Tibet Saves The World?: Tibetan and Chinese Bloggers Discuss "2012"

Above: Screenshot of a Tibetan blogpost about “2012”
High Peaks Pure Earth has been following Tibetan and Chinese blog reactions to the Hollywood film “2012”. Although China-watching blogs such as chinaSMACK have focused on the film’s treatment and depiction of China, there has been little translated about the prominent role that Tibet plays in the film.

It seems that Tibetans are also monitoring blog reactions to the film. On November 17, a Tibetan posted an extract of a commentary written about “2012” that had originally appeared in the Guangzhou Daily to the TibetCul Bulletin Boards (commonly known as BBS) :


It is worth mentioning that the film “2012” contains many elements which Chinese audiences are quite familiar with, such as Zhuoming County in Sichuan, a Tibetan monastery or the Himalaya Mountains. Although scenes about the earthquake in May last year add up to less than 20 seconds, the distinct Chinese lines in the film still manage to make the audience’s hearts glow and certainly makes it the most striking part of the movie. The film calls China “the ultimate redeemer”. The characters in the story exceed the margins of life and death, trying to run away from the towering tsunami and it is no other than the Himalayan Mountains which save them like a Noah’s Ark. An American official arrives at the constructed base and can’t help but sigh with deepest emotion: “it is right to leave this matter to the Chinese”.

Although the commentary is praising China’s role in the film, the Tibetan who has posted it has used the subject heading: “2012”: Tibet Saves The World? The same Tibetan also posted another comment written originally on a Chinese BBS thread with the subject line: Finished watching “2012”, China saves the world is perverse fantasy, Tibet deserves the praise. 
The comment reads:

[…] saying that China saves the world is nothing but perverse national media fantasy; of course it might well satisfy some people’s vanity. After the film, I heard a girl next to me saying to her boyfriend “our China is really great, saved the whole world”. In comparison, the wise and calmly affectionate old Lama pours the little Lama some tea and talks to him about Buddhism; he even gives him the vehicle keys and at the end, when the old Lama faces the gigantic waves submerging the Himalayan mountains calmly ringing the final bells, the image of the Tibetan fairyland appears even more perfect (personally, I also feel strongly about Tibet, I quite like it). 

“2012” Film Still

This depiction of Tibet is questioned amongst some Chinese bloggers. On November 19, prominent Chinese blogger Michael Anti sent prominent Tibetan blogger Woeser the following Twitter message:

Woeser @degewa, please watch “2012” and then tell me if the Tibetan they use is actually authentic or not.

The reply from Woeser a little while later was:

I haven’t seen it yet, but I did see the trailer. That most classic scene where the old Lama rings the bell is really not that authentic. Tibetan temples don’t have the custom of striking bells, they play the copper trombone. They strike bells in Notre Dame, they strike bells in Hanshan temple and they also strike bells in Japanese temples but they don’t in Tibetan temples. 

The film’s lack of authenticity was also noticed in this exchange between Tibetan bloggers in Tibetan language. On November 15, a Tibetan blogger had written a blogpost urging his friends to see the film and was met with this response the following day:

I waited three months for the film.  After seeing the film yesterday, although the film is good, but when it reached the final stage, (i thought) how is this possible?  How come the director of the film could not find 6 or 7 Tibetan speakers amongst six million Tibetans for the film? Some Chinese were speaking in broken Tibetan and in the background of the film there are some deceitful politics. However, in the film, you can see people wearing lay and religous costumes, and I recognise (that seeing the) the five colours of prayer flags gave fresh breath (to the film).

The most widely-read BBS portal in China, Tianya, has an ongoing heated discussion about “2012”, here is a selection of Tibet-related comments by Chinese bloggers:

If you want to be the saviour of the world, just remove Tibet from it.


The question of whether China rescued the world or not is useless. The director simply knows how to survive in the Chinese market. He just added a few scenes showing Chinese people… The fact that he chose the Himalayan Mountains is also easy to explain: when there is a tsunami, would you run towards Tibet or Zhejiang? Don’t overanalyse − this film wasn’t shot by the Chinese propaganda department. Perhaps the only thing the Americans thought about was the box office.

The Chinese parts in the movie were quite cleverly portrayed. It not only pleased the ideological tainted Chinese officialdom, gaining permission to be shown uncensored, it also catered to the Western audiences’ love of Tibetan characteristics.  

WTF! What’s the difference between China and Tibet?



  1. Thanks for this post. Very informative and funny and revealing. Got to watch the film now. I hate it when films cast fake Tibetans speaking broken Tibetan.

  2. This is a great post. I'm glad someone wrote about 2012.

    Its a bit silly how the film portrays Tibet. In the beginning of the film a title reads "Tibet" rather than China, Tibet. But the Tibetan city is referred to as a part of China through out the rest of the movie.

    Its really too bad they casted Chinese actors for the Tibetan parts. Honestly they sounded awful! Completely sinosised!

  3. This is really interesting. It's amazing how "2012" + "Tibet" is being talked about in the Tibetan and Chinese Blogosphere. Maybe, "2012" indeed is the year of (political) Tsunami.

  4. I watched the movie and felt nauseated every time the Chinese actors spoke Tibetan. It definitely smacked of the filmmaker sucking up to the Chinese audience. The Tibetan you hear they speak was not just broken, but it sounded more like a Mandarin.
    It was really very bad. As a Tibetan, I would love to hear what the director has to so about this. I think the Tibetan blogger was right when he asked how they couldn't find a couple of Tibetans from the 6million Tibetans to do the roles.
    I guess its money and politics that we are dealing with at the end.

  5. Really fine post. Genuinely interesting to read comments from the Tibetan- and Mandarin-speaking communities, reflecting their contrasting perspectives.

    With regard to the lack of Tibetan language proficiency amongst the cast, I am grateful to be enlightened: this is the first I've heard of it, since I am a Mandarin speaker.

    The casting in this respect is hugely disappointing, and the injustice it does to the Tibetan language and culture is most keenly felt by the Tibetan (-speaking) audience. However, I don't really feel this is 'sucking up to the Chinese audience', given that the majority of Chinese (-speaking) audience are unlikely to be able to speak Tibetan either. Just a thought.

  6. China saves the world…
    Only in Hollywood!

  7. I neither speak Chinese nor Tibetan, and only from the sound of the actors' language, I thought they were speaking Chinese, and even told a friend about it being weird. I also noticed, that the area was referred to as China throughout the film, and thought it was obvious, Emmerich wanted to be able to show the film in Chinese cinemas without any risk of it being censored or indexed.

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