Tibetans in New York were able to persuade a Queens Public Library to close an exhibit sponsored by the Chinese Consulate, Feb.
Tibetans in New York were able to persuade a Queens Public Library to close an exhibit sponsored by the Chinese Consulate, Feb. 22, 2020. (Students for a Free Tibet)

Tibetans in New York were celebrating Saturday after it was announced an exhibit sponsored by the Chinese Consulate was being shut down in the Queens borough of the city.

Two weeks ago, Tibetan activists in New York noticed the Queens Public Library in the Elmhurst neighborhood of Queens was hosting an exhibition under the theme, “Everyday Life in Tibet,” that was sponsored by the Chinese Consulate.

The Tibetans said the exhibit was Chinese government propaganda that misrepresented the situation in Tibet. According to local newspaper QNS and its website, the library responded to the activists that it would not close or suspend the exhibition.

The local Tibetan activist groups, including Students for a Free Tibet, Tibetan Youth Congress, Chushi Gandrug, U.S. Tibetan Committee, and Tibetan Association launched a campaign to protest.

There are nearly 15,000 Tibetans living in New York City, many of them in Queens.

De Blasio weighs in

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday at a town hall meeting in Queens he was not aware of the exhibit, but he would address the issue immediately when a Tibetan activist raised the issue. Representatives of Students for a Free Tibet said they subsequently gathered nearly 5,000 signatures for a petition to shut down the exhibit and delivered it to the mayor.

“I am exceedingly critical of the Chinese government in the way it has oppressed people and taken away human rights,” de Blasio said. “No one has suffered more than the Tibetan people. So I did not have any reason to believe that any of our library systems would present the Chinese government point of view. I would assume it to be the other way around, and that I’d be getting complaints from the Chinese government.”

The Queens Public Library informed the director of Students for a Free Tibet, Dorje Tseten, Friday the “Chinese Consulate and its affiliate made the decision to discontinue the exhibit, which will be removed by tomorrow.”

The library announced moving forward it would collaborate with the Tibetan community there.

“They showed great interest in working with us and to support the promotion of the Tibetan cause in the future,” Tseten told VOA. “So, it is overall a great victory for Tibetan cause.”

Tseten said he thinks the library had asked the Chinese Consulate to withdraw in an effort for Beijing to save face.

Library closes exhibit

As the library closed the exhibit Saturday, Tibetan activists gathered outside to acknowledge what they consider a “great victory.” U.S. Congressman Tom Suozzi attended and said he had called the library and expressed his concerns after learning about it from activist Tseten.

“This is a big victory because there is lot of money and bureaucracy involved, but in the end the truth prevailed,” Suozzi said.

Nyima Lhamo, a former political prisoner and a niece of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche — one of the most well-known Tibetan political prisoners, who died in a Chinese prison in 2015 — praised the exhibit’s shutdown.

“Today is a major victory for Tibet, but we must continue fighting to amplify and uplift the voices of those still inside Tibet,” said Lhamo, who also was among the protesters in New York.

“This is a library where our children study, and thousands of Tibetans live around here,” said Ngawang Tharchin, president of the regional Tibetan Youth Congress in New York and New Jersey, talking to the crowd gathered Saturday outside the library.

The response by the Tibetan community there was loud and clear.