By A. G.Moore
Flag of Free Tibet, From 1912 to Present Image Banned by China Flown Today by Tibet’s Government in Exile Image from Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain, Copyright before 1923
Dhondup Wangchen has been languishing in Chinese prisons since 2008. His crime was telling the truth. More damning than that, he told it on a day China was set to hold opening ceremonies for the Beijing Olympics.
Mr. Wangchen is a Tibetan who wanted the world to see the contrast between the pre-Olympic celebrations in Beijing and the despair suffered by the Tibetan people. He decided to make a film that would reveal how Tibetans feel about the Chinese occupation of their country–an occupation China asserts does not exist.
Since 1950, China has been on a campaign to convince the world that Tibet has never been a sovereign state; China is determined to erase from everyone’s consciousness the very idea of an independent Tibet.
The modern subjugation of Tibet began in 1950, when Mao Zedong’s army overwhelmed Tibetan national defenses. According to China’s own news service: “The Chamdo Battle started on Oct.6 and triumphed on 24. It defeated the major forces of the Tibet local authority in Chamdo in eastern Tibet.” The news service explains that the Chinese army ” smashed the…reactionary forces of Tibet’s upper ruling class on their resistance against the peaceful liberation of Tibet“.
Tibet was subsequently incorporated into China as an “autonomous” region. Resistance to Chinese occupation grew over the years into guerrilla warfare. China responded to this resistance by burning villages and killing tens of thousands of Tibetans.
Throughout this period, Tibetans held fast to the belief that the Dalai Lama was their legitimate leader. In 1959, suspicion arose that China had set its sights on abducting the Dalai Lama. On March 10, 1959, the Tibetan people rose up in defense of their leader. They enabled him to pass safely across harsh terrain into India, where he was granted refuge.
The Chinese retaliated with ferocious determination against the insurgency. By 1964, some 300,000 Tibetans had “disappeared”, according to census figures. An aggressive campaign of Sinicization ensued and Chinese Han nationals flooded into Tibet, especially into its capital, Lhasa. Today the number of Hans in Lhasa is estimated to be 3 times that of indigenous Tibetans.
It is in this environment of oppression that Dhondup Wangchen decided to make his film. He wanted the world to see China not as it appeared in public relations releases surrounding the Olympics, but as it existed in Tibet. Mr. Wangchen produced a film that showed ordinary Tibetans who “...freely expressed their disdain for the Han Chinese migrants who are flooding the region and their love for the Dalai Lama...”. The 25-minute film, entitled, Leaving Fear Behind, was simple in design and execution. Its frank depiction of Tibetan discontent incensed Chinese authorities. Their reaction was swift.
Mr. Wangchen was arrested and detained without trial for many months. He was ultimately sentenced to 6 years in jail. Reports of food deprivation and torture surfaced. It was also reported that Mr. Wangchen contracted Hepatits B in prison and, to date, has not received treatment for this disease.
Dhondup Wangchen was targeted by the Chinese because he dared to tell the world a clear truth, a truth from which the international community turns. Today, there is not one country that acknowledges Tibet as an independent nation. This would seem to indicate that China has won its propaganda war. But that is hardly the case.
Every day I read something, somewhere, that champions the cause of a free Tibet. Every year the Tibetan people celebrate March 10 as the anniversary of the day in 1959 when they rose up against Chinese occupation. China cannot silence all voices that speak for Tibet’s freedom–certainly it cannot silence mine.
International endorsement of China’s patently false position persuades no informed person.
Some views on Tibetan sovereignty: