How to destroy a culture in a most effective way.
Filmmaker and musicologist Ngawang Choephel went back in 1995 to Tibet to see what happend to the traditional Tibetan folkmusic under the occupation by China. His personal report was risky, because he fled after the Chinese invasion in 1950 with his mother to Dharamsala, India. He was two years old then and never went back to his country. He studied music in the USA later on. After two months in Tibet he sent more than thirty hours of filmmaterial to India. Shortly after he was arrested as a spy and sent to prison for 18 years. He was locked up with eight other prisonners, it smelled very bad in their cell and they had to listen to Chinese songs. Three women tell about punishments when they refused to sing the Chinese anthem. They were beaten and got an electric stick in the mouth so they couldn’t talk anymore. Five persons died. Despite their tortures they still did not obey to the Chinese. Choephel wrote the lyrics of old Tibetan songs in his cell on cigaretteboxes but after the guards discovered that, he tried to remember the words in his head.
Choephel didn’t hear Tibetan music in the capital Lhasa, so he went to the countryside. Jamyang Kyi a Tibetan feminist, singer and writer (more about her on: http://www.freetibet.org/campaigns/current-prisoners-0) says that Tibetans sing during all activities. There are special songs for milking cows, roofmaking or drinking. Everybody likes singing. The lyrics tell people how to act. Tibetan culture is passed on in this way.
During the uprising in Lhasa in 1959 86000 Tibetans were killed. The Dalai Lama fled to India. The Panchen Lama critized the Chinese and was imprisoned for ten years.
How did the occupation influence the culture? Choephel asks. Mao said that art for art didn’t exist and that twenty performers did more than a thousand soldiers. The cultural revolution was still going on. At the moment there is a lot of recorded music, introduced by the Chinese. Tibetans called it boxmusic and feared the bad sounds out of the radio. The Chinese adapt Tibetan songs by using Chinese words. The famous Tsetan Dolma sings them.
We see a silent audience after a performance by Chinese singers. People don’t know how to react to it. Children only know songs from the cultural revolution in the sixties. A man says they had to sings those. Tibetan opera singers got killed till the late seventies. At the moment in nightclubs there is only Chinese (pop)music. The danger, someone says, is that people start to see meaning in meaninglessness.
Tibetan culture is very different from Chinese. They dress and eat differently. In 1988 during the Lhasa protests, Tibetans showed they wanted to hold on to their own culture. In 2000, after fifty years of occupation, they made jokes that their culture lived only at the top of the mountains. Even the nomads had to come down to prevent them from living on their own way.
Choephel was in three prisons. His mother started a campaign for his liberation, which was supported by a concert with Annie Lennox, Paul Mccartney and others. In 2002 Choephel was released after six and a half years of imprisonment. He wanted very much to go back again to Tibet, but went to India to get in touch with Tibetan refugees and hear about their knowledge of old Tibetans songs.
In 2008 during the protests in Tibet two hundred Tibetans were killed and more than a thousand taken to a prison or disappeared. Monks explained the world about their situation on television, but knew they would be arrested afterwards.
Tibet in Song was chosen as the openingfilm in The Dutch Movies That Matter Testival 2010. At the end we read on the screen that most of the persons who were in the movie fled to India. Choepel, who lives in New York at the moment, was present at the festival.
An impression on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W-wdJvv2TgQ/
Another short impression on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2DqnaZDvSw/