'Tibet in Song': Exploring What The Chinese Occupation Has Meant For Buddhism

Remember when Fox Network newscaster Brit Hume told Tiger Woods to convert to Christianity, a superior religion to his own Buddhism -- the faith Woods' mother, Kultida (born in Thailand, surname Punsawad), raised him in?

This brings me to Tibet in Song, a film by Ngawang Choephel. Choephel was a Tibetan exile, brought by his mother to India after the Chinese overran their country. Despite being raised outside Tibet, Choephel developed a love for his home country's native music. Against his mother's advice, and that of every Tibetan he knew in India, Choephel returned to Tibet to explore his musical roots.

There he was shocked to discover that indigenous music had disappeared from Lhasa, Tibet's capital, and other cities. In its place, loudspeakers blared communist Chinese agitprop music nonstop around the city. Choephel finally took his search to the Tibetan hinterlands, where he found traces of traditional music, which he videoed and recorded. Even in Tibet's vast interior (the country is, in itself, larger than Western Europe) the younger generation was force-fed communist political operas and other alien music, including treacly Chinese pop songs.

It soon became clear, through interviews with former political prisoners, Tibetan nationalists and native music devotees, that China was systematically striving to eradicate Tibetan music and all other traces of the country's culture. Among these cultural elements was the country's Buddhist religion. Tibetans were forced to destroy their temples and monasteries during the Chinese cultural revolution, alongside Red Guards who ransacked and destroyed virtually all Buddhist religious structures and symbols.

Tibet in Song shows Chinese officials and troops persecuting Tibetan nationalists, Buddhists and anyone performing Tibetan folk music. Eventually, Choephel himself is arrested. Among the most distressing scenes in the film are descriptions by three female political prisoners of their being tortured for refusing to mouth Chinese patriotic songs. The women told of other prisoners like them who were killed by their guards. Eventually, through pressure exerted by some American politicians (including Senators Bernie Sanders, Lincoln Chafee and Patrick Leahy) and musicians (like R.E.M., David Bowie and Radiohead), Choephel was released after six and a half years in prison.

During the course of the Chinese occupation, there have been several uprisings by the Tibetans, all of which have been brutally suppressed. Not content with their political domination of the country, however, the Chinese are hell-bent on eradicating -- lock, stock and barrel -- what remains of Tibetan culture as they subjugate and assimilate the population. It is cultural genocide. And it is only possible because the Chinese view Tibetan culture as inferior to their own.

What are the similarities between Hume's attitude toward Buddhism and the Chinese eradication of Tibetan culture? Both seek to impose their own belief systems on a minority or subservient culture and religion.

What is the difference between the two? A matter of degree in their approaches.

Both have a lot chutzpah, wouldn't you say?

By the way, under the banner, "Everyone Hates Buddhists," we can also list the Federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals' 2007 decision in Inouye v. Kemna regarding a Buddhist forced to attend NA against his religious objections. The Court ruled that, despite the yammering of 12-step heads that AA is not only not Christian but not religious, the Honolulu Parole Board violated Inouye's First Amendment religious rights, for which parole officials and agents could be held personally liable.