News / Asia

    Tibetans Fight China With 'Weapon of Weak'

    Tibetan activist, artist and musician Tamding Tsetan's first album, Open Road,  was inspired by the 2008 Lhasa uprising and the wave of Tibetan self-immolations since 2009, Dharamsala, India. (VOA/I. Broadhead)
    Tibetan activist, artist and musician Tamding Tsetan's first album, Open Road, was inspired by the 2008 Lhasa uprising and the wave of Tibetan self-immolations since 2009, Dharamsala, India. (VOA/I. Broadhead)
    Ivan Broadhead
    In Chinese-ruled Tibet, activists have used various means to protest policies that human rights groups say subjugate, and even destroy the Tibetan identity. 

    Self-immolations are the latest method used by protesters to draw the world's attention to their plight, but activists are also embracing other kinds of resistance. 

    That includes the lhakar movement, which emphasizes individual acts of protest through personal actions such as wearing traditional clothes, eating Tibetan food, listening to Tibetan music and teaching the native language to their children.

    Tamding Tsetan, a well-known artist who writes and performs folk songs, is one of the leading exponents of Tibetan heavy metal.
     
    “My inspiration is freedom. I do not do many love songs because, I always say, we didn’t come here for love. We came here for freedom," Tsetan says. "So you do art, you sing, [but] you have to focus on the Tibetan cause.”
     
    While Tamding represents the changing face of Tibetan protest, he supports the Dalai Lama’s continued espousal of the “Middle Way,” which includes Tibetan autonomy but not independence from China.
     
    However, not all Tibetans are content with the idea of living under Chinese rule.
     
    “Tibetans want independence," says Dorjee Tseten of Students for a Free Tibet (SFT). "They want to rule themselves, not to be ruled by the Chinese communist regime. That is what we are fighting for.”
     
    The most obvious manifestation of that fight is the ongoing campaign of self-immolations that has seen more than 100 Tibetans set themselves on fire to protest Chinese authority.
     
    However, organizations like SFT are keen to promote alternatives to direct action that are not only less radical, but difficult for Chinese law enforcement to disrupt.
     
    The lhakar movement is prime among them. Developed inside Tibet after the uprising of 2008 and more recently exported to the Tibetan Diaspora, Tseten says it challenges Chinese rule while simultaneously allowing Tibetans to assert their culture and identity within the letter of Chinese law.
     
    “So, Tibetans have started buying vegetables from Tibetan [grocers], going to Tibetan restaurants, not Chinese," Tseten says. "We are speaking as much Tibetan as possible, not Chinese. But Lakhar is not just about eating Tibetan food and wearing Tibetan dress, it is about getting back your identity. We are challenging the oppressor, fighting through non-cooperation.”

    Activists see the lhakar movement not just as an evolution of the philosophy of passive resistance expounded by the likes of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Tseten says it can be used as a weapon by anyone who believes in the Tibetan cause.
     
    “By boycotting the Chinese economy and its influence on your country, you are actually supporting the Tibetan cause,” he says.
     
    After decades of living under Chinese rule, Tibetans say defending their identity, calling for improved rights and the return of the Dalai Lama, are acts which have united all Tibetans.
     
    Tsomo Tsering of the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy calls this “our one trump card.”
     
    “You are facing China, the giant of modern times," Tsering says. "When you are united, when you know what your priorities are, the struggle will be a lot easier. This is what you call the weapon of the weak. It is really powerful.”
     
    Later this year, activists from the diaspora will hold a conference with other minority communities, including Uighurs and Mongolians, that are battling to preserve their identities under Chinese rule.

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    Comment Sorting
    Comments page of 2
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    by: Susan from: Connecticut
    March 25, 2013 1:12 AM
    i have read every comment and see that the Chinese people are brainwashed by their government.You have no freedom a a result of being oppressed by a Communist regime and never will know free- dom as long as they rule.It is wrong to invade any country and then attempt to destroy a culture. The only thing the CCP cares about is powe, lies, and control.They produce junk and ram their doctrine down your throats.Really,why would anyone want to live in an overpopu-
    lated, poor, oppressive place like China?

    by: kongSiDE from: USA/China
    March 01, 2013 4:35 PM
    Immolations are wrong! All religion-faith groups using extreem measures to kill or to kill self is violent. When religion is extreem it is wrong. Who can believe such stuff from sucide bombings, to hate groups, and self-immolation is murder. The inciting of young people to set themselves on fire to think one can be a 'hero' is wrong.

    by: Tenzin
    March 01, 2013 9:19 AM
    any way whole world must to know Tibet is occupied by China and now now they pressure to the Tibetan and how happening in Tibet now? Tibet is for Tibetan not for china, chinese must to go back to your own place not in Tibet, FREE TIBET ONE DAY

    by: Anonymous
    February 28, 2013 11:32 PM
    Tebetian, aren't you living not better than you were slaved by Dalai Lama? Are your freedom less than the period of Dalai Lama's time?
    I promise that I never met any tebetian before, but I met some other races people, such Korean, Mongolia, Miao and Man in China. I used to have friends of these minor races when I was in school and college. I never seen any restriction to them, something even are better than our Han people. Some of them are senior engineers or senior officers in China. I, so that, wondering, the other races can do, why not Tebetians?

    by: Jonathan huang from: canada
    February 28, 2013 10:54 PM
    Stop being a crying baby. China treat Tibet pretty well compare to how USA treats native americans and how Aussi treats Moris. In China you can easily see Tibetan culture on TV, every school teaches Tibetan dances. There are many Tibetan songs that almost every Chinese can sing them. Actually, we Chinese love our brother Tibetans, except evil Dalai try to separate from our big family. And the Dalai slavery culture must be destroyed, that was a backward culture and was inhuman.

    by: Cooper from: China
    February 28, 2013 10:44 PM
    As a chinese, we kown our country has many problems, including democracy, justice, legal system, and so on, but I don't agree with some people's prejudice, which come's from their own interests . if you want to know the truth, welcome to china and welcome to Tibet!

    by: Jesse from: Wisconsin
    February 28, 2013 7:17 PM
    If Tibet were controled by Dalai Lama, I am definitely sure that it will be another North Korea. Chinese government havn' t been changing native Tibet residents' lifestyle and culture. China donate billions of RMB to develop Tibet. However, I know many people who are so- called peaceful activists trust and sympathize the weaker organizations. You guys need remeber that Dalai instigates many activists breaking the peace in Tibet. Even they burn themselves to obtain freedom in their words. Dailai, STOP BREAKING PEACE. STOP LYING.STOP MAKING YOUR FANS DYING.

    by: Anonymous from: U.S.
    February 27, 2013 10:40 PM
    Free Tibet! .Free HongKong!

    by: Davis K. Thanjan from: New York
    February 27, 2013 7:17 PM
    China occupied Tibet in 1950. The Dalai Lama of Tibet requested the help of UN in 1950 to prevent the Chinese military occupation of Tibet. But UN ignored this request in the aftermath of Korean War. The Dalai Lama sought refuge in India. About 222,000 Chinese army soldiers were stationed in Tibet by1954. The Tibetan government was abolished in 1959, the Chinese taking control of Tibet. During the Cultural Revolution about 3000 Buddhist temples were distroyed. Tibet was torn apart as the Western Autonomous Region, and the eastern areas were merged with Sichuan and Qinghai provinces.

    Dalai Lama, the head of Tibetan Buddhism, still remains the beacon fot Tibetan freedom, Buddhist religion and culture. The only courtesy of the international community is that they allow visits by Dalai Lama to the White House in Washington D.C. and some EU countries ignoring the protests of China. The US recognizes Tibet as part of China. Dalai Lama does not claim independence of Tibet from China, but yearn for autonomy of Tibet within China to protect the Buddhist cultural heritage of Tibet. The decedent groups in Tibet and overseas claim independence of Tibet from China. It is a shame for the UN, US and EU to ignore the Chinese occupation of Tibet and human right violations in Tibet. The Tibetans are left to self immolation, a non-violent method to raise the Tibetan issue to the attention of the world.

    by: PLA from: NanChang
    February 27, 2013 6:12 AM
    As a chinese, I really do not think so,VOA, If you prejudice someone or something, you influence them so that they are unfair in some way
    In Response

    by: Jonathan huang from: canada
    February 28, 2013 10:44 PM
    @: Wangchuk from: NYC, you are a big fat liar. back in China I have Tibetan friends, we were studying at the same school. So please stop telling those lies. In China Tibetans are equal to other Chinese even have more privileges such as they can have more than one baby, lower enroll requirement for going to an University.
    In Response

    by: Wangchuk from: NYC
    February 28, 2013 9:35 AM
    I'm not quite sure what "PLA" is saying here. His statement is very ambiguous. But if he is concerned about prejudice, he should first look to the CCP. The CCP is prejudiced against Tibetans. They force Tibetans in govt to avoid religious activities. They have never allowed a Tibetan to hold the post of CCP Party Secretary in the TAR. Now they restrict travel by Tibetans inside Tibet.

    Chinese people can travel freely throughout Tibetan regions but Tibetans need permission from the local police. At airports, train stations & checkpoints, the police search & question Tibetans but leave Chinese travelers alone. Tibetan monks & nuns are forced to take "patriotic tests" but Chinese Buddhists do not. Now Tibetans are even being denied passports. Racial discrimination against Tibetans is a big problem in Chinese-ruled Tibet.
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