State of Resistance

“Ever since a National uprising in 2008, Tibet has been in a state of constant resistance against Chinese occupation. The Tibetan people describe this condition – Tsen-göl.” (Tsundue, 2012)

Following this year’s 56th anniversary of the Tibetan Peoples’ Uprising (observed 10 March worldwide) Tenpa Dugdak, a Tibetan refugee living in Sydney’s Northern Beaches, told me of his grave concern for Choephel Dawa (his cousin), who was seized by Chinese security forces in the middle of the night of 28 March, from Sok Tsanden Monastery on “unknown charges”. Prior to his arrest, the 27-year-old monk had been “secretly” imprisoned in 2012, for sharing “subversive material” over social media. Choephel’s disappearance follows a spike in arbitrary arrests in Tenpa’s village, situated in Kham Province, Eastern Tibet—one of the most sensitive areas of the so-called Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR).

According to Tibet Post International, Chinese authorities in Sok also “rounded up” seven monks on 14 March for so-called “subversive activities,” who allegedly spread photographs and information “dealing with the grim situation in Tibet.” (Possessing the Dalai Lama’s photograph inside Tibet can result in torture, arrest and imprisonment). Voice of America revealed that Tibetans are monitored intrusively with the anticipation of their dissent, through a panoptic grid system, authorised by former President of the PRC, Hu Jintao in 2013. Over 50 surveillance cameras have recently been installed around Sok Tsanden monastery “to monitor the monks’ every movement.” The highly sophisticated surveillance system was termed: “nets in the sky and traps on the ground”, by Yu Zhengsheng, the Political Bureau Central Committee’s top official responsible for nationality policy.

According to Radio Free Asia, Chinese officials announced the expansion of the system in its annual TAR Working Report (February 2013) as the key to “social stability maintenance” in Tibet. “The purpose of the grid system appears to be surveillance and control, encroaching on Tibetans’ rights to freedom of expression, belief, and association,” said Sophie Richardson, China Director of Human Rights Watch, at the time of its implementation, and implored that “Chinese authorities should dismantle this Orwellian ‘grid’ system.”

Tenpa states that most of Sok’s residents are first generation Tibetans born under the Chinese regime and have never left Tibet. His Father, Sok Shabdrung Dujom Dorjee Rinpoche (a former political prisoner) has only recently become reacquainted with his son Tenpa in exile, after years on end of torture and trauma, solitary confinement, indignity and separation. He once served his people as Abbot of Sok monastery, before joining the resistance in the 1950s, which led to his eventual arrest and imprisonment for the duration of 13 years. As the local leader and spiritual teacher, Tenpa’s Father had been permitted to rebuild the 1,000-year-old monastery for his people, which has withstood numerous cycles of destruction, including an aerial bombing campaign during China’s invasion (1950). Tenpa learnt of the monastery’s powerful symbolism during a fraught journey back into Tibet with his family in 2007.

Sok Tsanden Monastery, Kham Eastern Tibet. Photo © courtesy Leona Kieran.
Nobody has heard from Tibetan monk Choephel Dawa since he was detained by police on 28 March. It is not known where he is being held, the charges against him, or what risk he faces. Photo courtesy Tenpa Dugdak.

The majority of Tibetan refugees granted political asylum through the Humanitarian Entrant Scheme in Australia (around 1,000) are former political prisoners who suffer deep anxiety about the welfare of their families, besides long-term post-traumatic stress disorders. Further compounding these anxieties—is that stateless Tibetans (who number approximately 6 million in Tibet and 150,000 in Exile) are denied Tibetan citizenship, or entry and exit freely into their own homeland. Back in 2008, Dugdak stressed, “Tibetans in exile are permanently worried about what is hidden behind the great wall of silence in their old country”. While Tibetans in Australia describe Tibet as “the world’s largest prison,” Dr. Lobsang Sangay underscored: “The situation of increased restrictions is so excessive that even Chinese tourists have been moved to comment that the present conditions in Tibet are like a ‘war zone’”. On 10 March in his official statement marking the 56th Anniversary of the Tibetan Peoples’ Uprising, Sikyong Dr. Sangay—the democratically elected Prime Minister of Tibetans in Exile—stated that inside Tibet today; “Tibetans must swipe their identity cards that are embedded with sophisticated second generation chips at multiple checkpoints in major urban centers under constant surveillance cameras.” One Tibetan expressed, “Your identity card is like your shadow, without it you cannot move.”

Through my conversations with Tenpa, I have a better understanding about the sheer resonance of the collective political consciousness, or “unspoken language” between Tibetans—Tenpa speaks of in his family story, Our Tibet (2008)—and why it poses such a threat to China’s one-dimensional power structure. Tibetan freedom fighters, like Tenpa’s Father, banded together to defend and preserve the Tibetan way of life in their brave last stand against the Chinese invaders. The little known US-backed Tibetan Resistance—as detailed in Buddha’s Warriors (2004)—is a sobering account of desolation and hope against a backdrop of the cold war canvas and the ultimate fall of Tibet.

In order to curtail this living memory, The PRC has gone to extraordinary measures to reinforce state control around its sensitive anniversaries—in concert with China’s rise and projection of power in international relations, as noted by (McDonnell and Mearsheimer; 2014). A cache of hardline policies designed to crush resistance, normalize the expanding military-security-surveillance complex, and ultimately—legitimize an illegal occupation,[1] have led to the desperate self-immolations of 137 ethnic minority Tibetans (since 2009). This phenomenon is understood by numerous observers to be a symptom of China’s failed policies in Tibet. Despite the global shift in the balance of power in China’s favor, Mearsheimer argued how the security state’s unresolved territorial disputes, will significantly constrain China’s ability to rise peacefully.

Arbitrary arrests, disappearances and detentions have increased since the regime has imposed severe restrictions on communications throughout Tibet, to prevent any news reaching the outside world. Chinese authorities banned foreign journalists from entering Tibet following peaceful protests back in 2008, when the Beijing Olympics underscored China’s record of systematic human rights violations. Australian journalist, and Wiradjuri indigenous leader, Stan Grant, was the first foreign journalist to brave the culture of silence in restive Tibet during a lock down in 2012. Reporting for CNN (Beijing), Grant revealed the degree of entrenched structural violence the state-owned media goes to extraordinary lengths to conceal, before his crew were questioned and detained by authorities. Despite the absence of conventional warfare and proportion of direct violence—as dealt to Tibetans in the Cultural Revolution—Galtung asserts how this insidious condition he terms: “structural violence”, “shortens life spans” and “denies human dignity.” If one dares to question the unaddressed grievances of Tibetans today, apparently they are “living in a Maoist socialist paradise”.

tenpa dugdak protest 2008.jpg
Tenpa Dugdak at 10 March protest in 2008, Tibetan Peoples’ National Uprising Anniversary, Chinese Consulate, Sydney. Photo © courtesy Xander Collier.

“Tibetans have the sense that every online communication is monitored,” stresses Dugdak. In April 2014, John Garnaut affirmed the extent of Tibetans’ shared anxieties, reporting for Sydney Morning Herald, describing the extension of China’s elaborate, organizational “watching web of surveillance” across borders. Garnaut wrote that the level of Chinese espionage conducted directly by the Peoples’ Liberation Army and Ministry of State Security, has driven the Australian Security and Intelligence Organization (ASIO) to increase its counter-intelligence capabilities significantly in response.

A perpetual cycle of oppression and resistance designed to reinforce a violent occupation, infers that Chinese rule has failed in Tibet. Harsher security crackdowns are feared, due to the sensitive 50th anniversary of the establishment of the so-called Tibet Autonomous Region this year, as the Tibetan Diaspora prepares to celebrate the 80th birthday of His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, 6 July.

Chairman Mao Zedong announced the PRC’s expansionist designs to “peacefully liberate” Tibet in 1949, the same year George Orwell’s novel, 1984 was published. Considering the development of an insidious global culture of surveillance more broadly, Penguin reported that sales of the dystopian classic have recently increased by 6,000 per cent, since Edward Snowden’s NSA/PRISM revelations. Orwell forewarned:

Always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.

Without hope, such oppression would become unbearable, particularly for the Tibetan youth, considering the level of political indifference on Tibet. Yet Tibetans, Kashmiris, Palestinians and those who experience this constant state of resistance, are resolved to a universal truth acknowledged by Mao—who is responsible for cultural genocide and the deaths of 1.2 million Tibetans—yet who rightly stated—“wherever there is oppression, there will be resistance.”

For more information please visit Amnesty International’s call for Urgent Action at:
PDF format: asa1715512015english

First Published in May 2015 in PeaceWrites Journal, Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Sydney

[1] See Report: The Question of Tibet and the Rule of Law: International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), Geneva, 24 July 1959. See also

Feature photo: Tenpa Dugdak at March 10 protest in 2008, Tibetan Peoples’ National Uprising Anniversary, Chinese Consulate, Sydney. Photo © courtesy Xander Collier


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