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Deconstructing “Shangri-La”

Objective: Students will discuss how our perceptions of other cultures, in this case Tibet, are subjective and colored by myths.

Content Standards (California):

HSS 9-12. Chronological and Spatial Thinking 2: Students analyze how change happens at different rates at different times; understand that some aspects can change while others remain the same; and understand that change is complicated and affects not only technology and politics but also values and beliefs.

HSS 9-12. Historical Research, Evidence, and Point of View.4: Students construct and test hypotheses; collect, evaluate, and employ information from multiple primary and secondary sources; and apply it in oral and written presentations.

Materials (Readings/Film)/Downloads:

  1. Donald S. Lopez, Jr., Seven Things You Didn’t Know About Tibet
  2. Lost Horizon, book and feature length film directed by Frank Capra in 1937
  3. Searching for Shangri-La.
  4. Frontline: Dreams of Tibet. Show No. 1604. Boston: WGBH Educational Foundation, 1997. Running time: 60 minutes.
  5. The Original Seven Years in Tibet: The True Saga of ‘Kundun’ Heinrich Harrer’s Remarkable Himalayan Trek. Directed by Hans Nieter, 1957. Running Time 79 minutes.


  1. Find out what students know about Tibet.
  2. Review Tibet’s location in the world with relation to neighboring countries, especially India, Nepal, Mongolia, China.
  3. Watch Searching for Shangri-La and/or other films and discuss.
  4. Read and discuss Seven Things You Don’t Know About Tibet by Donald S. Lopez, Jr.
  5. Discuss what preconceptions the students had about Tibet have been changed.
  6. Assign a research project about Tibet using the Internet, books, film. Ask students to think critically about these materials. Ask them to consider how the identity of the author might influence their approach and ideas.