Chinese troops invaded Tibet in 1950. Tibet’s small army was quickly overrun. The representatives of Tibet’s spiritual and temporal leader, the Dalai Lama, were coerced into signing an agreement, which accepted Tibet to be a part of China. The 1959 March uprising was brutally crushed. The Dalai Lama escaped to India followed by nearly 100,000 Tibetans.
The film explores the tension between the Dalai Lama’s efforts to find a peaceful solution based on compromise and dialogue, and the impatience of a younger generation of Tibetans who are ready to take a more confrontational course.
Fifty years have passed since the takeover of Tibet by China. Chinese troops invaded Tibet in 1950 soon after the Communists took power under Mao Xedong. Tibet’s small army was quickly overrun. The representatives of Tibet’s spiritual and temporal leader, the Dalai Lama, were coerced into signing an agreement, which accepted Tibet to be a part of China. Then, on 10th March, 1959, the citizens of Lhasa rose up against the occupation forces. The uprising was brutally crushed. The Dalai Lama escaped to India followed by nearly 100,000 Tibetans. Tibet has been under the control of China ever since and the Dalai Lama has never returned to his homeland.
Over the years, the Dalai Lama has kept alive the Tibetan cause and tried his best to find a resolution to the Tibet issue with China. For Tibetans, he is much more than a spiritual and temporal leader; he is considered to be the human manifestation of Tibet’s patron deity, the Buddha of Compassion, and as such, he has borne the brunt of the responsibility of fulfilling the aspirations of his people. In the late 80s, he formally gave up the demand for independence and instead, proposed, what he called, the Middle Way Approach; which accepted Tibet to be a part of China in return for a meaningful autonomy that would safeguard its cultural heritage and identity. Since 2002, his envoys have held a number of talks with their Chinese counterparts, but China has consistently refused to accept his Middle Way Approach, which they accuse of being a covert demand for independence. In the meantime, the Dalai Lama became one of the world’s most famous personalities, a champion of non-violence and compassion, and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.
But the lack of any progress in the Dalai Lama’s efforts to negotiate with China on the basis of the Middle Way Approach has led to increasing frustration among his own people. In exile, many Tibetans are beginning to disagree with the Dalai Lama’s policy of compromise and want a return to the goal of independence. Inside Tibet, China’s policy of economic development is marginalizing Tibetans in favour of Chinese migrants who are beginning to outnumber them in cities and towns. This, coupled with increasingly harsh regulations on the practice of Buddhism – including a return to patriotic education campaigns, which require Tibetans to denounce the Dalai Lama – has provoked a growing discontentment among Tibetans with Chinese rule.
On 10 March, 2008, the 49th anniversary of the failed Lhasa Uprising, a group of Tibetan exiles set out on a march back to their homeland in a bid to draw attention to the situation there. This was also the year when Beijing would hold the Olympics and the international spotlight would be on China. Even as the marchers set out from Dharamsala, a group of monks took to the streets of Lhasa in the largest public protest for more than two decades. The protests escalated and within days, ordinary citizens had joined in, giving vent to their long-simmering unhappiness. The uprising spread like wildfire to the remotest corners of the Tibetan plateau, far beyond the borders of what China called the Tibet Autonomous Region. The Tibetan people, for one brief moment, demonstrated to the world that five decades of Chinese rule had failed to crush their spirit and their desire for freedom. China cracked down harshly even as it accused the Dalai Lama of instigating the unrest. But the Dalai Lama, buoyed by international condemnation of China’s crackdown, and the courageous demands of his people in the run up to the Olympics, kept hope that China would finally recognize the need to talk to him.
This was a year of dramatic possibilities for Tibet. Would the marchers make it back to Tibet? Would the world stand firm in its support of Tibet even as China prepared for its biggest coming-out party? Would the Dalai Lama finally achieve a breakthrough in his efforts to find a solution to his country and silence the growing voices of dissent among his own people?
In The Sun Behind the Clouds: Tibet’s Struggle for Freedom, Tibetan filmmaker, Tenzing Sonam, and his partner, Ritu Sarin, take a uniquely Tibetan perspective on the trials and tribulations of the Dalai Lama and his people as they continue their struggle for freedom in the face of determined suppression by one of the world’s biggest and most powerful nations. The filmmakers had intimate access to the Dalai Lama and followed him over the course of an eventful year, which included the 2008 protests in Tibet, the international response to it, the Beijing Olympics, and the breakdown in talks between his representatives and the Chinese government. Set against this backdrop, the film explores the interplay between the personal and the historic, spirituality and politics, and the tension between the Dalai Lama’s efforts to find a peaceful solution to the Tibet situation based on compromise and dialogue, and the impatience of a younger generation of Tibetans who are ready to take a more confrontational course.