Friday, November 27, 2009

Tibet Saves The World? Tibetan and Chinese Bloggers Discuss "2012"

Above: Screenshot of a Tibetan blogpost about "2012"

High Peaks Pure Earth has been following Tibetan and Chinese blog reactions to the Hollywood film "2012". Although China-watching blogs such as chinaSMACK have focused on the film's treatment and depiction of China, there has been little translated about the prominent role that Tibet plays in the film.

It seems that Tibetans are also monitoring blog reactions to the film. On November 17, a Tibetan posted an extract of a commentary written about "2012" that had originally appeared in the Guangzhou Daily to the TibetCul Bulletin Boards (commonly known as BBS) :

It is worth mentioning that the film “2012” contains many elements which Chinese audiences are quite familiar with, such as Zhuoming County in Sichuan, a Tibetan monastery or the Himalaya Mountains. Although scenes about the earthquake in May last year add up to less than 20 seconds, the distinct Chinese lines in the film still manage to make the audience’s hearts glow and certainly makes it the most striking part of the movie. The film calls China “the ultimate redeemer”. The characters in the story exceed the margins of life and death, trying to run away from the towering tsunami and it is no other than the Himalayan Mountains which save them like a Noah’s Ark. An American official arrives at the constructed base and can’t help but sigh with deepest emotion: “it is right to leave this matter to the Chinese”.
Although the commentary is praising China's role in the film, the Tibetan who has posted it has used the subject heading: "2012": Tibet Saves The World? The same Tibetan also posted another comment written originally on a Chinese BBS thread with the subject line: Finished watching "2012", China saves the world is perverse fantasy, Tibet deserves the praise. 

The comment reads:
[...] saying that China saves the world is nothing but perverse national media fantasy; of course it might well satisfy some people’s vanity. After the film, I heard a girl next to me saying to her boyfriend “our China is really great, saved the whole world”. In comparison, the wise and calmly affectionate old Lama pours the little Lama some tea and talks to him about Buddhism; he even gives him the vehicle keys and at the end, when the old Lama faces the gigantic waves submerging the Himalayan mountains calmly ringing the final bells, the image of the Tibetan fairyland appears even more perfect (personally, I also feel strongly about Tibet, I quite like it). 

"2012" Film Still

This depiction of Tibet is questioned amongst some Chinese bloggers. On November 19, prominent Chinese blogger Michael Anti sent prominent Tibetan blogger Woeser the following Twitter message:

Woeser @degewa, please watch “2012” and then tell me if the Tibetan they use is actually authentic or not.
The reply from Woeser a little while later was:

I haven’t seen it yet, but I did see the trailer. That most classic scene where the old Lama rings the bell is really not that authentic. Tibetan temples don’t have the custom of striking bells, they play the copper trombone. They strike bells in Notre Dame, they strike bells in Hanshan temple and they also strike bells in Japanese temples but they don’t in Tibetan temples. 
The film's lack of authenticity was also noticed in this exchange between Tibetan bloggers in Tibetan language. On November 15, a Tibetan blogger had written a blogpost urging his friends to see the film and was met with this response the following day:

I waited three months for the film.  After seeing the film yesterday, although the film is good, but when it reached the final stage, (i thought) how is this possible?  How come the director of the film could not find 6 or 7 Tibetan speakers amongst six million Tibetans for the film? Some Chinese were speaking in broken Tibetan and in the background of the film there are some deceitful politics. However, in the film, you can see people wearing lay and religous costumes, and I recognise (that seeing the) the five colours of prayer flags gave fresh breath (to the film).
The most widely-read BBS portal in China, Tianya, has an ongoing heated discussion about "2012", here is a selection of Tibet-related comments by Chinese bloggers:

If you want to be the saviour of the world, just remove Tibet from it.

The question of whether China rescued the world or not is useless. The director simply knows how to survive in the Chinese market. He just added a few scenes showing Chinese people... The fact that he chose the Himalayan Mountains is also easy to explain: when there is a tsunami, would you run towards Tibet or Zhejiang? Don’t overanalyse – this film wasn’t shot by the Chinese propaganda department. Perhaps the only thing the Americans thought about was the box office.

The Chinese parts in the movie were quite cleverly portrayed. It not only pleased the ideological tainted Chinese officialdom, gaining permission to be shown uncensored, it also catered to the Western audiences’ love of Tibetan characteristics.  

WTF! What's the difference between China and Tibet?
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Thursday, November 5, 2009

"When the 'Pillars of National Unity' Turned Into Totems" by Woeser



High Peaks Pure Earth has translated an article written by Woeser for Radio Free Asia on September 30, 2009 and posted on her blog on October 12, 2009.

This article refers to the celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on October 1st in Beijing, where 56 pillars representing ethnic unity were erected. In the western media, the pillars received scant blog attention, however, Xinhua news agency gave wide coverage to the pillars and published several photos.

"When the 'Pillars of National Unity' Turned Into Totems" by Woeser

In the history of China’s national celebrations since 1949, there has never been such a cutting edge festival manifested in 56 massive and brightly-coloured “pillars of national unity” as recently erected on Tiananmen Square. The reason for the creation of these 56 “pillars of national unity” symbolising the equality, unity and harmony amongst the 56 nationalities is directly related to the “Tibet Incident” of last year and the “Xinjiang Incident” of this year. Tibetans and Uyghurs have become the most unstable elements within the 56 nationalities; the eruption of gradually accumulated resentment and the deterioration of relations between ethnic groups have provoked those in power, from the central level to the local level, into a great flurry. On the one hand, they have adopted cruel and authoritarian methods in the minority regions where problems appeared, resulting in many places being under constant military control for a long period of time; on the other hand, they have been changing their behaviour as swiftly as “an actor who changes his faces constantly on stage”. When they perform for the outside world, they try their best to portray an image of “dazzling fireworks and lanterns lighting up the night sky with minority brothers and sisters flirtatiously dancing in harmony”.

These 56 dazzling “pillars of national unity” represent Mao Zedong’s lines about the great unity of all minorities. Xinhua News Agency especially released an article giving them a particular meaning, calling them “pristine totem symbols belonging to every single citizen of the People’s Republic”, “This kind of pillar transformed the innermost hopes of the minority people into a totem with sacred power. Our heart which has taken its root in our great undertaking of promoting national prosperity corresponds to the profound history and great mind given to us by the totem. Yet, it is believed that the original meaning of this so-called “totem” is related to the convictions and superstitions of ancient society and early human beings. Worshipping “totems” is thought to be some sort of ritual or religious phenomenon of primal tribes. But for the Chinese Communists, who pursue agnosticism and claim to be the representatives of a modern and progressive culture, this should be regarded as useless and swept onto the rubbish heap of history and not used to cultivate the superstitious beliefs of the masses. Of course, if we look at the core of the problem, we notice that although the Communists fly high the anti-religious flag, in actual fact, they precisely do this only to enable their own new religion to unify the world. Ever since the Mao era, they have slowly created a “spiritual atomic bomb” conquering people’s hearts and minds. Today’s “pillars of national unity” are nothing but such “spiritual atomic bombs”, whose aim it is, as Hannah Arendt puts it, “to emotionally lure people in and while in terms of depths and scope appearing to go beyond the limits of nationalism, they in fact generate a new kind of nationalist sentiment”.  

However, no matter how gigantic or stunning these “pillars of national unity” are, which have been set up in light of the frequently occurring minority problems, they can by no means cover up the authorities’ wish to obstruct reality, instead they further highlight a real crisis. Going too far is always as bad as not going far enough; the more one tries to hide, the more one is always exposed; and if one tries to be clever, one only ends up with a blunder. What the large and small group incidences and ethnic conflicts, which happened last year and this year, in Tibet and in Xinjiang and even in other minority regions, exposed is not the plot by scheming people with ulterior motives. Unless those in power genuinely believe in and comply with the good intentions of “equality, unity and harmony” and reconsider, amend, and actually resolve problems, otherwise when we hear about those 56 reality-hampering “pillars of national unity” from government media propaganda or when we see them on Tiananmen Square looking like a theatre stage setting, what we received is the education which see through the intrinsic nature of this country.

For instance, an international Sinologist said that these 56 scarlet red pillars are in fact an imitation of the imposing bearings of the Roman Empire and through their shape are seeking to conquer everything, portraying nothing but imperialistic power. A rural Chinese person thought that those 56 bright red pillars looked like 56 golden cudgels (weapon used by the Monkey King in the novel Pilgrimage to the West) with every single one of those cudgels attacking one minority. A Chinese intellectual recalls the time when he went to the Great Hall of the People to watch a performance where he saw “a large group of people all dressed in minority garments festively singing and dancing and chanting the paean of praise in unison”. He criticises: “isn’t this a modern version of the central empire pompously displaying how all states ceremonially make obeisances? Nowadays, which country would still painstakingly select a group of performers to represent each minority and make them wear dresses and ornaments, which they would not normally wear, or which have long been made obsolete, and then also make them blissfully sing and dance in the capital city? The only country I can think of is the powerful and prosperous Empire of the Soviet Union, which in the past would make all minorities one by one appear on stage and eagerly pay their compliments and praise to the “father of all minorities”, Josef Stalin; yet the Empire of the Soviet Union has already collapsed.

Beijing, September 30, 2009
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