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.

You May Like

US, China Have Dueling Definitions of Cybersecurity

Analysts say attribution or or proving that a particular individual or government is responsible for a hack, is a daunting task More

Snowden: I'd Go to Prison to Return to US

Former NSA contractor says he has not received a formal plea-deal offer from US officials, who consider him to be a traitor More

Goodbye Pocahontas: Photos Reveal Today's Real Native Americans

Weary of stereotypes, photographer Matika Wilbur is determined to reshape the public's perception of her people More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments page of 2
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.
Comments page of 2

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs