3.15.2008

Tibet In the News

We are currently in Bangkok, about to head up to Mae Sot to work with the Karen refugees from Burma on a photography project. For the last few days we've been watching the news about the protests in Tibet and Gansu. Below are some observations about the time we spent in Tibet and with Tibetan exiles in India.

When we were in Tibet last October we both felt the oppression of the Tibetan people was incredibly visible. There was a heavy military presence throughout the country with check points and surveillance cameras in sensitive areas such as the Jokhang and Potala Palace. Businesses seemed to be mostly owned by Chinese people and we heard reports that it is very hard for ethnic Tibetans to find work in Tibet because jobs are usually given to Han Chinese. Its important not to demonize Chinese people in this situation. Han Chinese come to Tibet looking for work. Also it seems like Chinese schools teach a very strange version of Tibetan history, one that fosters extreme racism towards Tibetans. I am not sure how the human rights abuses get justified, but there are clearly human rights abuses against the Tibetans.

We happened to be in Lhasa the day that His Holiness the Dalai Lama received the Congressional Gold Medal from the United States. We heard from several Tibetans that the Chinese government had prohibited any kind of celebrations that day. As you know, images of the Dalai Lama are illegal in Tibet and monks in monasteries are forced to officially denounce him in writing. Despite numerous threats from the Chinese police Tibetans throughout Tibet held celebrations. Many of these events were creative and quiet. For example we saw hundreds of Tibetans making celebratory offerings at the Jokhang before dawn. Many Tibetans were arrested that day and monasteries including Drepung were surrounded and closed down by the police.

It was hard to talk to Tibetans about their situation while we were in Tibet. Tibetans seen talking with foreigners are watched closely. We were advised that provoking a political conversation with Tibetans can put the Tibetans at risk especially if either party says something disparaging about China. However once we returned to Dharamsala we were free to talk with Tibetans in great detail about what is going on in Tibet. Through the community work we did we were able to talk with scores of Tibetans and hear dozens of stories about the oppression. Some of the people we talked with had lived outside of Tibet for nearly a decade while others had left Tibet within the last year. We met Nuns who were imprisoned and tortured in ways I don't even feel comfortable writing about. We met young people who came to India to learn Tibetan language and history because they were not allowed to do so inside Tibet. We met monks who came to be close to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and to get Buddhist philosophy teachings which were not available in Tibet. And the stories went on. There are a lot of good resources out there to learn about the situation inside Tibet. The International Campaign for Tibet puts out a really good report called Paradox Lost and their site has up to date information.

The most important thing we gained by going to Tibet was a sense that Tibet can be free. When you hear about Tibet in American media there is a sense of hopelessness. However visiting Tibet filled me with hope. Tibetan culture is still strong and vibrant throughout the region. Being in Dharamsala led us to believe the Tibetan government could make the transition to a free Tibet in a responsible way. However the transition needs to happen soon. Last year China built a train from Beijing to Lhasa which has made it much easier for Beijing to control Tibet. Han Chinese are using the train to migrate in large numbers possibly enticed by tax breaks and job offers. Tibetans are now becoming second class citizens in cities like Lhasa. His Holiness the Dalai Lama is getting old and without his strong leadership the momentum for a free Tibet could be lost. What a free Tibet would look like is obviously up to the Tibetan people. It could mean that Tibet becomes an independent nation as it was before China invaded and forcefully annexed it in 1951. Or it could look more like the Dalai Lama's "Middle Way"approach that secures basic civil rights for Tibetans while remaining a part of China.

If we do not support Tibet now there will be no changes made to improve human rights in Tibet. When the world media coverage stops China will crack down hard. Now is the time to act and we can see from this weeks news that the Tibetans are acting. We have heard from friends in Dharamsala that the community is mobilizing. It is an exciting time and an important time for those of us in solidarity with Tibet to speak up. The International Campaign for Tibet suggests that Americans contact their congresspeople to put pressure on China to let media into Tibet. It is also important that we learn as much as we can about what is going on there and educate our communities with fliers, workshops and articles. On April 9th the Olympic torch will stop in San Francisco offering a strategic time for demonstrations in the United States. The US presidential election also gives us a chance to put pressure on the candidates to support human rights in Tibet as Senator Obama did on March 14.

The world will be watching Beijing during the 2008 Olympics. This is an important opportunity for Tibet and we can help by keeping the pressure on and letting China know we support a free Tibet.

Some Recent Articles
Simmering Resentments Led to Tibetan Backlash
Curbs on Protest in Tibet Lashed by Dalai Lama
Dalai Lama Calls for Tibet Inquiry
Violence in Tibet as Monks Clash with Police
Monk Protests In Tibet Draw Chinese Security
Tibetan News Source: Phayul.com
San Francisco Restricts China Protests for Torch Relay
Students for Free Tibet: How You Can Help
International Campaign for Tibet

11 comments:

Tom said...

Hey Justin, Great post, it's refreshing to hear your take on events, especially given your position to have some unique insight.

Maria said...

Thank you for the column, I agree with Tom, you do have a very unique insight

herenow said...

Hey Gang
Thanks for reviving some memories of my travels and the beautiful beings one meets.

keith from western australia

Anonymous said...

nice blog

mind said...

Tibet issue is complicated. I liked your works.

Peace said...

Hey Folks.
This is a do or die for Tibet. After so many years finally the momentum is built to liberate Tibet.
Please spread the word around.

Anonymous said...

thank you

Princess Haiku said...

Congratulations on a very special blog. I found it via the Blog of Notes thing and was very touched by the poignant and expressive photography.

Hillary said...

According to your blog, you didn't talk to many or any tibetans in XiZang (Tibet). You just simply assumed that your conversation with them will be "closely observed" and will bring them into danger. Also why you didn't tell us the reasons for the nun to be imprisoned? Attacking han chinese or burning down others shops in a 'non-violent' way? I think in any country, she will be imprisoned, even in your beloved USA. Stop spreading your rumor by telling onlt part of the story. We all know what Da-liar Lama did to those tibetans who practiced the deity of Dorjee Shugden in India, simply by killing. What a shame on Nobel Prize. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n5sOm-uQH9Y&NR=1
Maybe you are too ignorant to do any serious research. I shed my sympathy on you. It's not your fault, your IQ is not high enough to appreciate the complexity of the reality. Maybe your his holiness Obama can soon fix your soul.

Justin & Zoe said...

A quick reply to Hillary's concern that there wasn't enough detail about the nun we met in Dharamsala.

The Buddhist nun was imprisoned in the late 1980s for holding a Tibetan flag in public and chanting, "Free Tibet". She was in jail for over 10 years and was beaten and tortured including having an electric cattle prod inserted in her vagina. There are many reports of this kind of torture used against Tibetans in Chinese prisons. Here are some links:

www.tibetjustice.org/reports/women/iii.html

news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/960001.stm

As for Dorjee Shugden, here is Amnesty International's statement:
www.friendsoftibet.org/databank/usgeneral/usg8.html

For more research, facts and figures the report "Interpreting Tibet" might be helpful.
www.savetibet.org/documents/document.php?id=229

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