Spotlight On Tibet: Tibet's Secret Weapon PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Rebecca Novick   

Spotlight On Tibet
Spotlight On Tibet
The Dalai Lama has described violent resistance in Tibet as “suicide” for good reason. But even though Tibetans can never hope to go toe-to-toe with China’s military machine, they have something else – a secret weapon that is not only resistant to brute force, it actually seems to become enhanced by it.

When a Tibetan nun named Ani Pachen was placed in solitary confinement for a nine month stretch during her 21-year imprisonment, she decided to use the time to perform a spiritual retreat. When the guards opened the door to let her out, she asked them to kindly close it, explaining that she hadn’t finished. “If they can’t break the spirit of one old woman,” she told me, “how can they break the spirit of the Tibetan people?” It is this spirit that is Tibet’s secret weapon. It rallies against despair, provokes extraordinary acts of defiance, and values moral principle above external authority.

Ani Pachen’s strength, though remarkable, is not unique. Beijing’s ongoing crackdown in Tibet has brought about a grassroots movement of solidarity among Tibetans, and with it, a seemingly limitless number of men and women willing to risk imprisonment and even death for a single gesture of freedom.

Very few have heard of them or about what they have done. Each one knew that their actions meant certain arrest; beatings and forture, and to be sentenced to a Chinese gulag by a justice system that is always stacked against them.

A young nun, Tsering Tsomo, stood on a street corner by herself handing out leaflets calling for the return of the Dalai Lama. Police pummeled her with iron rods before hauling her off to a detention center. Nineteen-year old Yoten Tso staged a lone protest outside the county police station in Kardze, an area of Tibet so tightly controlled by security forces that it was described as a war zone by a recent visitor. Rigden Lhamo, a twenty-one-year-old student, walked over to her county government headquarters, unfurled the banned Tibetan flag, and shouted for freedom.

For most Chinese people, such acts are incomprehensible. What on earth is up with these Tibetans? We gave them discos and nice roads and this is how they repay us? As one bemused Chinese shopkeeper in Lhasa put it, “They’re a very strange people. They don’t care about material things. They only care about things of the spirit.” All over Tibet, enthusiastic communists are trying to change the way Tibetans think; in a nutshell, to love the Party and not to love the Dalai Lama. But even when they can get Tibetans to say it, they can’t get them to mean it. Word from the streets of Tibet is that these so-called Patriotic Re-Education campaigns are actually having the opposite effect to the one intended, and are generating even more devotion to the Dalai Lama. Tibetans seem to be willing to suffer rather than to act against their conscience, to refuse to pay more than lip service to communist ideology, and to love freedom more than good plumbing. The response by the authorities is dictated by a policy that scholar John Powers sums up as “the beatings will continue until morale improves.” But what if someone would rather be beaten than to live a life he doesn’t believe in?

China controls Tibet’s infrastructure as well as its economy, culture and religion. China has flooded the streets with police and military, and built a system of surveillance and social monitoring to rival anything in Orwell’s imagination. But the thing it wants most will always elude it – the hearts and minds of the Tibetan people.

Rebecca Novick is a writer and the Executive Producer of The Tibet Connection radio program.

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