The Chinese occupation of Tibet has done much to shatter the culture of the Tibetan people. Any who dared speak against their oppressors were imprisoned, tortured, or killed. Monasteries were brutally attacked, and the attempt to even ban their very language was almost put into place. For so many years, the people of Tibet have lived without any form of human rights, religious freedom, or liberties that we in the United States have and exercise generously.
But despite the great hardships, much of Tibet has persevered.
A Level 2 nonviolence trainer at the Center and a strong advocate of the liberation of Tibet, Geshe Thupten Tendhar has presented two documentaries that show the hardships Tibetan culture has taken as a result of Chinese occupation. The first documentary, Controversial Highway, begins with the film team on a small truck, packed with essentials that they’ll need for the journey towards the Tibetan border. The pass between Nepal and China is close to perilous, and not just in terrain. While the land is rife with hard to cross rivers and rough, muddy ground, Chinese border patrol scout the area for anything they find warranting of suspicion. The Nepalese guide was luckily able to talk a patrol that stopped them into letting them on their way. The team then takes breathtaking shots of the mountains of Tibet which they see from just beyond the border. The mounds of land touch the sky, the very tips just covered by clouds riding the winds. Upon looking at the sight, one would think that nature itself gifted the land with beauty to match the culture of its people.
The documentary tells the tale of Tenzin Choegyal, an Australian musician who was born in Tibet before the Chinese occupation forced his parents to take him with them as they fled their homeland. After so many years, Tenzin, well into adulthood and with a family of his own, has taken the chance to reunite with his birthplace. Although it was obvious that Tibet has long changed since Tenzin left, it is shown that its culture has survived, against all odds.
The second documentary, The Tibet Within, is more focused on the Tibetan struggle for independence. It takes us through how the current citizens of Tibet suffer from the Chinese occupation and how Tibetans forced into exile has been working to keep their culture alive. So many have been forced to flee Tibet to escape persecution, and struggle with their new lives outside their homeland while holding onto their language, culture, and identity. From art so beautiful and intricate you wouldn’t believe is handmade, to institutions dedicated to preserving and promoting their culture, the people of Tibet who are forced to live in exile find ways to speak for and support their homeland.
Artists in Tibet who choose to support their culture face the threat of imprisonment or even execution from the Chinese occupying their land. The authorities monitor practically every inch of Tibet, through both security camera and patrolling officers, watching and waiting for even the slightest sign of defiance, which they will squelch immediately. Monks and nuns of Tibetan Buddhism are being forced to renounce their religious leader, the Dali Lama, and all who defy their oppressors are sacrificing their lives in the name of preserving their heritage.
Thupten Tendhar has presented these documentaries in hopes of spreading awareness of a very serious matter and to get others to care enough to get involved. Whether it’s protesting for human rights in Tibet or helping in centers to preserve their culture, there’s a lot we can do to help. These two documentaries show how resilient these people are and how proud they are of their home and history. They aren’t just documentaries. They are testaments of hope.