News and Views on Tibet

Opinion: A Gullible Singer And a Few Questions

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Switzerland based Tibetan musician Dechen Shak Dagsay (Photo/Instagram)

By Bhuchung D. Sonam

About a week ago, a minor-league Swiss-based Tibetan singer named Dechen Shak-Dagsay attended an event organised in Geneva by the China Society for Human Rights – one of many propaganda fronts of the Chinese Communist Party – during which she said that “the Tibetan language is spoken all over the place [Lhasa]” and thanked China “for giving our young generation in Tibet such a unique opportunity to excel in their studies, and each one becomes a precious gem, shining from the roof of the world.”

In a subsequent video clarification after harsh reactions from the exile Tibetans, Shak-Dagsay said that “we have shouted for sixty years, which only widened the gap between Tibetans inside and those of us in exile” and that “Tibetan language, culture and everything is so well maintained there [in Tibet].” Commenting on China’s colonial boarding schools, she said that “China spends huge money on this … [and that] exile Tibetans should never oppose it.”

An in-depth report on China’s colonial boarding school by the Tibetan Action Institute found out that about a million Tibetan students in occupied Tibet are coerced  into state-run schools, which “function as sites for re-molding children into Chinese nationals loyal to the CCP,” and are “removed from their families and communities, students must study primarily in Chinese, are barred from practicing their religion, and are subjected to political indoctrination.”

Dr Gya Lo, educational sociologist and a leading expert on China’s assimilation and education policies in Tibet, writes in an op-ed in The New York Times that within a few months of being admitted into one such school in northeastern Tibet, his young grandnieces started to distance themselves from their Tibetan identity and spoke “only Mandarin to each other and remained silent during our family dinner. They had become strangers in their own home.” Dr Gyal has testified on this issue at the UN Human Rights’ Summit, the Canadian House of Commons and other global forums.

China’s ongoing colonial boarding schools are widely covered in the international media, including the BBC, Foreign Affairs and others which led the European Parliament to pass a resolution condemning these schools stating that “80 % of Tibetan children, totalling around one million, have been separated from their families by this system, which aims to forcibly assimilate them culturally, religiously and linguistically into the Han majority.” The US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, said that his country “is taking steps to impose visa restrictions on PRC officials for the forcible assimilations of Tibetan children in government-run boarding schools.”

In this year’s 10th March Tibetan National Uprising Day speech, President Penpa Tsering of the exile government said that “the ongoing forced assimilation of nearly one million Tibetan children in Chinese state-run colonial style boarding schools and promotion of Chinese language in a large number of kindergartens established across Tibet not only deny Tibetan children the right to learn and use their own language, they are also cut off from their way of thinking, custom and belief, which is giving rise to a generation affected by forced assimilation.”

Many Tibetans have harshly responded on social media to Shak-Dagsay’s groundless and unjustifiable comments by calling her “a Chinese stooge”, “a running dog” and “a Chinese spy”, which is widely off the mark. Shak-Dagsay does not have qualities to be an agent. She is simply a gullible woman who fell for shrewd Chinese propaganda. She was bamboozled into motor-mouthing ready-made half-truths about Tibet and puffery to China because she was given an opportunity to sing in Lhasa and was taken for an officially-vetted tour to spruced up places and schools.

Shak-Dagsay has since issued a reluctant two-sentence apology of a sort to the Tibetans. But the damage is done. China for the moment achieved its mission and got what it wanted:

1) An endorsement from an exile Tibetan to legitimizes its occupation of Tibet and its genocidal policies leading to the destruction of Tibet’s natural environment, self-immolation of 157 Tibetans, jailing of artists and intellectuals, including Go Sherab Gyatso and Gegjom, and corralling of over a million Tibetan children into colonial boarding schools.

2) To cause distrust and disharmony among the Tibetans, which have been clear from angry tirades and invectives thrown at the elderly singer, and a distrust that one of us could do such a thing. These are things that we do not want at all.

What is clear from Shak-Dagsay’s incident is that decades of relentless Chinese disinformation campaigning is working. The timing of this occurrence also seems calculated since the exile parliament is in session to discuss on the long-due charter amendments, and Shak-Dagsay’s instance could steal the focus. Judging by the amount of financial and human resources that China pour into its propaganda apparatus, Shak-Dagsay won’t be the last exile Tibetan to be conned into its web of lies.

This urgently calls us to rethink, recalibrate, reenergise and restrategise our moves. We also need to ask ourselves how did an exile Tibetan who lives in one of the most democratic countries in the world fall prey to Communist propaganda? Are we not telling our stories good enough? Are we not informing our citizens well enough about democracy and rule of law? What does it say about our communication channels?

Pointing our fingers at Shak-Dagsay – and badmouthing her – may give us a temporary ventilation to our anger, but it won’t solve the fundamental problem. We need to do so much more.

(Views expressed are his own)

The author is a poet, writer and co-founder of TibetWrites, a Tibetan writers’ circle that publishes and promotes the creative work of Tibetans. He is the author of four books, including Yak Horns: Notes on Contemporary Tibetan Writing, Music, Film & Politics and Songs of the Arrow. He lives in Dharamshala, a small town in northern India.

16 Responses

  1. Tibet was an independent nation since its inception in 127 AD Tibet has fought 200 years of war with China which resulted in the signing of the peace treaty between the two nations in 822. At no time in its history it has capitulated to any foreign power as the Dalai Lama has clearly stated in his 1988 Strasbourg Declaration. The so called “17 point Treaty” with communist China was forced upon Tibet at gun point and therefore it is invalid and the Dalai Lama declared it null and void after the Chinese broke their commitment to usher into a peaceful outcome between China and Tibet. Since 1974, Tibetans adopted the “Middle Way”. It had the sound bite but has no teeth! Its entirely dependent on the good will of the CCP. The ten round of talks which the two sides conducted was nothing but an exercise for the gallery. China did talk only because of international pressure but has no intention whatsoever to make any deal. For them, they got Tibet in the bag which they coveted for centuries and now there is no going back. They make deals where they cannot ride roughshod with the opponent and the Tibetan exiles only have the iconic image of the Dalai Lama and nothing else. However, they are always concerned about their image. So, they came to the table to play to the international gallery. In future too, it will be no different. They are also fully aware that the the Dalai Clique as they call the Tibetan exiles are a troublesome lot. They don’t like them one bit. But they can’t do much either since India’s national security is tied with Tibet, and India can’t afford to ignore the Tibet issue! After the Chinese invasion of India in 1962, Pandit Nehru’s naive assertion “whatever may be the ultimate fate of Tibet in relation to China, I THINK THERE IS PRACTICALLY NO CHANCE OF ANY MILITARY DANGER TO INDIA ARISING FROM ANY POSSIBLE CHANGE IN TIBET” was shattered! However, India maintained the Nehruvian policy of friendship with China as the pillar of Sino-Indian relations for the last 65 years. As India grows more powerful and confident while communist China gets more and more aggressive, Indian External Minister Dr S Jaishanker has stated that Nehru’s policy on China had “put China’s interests ahead of India. The Modi Government follows the line of India’s first Home minister Sardar Vallabhai Patel”! He called it injecting “realism” in India’s new policy towards China. This means India now sees communist China as a threat to India’s national security. As we know it Sardar Patel disagreed with Nehru on the issue of Tibet and urged Nehru to take due cognisance when dealing with communist China! Since India has two hostile neighbours, (Communist China and Pakistan) joined at the hip, IT HAS NO OTHER OPTION THAN TO ELIMINATE THE THREAT FOR ITS OWN NATIONAL SECURITY. THE BEST OPTION AT THEIR DISPOSAL IS TIBET. IT WILL HAVE TO REINSTATE THE STRATEGIC BUFFER STATE THAT TIBET WAS BEFORE THE CHINESE BRUTAL INVASION AND SUBSEQUENT OCCUPATION. WE HAVE THE EXAMPLE OF BANGLA DESH WHICH WAS LIBERATED BY TIBETAN SPECIAL FRONTIER FORCES (SFF) WHO WERE AT THE FOREFRONT OF THE INDIAN MILITARY CAMPAIGN. ONE THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED TIBETAN FIGHTERS WERE INVOLVED IN THE BANGLADESH LIBERATION WAR OF 1971. When an opportunity arises, India will not lose such an opportunity when it presents itself and Tibetans must prepare for such an occasion. Always remember, sooner or later the CCP will collapse. Meanwhile, communist China is on the path of De-Tibet-fication of Tibet. It’s erasing the unique culture, language, religion and identity of Tibet including its historical name. In short it’s erasing Tibet from the very face of the earth. It’s also running Free tours of exiles into occupied Tibet to win their hearts and minds to do their bidding. They are given Maharaja treatment and met by high profile Chinese political leaders. They prey upon people having high profile in the exile diaspora such as singers, artists, academics, journalists and Lamas. While the Dalai Lama is around, there will not be many collaborators with the Chinese charm offensive but once the Dalai Lama is not on the scene, there is danger of mass collaborators who are driven by self-aggrandisement and personnel opportunism. Ekai Kawaguchi, the Japanese monk who travelled to Tibet and met the 13th Dalai Lama says in his book- THREE YEARS IN TIBET: “Tibetans would sell their country for money”. How prophetic it is today!!! If the present pro-China stance of the Exile outfit is not changed, it will continue to churn out CCP slaves who will do anything to promote themselves and advance their own vested interests. It’s a fertile ground for the CCP to recruit useful idiots who are willing to do the bidding for the CCP to upend the Tibetan freedom movement. So, instead of CTA’s vaunted aim of taking the egg without disturbing the hen, (བྱ་མ་དཀྲོག་པ་སྒོ་ང་ལེན་) it will in fact dismantle the CTA by political subterfuge. When more and more exiles are gravitated towards the CCP, it will delegitimise the CTA and it will lose its relevance and will collapse. This is the goal of the CCP to put an end to the Tibetan resistance in exile! Therefore, the time tested axiom of དགྲ་གཉེན་མགོན་གསུམ་ knowing the enemy which is communist China, knowing the siblings, who are our Tibetan brothers and sisters and knowing the protector who is HH The Dalai Lama is vital for this day and age when communist China is waging a cognitive warfare against us to sabotage the Tibetan Freedom Movement.

  2. The rise and fall of DECHEN Shak-Drakse is both scintillating and depressing! With her Mantra songs she rose to be a spiritual entertainer with mantras sung in melody which her many fans said were making them feel relaxed and at peace with themselves. Most of these fans are westerners and curious people from many different countries. DECHEN Shak-Dakse’s father was murdered in cold blood by the Chinese communists! He was the leader of the Dingri Tibetan regiment in western Tibet. When the Chinese communists reached Dingri, they naturally felt uncomfortable with the Tibetan regiment posted in this region by the Government of Tibet. They wanted to eliminate this danger. So, the PLA surrounded his home when he was coming home. He was advised not to go home without his soldiers in attendance but he rejected their advice and calmly walked home. The Chinese PLA had brought a few trucks of troops expecting a dual with the Tibetan army but as he walked home, they gunned him down in cold blood!
    The family obviously fled Tibet soon after the cold blooded murder of her father. Her step father Dakse Rinpoche was her second husband. Dakse Rinpoche returned to Tibet when Dechen’s mother passed away in Switzerland. Dechen got married and has her own children. Meanwhile, as her children grew up to be adults, she devoted her time in singing mantra songs. She became well-known across Europe among curious westerners and spiritual seekers. Since her step father was living in Chengdu, she often visited occupied Tibet, helping monasteries and setting up a clinic for the monks in Kham region of Tibet. She must have come in contact with Chinese authorities during her multiple visits. She doesn’t seem to be interested or even knowledgeable in politics! This probably was her undoing by cozying up with the Chinese communists who groomed her and then used her to endorse the Chinese colonial schools in occupied Tibet. They must have taken her to some selected schools to convince her of the “benign” nature of the schools as normal schools where Tibetan children are given Tibetan language education. This is where she got tricked and her naivety about the sinister and senile nature of the communist party was her undoing. She was gullible to believe the Chinese staged shows to put wool over her eyes. They have done it to the Tibetan delegations who were sent to Tibet in the 1980s. Before the Tibetan delegation arrived at the supposed school, the Chinese had put up tents on green grass and even though the grass was fresh, they claimed it was a school and the children had gone out for a break! It was the same in the prisons! A prisoner told me, the day a western delegation was to visit their prison, they were told to put away all their old clothes and bedding and given new clothes and new beddings! They were served special food on that day! This is how the Chinese communists trick and dupe people who are unsuspecting of their malicious duplicity and fall prey to their trickery! DECHEN was delusional when she spoke of “64 years of screaming” having delivered nothing but instead “driving the Tibetans further apart” from each other! It demonstrates her failure even to understand the nature of the Tibetan struggle. She reckons it is an issue between Tibetan living inside Tibet and those outside occupied Tibet which can’t be further from the truth. There is no issue between Tibetans living within occupied Tibet and those outside. The issue is Chinese illegal occupation of Tibet and all Tibetans are fighting against the brutal occupation. She also used the Chinese nomenclature for Tibet which is extremely unbecoming of a Tibetan who lives in exile owing to the dispossession of our country. It goes to show the paper in front of her was written for her by the Chinese communists! Through her nativity she became a convenient tool for the Chinese communists to discredit the accusation by Tibetans in exile and the international community that communist China is committing genocide in Tibet by forcing Tibetan children to be removed from their families and dumped into colonial schools which are no different from the infamous colonial schools run by white colonisers of Australia, New Zealand and Canada in a by gone age when indigenous children were stripped of their ancestral culture, language and heritage to become like white people! The Chinese communists invaded Tibet ostensibly to drive out imperialists and colonialists even though independent Tibet had only three westerners in residence. They were Austrian Heinrich Harrer, his friend Peter Aufschneider and Chamdo radio operator Englishman Robert Redford who was married to a Tibetan woman. However, today, they are the imperialists like the European ones and practice the same colonial subjugation of people whose territory has been forcibly occupied and smash their ancient culture out of racial discrimination and racial superiority like the Nazis of Adolf Hitler!
    One million Tibetan children have been forcibly removed from their homes and shunted into colonial schools where they are denied the learning of their mother tongue but instead taught mandarin and they are brainwashed with Han nationalism and communist ideology. The result is shocking according to Dr Gyalo who has been an educator working for Tibetan children for 30 long years and directly witnessed the insidious program for three years from 2017 to 2019! He saw first hand the impact of such brainwashing in his grand daughters who after few months had changed drastically in their behaviour towards their birth parents and the whole family. They remained aloof from the parents and relatives and would only speak in mandarin instead of Tibetan. These are first hand report of the shocking transformation of Tibetan children into semi-Chinese who have lost their roots and their heritage and language. He was shocked but could only resent the diabolical Chinese extermination attempt. As this became apparent, there was imminent danger of his arrest and he made his escape to Canada. It must be noted that for a long time Tibetans in occupied Tibet resisted sending their children to schools because they didn’t want their children to learn Chinese. However, the Chinese made sure that if you don’t learn Chinese you can’t earn a living. Nobody can get a job without being proficient in mandarin. So, Tibetans have no other choice than to send their children to these schools because if they don’t, they have no means of earning a living! The CCP cynically calls it poverty alleviation program!
    DECHEN Shak-Dakse got duped by the regime and jumped in the fray to be a willing accomplice to the extermination of the Tibetans as a race, and a people totally different from the Chinese in culture, religion, language and identity! This is astounding in its irony because she is doing this favour to the very regime who is responsible for the cold blooded murder of her biological father another 64 years ago and denied her ever to see him in this life and reduced her mother to be a window! If she doesn’t make a statement retracting her statement made at the University on 18th of March, she will be remain a pariah in the exile community and perhaps in occupied Tibet too. Besides, she will never be able to meet the Dalai Lama in person again. Even though the Dalai Lama may not reject her, public opinion will prevent him from seeing her in person!

    1. The English radio operator was not Robert Redford, but Robert W. Ford (27 March 1923 – 20 September 2013). He was not married to a Tibetan woman–that was Peter Aufschneider. Mr. Ford was imprisoned in China for five years. His life story is very, very interesting and I feel would have made a better movie than ‘Seven Years in Tibet’.

  3. The author is fool to think she a gullible. Or is he trying to justify or play down the gravity of what Dechen did to some negligible incident which can be forgiven, ignored and let go off ..? It’s apparently beyond gullibility. It’s intentional. It’s paid and sold out. It’s a deal executed between Dechen and CCP.! Gullible is always innocent.!

  4. She must show a picture of weekly timetable of the boarding schools she visited in Tibet to check how much Tibetan language be Chinese language was taught at those schools ? That’s very important for proof.

    1. That is the best question so far and that is the exactly intention and dream to do by able to visit and stay for a long at those most Boarding Schools with neutral Swiss experts and media to judge the reality on spot freely without under conditions based on International Boarding School standard plus the most ” hot current issue” 8 the Tibetan language, writing reading levels at the highest level as expected by any Tibetan educationists. It is a hard job, risky but one has to do it for the Vision for the next 50 years for Tibetan culture. Tibetan language is the only most core foundation for all other Tibetan Cultures. Dechen Shak – Dagsay is walking on a high tight rope and she knows it exactly what is doing and beating the hot iron when the Boarding School is the leading hottest issue on International platform sofar in Diaspora history.
      Kalsang Shak

      1. @Kalsang Shak,

        Good suggestion. China will be held to account if neutral expert find proof that Tibetan language was not taught adequately and children are losing touch with their culture, language and traditional way of life. Besides further visits to see more schools and checking the educational syllabus, exile Tibetan govt should send fact finding mission to schools to see proof. we never saw daily or weekly timetable of what is being taught, and we need to see them to believe anything. but china lies and abuse tibetans many times, and it is hard to believe until we see proof.

  5. A blunder mistakes done by Dechen Shak because she doesnt participate at all and never a part of tibetan community here in Switzerland. How dare she accepted such an invitation?

  6. This is not a first nor the last occurrence of such unpatriotic behaviour and we are not to blame ourselves not doing enough so that none of us acts with such an unfortunate behaviour. She is just cheapster who loves fame and Maya…her justification video speaks volumes about herself.
    We are telling our stories right and we as an exile diaspora, needs to be more politically matured. May this incident bind us stronger.

  7. One of the reasons why Dechen Shak is so much pro-Chinese lies possibly in the fact that her father is a well-known Tibetan lama who seems to reside in Chengdu… as much as I know he used to live in Switzerland and returned a long time ago to China/Tibet.

  8. Do you think that’s exactly we get even if we get so called TAR?

    Do you think our exile government ready for UMEYLAM but we don’t except ground reality?

  9. We demand the withdrawal of Dechen shak statements stated on the event . We demand her apology in English speech with press conference.

  10. Also not to forget that she called Tibet by Xizang. A name China is hellbent on replacing Tibet in world narrative. When a Tibetan uses the word Xizang, it’s beyond being gullible. It’s intentional, targeted with a malicious effort to serve CCP’s propaganda.

  11. Though I am not tibetan, Its sad to know such things going on..anyway I really pray for tibetan to get their country back and get all those in exile to unite in your own land

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