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Tibet in Song': Exploring What The Chinese Occupation Has Meant For Buddhism

October 13, 2010

Stanton Peele
The Huffington Post
October 8, 2010

Remember when Fox Network newscaster Brit Hume
told Tiger Woods to convert to Christianity, a
superior religion to his own Buddhism -- the
faith Woods' mother, Kultida (born in Thailand,
surname Punsawad), raised him in?

This brings me to Tibet in Song, a film by
Ngawang Choephel. Choephel was a Tibetan exile,
brought by his mother to India after the Chinese
overran their country. Despite being raised
outside Tibet, Choephel developed a love for his
home country's native music. Against his mother's
advice, and that of every Tibetan he knew in
India, Choephel returned to Tibet to explore his musical roots.

There he was shocked to discover that indigenous
music had disappeared from Lhasa, Tibet's
capital, and other cities. In its place,
loudspeakers blared communist Chinese agitprop
music nonstop around the city. Choephel finally
took his search to the Tibetan hinterlands, where
he found traces of traditional music, which he
videoed and recorded. Even in Tibet's vast
interior (the country is, in itself, larger than
Western Europe) the younger generation was
force-fed communist political operas and other
alien music, including treacly Chinese pop songs.

It soon became clear, through interviews with
former political prisoners, Tibetan nationalists
and native music devotees, that China was
systematically striving to eradicate Tibetan
music and all other traces of the country's
culture. Among these cultural elements was the
country's Buddhist religion. Tibetans were forced
to destroy their temples and monasteries during
the Chinese cultural revolution, alongside Red
Guards who ransacked and destroyed virtually all
Buddhist religious structures and symbols.

Tibet in Song shows Chinese officials and troops
persecuting Tibetan nationalists, Buddhists and
anyone performing Tibetan folk music. Eventually,
Choephel himself is arrested. Among the most
distressing scenes in the film are descriptions
by three female political prisoners of their
being tortured for refusing to mouth Chinese
patriotic songs. The women told of other
prisoners like them who were killed by their
guards. Eventually, through pressure exerted by
some American politicians (including Senators
Bernie Sanders, Lincoln Chafee and Patrick Leahy)
and musicians (like R.E.M., David Bowie and
Radiohead), Choephel was released after six and a half years in prison.

During the course of the Chinese occupation,
there have been several uprisings by the
Tibetans, all of which have been brutally
suppressed. Not content with their political
domination of the country, however, the Chinese
are hell-bent on eradicating -- lock, stock and
barrel -- what remains of Tibetan culture as they
subjugate and assimilate the population. It is
cultural genocide. And it is only possible
because the Chinese view Tibetan culture as inferior to their own.

What are the similarities between Hume's attitude
toward Buddhism and the Chinese eradication of
Tibetan culture? Both seek to impose their own
belief systems on a minority or subservient culture and religion.

What is the difference between the two? A matter of degree in their approaches.

Both have a lot chutzpah, wouldn't you say?

By the way, under the banner, "Everyone Hates
Buddhists," we can also list the Federal Ninth
Circuit Court of Appeals' 2007 decision in Inouye
v. Kemna regarding a Buddhist forced to attend NA
against his religious objections. The Court ruled
that, despite the yammering of 12-step heads that
AA is not only not Christian but not religious,
the Honolulu Parole Board violated Inouye's First
Amendment religious rights, for which parole
officials and agents could be held personally liable.
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