Banned Expression

In his essay, Soul of Poetry, the influential Tibetan poet, Yidam Tsering (1933 – 2004), likened the poets to nightingales who sing through their poems the hopes and aspirations, pain and agony, of their people. Her further wrote, “as long as the people live a life of million years, the poet will be able to sustain a life of million years.” He called on the intellectuals and artists – such as poets, musicians, painters, essayists, and sculptors, to love their people, by representing their joys and sorrows, hopes and despair, pain and pleasure. For Yidam Tsering, artists not only take into account human suffering, but also transfigure them into works of art that serve like “water quenching the thirst of birds”. The creation of the artists, therefore, provides a new dawn of hope to a society going through crises – be they induced by internal decay, political oppression and a combination of both. In other words, the role of the artist is to serve as the unofficial spokesperson of the people, the conscience of society, by bringing attention to issues that are generally brushed aside by the powers that be, an their capacity to challenge the status quo. In the words of the English poet Percy Bysshe Shelly (1792 – 1822), artist are “the unacknowledged legislators of the world.”

In Tibet, writers, poets, intellectuals and artists have become a soft target for the Chinese authorities mainly for their courage and conviction to expose and contradict the official propaganda narratives on Tibet. Since 2008, there has been an unprecedented surge in artistic expression and intellectual activism among young Tibetans educated din the Chinese system. There courageous individual Tibetans have dared to speak the truth in a system that penalises free expression and silences critical voices calling for freedom and justice.

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