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<-Back to WTN Archives Lifting the veil on tragedy in Tibet
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World Tibet Network News

Thursday, January 15, 1998

1. Lifting the veil on tragedy in Tibet

Hollywood finally discovers China's war on land of peace

Jan 18, 1998
By Robert A.F. Thurman

The story of Tibet has all the elements of a great
Hollywood tale. It appeals to the hope for a lost
land of goodness, as in Frank Capra's *Lost
Horizon.* The Dalai Lama's nonviolent plea to
China to cease its destruction of Tibetan culture
resonates like Moses' cry to Pharaoh, David's
challenge to Goliath, Luke Skywalker's
confrontation with the evil empire and Indiana
Jones last crusade.

BUT WHAT IS happening to Tibet is not a screenwriter's fantasy. It is
horribly, brutally real. And the happy ending is yet to be written.

The invasion of Tibet occurred almost 50 years ago and the systematic
genocide of its peace-loving people has been going on ever since. A
final solution looms, as the government of Chinese President Jiang Zemin
moves aggressively to smother the remaining 6 million Tibetans with
overwhelming numbers of Chinese colonists.

Now, for the first time, filmgoers are being exposed to the unfolding
tragedy of this Himalayan nation. In *Seven Years in Tibet,* Brad Pitt
portrays Austrian mountain climber Heinrich Harrer, who treks 2,000
miles to the fabled capital of Lhasa, becomes a tutor to the Dalai Lama
and witnesses the devastation of the peaceful Himalayan society by Mao¢s
Red Army. In the process, Harrer learns how misguided he was in his
egotism as a young, pre-war Nazi and experiences what is Tibetan
culture's greatest gift: the capacity to transform destructive Western
egotism into peacefulness.

Now Martin Scorsese's film *Kundun,* based on Melissa Mathison's story,
explores the early years of Dalai Lama, the political and religious
leader who has kept his Peoples' spirit alive in exile in India since
1959, when he escaped from the Chinese generals.

Why has it taken Hollywood so long to discover this story? The Chinese
have hidden their actions behind a curtain of repression and propaganda.
Some Americans, deluded by self-interest, apathy or misinformation,
slowed the lifting of this curtain on the truth.

The movie establishment in the '50s and '60s was generally liberal in
its politics, and the two big enemies it featured were the Nazis and the
Japanese, fresh from World War II. Soon, the Soviets and the menace of
totalitarian communism supplied the major new antagonist for the many
Cold War dramas. Intellectuals and artists knew very little about China.

In the '70s, a wide range of American fantasies were projected onto
China. Liberals were encouraged by Sinologists to believe that Mao had
accomplished the miracle of feeding the people and creating a new
society. Conservatives thought the Chinese would be our major ally
against the Russian menace. And corporations thought they were going to
open up their billion-person market to our entrepreneurial cowboys. The
Dalai Lama was refused a visa to America during the entire decade.

In the '80s, as stories of Mao's egomania and mass killings emerged, the
insanity of the Cultural Revolution became apparent. People began to
learn about Tibet. They discovered that the Chinese devastation of Tibet
was the largest case of naked territorial expansionism since World War
II. It was a major human rights violation; like Biafra or Cambodia, a
modern holocaust.

They also saw the Dalai Lama, who began visiting America during the
Carter era, as living proof of the unique and beneficial nature of
Tibet's Buddhist civilization. A number of books and scripts were
written about Tibet, but public attention was distracted by the
cowboy-hat-and-panda show arranged by the cute Deng Xiaoping, then
supreme leader of China, while business was still hypnotized by the hope
of a *China boom,* based on Deng's reputed pragmatism.

Then in 1989, the massacre of idealistic young people in Tiananmen
Square showed the world the naked violence of Chinese totalitarianism.
The Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Tibet House New York
organized an International Year of Tibet, focused around a major
International Exhibition of Tibetan Art in San Francisco, New York, and
London. Actor Richard Gere electrified the world by interrupting the
Academy Award ceremonies to address his prayers for Tibet to Deng.

Broadening awareness about Tibet coincided with the collapse of the
Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. By the beginning of the '90s,
Mao had emerged as one of the great mass murderers of the 20th century,
losing his support among even the most adulatory China scholars. And
China was no longer needed as an ally against the evaporated Russian
menace. So the door was open for artists and opinion makers to discover
Tibet in a big way.

Business interests were still exerting some censorship pressure because
of the enduring fantasy of making a fortune in the China trade, dreaming
of the billion-person market for everything from shoelaces to software
to nuclear reactors. Still, books were published, plays and film scripts
were written, and awareness of the tragedy of Tibet began to pervade
mainstream America. The Dalai Lama privately met with then-President
George Bush, and later with President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al

Clinton promised he would do something serious to help Tibet.
Nevertheless, in 1994 he delinked trade and human rights, a real blow
both to Tibetans and the savagely suppressed Chinese democratic
movement. Since then, the U.S. government's only visible gesture of
support to Tibet ¯ the recent appointment of a special coordinator for
Tibetan affairs in the State Department ¯ has brought no relief.

Jiang seems intent on crushing the Tibetan will to freedom. While the
world is learning more about it, things are getting worse in Tibet.
China's version of a final solution is to spend billions on
infrastructure projects that bring millions more Chinese colonists into
the region. The current population of all five of the officially
designated Tibetan Autonomous Regions already numbers about 6 million
Tibetans and 8 million Chinese. Up to 30,000 new Chinese colonists are
arriving each month.

Chinese has become the only language for employment in Tibet.

Any expression of the desire for independence has become high treason
punishable by imprisonment, torture and death. Tibetans are losing their
land and the environment is being devastated. The aim is clearly to
reduce Tibetans to marginal status. This is the context in which
Hollywood has discovered Tibet.

The true story of Tibet is a story of oppression; of the loss of all
freedoms of religion, speech, and self-determination; of the destruction
and exploitation of innocent people and their home land. It is the same
true story that inspired the founders of America to create a
Constitution and Bill of Rights to protect the many immigrants who were
fleeing similar oppression. It is the story that inspires the best of
our own patriotism.

Hollywood and its audiences recognize a bond between the United States
and Tibet, a kinship of ideals and shared dedication to the value of
freedom. They are also beginning to see the value of ancient Buddhist
mind sciences that Tibetans have struggled to preserve for centuries,
cherishing their great usefulness in developing inner happiness and

Intuitively, they recognize that this knowledge, combined with America's
considerable material and technological prowess, could revolutionize the
country and the world, making the freedom for all envisioned by
America's founders a reality at last.

It is not too late to save Tibet and its people, the ideals they live by
and offer to the world, and their intricate and valuable knowledge.
Hollywood's inspiration in this endeavor is worthy of our attention and

Articles in this Issue:
  1. Lifting the veil on tragedy in Tibet
  2. Second quake in two days rocks Tibet mountains
  3. European envoy requested for Tibet
  4. US director Scorsese to chair Cannes film festival jury
  5. Chinese dissident's visit sees difficult balancing act for France

Other articles this month - WTN Index - Mail the WTN-Editors

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