High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a blogpost by Woeser written on February 5, 2013, for both the Tibetan service and Mandarin service of Radio Free Asia and published on her blog on February 6, 2013.
The subject of Woeser’s piece is the CCTV-produced TV drama “Secret Tibet”, previously featured on High Peaks Pure Earth in February when we translated a music video titled “RESPECT” by Tibetan rappers calling themselves “Sheep Droppings”.
The producer of “Secret Tibet”, Changlochen Tsewang Yonten, comes from the aristocratic Changlochen family. His father, Tsewang Gyurmey was President of Tibet University and has been prominently featured by Chinese state media, even in English.
Interestingly, the topic of “Tibetans talking about Tibet” continues with the April announcement by Oriental DreamWorks and Chinese investors of a joint project, an adventure film of “The Tibet Code” based on the hugely successful Chinese-language book series by He Ma. The LA Times news report comments that Han Sanping, chairman of China Film Group, says “the ‘Tibet Code’ would help export China’s culture and values to the world, a long-term strategic goal of the Chinese government”.
“What is the Secret Behind ‘Secret Tibet’?”
Last month, CCTV 8 continuously broadcast the 46 episodes of “Secret Tibet”, a TV series produced under the guidance of high officials involved with Tibet. The producer, Changlochen Tsewang Yonten confidently expressed that this series would not only win the highest “government award”, the “Flying Goddess Award”, but will also be sold to foreign countries because its selling point was “Tibetans talking about Tibet”.
On Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter, on the other hand, at the same pace at which the TV series was aired – four episodes per evening – fierce criticism flooded in by Tibetan audiences. The following comment by a Tibetan hits the target: “In this soap opera, prayers for the elimination of obstacles was portrayed like an order given by Ramoche to aristocrats for implementation. The demonized and distorted description of the usage of human skins and menstrual blood is once again presented on stage by the ignorant script-writer to show the darkness and cruelness of the old Tibet. The whole plot is nothing more than the typical cliche found in Chinese fast-food soap operas accompanied with some political propaganda. This is the so-called “Tibetans talking about Tibet” propagated by the producer @TsewangYonten. You are so sophisticated, and sensible.
A different Tibetan wrote but did not finish his thoughts: “‘Secret Tibet’ in which Tibetans talk about Tibet: the director and the screenwriter are not Tibetan, 80% of the main actors are not Tibetan; some of the very good local actors are not involved…, if this ‘lack of love for the Plateau’ sets out to present Tibetan history, culture and customs, I am afraid that it will only mislead even more people…”
There were also a few Han Chinese who left critical comments: “CCTV 8 is broadcasting ‘Secret Tibet’, it explains Tibetan beliefs from a Han Chinese perspective, Han Chinese are frank; but I don’t know if the Tibetans from the land of Buddhism are willing to accept the ideas of the Propaganda Department. Official reasons aside, ultimately the reason why they don’t let Tibet become independent is because it is for their own advantage, there is no need to do any whitewashing, just respect people and it’s ok.” “I watched this series by chance, but when I saw it I was embarrassed, the indiscriminately copied storyline tried to conceal the hundreds of historical loopholes, the general tone of this documentary is obvious; if you watch too much your body will heat up, you will get sick, so I advise people who are watching it to take medicine.”
So, how about comparing this to the red film classic “Serf”, an example of the demonisation of Tibet? I planned to keep some evenings free to watch a few episodes of “Secret Tibet”, but I just couldn’t, in the end I always felt sick so I ended up only intermittently watching some of them. And indeed, great historical incidences as well as small actions of common people were all presented as if they were without mistake, as if they had not been tampered with, as if there were almost no errors at all.
“I would say it is even worse than ‘Serf’. The advisors of the documentary were all from Changlochen Tsewang Yonten’s family. It is said that they normally showed a certain degree of awareness, so were they drawn into this by force or did they do it for their own advantage? But then again, when Yin Fatang and the Propaganda Department join forces, what is there to expect?” This is what the son of a family whose stories had been completely transformed by the documentary wrote to me.
I also wanted to join the discussion on Weibo. But the comment function of my Weibo account has already been blocked for the past half a year, all I can do is read what other people write. But I still told my opinions to Changlochen Tsewang Yonten, as well as to the director and screenplay writer Liu Debin, but none of them replied, perhaps they never saw my message, so let me post it here:
This series was written with very clear intentions, it is a series full of distortions and deformations. Its attitude is actually very arrogant, showing that the producers behind the scenes hardly understand real history, that they hardly understand the many people who have passed away, the many contemporary witnesses and their descendants. The people that are being portrayed were originally all part of Lhasa’s aristocracy. The producers humiliate Lhasa’s former aristocracy and its descendants in a totally arrogant way.
I paid attention to some details: a Khenpo passes on the imperial edict of Reting Regent to some aristocrat, the first sentence is: Prostrating in front of the Nanjing President, the natural reincarnation of Manjushri; the second sentence is: Prostrating in front of Dorje Chang, the Dalai Lama. This single detail already suffices to see the entire picture. The series very much resembles all those so-called art works about Tibet being produced by the Party, real history is being erased and distorted and then the gaps are being filled with the content that they want to convey. It is just new wine in old bottles, it is all the same.
I believe that it was not really Changlochen Tsewang Yonten who invested money in “Secret Tibet”, it was the big boss who simply had to use Changlochen’s name. Otherwise how could they claim that it is “Tibetans speaking about Tibet”? The United Front Work Department’s drama group called “Yi Duo” had pretended to personify “Tibetans speak about Tibet” but they had been uncovered so now they could only send Changlochen Tsewang Yonten, a descendent of the aristocracy, who was obviously also generously rewarded.
A fairly well-known Chinese nationalist revealed some information on Weibo: “It is said that when ‘Secret Tibet’ was checked by the censors, a local Tibetan cadre agitatedly said that us and the Tibetan separatists have not had any struggle with guns and knives for so many years, but this documentary will give us knives and guns…” Yes, “Tibetans talking about Tibet”, those are the guns and knives that the country’s Propaganda Department uses through the nationalist platform called CCTV to attack people.
When faced with all the criticism and sarcasm by netizens, Changlochen Tsewang Yonten who normally actually likes to show off on Weibo, completely avoided the internet. Liu Debin (online he is introduced as “associate Professor at the Literature Department of the Beijing Film Institute, Postgraduate academic supervisor, famous editor”), on the contrary, was unable to bear it. He stated that he was going to write a second part of “Secret Tibet”, he spat out: “I will definitely write it, make all these contemptible scoundrels shouting out separatism disappear”. These political labels are scary! This political big-stick is vicious!
What needs to be known is that over the past few years, above the heads of Tibetans (not only Tibetans but also Uyghurs, Mongolians and other so-called “ethnic minorities”) has been hanging a large knife labelled “separatist”, and once it is dropped it may mean death. “Separatist” is not just any kind of insignificant accusation. It means “overturning a regime”, “fighting for independence” and “betrayal of one’s own country”. And the consequences of such actions are arrest, a prison sentence, even complete disappearance or some time before, it would mean a public trial and being executed by firing squad. There are too many such cases.
The founder of the Tibetan Communist Party, Phuntsog Wangyal, was in 1960 put into the most important political prison – Qicheng Prison – for 18 years. He was believed to “possess local democratic beliefs” and to want to fight for “Tibetan independence”. The 10th Panchen Lama was denounced by various general assemblies and also imprisoned in Qicheng Prison for 10 years, because he had written a “70,000 Character Petition” to Mao Zedong and was thus accused of “being against the people, against socialism and was plotting an armed rebellion”.
For common Tibetan people, these kinds of accusations represent a crowning calamity. For minority cadres working within the system, these accusations are phrased slightly less direct, like “someone entertains an ethnic consciousness”, but they still mean that minority cadres have “bad luck”; only if they completely ignore their own conscience, can they really protect themselves. I remember when I was working for the Tibetan Literary and Arts Circle, the Tibetan who was holding the post of the Party Secretary of our group was unable to be promoted because it was said that he “entertained an ethnic consciousness”. I myself was fired because I had written a collection of essays, in which I was accused of “making political errors”.
Hence, for many other people, this political big-stick is extremely effective, easy to operate and very beneficial. Phuntsog Wangyal describes it like this: “eat non-separatist food, promote non-separatist officials, give out non-separatist rewards”. The director of “Secret Tibet”, Liu Debin claims that he understands Tibet very well, that he has been to Tibet many times and thus deeply penetrated Tibetan life, yet, he evidently uses this so-called understanding to fight against the “unwritten laws” of Tibet and to develop a political big-stick especially designed for Tibetans.
For this I must really congratulate the director, by means of this kind of work of art, he did not only manage to find “hostile external forces” for the Party, but is also ready to catch some “scoundrels who want to split the motherland”. Liu is also very skilled at maintaining relationships, he is able to resort to an assorted assembly of “famous directors, literary critics and Tibetologists” or other insiders who are ready to sing songs in praise of him. What may his future look like? He will not only be sure to once again receive the “Flying Goddess Award” but he will probably also take over the throne of the President of the Beijing Film Institute; it would not surprise me at all.
What does surprise me a little, however, is the young Tibetan people’s persistence and brilliance. Yesterday, for example, a few Tibetan singers calling themselves “Sheep Droppings” dedicated their song “Respect” to the cast and crew of “Secret Tibet” on the Chinese video website Youku; they rapped in Mandarin with occasional Tibetan and English additions to remind the director, Mr. big-stick Liu: “…This isn’t about independence or separatism, this is about respect; We don’t need you to change history or change the facts … Again and again you defame our people! You are just a clown, even if this is a grand conspiracy. Don’t infringe on and slander Tibet’s thousands of years of history … Distorting history shows what you want, that you want a false reality. Knowing the real history only reveals our people’s intrinsic quality. Kawachen’s people are not weeping snow lions. The disgraceful show compiled by those without belief, where did you find these stories’ origins?”
Indeed, where did they find all this original material that allows them to simply revise history and lead a murderous crusade against dissenting views? Within only one day, this rap song was “harmonised” while “Secret Tibet” that causes so much disharmony is being praised highly.
February 5, 2013
A group of Tibetan singers calling themselves “Sheep Droppings” dedicated their rap song “Respect” to the cast and crew of this soap opera on the Chinese video website Youku. Within one day it was deleted, this video was uploaded onto Youtube.
This post is also available in: English