As one of the most closed places on earth, it can be hard to keep up with events inside Tibet. And separating fact from fiction can be tricky under China’s Kafkaesque occupation.
To help keep track of what is reality and what is fantasy, we’ve put together this little quiz, with tongue firmly in cheek.
Give it a go - there is no pressure. And there are no prizes.
True or false? A monastery in central Tibet recently disappeared into thin air.
False. Or true, depending on how much you trust the Chinese authorities.
This question isn’t about Larung Gar, the Tibetan Buddhist monastery and academy where forced removals and demolitions have caused extensive damage. Instead it relates to a monastery in Nyingchi, an area of Tibet currently being developed by the Chinese government for tourism. In September this year, a group of journalists on a government tour of Tibet gave their minders the slip and snuck off to a nearby monastery. The monks were busy, but told the group to come back later. When the journalists asked their government minders for permission to visit the monastery they were told that the area was inaccessible due to a landslide. Then they were told that there were no monasteries in the area, and that the one they wanted to see never existed. Very spooky.
True or false? A real life dragon fell from the skies earlier this year and landed in Tibet.
False. A dragon didn’t fall into Tibet. This one here is just a very lifelike prop for a film.
The internet was awash with rumours of dragon sightings a few months ago when video of a real-life dragon appeared. The story went that the dragon was flying above Tibet when it fell from the skies and crash-landed in one of the most closed countries in the world.
Dragons aren’t real, of course, and even if they were, they wouldn’t get into Tibet so easily. Foreign government officials, diplomats, journalists and even the United Nations are all prohibited from entering Tibet without Chinese permission. Even when they get in, they are accompanied by minders at all times while there.
True or false? China has banned monks from reincarnating without government permission
Supporters will probably be familiar with China’s strange stance on reincarnation, which stipulates that only lamas approved by the Chinese authorities will be recognised as having reincarnated. The avowedly atheist Chinese government even launched a new database of "Living Buddhas" in January this year, claiming it would allow users to distinguish real reincarnate lamas from the fake ones.
This is part of a wider strategy by China to co-opt Tibetan Buddhism and end resistance to the occupation from Tibetans. Loyalty to the Chinese government is a big factor behind getting approved, which is probably why the Dalai Lama did not make it onto the list. Chinese officials have even stated that when the time comes to select a new Dalai Lama, it will be solely up to Beijing to decide who that is. Tibetans, who have seen this same Chinese government bulldoze monasteries and impose heavy restrictions on religion, will ignore any choice made for them by Beijing.
True or false? China is concerned with the “comfort” and “safety” of its prisoners. It even provides comfortable chairs for them during interrogations.
False. “Tiger chairs” have been used to carry out torture of political prisoners, something China is ashamed to admit to the international community
Last November, China’s record on torture was reviewed by the United Nations Committee Against Torture in Geneva. At one point, Public Security Ministry official Li Wensheng told the Committee and told them that the so-called ‘tiger chair’, used to hold prisoners in stress positions, was in fact used "to guarantee the safety of the detainee, to prevent the detainee from escaping, from self-harm or attacking other people. The chair is sometimes packaged with soft padding to increase a sense of comfort, a sense of safety." The Committee found this explanation “implausible”, while former Tibetan political prisoner Golog Jigme, who was tortured with such a chair, said that he feels “scared”, when he remembers this chair, “even to this day”.
True or false? Pictures of the Dalai Lama represent a threat to national security
True. They are associated with “splittism”, or attempting to break up the Chinese state.
The ban on images of the Dalai Lama was imposed in 2008 following the Tibetan Uprising that year. It has been strictly enforced, with Tibetans facing “severe penalties”, such as arrest and long jail sentences if they are caught with such images. In 2015, Thardhod Gyaltsen was sentenced to 18 years in prison after being caught with images and recordings of the Dalai Lama during a raid by Chinese security forces on is monastery. His arrest and conviction were for "attempting to split the Chinese State".
These are just a few of the examples of oppression and abuses that result from China’s tight grip on Tibet. Tibetans are pushing back, and continue to send information to the outside world. Free Tibet and our research partner, Tibet Watch, continues to work with Tibetans to gather their stories and testimonies so that more people can hear about life under the occupation and call on their governments to take action.
About the author: John is the Campaigns Manager at Free Tibet and has spent the past ten years working on human rights. When he isn’t doing that, he likes to spend his free time learning languages and travelling.