This is an extract from the Reading Materials in English that are available in the English and Education section of the website of the Liberal Party of  Sri Lanka,

The entire text of Historic Buildings by Goolbai Gunasekara, covering twelve famous constructions, is now available on that website.

Potala Palace - Lhasa, Tibet

Tibet has been isolated from the world for a long time. The capital city is Lhasa and it used to be called ‘The Forbidden City’ because travelers and strangers were not welcomed. Tibet used to be under the rule of the Dalai Lama who was the head of the Buddhist religion as it was practised in Tibet.

Tibet is situated high up in the great range of Himalayan mountains that lie to the north of India. It is to the south west of China, and China claims that Tibet has always been a part of China. However it had its own independent Government for a long time and, though it came under Chinese domination at various times during the last millennium, the Dalai Lama and his predecessors always had a different system of rule from that of the Chinese Emperor in Beijing.

The young Dalai Lama aged 22

In the 20th century, after being dominated for over a hundred years by foreign powers, China began to reassert itself. A revolution in 1911 swept away the Emperor, but this was followed by many years of internal struggle. In the 1930s Japan took over much of the eastern coast, which was the political and economic center of China. The Nationalist government and the Communist party that was challenging it came together to oppose Japan but, when the Japanese were finally expelled with Western assistance at the end of the Second World War, the Civil War in China resumed.

Finally, in 1949, the Communist Party under Mao Ze Dong chased the Nationalist party leader Chiang Kai Shek, and his government, to Taiwan, an island a couple of hundred miles off the east of China. Then, in 1950, the Communist government sent an army of invasion into Tibet. The Dalai Lama, who was very young then, fled to India nine years later, after an unsuccessful revolt by the Tibetan people against the Chinese forces. Since then he has headed a government in exile in a place called Dharmasala in Northern India.

The White Palace or Potrang Karpo is the part of the Potala Palace that makes up the living quarters of the Dalai Lama.

Tibetan Buddhism, also incorrectly known as ‘Lamaism’, is a special form of Buddhism that evolved in Tibet from the 7th century AD onward. It is closer to the Mahayana Buddhism found in China than to the Theravada version we have in Sri Lanka, but it is also very distinctive. The Dalai Lama is the head of the dominant Dge-lugs-pa order and is venerated by the Tibetans as almost divine. It is believed that, when a Dalai Lama dies, his soul is reborn in a child who can then be recognized as the next Dalai Lama. In 1989 the current Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, in recognition of his nonviolent campaign to end Chinese domination of Tibet.

The former quarters of the Dalai Lama. The figure in the throne represents Tenzin Gyatso, the incumbent Dalai Lama.

The Potala used to be the winter palace of the Dalai Lama. It is situated at a height of about 11,975 feet (3,650 meters) and it towers over the city. The Potala contains hundreds of rooms. Before the Dalai Lama fled from Tibet he used the top floor of the Potala as his private rooms. The pillars on the roof were painted gold and glittered from afar in the morning sun. The Potala is surrounded by dark and barren hills, which makes it seem even more attractive. It was built on the north ridge which meant that it could be seen by all Tibetans in the city as they looked up northward every day. It is not used as a residence any more, but is on show to the public as a tourist attraction.


Grammar and Vocabulary

  1. Give in your own words the meaning, as used in the passage, of the words or phrases that are highlighted.
  2. To what do the pronouns or other words in italics refer?
  3. Divide the proper nouns in this passage into those that name people, those that name places, and those that describe a special type of place or person. Which proper nouns are used as adjectives? Are there any proper nouns that name things?
  4. Identify the different clauses in the last sentence of the third paragraph.
  5. Identify the subject of each of the full verbs in the last paragraph.

Comprehension and Further Activities

  1. Find the Tibetan plateau on a map and identify the rivers that start there. In which directions do they flow?
  2. What are the countries that neighbour Tibet? Mark all of them on your world map, as well as Lhasa and Dharmasala and Beijing and Taiwan.
  3. How is this passage different from the others in this book? Note down in your own words five interesting things you learnt from this passage.
  4. Write a brief essay comparing the Potala with the other religious buildings you have read about in this book.
  5. Write down briefly in your own words the main point of each of the paragraphs in this passage. Which paragraphs deal with Tibet, which with Chinese history, which with the Dalai Lama, and which with the Potala? Which paragraphs deal with more than one of these subjects?
  6. Find out more about the Dalai Lama and about Mao Ze Dong, and write brief accounts of their lives.
  7. What happened to Taiwan after Chiang Kai Shek went there? What is the current relationship between the government of mainland China and that of Taiwan?