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KATE SAUNDERS
THE HIMALAYAS

Kate Saunders is the Communications Director of International Campaign for Tibet.

Tibetan rap on Chinese knuckles flusters Beijing

The Chinese government issued a ruling saying that all websites, particularly those with video and audio channels, are supposed to delete the song Meat Pancake (Roubing) by Gamahe Danzeng.

catchy rap video made partially in an exile Tibetan's kitchen and featuring a singer with a meat dumpling around his neck was recently banned by the Chinese government.

The ruling issued by the humourless State Council Information Office on 2 April stated: "All websites, particularly those with video and audio channels, are to look for and delete the song Meat Pancake (Roubing) by Gamahe Danzeng."

If you are curious about why a song about a meat pancake drew such ire from the Chinese government, I strongly encourage you to watch it yourself on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8z2_IE6NfSE. The rap, called "Shapale" and made by young Tibetans in Switzerland, has had so many hits that it has been described as the first viral Tibetan video.

London-based fellow blogger Dechen Pemba explains its significance: "Along with momos, shapale is THE favourite food of Tibetans, particularly kids love it as it is oily and yummy. When grown-ups hit naughty kids on the bum, that is also called giving a 'shapale', so this song is funny for Tibetans." But there is a serious message underlying the wordplay and visuals, reflecting Tibetan values of respect for elders ("It is good to obey your parents/If your grandmother tells you to buy vegetarian/If your grandpa likes you to pass his walking sticks/You had better do it") and most importantly, pride in being Tibetan, and determination to protect one's Tibetan cultural identity, even in exile. "Hey, wake up/even if you live in the West, do not forget that Tibet is where you come from/speak Tibetan and write Tibetan/be proud to be Tibetan."

Dechen also points out that the rap is delivered in impeccable Lhasa Tibetan, complete with honorifics.

The ban on Shapale by the Chinese government (the State Council Information Office, which issued the ruling, is dubbed the Ministry of Truth by the China Digital Times after Orwell's 1984) is an indication of the deepening repression inside Tibet as the Chinese government seeks to impose an information blackout and prevent expression of any ideas deemed to differ from the representations of the state.

New campaigns directed against Tibetan culture and religion mean that almost any expression of Tibetan identity not directly sanctioned by the state can be branded as "reactionary" or "splittist" and penalised with torture, a long prison sentence, or worse.

Singers, artists and writers have "disappeared" and faced interrogation and torture under a new drive against "cultural products" with suspect ideological content, such as songs referring even metaphorically to the Dalai Lama. In music bars in today's Tibet, performers are no longer allowed to address the audience as "Tibetan brothers and sisters" because it is considered "subversive" to the "unity of the nationalities".

But both despite and because of the crackdown, Tibetans are irrepressible in expressing themselves and their pride in being Tibetan. This has led to a remarkable cultural and literary resurgence across Tibet since a wave of protests spread across the plateau from March 2008 onwards. Tibetans are redefining what it means to be Tibetan, and in doing so are creating a space that exists beyond the terrifying constraints of the Chinese state.

his confidence and sense of Tibetan solidarity is evident in every astonishing phrase of a hiphop/rap music video from inside Tibet, by a band from the eastern Tibetan area of Amdo called Yudrug (Green Dragon) in Tibetan (see it with English subtitles at: http://www.highpeakspureearth.com/2010/03/new-generation-hip-hop-music-video-from.html).

"Get used to me!" the rap goes, opening with a shot of a sunrise, symbolising the band's call for an awakening despite the "polluted sky."

"I am under your limitless uncontrollable watch/Get used to me!/I am the manifestation of today and the substance of tomorrow/I am very light, in your imagination/I am very small, in your vegetable patch/Does your advanced theory wish to blow up my head? Does your forced bullet wish to shoot through my heart?/We are the sharp wisdom that your speeches and lectures haven't reached/We are the smooth darkness that your flame and power hasn't absorbed/We are the response with playfulness that makes your heart ache.

No individual credits are given for this powerful song dedicated to Tibet's new generation — the website High Peaks Pure Earth tells us that where the name of the lyricist should be, there is just the description "strong-willed".

At the beginning of the video, subtitles below the title tell us that the song is "...for the hard-headed people out there".

The rap closes with one of the striking Amdowa dudes, in traditional Tibetan clothes amidst others in hoodies and shades, flinging his arms out to the sky and dedicating the song "To our beloved and proud generation" — at which point the entire group starts to laugh, as if signalling that while they are serious, they are not taking themselves too seriously, in true Tibetan style.

A Tibetan blogger with the pseudonym of Therang Buengu says that Yudrug shows not only a kind of Tibetanness that is "on the cutting edge of cool" but that it also makes it clear that a new sense of being Tibetan exists entirely outside of the Chinese imagination. He writes: "This is a kind of Tibetanness that was made by and for Tibetans." (thebrang.blogspot.com)

In the words of the formidable Yudrug: "As I said what I wanted to say, I did not turn into a mute/Our story has not ended here, it is just the beginning."

 
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