metaphor for an interdependent modern world that grows smaller and more complex all the time.

The view from the Silk Road also gives a good perspective on the transiency of empires, on the laughable arrogance and self-delusion of one people imagining they can forever subjugate other peoples, live eternally or dine with the gods. Travelers on the Silk Road have seen many an empire’s swollen fools disappear like the lost in a Taklamakan Desert of time.

Every cruel and pompous dream of domination fails, the fantasists of empire doomed to misery, paranoia, and, finally, dismay that they too will die of dysentery, typhus or the assassin’s blade. The fantasists shouldn’t be surprised. History, literature and art confirm the truth. It may yet take some time for the poor to inherit the earth, but all dreams of empire damn sure disappear into it.

The greatest thing about the human spirit is its persistent and undaunted drive for freedom, self-discovery and happiness. We migrate despite borders. We make love with those we are commanded to hate despite racial or nationalist taboos. We trade ideas despite censorship. We worship forbidden gods and reject gods we are ordered to bow before. The spirit outlives genocidal colonialists and totalitarian thugs despite all their efforts to snuff it out. Every wall falls.

It is China that provoked these thoughts, this time. Jonathan Green has written an account of the cold-blooded shooting of a 17-year-old Tibetan nun, Kelsang Namtso, by Chinese border guards as she tried to escape into Nepal in 2006. On my birthday, September 30, it turns out.

Green’s book, Murder in the High Himalaya, tells several stories at once: the bittersweet escape of Dolma, best friend of the fallen Kelsang; of the 100 or so international mountain climbers who witnessed the murder (and the handful who dared report what they saw at the top of the world that day); of a Chinese government so disconnected from reality and humanity that the gruesome picture of a Chinese soldier kicking the dead teenager in the snow ought to become the symbol on their flag.

Above, you can see Kelsang fall before the gunfire in the trailer for the movie, Tibet: Murder in the Snow. Her murder was the first confirmed, photographic evidence in 50 years of the brutal Chinese treatment of Tibetans.

Sophisticates often criticize human rights advocates and rationalize their own profiteering ass-kissing of bloody tyrants as simple realism or pragmatism. They’re betting wrong, because today’s tyrant is tomorrow’s forgotten moral imbecile, his courtiers, allies and apologists little more than abandoned, hungry cattle egrets fluttering around the carcass of a dead, decaying bull.

What does not change, the poet Charles Olson said, is the will to change. Despite the temporary smugness of the sophisticates, it’s smarter, then, to wager on the human spirit. It may take extra innings, and much tragic suffering may be endured along the way, but ultimately it wins every game.

Kelsang’s death became an international story in the fall of 2006. The Chinese government denied it, then claimed Kelsang and the others were firing upon the soldiers, and then shrugged it off as a border mishap. Romanian newsman/ mountain climber Sergiu Matei’s video of the murder puts the lie to all that. He had been there on the mountain that day, smuggled the tape out of Tibet, and aired it on Romanian TV. He was nominated for an Emmy.

Your heart will fall with Kelsang in the snow. But ahead of her, on the trail across the high mountain pass to freedom, her compatriots – small, frail figures in single file on a great expanse of ice and snow — continue on, as the human spirit always will, on a road not made of ice, but silk.

Author: Glenn W. Smith

Glenn W. Smith has spent the past 30 years in journalism and politics, where he’s made a name for himself as a writer, campaign manager, activist, think tank analyst and, as Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas says, a “legendary political consultant and all-around good guy.” “There’s no one like him,” says author George Lakoff. CNN commentator Paul Begala says, “He has unmatched experience, a graceful pen (or pixel nowadays) and deep insight into the best and worst of us.” Novelist Sarah Bird speaks of his “lucid and lyrical” prose. And, she says, he’s fun. Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington says Glenn writes with “grace and abundant humor” and “uses his colorful experiences in Texas to enlighten us all.”

Smith led Ann Richards’ successful 1990 campaign for Governor of Texas. He worked for former Texas Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby and U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen. Earlier, Smith was a political reporter for the Houston Chronicle and the Houston Post. He’s coordinated national campaigns for groups such as In 2004, he authored the highly acclaimed book, The Politics of Deceit: Saving Freedom and Democracy from Extinction. He also wrote Unfit Commander, a book that detailed George W. Bush’s mysterious disappearance from military service.

In 2004, Smith was featured in the film, Bush’s Brain, a documentary about Karl Rove. Smith provided commentary on Rove’s role as then-President Bush’s senior advisor. He has made numerous media appearances with Chris Mathews on Hardball, Joe Scarborough, Brit Hume, and many others. He writes a regularly for top national web sites, including FireDogLake and Huffington Post.

As a senior fellow at George Lakoff’s prestigious Rockridge Institute in Berkeley he studied, wrote and taught on the power of metaphor and narrative in political communications. He also lectured on religion and politics at the Starr King School for Ministry in Berkeley. As a sponsor and organizer, he has pulled together numerous national events with progressive religious leaders. He also organized a celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King at Riverside Church in New York City as well as “Freedom and Faith” bus tours, which was a nationwide campaign for social justice and progressive values.

Smith’s play, Double Play, which explored American Western myths and legends, was held over to sold-out audiences. He’s even written and performed songs in the Americana tradition, such as his best-known song, “Helping Marty Robbins,” a tribute to his hometown, Houston.

Most recently, Smith is the creator of DogCanyon, a political and cultural web site covering state, national and global issues from a Texas perspective. DogCanyon is an exhilarating and unique site that gets the connections between politics and culture and explores both the personal side of politics and the ups, down, craziness and beauty of “life its ownself,” as humorist Dan Jenkins would say. DogCanyon offers heartfelt personal essays, hard-hitting political analysis, and, most importantly, laughs.

As Paul Begala said, Smith writes in “the finest, firmest, fearless tradition of Texas essayists like Molly Ivins.”

11 thoughts on “The World is a Silk Road”

  1. Hello. We want to reprint your little graphic of the silk road from "The World is a Silk Road," (May 24, 2010) above. May we? Do you know where it came from? Barbara, Friends Journal, a nonprofit magazine associated with the Society of Friends, or Quakers.

  2. I am totally surprised to hear that AlfabetoVirtual has once again hacked what it was designed for. The developers would have no idea about it. I even feel that they have not intended to use it as hacking service after all.

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