News and Views on Tibet

Tibetan singer detained for song expressing anguish under Chinese rule

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Tibetan singer Gegjom Dorjee in an undated photo (Photo/Tibet Watch)

By Tsering Dhundup

DHARAMSHALA, May 18: A Tibetan singer named Gegjom Dorjee, whose song openly expressed the struggles of Tibetans under Chinese rule, has been detained by police, reported Tibetan research group Tibet Watch

Dorjee has been arbitrarily detented by the authorities in Khyungchu County since 12 February 2024. This follows his summons to the county police station on the third day of Losar, the Tibetan New Year. Attempts by Dorjee’s family to gather more information have been met with a warning from the police. A source revealed that the police told the family, “Dorjee has serious political thoughts and he must be educated to change his thoughts.”

Dorjee performed “Sad Song of Whirled Tears” at the Tibetan New Year concert on 15 January 2024. In the performance, he played the Tibetan stringed lute, Dranyen, and received enthusiastic applause from the audience. The song begins with a reference to the absence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Tibet, using the term Gyalwa, which is an honorific title. The song later describes the collective suffering of Tibetans, using the term “red-faced” as a symbolic metaphor.

Dorjee, now in his early thirties, was born into a nomadic family in Tsoeru Village in Camp II of Washul Mepa Township, Khyungchu County, Ngaba autonomous prefecture in Sichuan province. Singing has been his passion since childhood, and he has participated in many Tibetan concerts in the past.

The lyrics of “Sad Song of Whirled Tears” lament the absence of true leaders, the lack of direction for Tibetans, the absence of truth, inequality, and the harsh treatment faced by Tibetans. The song depicts the plight of Tibetans as “like a doe in the midst of fog” and “ants beneath the boots of the mighty,” reflecting the struggles for freedom and peace.

Chinese authorities continue to impose restrictions on Tibetan artists, writers, and intellectuals, arresting and sentencing them on various charges.  A Tibetan singer named Palden, 30, hailing from Yotak village, Dedha Township, Pema County in eastern Tibet, has been arbitrarily detained and sentenced to three years in prison following a secret trial in November last year for his online performance of the song “Messenger of [Tibetan] Empire” during a singing contest in December 2022, which authorities deemed patriotic and therefore objectionable.

Singers Pema Trinley and Chakdor from the Meuruma nomadic village were secretly sentenced by a Chinese court in Ngaba, eastern Tibet, in February 2013. They were detained in July 2012, days after releasing their music album, “Agony of Unhealed Wounds,” which addressed the situation in Tibet, including self-immolation protests and songs praising the Dalai Lama, Panchen Lama, Kirti Rinpoche and former Sikyong Lobsang Sangay.

In 2020, Tibetan writer and poet Gendun Lhundrup was reportedly arrested in eastern Tibet’s Qinghai province. Known for his interest in preserving Tibetan culture, Lhundrup had released an anthology of poems called “Khorwa” and contributed to the website “Waseng-drak,” advocating for freedom of expression for writers and artists.’

Numerous writers, singers, and artists face long jail terms for promoting Tibetan national identity and culture. In 2016, writer Tashi Wangchuk was arrested for language advocacy and sentenced to five years in prison after a one-day trial in 2018. In June 2020, Tibetan singer Lhundrub Drakpa received a six-year sentence for his song “Black Hat,” released in March of the previous year. Drakpa spent over a year in pre-trial detention without access to legal representation. Additionally, prominent scholar Rongwo Gangkar, missing for over a year, was confirmed detained in early 2021 by Chinese authorities.

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