tapes & Transcripts


Dreams of Tibet
Show #1604
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 occupation.

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 size?

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 supporters.

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 Tibet.

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 interest.

[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 deeply.

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 Tibet.

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 authenticity.

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 mountain defenses.

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 Tibetan Buddhism]

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 it.

[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 Horizon.

[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 respected.

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 apart.

[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 country.

BRAD PITT: A man who betrays his culture should not preach about its customs.

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 future productions.

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 than enthusiastic.

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. China-

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.


ORVILLE SCHELL: Scorsese is worried that Disney may not support his film.

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 away.

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 "liberation."

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 it.

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 pressure?

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."


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 of doing.

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 entertainment company.

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 you're frightened.

BILL CLINTON: [1992] 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 priorities.

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 obvious.

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: [1994] 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 self-rule.

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 cement factories.

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 slips out.

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 no ambitions.

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 blacklist.

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 enraged.

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 run it.

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 monastery.

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 Beijing.

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 prisoner."

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.



Ben Loeterman


Ben Loeterman

David Fanning

Orville Schell


Nancy Fraser

David Breashears


Orville Schell


Glenn Hunsberger


Arda Collins


Kim Masters


Liu Baifang

Dong Lin


Chuck Barbee

David Breashears

Vladimir Czyzewski

Steve McCarthy

Jefferson Miller

Tom van Otteren

Erich Roland

Joe Vitagliano


Robert Accock

Charles Bagnall

Stu Fox

John Garrett

Michael Keenan

Bernie Kriegel

Kirk Nehring

Robert Poss

Tom Williams


Steve Audette


Greg McCleary


The Frameshop


"Free Tibet" clips courtesy

Milarepa Fund & Mammoth Pictures

Arcturus Motion Pictures

ABCNews VideoSource

BBC Worldwide Americas, Inc.

Cable News Network, Inc.

Charlie Rose/PBS

Domo World Music Publishing, Inc.

Dr. Tsung-Lien Shen

Dr. James Guthrie


Long Bow Group

Meridian Trust

Paul Wagner Productions

Royal Geographical Society

Reuters Television

The Newark Museum

Tibet Information Network, London

Tibetan Government in Exile

Transit Filmgesellschaft


John Ackerly

Matt Davies

Aviva Klein

Bonnie Mac Donald

Beverly Morrison

Bruce Thomas

Tibet Arts


Tim Mangini


Mary G. Rabinow


Steve Audette

Shady Hartshorne


Julie A. Parker


Mason Daring

Martin Brody


LoConte Goldman Design


The Caption Center


Richard Byrne


Chris Kelly


Emily Gallagher


Frances Arnaud


Denise Barsky


Kelly Gray


Lee Ann Donner


Robert O'Connell

Joe Fox


Karen Carroll


Tracy Loskoski



Stephanie Ault


Miri Navasky


Karen O'Connor


Robin Parmelee



Sharon Tiller


Marrie Campbell


Jim Bracciale


Michael Sullivan


David Fanning

A FRONTLINE coproduction with
Ben Loeterman Productions, Inc.

© 1997

Next time on FRONTLINE, a story of life and captivity-

1st ANTI-WHALING ACTIVIST: There were mothers inside the net, with babies outside.

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 free.

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

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