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- 16 06 2001 - 14:10 - katatonik

The other day on TV in Tibet

watching TV in Shigatse
Extracts from “Tibet TV” (Lhasa), the official and one and only TV station in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), – as goes without saying, under tight control by the Chinese Communist Party – were shown yesterday at a highly interesting lecture on the subject.
Heavily ritualized news broadcasts that present politics as a series of meetings, conducted in what seems a heavily formalized setting, where the shape of a table (round, oval, square) permits to infer the importance of the meeting. At meetings with foreign guests, the guest is always seen on the left, the Chinese official on the right. [Things were different in Deng Xiaoping’s times, because he was deaf on the right ear.] Flowers on the table, a landscape painting in the background. Other rituals on the news: Party officials visit Tibetan peasants in the fields. One of the few motives shown in close-up are ears of grain. Tibetans hardly ever wear suit and tie, but sometimes hats. Chinese rarely wear hats, but almost always suit and tie. Sequences of shots are repeated two or three times, most presumably because Chinese is spoken faster than Tibetan, so the voice in the dubbed Tibetan version – which speaks an artificial form of Tibetan only to be heard on TV – takes longer time for the word-for-word translation, and no additional footage is provided to fill the resultant time-gap – someone there must feel it necessary to exercise tight control over images. Oddly enough, advertising broadcasts are also repeated over and over again. Even as much as twenty times.
The most interesting domain of TV broadcasts is entertainment. Dubbed second-rate US movies, very brutal, very violent. Allegedly, Tibetan viewers love them. Just as they love films about World War II, with upright Allied Forces fighting Evil Nazis. Romantic Chinese soap operas, set in highly westernized surroundings (the wooden country-house, fully equipped with brand-new stereo and microwave), with sexual innuendo brought in only in most symbolic terms (he teaches pottery to her, holding her hands tightly while she molds a lump of clay on the pottery wheel that keeps growing, growing, growing get the picture?). Dramas produced in Amdo (Eastern Tibet), the only part of ethnically Tibetan China where some sort of (non-Chinese) Tibetan TV or film production seems to exist.
In 1999 (if I remember correctly), Tibetan TV broadcast a multi-part dramatization of modern Tibetan history, planned for 20 episodes. While the general message is pretty straightforward, and well-known to all Tibetans educated in the TAR
China liberated Tibet from the grip of a bunch of theocratic feudalists, people were forced to resist against China by a bunch of brutal guerillas funded by the CIA, the liberation brought modernization, modernization & modernization -, oddly enough, the programme turned into something like a cult classic inside and outside the TAR. It seems that the openness of films, of images, to multiple readings can have a self-defeating, self-subverting effect in highly ideologized contexts, producing interpretations which were not at all intended by the producers.
For instance: For decades, Tibetans have been educated to believe that they are rural, backwards peasants with absolutely no aptitude for technology. In said programme, you can see how a Khampa warrior, in the 1950s, uses morse-code to inform the CIA office in Pakistan that they’re waiting for further supplies. For many Tibetans, this scene rehabilitated their technological competence, and restored some sense of self-confidence. Another example: In 1948, Tsepon Shakabpa, later to write a political history of modern Tibet from the exile, was dispatched by the Tibetan government to Britain in order to get Tibetan independence recognized by Britain, by the UN. The mission was a failure. While Tibetans were subsequently educated to believe that Shakabpa was more or less a peasa nt idiot, completely unprepared for the task, in said programme they are shown a competent diplomat. Allegedly, videos of this programme have become unobtainable in the US, because exile Tibetans have bought up the whole lot, largely picking out those scenes which suited their need of visual images for self-assertion as Tibetans, filtering images instead of just passively imbibing them.
After a while, party officials in the TAR came to be convinced that Tibetans were watching the programme for the wrong reasons, and stopped TV broadcasts after about ten episodes.
[Image copyright: Tibet information network. Go there for more images.]

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