I “met” the Dalai Lama
myself at Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport
on Monday May 7, 2001,
about five months before 9-11 and great changes in my own life, in line,
waiting to board my Northwest/KLM party
plane back to Minneapolis St Paul, after a trip that had included Bilbao and Lourdes.
I went to this film to visit the AFI Silver Theater in the D.C.
suburbs for the first time, and at the beginning I expected a spectacular
travelogue of kind my cousin and I used to draw as filmstrips as boys.
Indeed, the city of Lhasa
and the surrounding rural society reminded one, according to looks, almost of
a set from The Lord of the Rings. Quickly, the film turned into a
passionate political and ethical sonata.
Before the encroachment of China,
Tibetan society had been a treasured dominion for centuries, whose ruler was
chosen on the basis of spiritual evidence of reincarnation (as compared to
salvation through grace and resurrection in Christianity). A theocracy, in
some sense it was authoritarian, with peasants serving the needs of monks,
and yet the people by all accounts were much happier than in many other
Communist China, then, could use ideology as an excuse to
impose the redistribution of wealth, and then the Maoist Cultural Revolution,
and pillage the country, but as much out of a need for political supremacy in
Asia as from social ideology. One aim was to destroy
any remnants of Tibetan quasi-independence. (Tibet,
for example, used to mint its own currency, and Tibetans are totally separate
by ethnicity and language from the Chinese.) The Dalai Lama would flee in
1959. The American CIA
would try to aid the Tibetans until it was no longer politically advantageous
(when opposing the Soviet Union became a higher
priority). Today, as China
gradually becomes quasi-capitalist, it still insists on instilling Chinese
culture in Tibet
and giving jobs to Chinese resettlers, under the
rubric of “modernization.” Given all of China’s
moralism, it seems ironic that Lhasa now has a red light
district of over 90 establishments set up to entertain Chinese soldiers and
Of course, one feels that the Tibetans are the heroes and
the Chinese are the villains here, but things are not so simple. Even before,
individuals in Tibet
probably did not enjoy “individual rights” and economic opportunity as we
know it, even if they believed that they lived in a spiritual utopia. And as
for China, we
are really not sure today what its ideology really is as it tries to appeal
to business to come over to make money. Its record on human rights still
seems greatly wanting, a moral issue for this country as it exports jobs to China
and buys inexpensive goods and services from China.
Wal-Mart was mentioned at least once in the film.
Will larger and more commercial film companies and studios
buy or produce films like these? There were several cameo appearances and
credits from stars, such as Harrison Ford and Jon Voigt.