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Dalai Lama film aims to counter Chinese propaganda

Film of a humble, reasonable leader is at odds with 'official' depictions

Dalai Lama film aims to counter Chinese propaganda

Published: April 03, 2014 05:56 AM GMT

Updated: April 02, 2014 09:06 PM GMT

On March 25, a film called The Dialogue was posted on YouTube. The footage – made in 2011 during a videoconference between the Dalai Lama, his Chinese interpreter and three Chinese intellectuals – is extraordinary for a number of reasons.

But chief among them is the fact that the footage offers Chinese viewers their first glimpse of a man reviled by the Chinese government as a traitor bent on splitting Tibet from Mother China.

But that is not the image of the Dalai Lama that comes across in the film. Instead, he appears as a reasonable, compassionate man – hardly the fire-spitting supporter of Tibetan independence that decades of Chinese propaganda have made him out to be.

The film features a discussion comprising a question-and-answer session with writer and human rights activist Wang Lixiong in Beijing; human rights lawyer Teng Biao in Shenzhen; and human rights lawyer and NGO worker Jiang Tianyong in Beijing. 

Wang said the evolution of the film began as an effort to reach out through Twitter to average Chinese citizens as a way of allowing them to ask questions of the Dalai Lama directly.

Using Google Moderator, Wang encouraged China’s online “netizens” to submit questions, as well as vote on the quality of the questions submitted. About 10,000 people responded before the Chinese government shut down the website.

In May 2010, Wang met the Dalai Lama in New York and gave him 18 of the most popular questions gathered during the previous online campaign, then tweeted the Dalai Lama’s answers.

It was the success of this campaign that led Wang to the idea of hosting a videoconference.

The conference took place on January 4, 2011, during which the Dalai Lama answered questions from the three intellectuals as well as a few questions selected from the submissions by Chinese social media users.

Asked by Teng Biao what the biggest obstacle to dialogue was between Tibetans and Han Chinese, the Dalai Lama identified a lack of transparency in China’s decision-making process.

Jiang Tianyong queried the Dalai Lama about the contents of a leaked diplomatic cable in which the US ambassador to India wrote that he had prioritized ecological disasters – melting glaciers, deforestation and water pollution – over the resolution of political disputes.

The Dalai Lama said he remained committed to his “Middle Way” approach but that he was concerned about irreparable ecological damage to a vital ecosystem, which is the source for numerous rivers that flow throughout Asia.

Other questions addressed his views on controversial Tibetan official Ngabo Ngawang, who engaged in negotiations with the Chinese after the Dalai Lama’s exile from Tibet in 1959 – the Dalai Lama defended his actions; whether he had lost control of Tibetans in exile – the Dalai Lama said the exile Tibetan government is democratic and respects all views, but that he did not support the Tibetan Youth Congress in its call for full independence; and whether non-violent resistance was effective in dealing with the Chinese Communist Party – he said that while it has not produced results, it has created goodwill among some Chinese groups.

Perhaps more noteworthy were the Dalai Lama’s responses to questions about his spiritual authority and his views on Taiwan.

When asked about reforming the “living Buddha” reincarnation system, he replied at length that other Buddhist countries did not embrace this system, that it created a hierarchy in Tibetan society and that there was no longer any need for a Dalai Lama who was both a spiritual and secular leader of the Tibetan people. 

With respect to Taiwan, the Dalai Lama expressed support for the “One China” policy but that the present system of democracy and rule of law in Taiwan should be preserved.

The film was shown on March 29 at Hong Kong’s Academy for the Performing Arts in Wanchai, and its promoters say that if enough people in China see it, then support for the Chinese government’s steadfast refusal to deal directly with the Dalai Lama could diminish.

The author is a Hong Kong-based commentator

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