Chinese Democrats Honor Tibet

Wearing traditional Tibetan khatas, the ceremonial white scarves that symbolize goodwill, Chinese democrats join the Dalai Lama and exiled Tibetans in Dharamsala to commemorate 50 years of painful history.
2009-03-11
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Delegation of Chinese democrats attend Tibetan ceremonies in Dharamsala, India, March 10, 2009.
RFA/Maura Moynihan

By Maura Moynihan

DHARAMSALA—For half a century, Tibetans have come together in refugee camps, rented halls, and private homes to observe March 10, Tibetan National Uprising Day. The Dalai Lama has spent every March 10 in Dharamsala, his exile home in northern India, presiding over a solemn ceremony to honor the Tibetans who in 1959 defied Chinese Communist rule and were slaughtered by the People's Liberation Army.

On the morning of March 10, 2009, thousands flocked to the Tsuglakhang, the Dalai Lama's hillside temple in Dharamsala. The Tibetan leader knelt before an image of the Buddha as young artists from the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts sang the Prayer for Truth and the Tibetan National Anthem.

The Dalai Lama then read aloud his annual March 10 statement. He spoke of how Chinese repression has thrust Tibetans into such hardship that they "literally experienced hell on earth."

"The Tibetan people are regarded like criminals deserving to be put to death," he said. "I urge our Chinese brothers and sisters not to be swayed by propaganda, but instead to try to discover the facts about Tibet."

Show of solidarity

This March 10 was momentous not only for observing 50 years of exile, but because the Dalai Lama and his government-in-exile were joined this year by a delegation of Chinese democrats, standing in solidarity with the people of Tibet.

As a golden dusk fell across the Kangra Valley, an assembly of Buddhist monks led a candlelight vigil from McLeod Ganj down to the Tsuglakhang. Pemba Tsering, speaker of the Tibetan Parliament, addressed the crowd in Tibetan and English.

"The Tibetans living under Chinese Communist oppression have used highly sophisticated means of nonviolent activism," he said. "I appeal to them to continue with peaceful resistance, for the Chinese Communists are waiting for any and every chance to call us terrorists."

Tsering was followed by Roberto Pinter from the Associazione Italia-Tibet, who said, "We see the repression in Tibet. We know what the Chinese government is doing. We want our government to officially recognize the Tibetan government-in-exile as the true representatives of the Tibetan people."

"The world cannot be free if Tibet cannot be free," Pinter said.

Separation of brothers

Thomas Yan, chairman of the China Forum for Human Rights in Hong Kong, spoke last.

"A friend from Hong Kong tried to persuade me not to come to Dharamsala," he said. "He warned me, 'You don't know what you're doing. March 10 is a very sensitive day.'"

"I replied, 'I know exactly what I'm doing. March 10 marks the separation of brothers, of China and Tibet. I have discovered that Dharamsala is filled with lovely people, with confidence and determination, who have preserved a beautiful language and culture in a painful exile.'"

"The fact that the Dalai Lama is not in Lhasa [the capital of Tibet] is a great shame," he said.

As the end of his speech, Yan's voice swelled with emotion and rage.

"I spent five years in prison for joining the Tiananmen Square uprising, so I know how our Tibetan brothers and sisters have suffered. The Chinese Communist Party is an evil government. It is the enemy of the Chinese people. We must work together for a democratic China and a Free Tibet!"

Yan then clutched Pemba Tsering's hand and raised it towards the night sky to a roaring crowd. Elderly women clutching Free Tibet flags came forward in tears to grasp Yan's hand.

United in friendship

"This is historic," said Tsering Tashi, a longtime Dharamsala resident, observing the Chinese democrats relishing a feast of momos and chang, Tibetan dumplings and beer, at the Hotel Tibet bar.

"In the old days, if we saw any Chinese in Dharamsala, we'd chase them out of town with shouts and fisticuffs," he said.

"But look. Now they're here to support the Dalai Lama, to show respect to Tibetan culture. The Chinese and Tibetan people were never mortal enemies until Mao Zedong created his Communist empire. We are part of the same struggle. The Chinese Communists kill and torture their own people too."

As a silver moon, nearly full, floated over the lanes of McLeod Ganj, the Chinese democrats and the Tibetan exiles left the Hotel Tibet bar together, united in friendship and in purpose, which made this March 10 not just a day of mourning, but also of promise and hope.

Maura Moynihan, a writer and musician, has been a consultant to the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City, America's largest Himalayan and Tibetan cultural institution. She worked for many years as a refugee consultant in India and Nepal and recently completed a master's degree in political science at the New School.

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