A rash of self-immolations by Tibetan monks. Chinese troops streaming into the eastern part of the Tibetan Plateau. Yul Kwon speaks with the leading Tibet scholar in the US, Professor Robert Barnett of Colombia University, about unrest in Tibet and China's reaction.
Professor Robert Barnett founded and directs the Modern Tibetan Studies Program at Columbia University in New York City. Thanks for joining us today. Now, there seems to be a greater crackdown this year on Tibetans. What's going on?
Professor Robert Barnett, Columbia University:
They seem to be in two modes. In the eastern part of the Tibetan plateau, they're in panic-reaction mode. They're sending in troops to lock down the eastern area, because there've been a number of protests there and the immolations that we've all heard about.
In the western part of Tibet, what they call the Tibet Autonomous Region around Lhasa, there still haven't been any protests there, but they're stepping up regulation. They're bringing in many new regulations to tie down monasteries and to send officials to be permanently stationed in monasteries.
So what are these officials supposed to do?
Prof. Robert Barnett:
It's very interesting. They've been given six orders, six guidelines for their work. They have to make one friend each. They have to each befriend a monk, so that every monk has an official who is his friend. They have to make a file on that monk. They have to find out who the monk's best friends are in the monastery, his personal network. And they have to carry out education with that monk. And they also have to attend for his welfare.
We have to remember that everything in a communist system is a balance of carrot and stick. We tend to read in the press about the very heavy-handed approaches of the party and the security forces. At the same time, from the Chinese point of view, there was already also helping these monks with payouts for their welfare, building roads for their monasteries and giving them electricity, so on.
Now the dramatic self-immolation of monks and nuns and other protests seem to be occurring outside of Tibet proper. Do you have any sense about why that's going on?
Prof. Robert Barnett:
Well, this is really the most significant part of the whole story. We've seen Tibetan resistance and discontent with Chinese rule there for some 50, 60 years, on and off. But in the last 30 years, it was mostly quiet in these eastern areas. They were much more relaxed. They had much less controls from the Chinese. They were basically allowed to practice their religion, and they were allowed to worship the Dalai Lama until 1998.
Much stronger rules were already in place in what the Chinese call Tibet, the western part around Lhasa, but it was only in the last 10 or 12 years that the Chinese decided to impose these very strict controls and this campaign against the Dalai Lama, forcing monks to denounce him in these eastern areas. And they were completely quiet until then. And now they're in turmoil.
So it looks like China has lost even the compliance, even the tacit compliance of the more than half of the Tibetans who live in the eastern areas. And now, in the last couple of years, security units, paramilitary troops stationed near monasteries, sometimes surrounding monasteries, this seems to be the final straw for many of the monks in those monasteries. And I think that's why we're seeing these immolations and protests now.
Tibetans have been urged by the exile community to mark the New Year without celebration, to keep it prayerful and solemn. Do you have any information about how Tibetans have reacted to that request?
Prof. Robert Barnett:
Well, we have to remember that Tibet is a vast area, the Tibetan plateau, about the size of Western Europe, and it's more or less locked off in communications terms. If people do get through by phone, most Tibetans don't dare to tell them any news, so we don't yet know much about what's happened there so far today.
What we do know is that Tibetans will have been carrying out religious ceremonies, going to monasteries if they're allowed to, and only certain parts of the population are allowed to practice religion there. They will have been carrying out religious rituals at their homes, but we don't know whether they've been showing any signs of resistance to the government by deliberately avoiding some ceremonies or celebrations.
What we do know, as you can see in this footage, is that the Chinese government is very energetically producing images showing happy Tibetans, showing Tibetans respecting Chinese leaders, showing Tibetans wearing new clothes, which is a New Year custom, a kind of celebration.
And we see here we're in a kind of propaganda war between the Chinese government on one side, saying that Tibetans are happy and celebrating, and the exiles and many other Tibetans sending signals, which we won't receive yet, we may hear in a few days, showing that people refuse to celebrate, refuse to publicly show any kind of happiness during what they see as a period of mourning.
Thank you, Professor Barnett. Robert Barnett has written and edited a number of books on modern Tibet, including Lhasa: Streets with Memories.
(Euronews: 1056 PST, March 10, 2011) The Dalai Lama has announced he will hand over his political duties as Tibet's political leader and delegate his responsibilities to an elected member of the Tibetan government in exile.
The 76-year old made the announcement in a speech on the anniversary of the failed 1959 Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule. He said Tibetans need a leader chosen by the people, adding the time had come for him to devolve power. China claims sovereignty over the Himalayan region and labels the Dalai Lama a separatist.
There are a select few public figures alive in the world today that have transcended fame and entered the realm of living legend. It is difficult to separate person and myth when they have reached this level, and rare to get a glimpse into who they really are. The Dalai Lama is one such figure, someone who has been in the public spotlight for the majority of his life, a person who is seen as a holy symbol by his people and revered the world over for his courage and outspokenness against oppression. Yet, behind the public persona there is a man who few outside of his inner circle have seen. Filmmaker Josh Dugdale gained unprecedented access to His Holiness for a three-year period and was able to elucidate not only the Dalai Lama’s true political intentions, but also his humor, joy, pain, and humanity as well. The result is Sunday’s DOC-DEBUT premiere of The Unwinking Gaze.
Throughout his lifetime, the Dalai Lama has struck a tenuous balance between spiritual leader and political activist. It is an amazing feat for a person to be able to carry such gravitas spiritually while also being a savvy political operator and inspirational leader. And to think that this person was discovered as the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama in a far flung village at the age of two makes one wonder whether the Tibetan leaders who found him really did come upon the true reincarnation. One of the most intriguing mysteries surrounding this man is whether he has become the individual he is through teaching, meditation, and life experience, or whether divine lineage through past lives really do account for his extraordinary character.
Josh Dugdale’s film gets closer to this answer than any movie that has come before: there is no clear explanation beyond the Dalai Lama’s humility and humanity. Dugdale follows him from the headquarters of the Tibetan government in exile in Dharamsala, India, to Canada, England, and the United States. The film shows the Dalai Lama as an oasis of composure in a sea of chaos. He is surrounded by Chinese misinformation techniques, radical Tibetans who are impatient at his approach, opportunistic Western politicians, and fiery emotions on all sides. Dugdale is able to get inside the calm eye of the storm and see what makes the Dalai Lama tick. His Holiness is indefatigable despite his frenzied calendar and advancing age. He remains patient in pursuit of a solution despite his people’s growing anxiety. He is aware of Western countries’ attempts to use him as a pawn in their power plays against increasing Chinese influence, and like a skilled chess player, strategically sees several moves ahead.
On his motivations for making The Unwinking Gaze, director Dugdale says, “I had seen a number of films on the Dalai Lama, but I felt they didn’t show who he really was. It seemed that he was being wheeled out for the cameras, for stage-managed set pieces.” This film strips away the veneer and gets at the man behind the curtain. It presents fair critiques from both sides, and the measured responses of the Dalai Lama. In an age of fiery political rhetoric and few admirable leaders, it is refreshing to see someone confront maddening politics with reason. It is even more refreshing to see the internal struggles that the Dalai Lama confronts, just like any other human being has to. Tune in this Sunday at 11pm EST/8pm PST and meet the real Dalai Lama for the first time.
With all the challenges confronting the world as a new year begins, it is more important than ever to be engaged with and connected to every part of the globe. That’s why it is our New Year’s resolution at Link TV to bring you even more fresh voices, independent views, and inspirational stories from different countries and cultures.
We’re kicking off the New Year with the Link TV's groundbreaking documentary series Doc-Debut, showcasing a new international film every Sunday evening. Our first premiere is Niko von Glasow’s powerful film NoBody’s Perfect, a look at the physical and psychological barriers facing twelve people born disabled due to Thalidomide poisoning. The filmmaker, also affected by Thalidomide, brings these strangers together to confront their disabilities through a nude photo shoot.
Tune in next week for The Unwinking Gaze, a unique behind-the-scenes look at the daily life of the Dalai Lama. Filmmaker Josh Dugdale had unprecedented access to His Holiness for a three-year period, showing what this extraordinary figure is like in his private life and the grueling work that goes into taking on a world power on behalf of an entire people.
Next, travel halfway around the world to the slums of Rio de Janeiro in Favela Rising. Former drug trafficker Anderson Sá has sparked a social revolution through music, helping kids in one of the most dangerous places on the planet have a positive outlet and alternative to gang life. Filmmaker Jeff Zimbalist (The Two Escobars) provides a visually stunning and musically dynamic documentation of Anderson's life and impact in the favela.
While Anderson Sá was transforming his community through music in Brazil, José Antonio Abreu was doing the very same thing with his youth orchestra in Caracas, Venezuela. Starting January 12th, Link TV will be broadcasting his inspirational speech as part of our ongoing TED Talks series. We are proud to be a part of the TED Open TV Project, helping spread these important ideas from these innovative talks and charismatic speakers.
The powerful Dollar a Day series also continues in January with the premiere of The New Silver. This six-part international series documents what life is like for the billions of people living in poverty around the world. The New Silver chronicles the transitioning economy of Bolivia and how access to capital changes lives and nations.
On a lighter note, 2011 continues on with the new season of Arab Labor. The hit Israeli sitcom, dubbed “The Seinfeld of the Middle East,” pokes fun at the cultural similarities and differences between Palestinians and Jews and looks at life in the holy land from a different angle.
Algeria: Quitting Terrorism, from the United Nations’ 21st Century series, is another documentary bringing a fresh perspective on an age-old issue. Much has gone into figuring out why people turn to terrorism, but this film takes a unique look at why an Algerian man has given up violence.
That, in a nutshell, is what Link TV is all about: challenging established assumptions about how the world works by exploring different viewpoints and perspectives. We hope you join us throughout 2011 for many more groundbreaking shows, insightful stories and brand-new programs to come.
On the latest Global Pulse episode, host Erin Coker examines media coverage of the evolving relations between China and the US. Watch the episode below and share your thoughts!
While this week’s Global Pulse, called “Chimerica,” looks at what the two nations share, there are plenty of points of friction between them. The U.S. regularly criticizes China’s human rights record, and now China has published a report equally critical of the U.S., for “destabilizing the world economy and meddling in other countries' affairs.”
The United States is in a tricky situation. On the one hand, the U.S. wants to encourage human rights and increased democracy in China; on the other hand it fears alienating China, its most prominent trading partner, which holds upwards of $800 billion of American debt. So how has the U.S. walked this delicate tightrope so far? Not very well.
Perhaps the best recent example of the awkward U.S.-China relationship is the controversial meeting between President Barack Obama and the Dalai Lama. Most in the west see the Dalai Lama as a man of peace who dares to stand up to the might of the Chinese government. Not surprisingly, China considers him to be a threat to a unified China, due to his advocacy for the independence of Tibet. They also see him as a pawn of western nations bent on embarrassing the Chinese government. Even some western media sources have criticized the motives of the Dalai Lama. In an editorial from the UK’s Guardian, Brendan O’Neill describes the Dalai Lama as a poseur who “once auctioned his Land Rover on eBay for $80,000 and has even done an advert for Apple.” He also charges that the Dalai Lama “has [been] used as a battering ram by western governments in their culture war with China.”
But celebrities like Richard Gere and Sharon Stone are prominent followers of the Dalai Lama who advocate his return to Tibet, and American Buddhists have made some of his books pop-religion best sellers in America, so there was tremendous pressure on Obama to meet with the Dalai Lama. Although the meeting was carefully planned to try to not offend either side, it ended up offending both. Initially Obama refused to meet, citing the need to meet with China’s Hu Jintao first: human rights activists and western media called it a snub. When the meeting finally did happen it took place in a closed room without cameras. The Chinese were angry that the meeting took place at all.
Whether this and other rights issues are geat walls that will ultimately divide the two nations, or just side roads on the long march to cooperation remains unknown.
In my last note, I talked about making connections through research. Today I'd like to talk about the connections that you make that you may not know about for years, if at all. I was lucky this week; I encountered two of them.
Connection #1: In a former life I was a CD producer, and I produced a boxed set of international accordion music called "Planet Squeezebox." It was a mammoth effort in a small amount of time, and I came away regretting that I had been unable to include, among other genres, Afghani accordion music. Fast forward 14 years and we acquire the wonderful vignette "Afghanistan: An Accordion Journey" from Greg Warner. And in contacting him, I discover that "Planet Squeezebox" was an important part of his own accordion odyssey.
Connection #2: I tend to find myself in unusual places following music around, and about 5 years ago, I attended a music festival in Samarkand. There were over 50 performers, and several stood out for me, even if they did not play the most accessible music. One was Salamat Sadikova from Kyrgyzstan, one was a young man from Tibet, and another was Aygun Baylar from Azerbaijan (more on her later, I hope). I managed to get video of the festival, and much to my joy, found their performances well captured. For these past years, I wondered about putting the Tibetan's lovely songs on the air. Then, a press release that was sent to me connected me to his photo, I recognized him, and yesterday, I met him, (his name is Techung) and he was able to tell me what the song was about. You can see it right now, as our video premiere.