Filming Tibet Through A Communist Chinese Lens

Pema Tseden's Film Freezes Out The Facts
Pema Tseden's Film Freezes Out The Facts


There is no untainted cinematic insight into the suppression and abuses inside Tibet, no full exposure of the harrowing realities of forced sterilizations, the destruction of a nomadic culture through a policy of re-settlement, nor any detailed documentary recording the environmental pillage which is transforming once verdant pastures and forests into a lunar-like landscape, with convoys of trucks heading back to communist China with their booty of timber and minerals. The transformation of Tibetan towns into yet another Chinese concrete facsimile, complete with gaudy excess and a range of previously unknown erosive social problems, continues apace, un-documented. No genuine independent film-making is of course possible under such a repressive totalitarian regime, one desperate to convince the world that Tibet is undergoing positive change, thanks, we are asked to accept, to the seemingly compassionate rule of communist China.

Unfortunately we are denied any unbiased evidence which would reveal the progress claimed by the communist regime, only the testimony of some supposedly impartial western academics and politicians, who appear to specialise in an uncritical acceptance of any official propaganda that Beijing presents them. We then have seemingly unlimited amounts of Chinese films on Tibet, mostly designed for television broadcast, with sickly images of Tibetans dancing and singing in praise of yet another bumper-harvest, due no doubt to China’s enlightened agricultural policies. These are transparent disinformation with actors supposedly dressed in traditional Tibetan costumes, that are color coded to match the red and yellow colors of the communist Chinese flag! Barely able to move due to the overly abundant costume jewellery and obligatory fixed smile, set against images of modernity Chinese-style, like a crude layer of make-up they conceal a more disturbing reality.

More recently a more subtle form of propaganda has emerged, more cinematic, carefully crafted to present some illusion of balance and independence, yet the underlying message remains the same, albeit diluted and sophisticated. A good example is the latest offering by Tibetan Director, Pema Tseden , of course being an obedient and loyal citizen of communist China he also has a Chinese name too, Wanma Caidan. His latest offering, Old Dog is a tale based upon the fortunes of an elderly Tibetan Mastiff, which has generated tensions between a father and son.The animal is sold off by the boy, only to be rescued by his father who releases it in the mountains, only to discover the dog back in the hands of the dog-seller, a development which requires drastic intervention, if the family pet is to be finally liberated.

A slick production filmed inside Tibet, it presents an allegory of the loss and change experienced by Tibetan culture, the conflicting social realities of generations, one looking to a past and freedom, another seemingly more pragmatic and accepting of present conditions.This theme, was reflected in Pema Tseden’s previous film, which centered upon a quest to find Tibetans able to perform traditional Tibetan opera, with none available,we were left to conclude that the old ways in Tibet are undergoing change, life is moving on, with the underlying implication that this is a good thing. While aesthetically these films have charm and nuance what they both choose to avoid is the fact that such change has been forced upon ordinary Tibetans, and that such cultural erosion is a direct result of China’s imperialistic aggression which has deliberately targeted Tibetan culture for over five decades.

It is reality which the Director surely knows dare not speak its name.

2 thoughts on “Filming Tibet Through A Communist Chinese Lens

  1. I believe it is bit simplistic to suggest that Pema Tseden has a Chinese name. Wanma (Pema) Caidan (Tseden) is pinyin spelling of the Tibetan name.

    1. While there are some concerns regarding the manner his name is presented, in terms of misleading those who have little knowledge on Tibet and its condition under China’s tyranny, into assuming this individual carries a Chinese sounding/looking name, the central issue is not about that being represented in Pin Yin or Romanized phonetics, but to highlight questions on his creative output and its somewhat slanted, politically sanitized content, which has been approved by China’s regime for international consumption.

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