Before we discuss images of Tibetan culture such as above imagine if you will the north of Ireland as it was under British military occupation during the 1970s, people marginalized, monitored, a culture repressed, arbitrary arrests, torture and a shoot-to-kill policy in operation. Against this grim context let us color the scene further by imagining English film directors producing glossy movies, set in that blighted land, which recounted stories focused upon the individual, personal hopes or struggles and joys of love. What if the narrative used in assembling such a film made no reference whatsoever to the oppression and fear which gripped the community? Filmed on location just say you never got to see the barbed wire, military checkpoints, armed troops or military vehicles on streets. Were not exposed to the image of houses being raided, children beaten or women arrested nor shown to the petrol bombs, protests and mass marches for freedom and rights. Instead the movie has a tight focus on for example on the personal journey of a man who crafted traditional Irish drums and followed a quest that his instruments be played by Ireland’s champion Bodhran player?
Such a movie though open to critique for dodging major social and political issues, central to the experience of Ireland at that time could still be argued to be independent art, a just portrayal of one person’s life and hopes. What would you think however if you were to discover that the film, before being made, and released required the direct approval and final authorization of a British Government department? We are now in a very different circumstance with worrying questions about the film’s actual purpose and narrative. Is it genuinely independent film we are seeing now or some carefully engineered form of disinformation and propaganda that’s been authorized, possibly initiated or indirectly financed by the very same foreign government which persecutes those people of Ireland demanding freedom.
Which rather circuitously allows the introduction of Chinese film director Mr Zhang Yang, whose most recent work ‘Soul On A String’ is a tale filmed in Tibet, like our imagined movie above it avoids entirely the injustice, torture, shootings and all too real and widespread oppression. The movie ignores the fact that Tibetans, their land and culture are under a foreign military occupation, but hey we cannot be surprised because any film produced there, by order of the regime, requires authorization from the so-called ‘Tibet Committee of the United Front Work Department’ which is supervised by and subservient to China’s Communist Party’s Central Committee!
Little wonder then that ‘Soul On A String’ is a trip through Tibetan folk and magical traditions recounting the tale of a Tibetan brought back from death by a Buddhist Lama who embarks upon a journey to carry a magical stone to a sacred land. Such a story-line would no doubt be warmly greeted by the un-sleeping propagandists of China’s regime who themselves are actively misdirecting attention away from the grim excesses of Chinese rule in Tibet by promoting, to those gullible enough to swallow it, the falsehood that Tibetan culture is flourishing and respected. Meanwhile film festivals and museums far too elevated and art focused to concern themselves with the genocidal realities existing in Tibet prefer to praise such films. They turn calloused eyes away from the glaring truth that such movies, endorsed, funded and censored by the Chinese regime are part of a sly and carefully assembled psyop that seeks to gloss over the brutal tyranny endured by Tibetans. It’s very easy as you sit watching such work to be relocated, critical faculties are suspended as the illusion presents itself and what more majestic stage than the elemental lands of Tibet. Zoomed right into a culture so exotic, and viewed through the distorting prism of misconception and stereotype that hangs over the notion of Tibet you can almost believe the deception. So enjoy the movie, immerse yourself in the story, after all its been approved by China’s ministry of disinformation!