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Songs of Independence

Wednesday, Mar 10, 1993
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Tibetans have traditionally expressed political dissent and criticism through song and verse. Totalitarian control of Tibetan society and even individual minds, has put a halt to this vehicle of witty free expression — though not quite entirely. Even in the bleak sixties and seventies the walls of prison cells have sometimes seen defiant anti-Chinese verses scratched on them. Even toilet walls, especially in Lhasa, I have been informed, were covered with scatological verses and insults, often directed against local party functionaries and leaders, and sometimes against the Party itself. In between unmentionable obscenities, there is often a bold Rangzen (independence).

The last few years have not only seen a more open singing of anti-Chinese songs, but the verses of these songs now speak outright of Rangzen, where before indirect allusions like “the sun of happiness” etc., were prevalent. One of the most popular songs in Lhasa at present was first heard in 1989 during a religious festival, Peley Ritoe,1 especially observed by women. A rough translation:

He has not bought India,
He has not sold Lhasa.
The Dalai Lama is not without a place to stay.
The Joyous Palace (the Tibetan government) is greater than ever.
I went on a pilgrimage to Dharamshala,
The Dalai Lama was sitting on his Golden Throne
On either side Lotus flowers had bloomed.
Rangzen will surely come soon.

Another popular song from Lhasa.

Each of us has to travel our own road,
But Tibetan brothers and sisters unite and rise up!
Old Tibet was violently stolen by the Chinese,
Tibetans are beaten and tortured every day,
They eat our food and steal the clothes off our backs
By force they stole our Rangzen.
Brothers and sisters be vigilant!
Look at all the prison camps,
Where we are beaten and tortured like beasts,
Where we eat a few rotten vegetables with no oil
But even if I have no food at all for a week,
I will never forget the Dalai Lama’s kindness.

Another song in the same style:

Though each has to travel his own road,
All Tibetans unite,
Together we will struggle for Rangzen.
We cannot make all that is bitter sweet.
Don’t listen to them, listen to me,
I have a tale to tell.
Listen carefully, it is about Tibet.
Before we were free,
Now we are crushed under Chinese oppression.
Before Tibet was the land of the Dharma,
Now it is a Chinese prison.
Tibet is full of Chinese barbarians,
All our youths are locked up in prison.
But even the cruellest torture
Will never alter the courage of our youths.
I pray once again for Rangzen.

These songs, especially the first, are sung openly by Tibetans. Quite a few Chinese beggars and street entertainers have come to Lhasa. Some recite Buddhist mantras in front of the Jokhang. One old mendicant has a monkey that he has taught to prostrate in the manner of Tibetan pilgrims outside the temple, and is a great favourite with pious old women. It also appears that one Chinese street-minstrel has learnt the popular song “He has not bought India, He has not sold Lhasa”, and has profited from singing it before Tibetan chang-drinkers who gather at the Naga Temple park (Dzonggyab Lukhang) behind the Potala, where the Sixth Dalai Lama used to practise his archery and carouse, some centuries ago.

Spring 1993
USTC Newsletter

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