There have been times in history when the pursuit of knowledge, wisdom and spiritual enlightenment was considered noble. But we’re living today, when the pursuit of a buck and military bullying predominate the everyday atmosphere of why we’re here.
Tibet: Cry of the Snow Lion flips the modern world on its new millennium head with a heart-twisting plea to practice the truth as we all know it deep inside. Written by Victoria Mudd and Sue Peosay and directed by Tom Peosay (Sue’s husband), this documentary took 10 years to make, and it shows in a comprehensive array of photographs and footage both gorgeous and appalling. Tom Peosay sculpts a multidimensional history-to-date of Tibet, touching on culture, religion, repression, oppression and Chinese attempts at wiping out a people and their culture.
Mao Tse-tung considered religion “poison.” After he founded the People’s Republic of China in 1949, his first international act was “the peaceful liberation of Tibet.” The film presents firsthand accounts by both Tibetans and Americans of Chinese soldiers torturing and massacring Tibetans (and others deemed as national threats); these accounts are coupled with disturbing lip service from Chinese representatives and officials who claim the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, is a smiling propagandist.
As often as colonialism is depicted as a bad habit of the West, let’s face it, you’d be hard-pressed to find any country that has never inflicted atrocities on somebody. This film unfurls moments in Tibet’s own bloody past, back when a country led by warrior kings and fierce tribes claimed a “sprawling military empire” and actually captured the Chinese capital of Ch’ang-an. This was more than 1,000 years ago, before Tibet’s spiritual revolution. Since then, it has evolved into a culture and country referred to as the “altar of the earth,” where not lineage or political might but what Buddhists consider to be reincarnation is used to dictate the succession of leadership.
According to Robert Thurman, previous to the occupation of the Republic of China, Tibet devoted 85 percent of its budget to the “largest monastic universities the world has ever seen.” Thurman (father of Uma Thurman, by the way) was the first Westerner ordained as a Tibetan Buddhist monk. He is one of the most respected Tibetan Buddhist scholars and just one of the many voices that compose Peosay’s picture of this bedeviled land and people.
Another voice is former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Jeanne Kirkpatrick: “What the West has done is avert its eyes while genocide takes place … the ethnic cleansing has been under way in Tibet for about 20 years.” Although for a time, the CIA trained Tibetan guerillas in Colorado, when Henry Kissinger met with Mao in 1973 to establish ties with China, the United States changed its tune. Apparently a free Tibet was no longer considered politically viable.
You’d think the Chinese occupation of Tibet would create a hotbed of hate. But at least for the followers of the 14th Dali Lama, it hasn’t. The Dali Lama says: “When I see beings of wicked nature oppressed by violent misdeeds and afflictions, may I hold them dear as if I had found a rare and precious treasure.” Yet, simply to say “I am a Tibetan” in Tibet can land you in prison — to face starvation and torture with electric cattle prods — or worse. To display a flag with the mythical protector of Tibet — the snow lion — is outlawed in the very land it represents. Tibet: Cry of the Snow Lion is yet another colonial horror story; however, the Chinese occupation is not completely without positive effects.
For those losing their grip on the earth — the flood of money-making ear, eye and mind pollution threatening to wash sanity away — Tibet’s tale and ongoing troubles can be salve for the soul. There’s a lesson in the unearthly devotion of monks who have been imprisoned and tortured for 20-plus years yet still hold onto their faith and forgive their persecutors.
There’s something Mao Tse-tung probably didn’t count on (and the film seems to walk by this point): Because of the Chinese occupation, Tibetan Buddhism has spread across the globe more thoroughly than ever by having many of its followers forcefully dispersed. And even though saturated with relentless bloodshed and skewed ideologies of humanity, the film itself is a faith-affirming vehicle, complete with cinematic cries for compassion no amount of Chinese propaganda can muffle.
Showing at the Maple Art Theatre (4135 W. Maple Road, Bloomfield Township). Call 248-263-2111.
Anita Schmaltz writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.