Crackdown on Tibetan Ringtones

Authorities in Tibet ban popular ringtones characterized as 'separatist.'
2010-05-21
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Screen grab from a video of the song "The Hope of the Son of the Snow-City," taken from Tudou.
www.tudou.com

HONG KONG—Students and teachers at a high school near the Tibetan city of Shigatse have been told to delete certain popular Tibetan-language songs from their cell phones after they were designated "unhealthy" by local education officials, according to its Web site.

The school announced recently that owing to the "increasing complexity of separatism," a list of 27 popular Tibetan-language tracks had been banned, whether in audio or video disk format, or as digital media files on people's cell phones.

"Staff and students must not have any of the above songs as their mobile phone ringtone," an April 21 statement posted on the school's Web site, but since removed, said.

"If you have any of these songs as your ringtone, please will you delete them; if you own any of the above discs, please will you destroy them by melting or burning them," it added.

It said the school's Communist Party committee, the education and politics department and the Youth League branch would be carrying out clean-up campaigns targeting the banned songs.

"Anyone possessing the illegal music or videos will be severely dealt with," it warned.

It listed the 27 songs, which appeared mostly to be in the Tibetan language, and included titles like "Happy Shambala," "The Hope of the Son of the Snow-City," "The Five-Colored Prayer Flags (Tibetan-language version)," "Snow-Mountain Folk (Tibetan)" and "The Awaited Hope."

The order was posted by Beijing-based Tibetan writer and blogger Woeser, who also detailed further restrictions on the cultural lives of Tibetans in their capital Lhasa, which was rocked by widespread protests and rioting in March 2008.

Copy shops affected

An employee who answered the phone at a photocopy shop in Lhasa said the new rules applied to materials written in Tibetan.

"Basically it's to do with the Dalai Lama. You can't copy stuff about him in Tibetan," she said.

"Most of us can't read Tibetan. The Dalai Lama has to do with separatists, that's the main thing ... a lot of our customers think it's a real pain, having to register."

Sources in Lhasa said that most copy shops in the city are run by Han Chinese, who have poured into the Himalayan region in recent years on a new railroad line.

"They say it's very hard to get a license [to run a copy shop] nowadays," the employee said. "We got ours a while back, but I heard it's much more difficult now."

The proprietor of a second print services shop in Lhasa confirmed that customers wanting to make photocopies have to produce their identity cards.

"It's [effective] from this month," he said. "It's better this way. It's a bit safer. It is good for everyone."

Woeser said that regulations of a similar sort had been in existence for a while, but had never been strictly enforced.

"It's a way of cowing people," she said. "But it will probably rebound on them, making people very uncomfortable, micromanaging them to this extent."

Cultural contributors targeted

China has jailed scores of Tibetan writers, artists, singers, and educators for asserting Tibetan national identity and civil rights in the two years since widespread protests swept the region, according to the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet (ICT).

The report said some 31 writers, bloggers, and intellectuals had been jailed for expressing unwelcome views since the March 2008 violence and demonstrations, which spread across Tibetan regions of China in the months that followed.

ICT released “A ‘Raging Storm:’ The Crackdown on Tibetan Writers & Artists after Tibet’s Spring 2008 Protests” on May 18, saying that Tibetans had continued to write down and publish their own accounts of what had happened during the protests.

While initial writing efforts were published unofficially and quickly suppressed, they have been followed by a boom in Tibetan fiction and essay writing, with younger, tech-savvy Tibetans playing a key role, the group said.

Original reporting in Mandarin by Ding Xiao. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.