Utopia Theory in History Shangri-la

About the theoretical utopian society Shangri-la written about by James Hilton, about the social, political, and economic structure.

Name of Utopia: SHANGRI-LA

Who Created: James Hilton (1900-1954).

Described in: Lost Horizon, published in 1933. The novel, generally neglected at the time of its 1st publication, was awarded the Hawthornden Prize, and soon became a classic. Two films based on the novel have been made, and the 1st, directed by Frank Capra, is highly regarded.

Population: Fifty lamas reside in the lamasery that overlooks the valley where a village of nearly 1,000 Tibetans live.

Physical Layout: Shangri-La is located in a valley, surrounded by mountains, in an unexplored and nearly inaccessible region of Tibet. The utopia of the lamasery has been in existence for nearly 200 years.

Political and Social Structure: A theocracy. The lamasery and village are ruled by the High Lama, a godlike figure to all in Shangri-La. The High Lama, a French priest named Perrault, 1st arrived in Shangri-La in 1734, at the age of 53, to build a Christian monastery. Because of the air, and his development of an unnamed drug, the priest has lived for another 200 years during which time he has converted Shangri-La into a utopia where civilization might be saved from the peril of some future holocaust. Under the direction of the High Lama are 50 lamas who, like the High Lama, were lost European travelers. They spend their time in pursuit of knowledge and the arts. The political and social structure of the community is built around the word moderation, and moderation is practiced in all things--from government to love.

Property and Distribution of Goods: While the distribution of property and goods is never discussed, a rather vivid picture of the lamasery, and the valley that supports it, is provided. The valley contains a rich, fertile area 12 mi. long, and 5 mi. wide, on which a wide variety of crops is grown. There is also a rich gold deposit that provides the currency with which the lamasery buys goods are brought by native bearers who, though they never see the pass through the mountains that leads to Shangri-La, do know of a spot nearby where they are met by the village's inhabitants. Things like automobiles have never found their way to Shangri-La, but modern bathroom fixtures have. The villagers, who believe the High Lama to be a representative of God, provide for his, and the other lamas', welfare.

Production: All work is done by the Tibetan villagers, while the lamas pursue their more aesthetic ends.

Family/Marriage/Sex: Hilton offers no description of family, marriage, or sex in the village except to say that they exist, and that good manners, consideration, and moderation are the key to all 3 institutions. There are no marriages, or families in the lamasery--though love, or at least a highly platonic from of it, exists there. The one woman member of the lamasery that the novel introduces, Lo-Tsen, is described as having had many men love her, though that love has never been physically consummated. At the novel's end, however, she leaves the lamasery because of her love for someone.

Place of Women: There is at least one woman, Lo-Tsen, already at the lamasery studying to be a lama, and another is brought to Shangri-La during the course of the novel. However, their roles are never clearly defined, though it might be surmised they enjoy the same rights and privileges as men.

Education and Culture: The lamasery is dedicated to preserving and providing a home for the cultures of the East and West. To that end, the lamasery boasts a library in excess of 30,000 volumes, including Plato in Greek, Newton in English, and Nietzsche in German. New volumes are delivered periodically. The same attention paid to literature is paid to the other arts in Shangri-La, and as a result there is no sense--be it sight, hearing, or taste--that is not pleased by the environment. A former student of Chopin's, for example, resided at the lamasery and often played not only the well-known pieces of his teacher, but a large number of Chopin's unpublished works as well.

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