News / Asia

    Resurgence of Tibetan Cultural Pride Draws Chinese Ire

    Tibetan environmentalist Karma Samdrup is among a growing number of Tibetan intellectuals imprisoned by Chinese authorities.
    Tibetan environmentalist Karma Samdrup is among a growing number of Tibetan intellectuals imprisoned by Chinese authorities.

    Tibetan artists, intellectuals and, now, environmentalists in China are facing an increasing threat of arrest and prolonged detention in the wake of the 2008 protests against Beijing’s rule. Observers say the crackdown on figures normally left out of politics signals China’s growing concern about a resurgence of pride in Tibetan cultural identity.

    Songs of protest

    In a popular Tibetan song, Tashi Dhondup sings of broken families, Chinese occupation, and the sterilization of the Tibetan race. The album, “Torture Without Trace,” was released after rare anti-China protests swept Tibet two years ago, leaving as many as 200 people dead.

    Dechen Pemba, a British-born Tibetan who publishes English translations of Tashi Dhondup’s songs on the blog High Peaks Pure Earth, says the album became an instant hit.

    “Tashi Dhondup’s songs were really popular amongst Tibetans because everybody had been feeling so traumatized after the events of 2008 and the protests and the crackdown,” Pemba says. “The song was passed around through the Internet. People were using their mobile phones and playing them to each other and passing them around.”

    Tashi Dhondup is now serving a 15-month sentence of re-education through labor for singing what authorities call “subversive songs.”

    Cultural crackdown

    He is one of more than 50 Tibetan cultural figures believed to be detained, disappeared, tortured or harassed since the 2008 protests. That figure is according to the International Campaign for Tibet, a rights watchdog group, which says Tibetan intellectuals are facing their harshest crackdown since the Cultural Revolution.

    ICT researcher Ben Carrdus says the profile of Tibetan protestors is changing, and that makes Beijing nervous.

    “Post 2008, there was a real reaction against the oppression that the Chinese authorities were putting on those forms of expression,” says Carrdus. “And it was seen across the board from high school students to Tibetan nomads to Tibetans who worked for government to university teachers.”

    Official intellectuals

    For years after the Cultural Revolution, Tibetan musicians and poets stayed mostly away from politics and some writers were even regarded as “official intellectuals” approved by Beijing.

    One of those writers, Shogdung, had been scorned by many Tibetans for his attacks on Tibetan Buddhism and culture. But the 2008 protests changed that. His new book, "The Line Between Sky and Earth," is an indictment of China's policies in Tibet. Carrdus says it was a dramatic shift.

    “Having been an official intellectual, he then reneged on his loyalty to the party line and wrote some very powerful essays about he’d been mistaken. A very humble apology really that he had been misguided by the party line and he was reneging on it,” says Carrdus.

    Shogdung was detained in April and has not been heard from since.

    New targets

    China has historically tolerated little criticism from Tibetan activists, and these recent arrests are typical of Beijing’s longstanding policies in the region. But the detention of Tibetan arts collector and environmentalist Karma Samdrup has raised new concerns about the reach of Chinese policies in Tibet.

    Karma Samdrup won both Beijing’s praise and the world’s for his environmental protection work. But his reputation did not save him from a 15-year prison sentence for grave robbing. Supporters say Karma Samdrup is being silenced for speaking out against the detention of his two brothers, who accused local officials of poaching.

    Local power

    Robbie Barnett, a leading Tibet expert at Columbia University in New York, says the case shows how local officials in Tibet appear to have greater influence in shaping Beijing’s policies there.

    “Whoever it is that is chasing Karma and who are trying to get him for some reason went way beyond their normal powers. He wasn’t living in the Tibet region, so they had to get him detained by another region, in this case, Xinjiang,” says Barnett, adding that authorities also had books praising Karma Samdrup banned across China.

    Barnett admits it is hard to determine what is happening in China. But he says it appears local officials are exaggerating Tibetan threats for professional gain.

    “A lot of evidence suggests the Chinese leadership is not really looking very carefully at policies in Tibet,” he says. “It’s leaving it to a handful of people who probably have their careers invested in being known as hardliners who crack down on any kind of dissent. These are the people who seem to be running places like Tibet.”

    Development with a cost

    China has not commented on the recent arrests. Beijing says its policy of developing Tibet's economy will bring stability to the region. But that investment comes with a cost.

    Barnett says bilingual education is being cut, government employees and their families are banned from Tibetan Buddhism, and monks, nuns and laypeople are forced to join patriotic three-month re-education sessions.

    "This is what China’s main policies have been as a kind of compensation for the policies that it thinks are its main strategies, which is boosting economic investment,” says Barnett. “So it’s made Tibetans pay by these very draconian cultural restrictions. And it’s this that has triggered the recent spread of protests in the last two-three years."

    Since China invaded Tibet in the 1950s, a new generation of Tibetans has grown up knowing only Chinese rule. But the elders who knew independence are not ready to let history be forgotten. Barnett says Tibetans retiring from decades of government service are secretly publishing memoirs of the early days of Chinese occupation. He says this emerging history is changing the way young Tibetans think about their future.

    You May Like

    Video Obama Remembers Fallen Troops for Memorial Day

    President urges Americans this holiday weekend to 'take a moment and offer a silent word of prayer or public word of thanks' to country's veterans

    Upsurge of Migratory Traffic Across Sahara From West to North Africa

    A report by the International Organization for Migration finds more than 60,000 migrants have transited through the Agadez region of Niger between February and April

    UN Blocks Access to Journalist Advocacy Group

    United Nations has rejected bid from nonprofit journalist advocacy group that wanted 'consultative status,' ranking that would have given them greater access to UN meetings

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora