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Tibetan Dream and Chinese Scream

People’s Republic of China (PRC) has a strong and trusted friend in Nepal. Successive governments in Nepal have reiterated their support to China and have ignored the Tibetan cause. Under King Gyanendra’s influence, the government closed the office of the Dalai Lama’s representative in Kathmandu and had refused to let it re-open. Three years ago, when Nepal hosted a Buddhist conference at Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha in south Nepal, the Dalai Lama was not invited though the representatives of most other Buddhist states were present. Nepal’s new government has also assured support for “One China” policy, acknowledging Tibet and Taiwan as parts of the PRC.

Basking in this glory of her growing influence, China would have hardly expected the decision of a cultural platform in Nepal, viz: International Mountain Film Festival (second week of December 2007), hosted by Himal Association in Kathmandu, to include four films related to Tibet, of which three are certainly anathema to Beijing.

Of these, “Dalai Lama Renaissance”, is a documentary on the exiled Tibetan leader’s meetings with western thinkers like quantum physicist Fred Alan Wolf and social scientist Jean Houston. It is a known fact that the Chinese keep detesting Dalai Lama meeting any western leader nor anyone highlighting such events.

“Miss Tibet” directed by Leseur van Leeuwen, a Dutch, draws attention to the defiant beauty pageant that is held at Dharamsala, the seat of the Dalai Lama, in India every year. Beijing has been trying to prevent the winner of the title from taking part in other beauty contests, saying Miss China is the legitimate contender. China is known to have put pressure on Malaysia to bar Miss Tibet 2006 Tsering Chungtak at the Miss Tourism Pageant unless she agreed to wear a sash that said Miss Tibet-China. The Tibetan lass reportedly stated that she would rather pull out than wear such a sash.

The controversial film “Dreaming Lhasa” produced by the husband-wife team of Tibetan exile Tenzing Sonam and Indian Ritu Sarin, depicts the plight of the exiled Tibetan community in India and has been hailed as the first major feature film by a Tibetan to deal with contemporary Tibet. In 2003, veteran documentary filmmakers Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam embarked upon their first feature film, Dreaming Lhasa, which had its world premiere at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival and has since screened in over 30 film festivals worldwide.

In 2005, China tried to pressure the organisers of the Toronto International Film Festival to remove “Dreaming Lhasa”. The organisers remained strong and refused to yield to the Chinese pressure. But Beijing had more success at the Pusan International Film Festival in South Korea the same year when though initially chosen for screening, “Dreaming Lhasa” was dropped at the last moment with no explanation.

When the film premiered in the US in April, to combat it, the Chinese government promoted “The Silent Holy Stones”, a film though made by a well-regarded Tibetan filmmaker within Tibet, with the hope that it could be used for Chinese propaganda.

It may not be out of place to recall the Chinese reaction in 2006. For the crime of submitting his film “Summer Palace” to Cannes, without approval from the ‘State Administration of Radio, Film and Television’ – the government- run agency that is in charge of audio and video censorship in China, renowned Chinese director Lou Ye was banned from film making (in China) for 5 years.

While Tibet right groups in India have complained that when they tried to screen Tibet-related films, the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi tried to pressure them into withdrawing such films, the lack of publicity about the entries till the eve of the film festival in Nepal could have lulled China into a false sense of security. However this realisation must have come as a rude shock to the Chinese authorities that claim to have the best of political and trade relationships with Nepal. That such a small organisation in Nepal was able to defy the Chinese authorities by daringly including films on Tibet and Tibetans that are exposing, if not damaging the claims of China, is indeed surprisingly courageous .One may wonder whether the cultural outfits in Nepal are enjoying the power to take independent decisions without interference from their political masters, especially when similar cultural organisations in India – a far bigger nation with considerable international clout – seem to be heavily dependent on and influenced by the government in power to suit their political interests.

While a small event like the film festival by itself may not become an issue, which can affect the over-all Nepal-China relations, the Chinese mindset has always been for paying attention to the likely negative implications arising from such acts. They thus feel compelled to make symbolic protests in such cases, as part of their strategy to continuously show the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader in poor light, both in and outside the country. It may not therefore come as a surprise if Beijing chooses to politely reprimand Kathmandu at official levels for allowing display of pro-Dalai Lama films. Kathmandu’s reaction, if the Chinese protest, may, on the other hand, be interesting to watch.

(The writer, Mr.N.Raghupathy, is a former Director in the Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India. Email: nraghupathy@yahoo.com)

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