Here at Tibet Watch we monitor and research China’s human rights abuses in Tibet, providing information for Free Tibet's campaigning and media work. It’s not an easy subject matter so at times it helps to have a laugh and luckily the Chinese government provides us with quite a few funny episodes of 'epic fails'...
Here are a few of our favourites but we’re sure there are plenty more. What would you add?
1. Claiming that Tibet is "too cold" for tourists
Sometimes it’s just not convenient for the Chinese government to have pesky foreigners wandering around Tibet, able to document human rights abuses and tell Tibet’s story to the world! In 2011, when Tibet was closed to tourists, top Chinese official Zhang Qingli cited safety reasons such as "overcrowding" and "cold weather". One blogger joked that the almost annual Tibet closures could be dubbed:
2. Celebrating oppression with prizes and presents
Chinese authorities have a long track record of great taste in choosing presents and prizes. In 2013, state media boasted of TVs being handed out to Tibetan lamas. Last September, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the so-called Tibetan Autonomous Region, generous gifts for lucky Tibetans included delightful cups commemorating the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet, portraits of Mao and, the greatest gift of all, the endless friendship of the Chinese Communist Party for the Tibetan people. Given the great gifts on offer, it must have come as sad news for "undisciplined" monasteries in Driru county that they would be banned from the Model Monastery Competition in 2015. The Tibetan army fared better though – they received a prize in 2013 for "sincerely serving Tibetan people".
3. Describing a torture chair as "comfortable"
Last November, Public Security Ministry official Li Wensheng told the United Nations Committee Against Torture that China’s notorious torture chair is used "to guarantee the safety of the detainee, to prevent the detainee from escaping, from self-harm or attacking other people. The chair is sometimes packaged with soft padding to increase a sense of comfort, a sense of safety." But that doesn’t exactly tally with the words of torture survivor Golog Jigme who said: "whenever I remember that chair I feel scared, even to this day..."
4. Comparing the Dalai Lama to Saddam Hussein
China’s vilification of the Dalai Lama has continued for decades but it reached a new level of ridiculous earlier this month when a ruling came from Gao Yadong, director of Sichuan Province’s publicity department, to "crack down on pornography and illegal publications, which include portraits of the Dalai Lama". For further clarification, China’s state media cited Lian Xiangmin from the China Tibetology Research Centre in Beijing as saying that, for Chinese people, hanging the Dalai Lama’s photo was the same as displaying Saddam Hussein’s image would be for Americans.
5. Building a "Living Buddha" database
This January the Chinese government launched a new database website of "Living Buddhas" (reincarnate lamas), supposedly to allow users to root out the real ones from the fake ones. All you need to do is punch in a name or registration number. Even though 870 "living Buddhas" are included in the database, the Dalai Lama – the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people - is not one of them. It’s just the latest example of the Chinese government’s ham-fisted attempts to control Tibetan Buddhism.
6. Spreading the word about Tibet's occupation
On several occasions China has tried to use its growing influence to extend its well-known censorship beyond its borders. Like when Chinese officials wanted to prevent the Tibetan flag hot air balloon from flying, when they pressured Bangladesh to censor a Tibetan art exhibition, when they cancelled Bon Jovi and Maroon 5 concerts and when they created a load of fake Twitter accounts singing the praises of China’s rule in Tibet. All these actions resulted in great media coverage of these incidents, drawing attention to China’s occupation of Tibet. Way to go China!
When you are born and brought up in exile, you want to find out more about where you come from. That desire intensifies when a superpower is out to erase your history, your present and your future. I'm a child of exile life and I have never had the opportunity to visit 'home', my country Tibet.
I think the biggest toll on being a refugee, whether politically recognised or not, is the life in limbo that I live to this day, even at the age of 35. The lack of sense of belonging is harrowing sometimes.
One way that I try to live my Tibet life is by listening to accounts and stories from the older generation. The greatest contribution so far has come from my father, who is in his 80s, and his amazing memory. I've also spoken to many of my people who managed to escape from Tibet (post-1959) to seek a life where basic human freedoms can at least be enjoyed.
For my work as a researcher with Tibet Watch, I recently interviewed a nun from Tibet over the phone. As I'm based in Dharamsala and she lives in a nunnery quite far away in south India, it all had to be conducted over the phone and I was eager to ask her about her experiences in Driru which I knew to be a hub for Tibetan resistance.
I am always nervous before an important interview. This was important because I was going to make her relive a painful part of her life and a life which still continues for her family and friends and all the other Tibetans back in Tibet. She told me of her interactions with her family in Tibet over the phone: a painful thing to do when you cannot be open and free to say what you want.
On the phone her family begged her not to mention anything about the nunnery or the nuns or anything else that might place them in danger. This is because being a nun is a difficult life to live in Chinese occupied Tibet, the power that feels threatened by the mere red of the robe the monks and nuns wrap themselves in. They are referred to as the 'red dogs' the nun tells me.
I always love interacting with the people who have real experiences of Tibet but it is also very sad. When you are working on these issues, the stories are not pretty at all, they are heartbreaking. Sometimes the stories make me feel helpless and guilty. I have even cried during previous interviews but these days I can start to feel myself becoming numb.
I am an emotional person and like most Tibetans, the nun was very open, honest and passionate. Her courage to speak out and trust us made me feel grateful and also humbled.
About the author: Kunkey joined Tibet Watch as a Researcher in June 2015 and has also worked for Tibetan political prisoners association Gu Chu Sum, for Dolls 4 Tibet, on a BBC radio documentary about the exile Tibetan women's football team, and on other Tibet related projects as a freelance translator/interpreter.