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

Ukraine Purges Interior Ministry Leadership With Pro-Russian Ties

Interior Minister Avakov says 91 people 'in positions of leadership' have been fired, including 8 generals found to have links to past pro-Moscow governments More

US Airlines Point to Additional Problems of any Ebola Travel Ban

Airline officials note that even under travel ban, they may not be able to determine where passenger set out from, as there are no direct flights from Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone More

Nigerian President to Seek Another Term

Goodluck Jonathan has faced intense criticism for failing to stop Boko Haram militants More

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.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid