Dreams of Tibet
Air date: October 28, 1997
Produced and Directed by: Ben Loeterman
Co-Producers: Nancy Fraser, David Breashears
Correspondent: Orville Schell
Written by: Ben Loeterman, David Fanning, Orville Schell
RICHARD GERE: The West is very young. We're not very wise. And I think
we're hopeful that there is a place that is ancient and wise and open and
filled with light.
ANNOUNCER: In our Western imagination, that place has long been here,
beyond Mount Everest, in Tibet. This dream has survived despite the fact that
the culture of Tibet has been all but destroyed by China's almost 50 years of
PROTESTERS: Shame on China! Shame on China! Shame on China!
TIBETAN PROTESTER: If we don't get the international support right now,
it's only a matter of time that Tibet is going to die very soon.
ANNOUNCER: As China and the United States prepare to meet, Tibetans
worry that once more they'll be forgotten-
REPORTER: Mr. President, will human rights be an issue in your talks
today with President Zemin?
ANNOUNCER: -and that issues such as human rights will be lost in the
scramble for more trade.
RICHARD GERE: We have basic human rights, a bill of human rights that's
been signed by most of the countries on this planet, and there's a reason for
that. It says we will not allow people to be treated less than this.
HENRY KISSINGER: Well, I think that Richard Gere is a better actor than
he's a political analyst.
NARRATOR: But now politicians must take account of actors. Hollywood has
embraced the cause in a wave of new movies, bringing all its myth-making power
to bear in recreating the lost "Dream of Tibet."
ORVILLE SCHELL: It may at first seem surprising that Tibetan Buddhism, a
faith forged in poverty and isolation, should take root so far from its
homeland, in a place like Southern California. Once high lamas taught their
disciples in obscure isolation. Now they're flown into the Brentwood home of
action-pic superstar Steven Seagal. The centuries-old tradition of abstinence
and withdrawal has made its own accommodation, even anointing Seagal as the
reincarnation of a 17th-century high lama.
STEVEN SEAGAL: For me, in Buddhism there are specific teachings that
address a lot of the tremendous hardships and dilemmas and poisons that we face
in modern-day society.
1st SHOPPER: Oh, these are silk, though. I can tell, huh?
2nd SHOPPER: Beautiful color. Really beautiful. They're all the same
VENDOR: Forty-five dollars?
ORVILLE SCHELL: Perhaps it's not so surprising that a society steeped in
materialism and plagued by a sense of spiritual malaise can find in Tibetan
Buddhism a comfort and a refuge. But the paradox, of course, is that ours is
also a culture infatuated with its own power, ego and fame. The Tibet
phenomenon has even made MTV.
BAND MEMBER: It's really cool that you're here. And we're here for the
same reason, the people of Tibet.
ORVILLE SCHELL: A quarter of a million young people massed on both
coasts for concerts and political teach-ins.
ADAM YAUCH, Beastie Boys: Well, I would just hope that premier of China
and President Clinton really understand and think about the significance of
this- really what Tibet represents to all of humanity.
ORVILLE SCHELL: Few causes have had such a heavyweight cast of
HARRISON FORD: In 1949 the young Dalai Lama sent an urgent message to
India, Britain, the United States and the United Nations. It was a plea for
help. The People's Liberation Army had crossed the border between China and
Tibet and Communist China was invading his country. No one came to the aid of
ORVILLE SCHELL: When Hollywood decided to bring the Dalai Lama to the
big screen, I was writing a book about Western perceptions of Tibet. My name is
Orville Schell. I had traveled to Lhasa three years ago for FRONTLINE, so the
producers asked if I would help them make sense of Hollywood's new-found
[interviewing: This is the beginning of the emergence of the Brad Pitt
phenomenon, the Tibet phenomenon?
JEAN-JACQUES ANNAUD, Director, "Seven Years in Tibet": I hope very
ORVILLE SCHELL: [on camera] I mean, Hollywood, I think, is more
powerful than the United States government and the United States military, in
terms of its ability to create awareness of issues. So this is no small matter,
of this arrival of Hollywood on the Tibet scene.
[voice-over] And in Hollywood, it doesn't get much bigger than this:
Brad Pitt in Sony Tri-Star's $70 million production, Seven Years in
ANNOUNCER: [movie trailer] He was a legendary explorer who set
out on an expedition to the Himalayas-
ACTOR: The weather is getting bad. We should rope up.
ANNOUNCER: -and disappeared for seven years.
ORVILLE SCHELL: Unable to film in Tibet, director Jean-Jacques Annaud
chose instead to recreate Tibet on a grand scale in Argentina, with the Andes
standing in for the Himalayas. A hundred and fifty Tibetan extras, including
real monks and an entire herd of yaks, were flown in to achieve a sense of
Halfway around the world, another Tibet sprang up from the sands of Morocco.
Martin Scorsese's film, Kundun, has no stars and is cast almost entirely
with Tibetans who have never acted before. When I visited the Seven
Years set in Argentina, I was amazed by how faithfully the filmmakers had
recreated the vanished world of the Dalai Lama's early years.
TENZIN TETHONG, Adviser, "Seven Years in Tibet": For the last 35 years
His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, and the Tibetans in exile have been trying to
reach out to tell our story and to seek support and sympathy from the rest of
the world. And in terms of dollars, these two films are going to, you know, do
10 times more publicity than what we've done in the last 35 years.
ORVILLE SCHELL: But Tibet's tragic modern history has had to coexist in
a state of contradiction with the West's yearning to idealize it as an
untouched Shangri-La. Westerners have always had a difficult time separating
myth from reality when it comes to Tibet.
JAMYANG NORBU, Tibetan Exile: A lot of people love Tibetans in the West,
you know, but- tremendous sympathy, but it's a very fuzzy kind of sympathy
because it never touches on the reality. It doesn't touch on the reality that
the Tibetan people are disappearing. They are being wiped out. It just says,
"Everything is wonderful. Tibet is wonderful. The culture is wonderful. The
land is wonderful." It does not touch on the tragedy that there's a people that
are actually, you know, being wiped out of the face of the Earth and their
culture is being wiped out. That is not touched.
ORVILLE SCHELL: Just three years ago, when I first went to Tibet for
FRONTLINE, I had to do so in secret, masquerading as a tourist. We traveled
overland from Nepal to the border on the edge of the Himalayas. For centuries
this was the forbidden land, beyond the threshold of the known world, and a
place where Westerners are still viewed with some suspicion. Journalists are
not welcomed by the Chinese, so we had to film with a small video camera.
Tibetans are guarded, especially about the Dalai Lama. It would take four days
to reach the capital. Traveling up onto the high plateau, I felt the pull that
the holy city of Lhasa has exerted for so long on the Western imagination.
Generations of travelers, from British colonial adventurers and French mystics
to the Austrian Heinrich Harrer, all have been determined to breach this land's
For the Europeans who made this map in the 1930s, Tibet was a fairy-tale
kingdom hidden behind the Himalayan massif. Actually, it was a vast expanse of
mountain plateau larger than Europe. After 1949, its ancient boundaries were
reduced by Beijing to form the Tibetan Autonomous Region.
Prayer flags at 17,000 feet. What has always fascinated and mystified
Westerners is the depth of this faith. Buddhism came from India in the 7th
century and was merged with Tibetan mysticism to forge a religion so powerful
that pilgrims would prostrate themselves over and over again, measuring the
distance all the way to Lhasa.
It took us three days of non-stop driving before we reached the town of
Shigatse and one of the greatest monasteries in Tibet, Tashilhunpo. It is the
seat of the Panchen Lama, the second most revered religious figure after the
Dalai Lama. It is tempting to imagine life here much as it always was.
In the 1930s, when this film was taken, Tashilhunpo was completely unperturbed
by the outside world. It was a community of more than 6,000 monks. When we came
here, there were only 600 monks left, their lives tightly controlled by the
Communist Party. It was inevitable that Maoism would collide with Tibetan
Buddhism. Mao wanted to change the world through struggle and revolution.
Tibetan Buddhists accepted the world as they found it. [www.pbs.org: More on
But they had also created a feudal monastic system which together with the
Tibetan aristocracy ruled Tibet. Tibetans defended their old system, arguing
that they had never had a history of famine and rebellion and that it had
worked unchanged for centuries. But it was the antithesis of everything that
Mao's proletarian revolution stood for and he was determined to overthrow
[on-camera] An undeniable fact about Tibetan-Chinese relations is that
China destroyed most of Tibet's many thousand monasteries, which were the
center not only of religious life, but of all life, because Tibet is a nomadic
society and so these monasteries were the centers of commercial life, social
life, where the festivals were. It's where people came to trade. So this was an
enormously devastating blow not just to religion, but to every aspect of
Tibetan social organization.
[voice-over] And for every Tibetan, no matter how remote, there was the
yearning to travel one day to the most holy place, Lhasa. Today it feels like a
Chinese city, with no more romance than any other provincial capital, except
for its dramatic mountain setting and its most famous landmark. For five
centuries, the Potala was the seat of secular and religious power and home to
the Dalai Lama.
Climbing the ruins of the West Gate, I stood before what Hollywood first
imagined over a half century ago in the movie of James Hilton's Lost
[on-camera] When Lost Horizon came out in 1936, '37, Europe was
on the edge of a nightmare. It was being consumed by the Nazi Holocaust and
there was a tremendous urge for people to believe that somewhere, you know,
there was a place where sense prevailed, where civilized behavior was
I think Seven Years in Tibet, in a certain sense, is a reincarnation of
the Shangri-La of Lost Horizon. It takes place at a time which was the
last moment when Tibet was still unviolated by the outside world. And of
course, Tibet in the '40s, when this film takes place, was such a place.
[on-camera] Its culture was intact. The Chinese had not invaded. The
outside world had not been able to gain access to it and only these two
mountain climbers managed to insinuate themselves into its midst. And it's a
great- it's the dream of the last moment when a piece of the world was still
[voice-over] Brad Pitt plays the explorer, Heinrich Harrer. His
friendship with the young Dalai Lama becomes the movie's central metaphor of
Tibet's power to change Western lives.
JEAN-JACQUES ANNAUD, Director, "Seven Years in Tibet": We have been told
since we're born that the ultimate goal in life is to get as much money that
you can and have fame and success and be on T.V. Why is it, then, that most
people that you find in Los Angeles who have- who go on T.V., who have fame and
a lot of money, are so unhappy? On the contrary, why is it that people who have
absolutely nothing that are going along the tracks of Tibet prostrating, have
no possession and glow with happiness? And I think this is this mystery that we
Westerners want to understand.
ORVILLE SCHELL: It is the mystery that has remained at the heart of the
West's love affair with Tibet and the Dalai Lama. His real story is told in
footage like this, some taken by Harrer himself in the late '40s, extraordinary
images of the lost world of a young boy, who as a 5-year old had been found in
a distant village: Lhamo Thondup, renamed Tenzin Gyatso, the 74th reincarnation
of the Bodhisattva of compassion. He was brought to Lhasa when he was only 5
years old, so regents ruled in his stead. He began his schooling in Buddhist
scripture and ritual, preparing for a world that would soon vanish.
After years of civil war in China, Mao's Red Army took Beijing in 1949. In the
wake of his victory, Party leaders set out to reincorporate Tibet into the
motherland. Within a year, Chinese troops marched into Lhasa.
NARRATOR: [Chinese film] Lhasa's 20,000 inhabitants hold a grand
rally on the square before the Potala palace. The five-starred red flag of our
motherland flutters high over Lhasa.
ORVILLE SCHELL: Hoping to avoid confrontation and seeking common ground
between Buddhist philosophy and the promise of socialism, the 19-year-old Dalai
Lama made the long trip to Beijing. He was confident he could reach an
accommodation. He described Mao as a simple man of dignity and authority and a
strong, magnetic force. But he remembers being disturbed when Mao confided to
him that, of course, "Religion is poison."
His early confidence was ill-founded. These are the last images of his life in
Tibet, fleeing towards the border with India in 1959. The Chinese made sure he
never saw Lhasa again. They would prove almost as determined to prevent
Hollywood from telling his story, putting pressure on the studios, the actors
and their directors.
[interviewing] Is China going to like this film?
JEAN-JACQUES ANNAUD: The Chinese? Well, as you know, I'm banned from
China. Brad's banned from China. The Chinese convinced the Indian government to
kick us out of LeDuc, where I wanted to shoot. They went to the see the
Argentina authority and frightened them and asked them to- not to grant us
permission. They have been very tough.
ORVILLE SCHELL: The Chinese understand the power of images that portray
them as occupiers and their Tibetan supporters as collaborators.
ACTOR: ["Seven Years in Tibet"] We did what was the best for our
BRAD PITT: A man who betrays his culture should not preach about its
JEAN-JACQUES ANNAUD: You know, I think they're wise enough to see that
if they do something public about our movie it will get just more publicity for
us, which is wrong for them. I believe that they will have an eye now on the
ORVILLE SCHELL: The next film the Chinese have to confront is Martin
Scorsese's life of the Dalai Lama, Kundun. Scorsese was given $28
million by Disney, a healthy budget for a film with no stars. They wanted a
long-term relationship with the acclaimed director. But at the time, no one
thought about Disney's larger plans for business expansion in China. Then the
Chinese learned about Kundun.
MARTIN SCORSESE, Director, "Kundun": Well, by the time we were shooting-
I was shooting about two and a half months in Morocco and one morning I got up,
had breakfast, and it was the international news on, and financial news, and
there we were. They were talking about our picture.
CNN NEWS READER: The flak is over a new movie, Kundun, about
Tibet's exiled religious leader, the Dalai Lama. It's produced by Disney's
Touchstone pictures. The film hits one of the Chinese government's most
sensitive political nerves: Tibet.
CUI TIANKAI, Chinese Foreign Ministry: [through interpreter] This
sort of activity, which twists the history of Tibet and glorifies the Dalai
Lama, is mistaken and contrary to the facts. Of course, it is against the will
of the people.
MARTIN SCORSESE: I mean, I understand that there could be a great deal
of discomfort behind the scenes. Negotiations- people could stop talking, the
meetings are canceled, things like that. But to go public with it, I was very
surprised, very surprised. And within a day or so, Disney backed the picture
and moved on down the line.
ORVILLE SCHELL: At first, Disney was hailed for standing up to the
Chinese. But with time, the company has tried to distance itself from the
picture and its director.
CHARLIE ROSE: ["Charlie Rose"] Michael Eisner's been called the
most powerful man in Hollywood.
ORVILLE SCHELL: In public, Disney president Michael Eisner has been less
MICHAEL EISNER, Chairman and CEO, The Walt Disney Co.: ["Charlie
Rose"] You know, the- we are in business in China and a movie was acquired
to distribute that is critical of the Chinese, as it relates to Tibet.
CHARLIE ROSE: Because it's about the Dalai Lama.
MICHAEL EISNER: Exactly. The Chinese are upset about that and have
threatened our business in China. We cannot be intimidated to not distribute
this movie. At the same time, we have to handle the political consequences of
what we do. That is an issue.
CHARLIE ROSE: So what are you going to try to do?
MICHAEL EISNER: Well, in this country, you put out a movie, it gets a
lot of momentum for six seconds and is gone three weeks later.
CHARLIE ROSE: Right.
ORVILLE SCHELL: Scorsese is worried that Disney may not support his
MARTIN SCORSESE: I have to stand by the picture and I've got to fight
for the picture. You know, I have to fight for the picture. The way I
understand their position, I hope they understand mine. And it's a difficult
situation. I won't be able to- you know, I just have to- I have to go step by
step with it and take it by the hand and move along with it and do the
publicity for the film and- you know, it's just- it's sad that we have to be
talking about it.
MICHAEL EISNER: ["Charlie Rose"] I think the Chinese government
has acted very intelligently on this movie. It is- it is something that is-
this or a movie about Hong Kong or a movie- it's a movie about their
sovereignty and it would be- if we made a movie, I guess, saying that we didn't
have any right to own Alaska, even though our country is so- we're so
thick-skinned about criticism that somebody could get- "What do you mean we
don't have a right to it? We bought it."
MARTIN SCORSESE: The world has changed. I mean, obviously, it's- it is a
major- one has to be very careful. I mean, this picture has slipped through, in
a way, again not- I must tell you- I didn't say, "Oh, we're going to put one
over on Disney. We're going to make this picture." No. We all thought we were
going to make a movie.
I want people to at least come out and understand that something beautiful in
their philosophy and in their art and in their culture- something beautiful has
been wiped away. Like the mandala at the end of the picture- it's been wiped
ORVILLE SCHELL: Ironically, the Chinese made their own movies about the
destruction of Tibet's culture, propaganda films that portrayed it as a
virtuous overturning of the old feudal order, and set up scenes in which
Tibetans enthusiastically took part in celebrations of their own
Eight-millimeter footage of a monastery wrecked in the cultural revolution
tells the story of the more than 6,000 religious shrines that were destroyed.
According to estimates by the Dalai Lama's government-in-exile, over a million
people died as a consequence of the Chinese invasion. Tens of thousands of them
suffered torture or execution. We could find no recorded images of any of
Lhasa is deceptively peaceful now. At its spiritual center is the Jokhang, the
most holy place in Tibet, the ultimate destination for all pilgrims. We came
here on our final evening, to this last part of the old city the Tibetans still
consider their own. For us, Tibet still holds its mystery, its outward calm in
the face of Chinese government control and surveillance. Yet from the roof of
the Jokhang on this evening, one could also feel a palpable tension here, a
sense that something could happen, as it has so often in the past.
It was March, 1988, a year before the tragedy in Tiananmen Square. Monks
demanding the release of political prisoners and chanting independence slogans
were joined by ordinary Tibetans. The fighting was captured on official
surveillance cameras and recorded on tourist videos. These images, smuggled out
to the West and broadcast around the world, have haunted China ever since. It's
no wonder that Beijing is so sensitive to the big-budget images that are now
coming out of Hollywood.
China's response to Seven Years in Tibet was played out behind the
scenes. The studio, Sony Tri-Star, tried to distance itself from the Tibetan
exile community it had once embraced and did everything possible to play down
the political message of the film. At the New York opening, protesters were
kept a block away from the theater.
[interviewing] Would it be fair to say that the film studios feel the
JEAN-JACQUES ANNAUD: Yes. But spare me with what they go through. I know
that there is- there are things that I don't know which are huge. That's why
I'm telling you that for the next- I don't see a studio putting any money on a
movie that would vaguely be against China anymore.
1st ACTOR: ["Kundun"] The Chinese are once again trying to
convince the world that Tibet belongs to them.
2nd ACTOR: You need to learn this. Religion is poison.
ORVILLE SCHELL: When Kundun, with its even more provocative
imagery, is released in December, it's certain to enrage Beijing further. As
the news first broke about Kundun, Disney was aggressively seeking to
expand into China's booming market, with Disney stores and a theme park slated
for Shanghai. Those plans are now in jeopardy.
MARTIN SCORSESE: The big danger, I think, in this country right now is
that the corporations are so big and control so much and there's so much money
to be made - there's so much money to be made - that it will infringe on
freedom of expression. And we're talking about a situation- we're not talking
about here, "Oh, Disney's not releasing the movie and they're causing all the"-
they're not doing that. You know, they're not doing that. I think- I think- I
understand their concern. I totally understand their concern. They're- they're-
they're in a corporation. You make money.
MICHAEL EISNER: ["Charlie Rose"] I, unfortunately, have not been
trained in the political environment and I'm learning. Henry Kissinger is
telling me what to do and I'm trying to do-
CHARLIE ROSE: Oh, so you pulled out all the heavyweights you could find
to say, "How do I handle this big problem?"
MICHAEL EISNER: Yeah, and most of them said to me-
CHARLIE ROSE: And- and- because-
MICHAEL EISNER: -"You're in it. You're in it."
CHARLIE ROSE: Because-
MICHAEL EISNER: "Why didn't you call me first?" they said.
CHARLIE ROSE: Because you've got to respect the Dalai Lama. You've got
to respect human rights and you can't be- you can't overlook human rights
violations and persecution and all the things that some accuse that government
MICHAEL EISNER: Well, we do not take, as a company, a position either in
human rights or not in human rights. We are a movie company. We're an
HENRY KISSINGER: I hope the Chinese will not take retaliation partly
because it's a misunderstanding of the nature of our system and partly because
it will backfire.
ORVILLE SCHELL: In what sense?
HENRY KISSINGER: In the sense that the films that will be made on their
merits will be made, but there could be additional films made just to show that
no outsider can intervene.
RICHARD GERE: ["Red Corner"] Please translate this: I would like
to see an attorney.
ORVILLE SCHELL: At least one new movie is going to challenge Beijing
even more directly.
ACTOR: ["Red Corner"] The sign says, "Leniency for those who
confess; severity for those who resist."
RICHARD GERE: I'm not resisting. I didn't-
ORVILLE SCHELL: The very week of Jiang Zemin's visit, director Jon Avnet
launches Hollywood's latest broadside with Red Corner. Richard Gere
plays an American who confronts China's version of human rights firsthand.
JON AVNET, Director, "Red Corner": They view human rights differently
than the Americans do and they view legal rights differently. This is an
American who's caught up in the Chinese criminal justice system. He's treated
well. His treatment being well would make most Americans sick.
There's a tremendously political element to it because the Chinese judicial
system is the aorta of this very repressive regime that makes human rights, you
know, be a bit of a folly. It's made, you know, 1.2 billion people be
relatively mute because the judicial system and, obviously, the army enforce
whatever silence the government wishes to have at this point.
RICHARD GERE: It's old-style. A country like China, who wants to be part
of the world, wants to be taken seriously, you have to have the confidence of
opening your borders, opening your society to the video camera, to being
monitored, to being documented. And that will undoubtedly happen, I think
probably sooner than later, although, you know, you can feel the tension there.
You can feel the rigidity of letting go, of how hard it is for them to let go
and ultimately, as we all know, that's about insecurity. You hold on when
BILL CLINTON:  None of us will ever forget the images of
the millions of Chinese demonstrating peacefully for democracy, the solitary
young man staring down a tank or the students raising a model of our Statue of
Liberty in Tiananmen Square.
ORVILLE SCHELL: In 1992, candidate Bill Clinton campaigned hard to
condition our terms of trade on China's behavior in the area of human rights.
But over the next two years, the new president got a lesson in just how
intractable China can be.
Obviously frustrated at not being able to win concessions, Clinton was on the
eve of a momentous decision about whether to grant China "Most Favored Nation"
trading status. In 1994, American businesses like Boeing were clear about their
BOEING OFFICIAL: Boeing has been a friend to China for many years, since
normalization of relations in 1972, and we sold 10 707s about a year after
Nixon went over toe Beijing and a lot of other airplanes that followed. By now,
one out of every seven of the airplanes that we make goes to the People's
Republic of China.
Pres. BILL CLINTON: How can we best advance the cause of human rights
and the other profound interests the United States has in our relationship with
China? I have decided-
ORVILLE SCHELL: To old China hands like Henry Kissinger, the choice was
HENRY KISSINGER: Not only could he not achieve human rights objectives,
he was bringing about the opposite on human rights and he could achieve no
other objective while he was linking these together. And I think he showed
courage in reversing course.
Pres. BILL CLINTON:  I am moving therefore to de-link human
rights from the annual extension of Most Favored Nation trading status for
China. That linkage has been constructive during the past year, but I believe,
based on our aggressive contacts with the Chinese in the past several months,
that we have reached the end of the usefulness of that policy.
ORVILLE SCHELL: To other China hands, the president's de-linking
signaled a turning point from which American policy has yet to recover.
Pres. BILL CLINTON: I like [unintelligible]I feel very good about
our policy. I think it's a good policy. I don't want to isolate China. I want
to do what-
ANDREW NATHAN, Adviser, Human Rights Watch Asia: Our human rights policy
toward China was quite successful when the Chinese believed that human rights
was a real issue for the United States, that the United States was willing to
push. After President Clinton de-linked human rights from MFN, the Chinese drew
the conclusion that our human rights policy was essentially rhetoric and for
that reason, we haven't seen any achievements in that area since then.
HENRY KISSINGER: In Chinese history, they have not found Western advice
necessarily beneficial or humane and they look at this as a further assertion
of the West's trying to mix into Chinese domestic affairs.
ORVILLE SCHELL: The Chinese view of Tibet is no easier for Westerners to
accept. Even for travelers, it's hard to find out what is going on there. Last
month, FRONTLINE secretly sent another team. On a flight from Chengdu to Lhasa,
passengers were guarded. Tibet is not a subject to discuss with foreigners.
In Lhasa we found a changed city. China has been remaking it in its own image.
A shiny new West Gate has replaced the old ruin and its tattered prayer flags.
Monastic life has given way to modernization. Cityscapes look more like Beijing
every day. The red flag flies before the Potala, over a new square cleared of
the old buildings that housed the government in the days of Tibetan
New distractions come with new Chinese arrivals, who now outnumber Tibetans in
the capital. The Chinese are investing heavily in a program of modernization
and economic reform. But in the race to pour concrete, a price has been paid in
the environment. Clear mountain air has been filled with the belching smoke of
The Chinese seem unconcerned with what the Tibetans make of all this. They
would just as soon ignore or dismiss them, although sometimes the condescension
Mr. YAN, Chinese Businessman: [through interpreter] Tibetans are
fine to make friends with privately. If you want to discipline them, not a
single one of them can make it. They are lazy, love to eat and play, and have
ORVILLE SCHELL: So Tibetans often find themselves dependent on
Westerners, who play a game of cat and mouse with Chinese officials, smuggling
out information under the watchful eye of security cameras and police.
JAMYANG NORBU, Tibetan Exile: Lhasa is surrounded by bands of
oppression. You know, where the Tibetan populace lives is in the center of
town, old Hasa. Immediately around it are all these public security bureau
offices- police, you know, armed police, paramilitary, all of them. Then
immediately around that, around Hasa city itself, are military installations,
divisions after divisions of Chinese army all around. So they've got more
security there than even the Tibetan population.
ORVILLE SCHELL: But despite the controls, people keep trying to get film
out of Tibet, using every pretense to get in and grabbing every opportunity,
like penetrating the bureaucracy and finding the list of people banned from
entering the country. Unsurprisingly, it includes China's own Hollywood
So the Chinese are tightening travel restrictions. Westerners are required to
join group tours, where they can be more easily monitored. [www.pbs.org:
More on China in Tibet] The crackdown is linked to one tourist in
particular, a United States Congressman whose unofficial visit left the Chinese
Rep. FRANK WOLF, (R), Virginia: The Chinese government has denied visas
to American Congressmen that wanted to go. And if they ever did grant you a
visa, you would have a Chinese handler, a watcher who would be with you.
ORVILLE SCHELL: In August this year, Frank Wolf traveled as a tourist to
Tibet with his own video camera and an interpreter.
Rep. FRANK WOLF: We spoke to a number of monks. They would call us off
to the side, begin to tell us a member of their family had been in prison or
tortured. Most of the monasteries or all the monasteries have a cadre of
Chinese military that run the monasteries. It would be like for your local
church, your minister would not run it. It would be the military police would
ORVILLE SCHELL: The Chinese have made the great monasteries their prime
target. Monks and nuns are now fingerprinted and required to attend daily
classes run by the Communist Party. They are forced to sign a pledge denouncing
the Dalai Lama as a separatist. Jiang Zemin's exhortation to "Protect the
country and benefit the people" hangs incongruously in Tashilhunpo
Rep. FRANK WOLF: You literally weep for the people there. I mean, to was
sad to see this rich culture diminished. The word that was used by one
individual was "cultural genocide" taking place.
ORVILLE SCHELL: In the market next to the Jokhang, among the icons and
images of Tibetan culture, one is conspicuously missing. "Do you have the Dalai
Lama?" "Nayo Dalai Lama," he says- "No Dalai Lama."
PAUL WAGNER, Director, "Windhorse": We were allowed to come in with our
cameras as long as we looked like tourists. We would never have been given
permission to make the film which we were, in fact, making.
ORVILLE SCHELL: After his niece was detained for taking photographs,
documentary filmmaker Paul Wagner wrote a dramatic script to convey what is
happening in Tibet. The script is based on private conversations Wagner had
while researching his film.
PAUL WAGNER: We were able to do it because we had cameras that are high
quality, but small enough that they look like tourist cameras. And we actually
took in a couple of our actors and were able to shoot some dialogue scenes
right in the middle of Lhasa.
One of the things we tried to do was to incorporate a lot of the events that
are happening inside Tibet into the actual film. Within the last year and a
half, the Chinese have banned the display of photographs of the Dalai Lama. It
would be like coming into Catholic schools and churches and saying you couldn't
have a crucifix on the wall.
ACTOR: ["Windhorse"] [reading] [subtitles] "In
protest against the counterrevolutionary Dalai Lama, the Dalai's picture may
not be displayed in monasteries, homes, shops or vehicles. Speaking or even
thinking of the Dalai's name is prohibited. Anyone violating these rules will
be punished severely."
PAUL WAGNER: The result has been traumatic. When we were there, we
talked to Tibetans who said, "Shh. Be quiet." They went over and behind the
stove pulled out their treasured photos of the Dalai Lama and showed us and
explained that the police had come repeatedly searching their homes, private
homes, looking for these photos.
Rep. FRANK WOLF: It's fair to say that things have gotten worse than
they were in the last several years. I think the Chinese are applying pressure
and tightening the screws and the persecution is increasing. So if you look at
it in the big picture, there were times that the Chinese were there and perhaps
things were getting a little bit better. Now the Chinese are really there.
They're flooding Tibet with Chinese and the conditions for the individual
Tibetan is much worse today than it was three, four, five, six years ago.
[www.pbs.org: More of this interview]
ORVILLE SCHELL: Just over the Himalayas to the south of Tibet, in India,
lies the hill town of Dharamsala. This is where the Dalai Lama now lives. The
reverence his people hold for him as their spiritual leader has sustained him
through nearly 40 years of exile.
JAMYANG NORBU, Tibetan Exile: When you have a picture of the Dalai Lama
in your house, it means "My loyalty is not to China. It is not to the Party. In
is not to Jiang Zemin. My loyalty is to Tibet." The Dalai Lama- you know,
ultimately, it- he is the symbol of Tibet. You know, many people who put the
picture up, they see it that way. It's not that they are following a cult of
personality. They don't see the Dalai Lama the same way Richard Gere does or
someone else does, you know? The Dalai Lama means many things to Tibetans. It's
not just someone- a religious figure. He represents, you know, our country.
ORVILLE SCHELL: For all that his people expect from him, the Dalai Lama
no longer even expects from China his country's independence. He's made it
clear that he's prepared to go back to a Tibet under Chinese sovereignty, as
long as he can continue as his people's spiritual leader. But even that seems
more and more unlikely. And nothing tells that story more poignantly than when
he recently tried to carry out one of his sacred duties: to sanction the choice
of the second highest religious leader in Tibet, the Panchen Lama.
As it always has, the search for the successor ranged across Tibet until, in a
far-off village, the reincarnation of the last Panchen Lama was recognized. He
was a 6-year-old, Gendun Choeki Nyima. But all they have here in Dharamsala is
his photograph. He's now being held by the Chinese under house arrest in
This is where he should be seated, in the great monastery of Tashilhunpo. But
the Chinese, angered by the Dalai Lama's involvement, imprisoned the abbot of
the monastery and installed their own choice. In a religious ceremony ordered
and controlled by the government, a 5-year-old, Gansen Norbu, was approved as
the 11th Panchen Lama. He was paraded on Chinese television, a symbol of the
party's determination to keep their grip on religious succession.
JAMYANG NORBU: Essentially, the politics of this is from the Chinese
point view quite clear. They know that immediately all the Tibetans will not
respond to this Panchen Lama, but it's a fait accompli. It is done there. This
is what the Tibetans have to accept.
ORVILLE SCHELL: In a story about the power of images, the sight of a
Communist Party leader involving himself in the mystical process of
reincarnation is, of course, ludicrous, not to say hypocritical. But for the
party, it serves a long-term goal.
JAMYANG NORBU: The Chinese can afford to be patient. They control the
Panchen Lama, they control the future Dalai Lama because the Panchen Lama
chooses the Dalai Lama. So in a sense, it's power, manipulation, and they know
what they're doing. But, you know, essentially, if everything works by their
game plan, they've got it fixed. You know, the 15th Dalai Lama is going to be
born in their kind of hands, you know?
ORVILLE SCHELL: A line of succession unbroken for 400 years has now been
cut. When the Dalai Lama dies, the Chinese intend to choose his successor
through their Panchen Lama. So the exiled Dalai Lama is left with little more
than a photograph of the boy he calls "the world's youngest political
PROTESTERS: Free Tibet now! Free Tibet now! Free Tibet now!
ORVILLE SCHELL: Back in the United States, where a political summit is
being held, Tibetan exiles cling to their dream that the world will take
notice. Now they're pinning their hopes on the movies and their power to
persuade. But Tibet has always been a projection of the West's imagination and,
in the real world, even Hollywood may no longer be able to dream the dream.
MARTIN SCORSESE: We had a sense that this may be, this and the
Jean-Jacques Annaud film, Seven Years in Tibet- they may be the only
records left of aspects of this culture. It's not the culture because it's a
movie, but it's an impression, a dream-like image.
ANNOUNCER: FRONTLINE online continues this report with the real-life
story of the Dalai Lama-Heinrich Harrer friendship. Discover the pundits, great
explorers who secretly mapped Tibet. Read up on Tibetan Buddhism. Explore
Tibet's history and the Chinese presence there. And check out more of the
FRONTLINE interviews. Bookmark FRONTLINE online at www.pbs.org.
DREAMS OF TIBET
PRODUCED & DIRECTED BY
Tom van Otteren
"Free Tibet" clips courtesy
Milarepa Fund & Mammoth Pictures
Arcturus Motion Pictures
BBC Worldwide Americas, Inc.
Cable News Network, Inc.
Domo World Music Publishing, Inc.
Dr. Tsung-Lien Shen
Dr. James Guthrie
Long Bow Group
Paul Wagner Productions
Royal Geographical Society
The Newark Museum
Tibet Information Network, London
Tibetan Government in Exile
Bonnie Mac Donald
POST PRODUCTION DIRECTOR
POST PRODUCTION PRODUCER
Mary G. Rabinow
Julie A. Parker
LoConte Goldman Design
The Caption Center
SENIOR STAFF ASSOCIATE
Lee Ann Donner
WEBSITE RESEARCH ASSISTANT
SENIOR EXECUTIVE PRODUCER
A FRONTLINE coproduction with
Ben Loeterman Productions, Inc.
WGBH EDUCATIONAL FOUNDATION
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Next time on FRONTLINE, a story of life and captivity-
1st ANTI-WHALING ACTIVIST: There were mothers inside the net, with
ANNOUNCER: -the ethics and arguments over a billion-dollar business-
2nd ANTI-WHALING ACTIVIST: This industry is based on the death and
suffering of whales.
ANNOUNCER: and if it's either possible or responsible to set them
3rd ANTI-WHALING ACTIVIST: I think that it would be closer to a death
sentence than freedom.
ANNOUNCER: "A Whale of a Business" in two weeks on FRONTLINE.
Now it's time for your letters. "The Lost American" profiled the life and
disappearance in Chechnya of the renegade humanitarian relief worker, Fred
Cuny. Here are some excerpts from your comments.
CLIFF WELLS: [Lynwood, WA] Dear FRONTLINE: Fred Cuny is more
worth of hero status than a lot of people we have labeled as heroes today. We
could learn a lot from people like Fred Cuny.
LARRY MARTIN: [St. Louis, MO] Dear FRONTLINE: "The Lost American"
was a sad but gripping and ultimately inspirational story of a man who, though
driven by ego, was also driven to help others on a heroic scale.
JOEL SIEGEL: [Federal Way, WA] A very well-done documentary, but
I wish to take issue with the general tone of the program. Several times the
U.S. government was painted as an uncaring monolith who, even when it tried,
only gave a lame and highly faulty effort at humanitarian assistance in places
such as Ethiopia and Bosnia. The U.S. is usually at the forefront of assistance
to these areas of the world, making the first move and organizing the efforts
of the rest of the international community.
WOJCIECH SOKOLOWSKI: [Baltimore, MD] Dear FRONTLINE: The film
debunks the myth of romantic individualism Mr. Cuny so conspicuously tried to
incarnate. Mr. Cuny could achieve miracles in Somalia or Bosnia because
governments, international organizations or wealthy philanthropists were
willing to underwrite his efforts.
ANNOUNCER: Tell us what you thought about tonight's program by fax at
(617) 254-0243, by e-mail - FRONTLINE@PBS.ORG - or by the U.S. mail [DEAR
FRONTLINE, 125 Western Ave., Boston, MA 02134].
Copyright / 1997 WGBH Educational Foundation