Virtual Tibet: The Media

The Effect of Media and the Internet on Tibetan Attitudes

Tibetans in exile are embracing the Internet just as they did Buddhism more than 1,300 years ago. Like a new revelation, the power of the Internet to create virtual communities has fascinated Tibetans in exile. This fascination is intensified by the fact that the ability to create a cohesive community, across international borders, has been denied to Tibetans in Tibet by an Internet-shy China. And Tibetan exiles, scattered as they are across the globe, are converting this fascination into a rash of cyberspace activities that, because of their power to transmit information instantaneously, are profoundly changing the world of the Tibetan Diaspora and beyond. In the process, Tibetan exiles have created a virtual Tibet that is almost un-assailable, free, revelling in its freedom, and growing.

“The Tibetan exiles harnessing the power of the Internet has enabled them to make information on Tibet instant and reliable”, said Jigme Tsering, manager of the Tibetan Computing Resource Centre, the organization that services the needs of information technology in Dharamshala. According to him, who also manages the website,, there are about 250 Tibet-related websites, in English, Hindi, Chinese, Tibetan, French, Japanese, Korean and other languages. Numerous Tibetan Buddhist centres and Tibet support groups maintain websites. “Even the smallest news is disseminated throughout the world within five minutes. The recent hacking by some Chinese organizations of our own became news, covered even by CNN”, he said.

The Tibetans’ use of the Internet has a significant impact on the content and quality of the debate among both intellectuals and others in China on the issue of Tibet. Within a week of the launch of the Chinese-language website in August 2000 by the Department of Information and International Relations of the Central Tibetan Administration, more than 10,000 visitors hit the site, the majority being from China. Later the department was bombarded by both enthusiastic and outraged messages, reported Dawa Tsering, head of the Department’s China desk. One enthusiastic letter from China likened the Chinese language website to a “torch being shone in the darkness”.

An angry letter sent on 18 November 2002 says,

“I have been to Tibet. Our government’s policy towards the Tibetans is most lenient. Don’t continue to shut your eyes and talk like a fool… What the Dalai Lama preaches is not practical in developed societies and your vain efforts will be wasted.”

A sympathetic letter mailed on 28 December 2002 says,

“I’m Chinese. When I was a student I was taught that the Dalai Lama was a reactionary rebel. Ever since I visited your website and read the various statements of the Dalai Lama, I am left with great shame at the way our government treats the Tibetans and the disdain shown by ordinary Chinese to them. I recognise the fact that the six million Tibetan people have the right to attain their freedom as soon as possible. As said by the Dalai Lama ‘I strongly believe that whether the Tibetans and Chinese live as members of one family or as neighbours we need to live peacefully and with mutual respect.'”

The ability of the Chinese to speak freely on the once-taboo topic of Tibet, although anonymously, is an indication of the fundamental societal changes sweeping China, the courage and genuine concern of individual Chinese, and the power of information technology to overcome the restrictions imposed by a one-party state. And this has spurred exiled Tibetans and their supporters to girdle the globe with Tibet websites.

Traditional Attitudes to News

However, the traditional Tibetan attitude to news and information has not always been this enthusiastic. It was deferential, and because of this deference, information and knowledge were enshrined on the altar and became remote, inaccessible, the object of unquestioning faith. The pace of information dissemination was slow. For example, in old Tibet when a Tibetan author wrote a masterpiece, his instinct was not to rush to the printers. He buried his work, in the hope that centuries later some smart reporter would discover his work, its antiquity giving it a halo of wisdom, sacredness, and a special spiritual significance, a Tibetan version of the gospel truth. Those who discovered such works of lasting value were called tertons, discoverers of buried treasures. This was precisely what happened to the classic The Tibetan Book of the Dead. C.G. Jung, rival in fame to Sigmund Freud, described The Tibetan Book of the Dead as belonging to

“that class of writings which are not only of interest to specialists in Mahayana Buddhism, but which also, because of their deep humanity and their still deeper insight into the secrets of the human psyche, make an especial appeal to the layman who is seeking to broaden his knowledge of life.” [1]

But Tibet had to wait for several centuries before this work, the definitive Tibetan contribution to our understanding of human psychology, was made available to the lamas. If an enterprising terton, old Tibet’s version of a nosey reporter, had not dug up the book from one of the mountains, the world would have lost a real treasure.

The Tibetan exiles’ brush with the outside world has changed all this. Now Tibetans consider information and knowledge as a tool to be used for the improvement of their community rather than as an object of worship. The secularisation of the Tibetan attitude to knowledge and information is nowhere better seen than in the Tibetan refugees’ successful effort at creating a lively and vocal press. The creation of a free press in the world of the Tibetan Diaspora is contributing to the building of a Tibetan civil society, strengthening the right to free speech and the roots of the exiles’ nascent democracy. It has given the Tibetans a powerful voice in their non-violent freedom struggle. Above all, the exiles’ free press has managed to persuade an increasing number of Chinese, both in and outside China, to look at the issue of Tibet through Tibetan eyes.

Historical origins of pre-exile media

However, the origins of the Tibetan media, especially the print media, paradoxically started not in Tibet but in India, a result of Tibetan isolationism. Two Germans were largely responsible for introducing Tibetans to the contemporary concept of news, news gathering and dissemination. Heinrich August Jaeschke, “perhaps the most brilliant of a series of Moravian linguists to work in the Himalayan region” [2] published his pathbreaking Tibetan-English Dictionary in 1881. This dictionary became one of the foundation stones of Tibetology and was particularly useful for missionaries in their attempts to spread the gospel among the Tibetan people.

The first modern Tibetan-language newspaper was Ladakh Kyi Akbar or Ladakh News. August Hermann Francke, another German and Moravian missionary and the author of A History of Western Tibet, brought out the Ladakh News in 1904 in an attempt to spread the light of the gospel in Ladakh and among the Tibetan-speaking world. He employed a style of language which, while conforming to traditional Tibetan grammatical and spelling rules, was nevertheless close to the colloquial. He hoped that once people had become accustomed to the newspaper they might prove more receptive to the Moravian Mission’s more specifically Christian publications. [3]

In 1904, the story of the year was the British invasion of Tibet. This was given extensive coverage in the Ladakh News. However, the readers questioned the accuracy of the news reports. Francke remarked that his readers particularly doubted the authenticity of the story that the Tibetan troops, who were equipped with protective amulets, proved vulnerable to British bullets.

For the first edition of Ladakh News 150 copies were printed. Soon the number of copies was scaled down to a more realistic figure of 60. Twenty were sent to Darjeeling for distribution.

The Christian missionary agenda of the paper was clearly reflected in such aphorisms as “If the Lama himself is not perfect, how can he guide the dying to a better re-birth?” The paper went on to explain that the only true great lama was Jesus Christ himself.

Ladakh News did not meet with much success and closed shop in 1908. Another paper, along similar lines, was started in Lahaul and Spiti in 1927. It was called Keylong Kyi Akbhar or Keylong News.

However, in the 1990 issue of Tibet Studies, a scholarly journal published from Tibet, a three-page article by Bai Runsheng claims that Tibet’s first newspaper, Vernacular Paper, was started by the Manchu amban, Lian Yu, and his deputy, Zhang Yintang, in April 1909. The newspaper was bi-lingual, in Tibetan and Chinese. The article does not mention where in Tibet Vernacular Paper was printed, its content, frequency or circulation.

But the true origin of Tibet’s print media lies in the birth of Tibet Mirror, a monthly Tibetan-language newspaper, started by Gergan Tharchin, or Tharchin Babu, as he is fondly remembered by the Tibetan emigre community of Kalimpong and Darjeeling.

The Rev. G. Tharchin was a pioneer in several fields: the first Tibetan journalist in the entire Tibetan-speaking world, a towering modern man of letters in a field traditionally dominated by lamas, a lone modernizer in a tradition-bound society, and above all the most articulate spokesman for Tibet’s freedom. [4]

Tharchin Babu was a Christian but, unlike Ladakh News, there was no attempt to proselytise in the pages of Tibet Mirror. He published the first enduring Tibetan-language newspaper in Kalimpong, the border town in West Bengal, which acted as a flourishing entre-port for the wool trade between Tibet and India.

“In the first issue of October 1925, I printed 50 copies and sent most of them to my friends in Lhasa, including one to His Holiness the 13th Dalai Lama,” Tharchin Babu later recounted. “He sent me a letter with some gifts congratulating me and encouraging me to carry on publishing the newspaper.” [5]

“In fact, the 13th Dalai Lama wrote, “If you continue to send me your monthly newspaper containing news about countries like China, Britain, etc., it would greatly help my understanding of the various situations.” [6]

Despite its miniscule circulation, the impact of Tibet Mirror, though confined to a small circle of Tibetan aristocrats and an even smaller circle of Tibetan reformists, impatient for drastic changes in Tibet, was enormous. It brought news of the world to an isolated Tibet.

“It was the only medium in the world through which the Tibetans at least in Lhasa learnt something of the fast-changing world outside — revolution in China, World War II, India’s independence, etc. And the impact was considerable,” recalled Tharchin Babu. [7]

The Mirror published articles on world events and especially reported what was taking place in India, Tibet and in the region of Kalimpong. It was a rich source of information on the world of high Asia of the time. [8]

Tibetan nationalists, scholars and dissidents held regular conclaves at Babu Tharchin’s place to discuss how Tibet could best avoid the gathering political storm. For example, in 1946, two visitors from Tibet landed at Tharchin Babu’s doorstep: Baba Phuntsog Wangyal and his friend. They said they had come across a copy of Tibet Mirror. Earlier the two had visited Lhasa to warn the Tibetan government that unless it brought about changes in Tibet, the country would succumb to an imminent Chinese communist invasion after the Chinese civil war. They predicted that the communists would win the civil war and were preparing for the “liberation” of Tibet. They warned Lhasa that the only way out was to obtain British military aid. The two said Lhasa had ignored them. They were “nobody”, had no names, no titles. So they came to Kalimpong in the hope of directly approaching the British government in India. Tharchin Babu travelled with them to Gangtok and introduced them to Sir Basil Gould, the British Political Officer, who looked after the interests of the British Raj in Tibet and Bhutan. The 12-page memorandum, which Baba Phuntsog Wangyal wrote, was transmitted to London through the office of the Political Officer. A copy was sent to Lhasa. Realising Britain would ignore his pleas for help, Baba Phuntsok Wangyal made a trip to Calcutta and met with Jyoti Basu for Indian communist help in securing arms. [9] But his promises of help then were vague and in the end not forthcoming.

After submitting the memorandum, Baba Phuntsog Wangyal joking told Tharchin Babu, “If the Tibetan government does not listen, I shall bring the Chinese army to Tibet. Then I shall write to you”. In early 1951 Tharchin Babu received a telegram, which said, “Safely arrived in Lhasa. Phuntsog Wangyal”. [10]

Baba Phuntsog Wangyal, who became one of the first Tibetan communists, brought and guided China’s People’s Liberation Army to Lhasa. He later served as the interpreter between Mao and the Dalai Lama when the Tibetan leader visited Beijing in 1954. Subsequently Phuntsog Wangyal was arrested and jailed for advocating what the Chinese communists termed as “local nationalism” or greater rights for the minority nationalities and attempting to establish a re-united autonomous Tibet. He spent 18 years in solitary confinement in Beijing’s notorious Number One Prison. Phuntsog still lives in Beijing and in the mid-1990s made it to the cover of the Far Eastern Economic Review which carried an extensive story on the theory he developed in prison that there is water on the moon.

Apart from being curious about what would have happened if Lhasa had listened to Baba Phuntsog Wangyal’s dire warnings, Tibet’s isolationist policy enhanced the impact of a single newspaper on the thinking of nationalist Tibetans. This leaves one with the question: would a full-grown, modern media, free and un-shackled, have saved Tibet from its present tragic fate? Or was it the classic case of too little, too late?

Whatever conclusion one arrives at, the Tibet Mirror’s advocacy of Tibetan independence received attention not only from Tibetan nationalists but also from the Chinese communists. Tharchin Babu told the Tibetan Review,

“But the Chinese communists were very clever. In the 50s they had a trade consulate in Kalimpong and they used to try to woo me. Once a Tibetan aristocrat came to see me here with presents. He said in the usual roundabout aristocratic way that I should not publish more anti-Chinese articles. Instead I should concentrate on the ’progress’ made by China in Tibet. If I agreed the Chinese would order 500 copies of every issue of Tibet Mirror and they would also make sure that I don’t run at a loss. I refused.” [11]

Tibet Mirror ceased publication in 1962 when the Tibetan refugees brought out their own newspaper called Tibetan Freedom from neighbouring Darjeeling. However, for nearly four decades of its existence Tibet Mirror chronicled some of the most important events in the history of modern Tibet. It encapsulated an entire era during which Tibetan nationalist and reformist stirrings collided with the weight of tradition and conservatism. Naturally, Tharchin Babu and the office of Tibet Mirror became the meeting-point of intellectuals and reformists who wanted to modernize Tibet so that it would effectively counter the challenges posed by a resurgent China.

The First exile newspapers

In 1962 Gyalo Thondup, the elder brother of the Dalai Lama, started Tibetan Freedom, called Rawang in Tibetan. The irony that Tibet had to lose its independence before the Tibetans realised the worth of a modern newspaper did not escape Tharchin Babu, who wrote in the farewell issue of Tibet Mirror, [12]

When there was rawang
There was no rawang
When there is no rawang
There is rawang

Several years later Gyalo Thondup handed over Tibetan Freedom to the Government at Dharamshala. This was a historic first step. It was the first time in Tibet’s entire recorded history of more than two thousand years, that official Tibet had ever published and managed a newspaper. With Dharamshala publishing Tibetan Freedom, the realisation grew among the officials and young educated Tibetans in exile of the value of information. The print media came to be perceived as an important weapon in the war of words with China. These Tibetans wanted a voice and a platform to discuss what was happening to Tibet in the context of the larger events that were shaping the world.

With this in mind, a group of Tibetans started Sheja, a monthly newsmagazine, in October 1968. “We first started producing Sheja from a three-room building in McLeod Ganj with financial help of Rs. 10,000 from His Holiness the Dalai Lama. It was a private undertaking then”, said Kasur Sonam Topgyal, a former chairman of the Tibetan Kashag and a founding member of Sheja. [13]

“We intended to educate the Tibetan refugees on the political developments sweeping across the world,” said Kasur Sonam Topgyal who remained the editor of Sheja for more than ten years. “If the Tibetans were to struggle for their country’s freedom, it was imperative that they be informed about what was going on,” Kasur Sonam Topgyal remarked. [14]

For the Tibetan refugee community Sheja came as a breath of fresh air. It was written in colloquial Tibetan, touched upon all the trouble spots in the world, and devoted a regular section to news trickling from Tibet and from behind the “bamboo curtain”.

Another ’great leap forward’ in the creation of the Tibetan press in exile was the establishment of Voice of Tibet, started by Lodi Gyari, presently the Special Envoy of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Washington, D.C. Lodi Gyari remained the editor till the magazine changed its name to Tibetan Review in 1968. The magazine, the first Tibet-in-exile magazine in English, was mimeographed, printed and published from Darjeeling. [15]

However, lack of money forced both Sheja and Tibetan Review to turn to Dharamshala in 1971. The Government responded by setting up a whole new department to house the two publications. It was called the Information Office, the predecessor of the Department of Information and International Relations. As recalled by Kasur Sonam Topgyal, “When we approached the cabinet for help, they entrusted us with one whole new department. We moved in and that’s how the magazines became official.” [16]

The Tibetan Review and Tibetan Review generation of Tibetans

Under the editorship of Professor Dawa Norbu, who now teaches at the School of International Studies at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, the Tibetan Review moved to New Delhi. Before taking over as the editor, he secured a guarantee from the Information Office that it would give him full editorial independence. With this guarantee, Dawa Norbu and his successor, Tsering Wangyal, who served as the editor of the Tibetan Review for more than twenty years, turned the magazine into a venerated institution of the exiled Tibetan world. They created a whole new generation of Tibetans: the Tibetan Review generation, born in Tibet, educated in exile and using the forum provided by the Review to discuss how to redeem their lost inheritance. [17] The most important role of the Tibetan Review was that of galvanizing the young exiles with fresh ideas and perspectives that went beyond the confines of their refugee community.

The impact of the Tibetan Review was planetary. It became a forum for Tibetans from all four corners of the world and their friends to throw up new ideas and inspirations to strengthen the worldwide Tibet movement. It contributed to creating a global Tibetan emigre community. The Tibetan Review became one of the few exile publications that managed to turn around international opinion in favour of the Tibetan people. As Tibetans say, ‘China has its People’s Liberation Army, but Tibetan exiles have their Tibetan Review.’ Since the Tibetans refused to take up arms, the PLA was quite useless in Tibet and very, very expensive. Because of this, in the war of words between Beijing and Dharamsala, the Tibetan Review became an increasingly credible tool in persuading an ill-informed international community to see the appalling situation in Tibet from the Tibetan exile perspective.

Independent media dent official monopoly

Since the three Tibetan publications — Tibetan Freedom, Sheja, and Tibetan Review — all started by private initiative, came under the control of Dharamshala, all the firepower of exile reporting was directed against the Chinese communist rule of Tibet. But the Tibetan administration’s dominance and monopoly of news and information was gradually reversed as fresh, young blood from Tibet, with a sparkling flair for writing in the exhilarating freedom of India, started to bring out private journals and magazines in the early 1990s. Such talent and enthusiasm of the new refugees from Tibet, especially from Amdo, was responsible for the growth of a whole range of journals and literary magazines that culminated in the establishment of Mang-tso, [18] a Tibetan-language newspaper brought out by a group of young Tibetans from Amdo. Mang-tso, which led a brief but boisterous life, was succeeded by Tibet Times. Launched in September 1996, Tibet Times, a private initiative, adopted a racy style. It is still going strong and is attractively designed and presented. The paper has a circulation of more than 4,000 and comes out once in ten days. Since then, occasional newsmagazines and journals have mushroomed in exile, thus the Department of Information and International Relations in 1999 saw fit to produce Media Tibet: A Directory.

Tibetan exile air-time and impact

The ability of the exile print media to inform and inspire the Tibetan refugee community received a boost with the launch of the Tibetan-language service of the ’Voice of America’ in the early 1990s. The launch of the Tibetan service of the VOA gave the Tibetan exiles the ability to reach out to Tibetans in Tibet, an awesome new power that significantly dented the Chinese propaganda hold on the minds of the Tibetan people. The VOA Tibetan service was followed a few years later by the launch of Radio Free Asia. Its transmission time was longer and its editorial content was not restrained by the compulsions of the US State Department. In the second half of the 1990s the trinity was complete: Voice of Tibet, a Norwegian NGO-funded Tibetan-language service, was launched. Though its service is only half an hour every day, it complemented the two American services, with much of its news focused on events and people in Dharamshala, the capital of the exile Tibetan world. Listeners in Tibet consider these radio services as “medicine for a sick person”.

Response from Tibetans beyond the Himalayas was enthusiastic and touching. There is one moving email message from a Tibetan student in China. The letter was sent to Voice of Tibet. It reads,

“Hi! I’m a Tibetan student who is studying in China. I’m really grateful for your station because you are all working for the independence of our country. It’s been a long time that I wanted to contact with outside Tibetan friends, but it’s really difficult in China, you know. Maybe you outside Tibetans think that we who are educated in Chinese style have lost Tibetan personality. No, of course not, we love our country Tibet, and we want to fight for freedom of Tibet. However, we are surrounded by Chinese, we can’t talk even. And we are young, our parents and relatives can’t understand us, they even know nothing about outside country’s information. I’m sorry about my country and my fellow Tibetans outside. My deepest respect to our spiritual leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama.”
— A Tibetan student in China. [19]

Tibetan exile media and their impact on China

The Tibetan exiles launching into airtime and their energetic involvement with the print media and particularly the internet is significant. On the one hand, the exiles have fundamentally changed international public opinion in their favour and have halted the advance of the Chinese propaganda juggernaut on the world stage. On the other hand, the exiles have succeeded in undermining the ability of the Chinese authorities to influence and shape the thinking of the people in Tibet. Finally, the creation of a virtual Tibet has enabled the refugees to penetrate Chinese borders and minds. This ability has vastly contributed to an ongoing debate among Mainland Chinese thinkers and writers of the merits of China’s current hard-line policies in Tibet and the need for a reasonable solution to the festering problem, which has given China such a bad press.

For example Wang Lixiong, who is based in Beijing and the author of the bestseller, Yellow Peril, and The Sky Burial: The Fate of Tibet, notes:

“The Dalai Lama is 65 years old. Considering the life expectancy and health care facilities of today, it will not be difficult for him to live another 10 or 20 years. During this long time, political changes in China are almost inevitable. It is the attitude of the Dalai Lama that will wholly determine the direction of the Tibetan issue. His wish is the Tibetan people’s command… Whoever underestimates his influence is making a big mistake, and will pay dearly for it.” [20]

Wang Lixiong’s is not the only voice. Wei Jingsheng, who is considered the father of Chinese democracy, while in jail, wrote an open letter addressed to Deng Xiaoping to settle the issue of Tibet peacefully. Wei Jingsheng’s outrage, so evident in the open letter, was provoked by the release of the white paper on Tibet called ’Tibet – Its Ownership and Human Rights’ by the State Council of the People’s Republic of China in 1992. Wei Jingsheng wrote:

“In order to improve the situation and solve the Tibet question, the first thing to do is to understand what the problems are. Only to listen to soothing lies will not help you to understand the reality and find out the problem, and certainly will not solve it… Therefore, I venture to write this letter to you and hope that you would create an academic atmosphere of free expression, so that people of knowledge could put forward more insight with regard to this issue and find out the problem. Only by doing so, could we avoid losing the last opportunity of settling the issue and avoid repeating the situation of the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia.” [21]

This change in the attitude of a number of Chinese to Tibet is exasperating for China considering its dominance of the international news outlets on the vexed issue in the 1950s.

“Earlier, when the PLA invaded the plateau in 1949, China was considered the new beacon of the socialist camp — especially for countries which suffered Western colonial domination. Because of Tibet’s isolation and its absence from influential global forums, international media coverage of the invasion became almost an afterthought and was ill-informed.

“At the same time communist China’s propaganda machinery worked overtime to successfully put a spin on the event, depicting the invasion as a “liberation” of long-suffering “serfs” and “slaves”. China was also, to some extent, successful in portraying those who opposed the invasion as “running dogs of the capitalists” bent on wrecking the socialist camp. Tibet was projected as a Cold War issue, which succeeded in silencing the socialist camp. China could tell the world what it wanted the world to believe, without any effective Tibetan response.” [22]

The extent of ground that China has lost in the propaganda war alarms Chinese authorities. At a meeting held on 12 June 2000 in Beijing to strategize on improving the effectiveness of China’s external propaganda on Tibet, Zhao Qizheng, Minister of Information on the State Council of the People’s Republic of China, said,

“Westerners are waging a protracted and overall war on us on the issue of Tibet. This is a well-planned public opinion and psychological war… The external propaganda on the Tibet issue is a very complicated matter. The Dalai clique and hostile western forces have a history of several decades of anti-China activities and propaganda. As well as having complete experience and expertise, they command an army of specialists in this field… In this overall struggle for public opinion on the Tibet issue, Tibetology institutes should become an effective army… we should use our departments of foreign affairs, information, security, law, nationality, religion, culture, etc.” [23]

The vocabulary the minister uses to describe the various campaigns to counter the exiles’ dominance of the international media is military. Notice the phrases “psychological war,” “protracted and overall war,” and “army”. All these are freshly-minted battle cries for a new war. But the method the propaganda chief endorses is the Tibetan exiles’ strategy of how to make friends and win foes — is of non-violence. China’s clear compliment to the Tibetan exiles’ international strategy by taking a leaf from their non-violent struggle is surprising, since it is China that has given the world The Art of War, the classic textbook on deception to conquer the barbarian world. The Chinese propaganda chief encourages the cadres and specialists to use every strand of Tibetan culture — Buddhism, art, media, architecture, literature, history, medicine, dance and music and folklore — to present the Chinese case for Tibet.

Media, civil society and democracy

However, the most enduring impact of the exile Tibetan media is on the domestic front. As late as a decade ago, the exile media was a barely audible voice in Tibetan exile affairs. Now the interlocking network of websites, newspapers, magazines, and radio services has emerged as a Fourth Estate with the clout to influence Tibetan thinking on issues such as candidates for the post of Kalon Tripa, the newly-revamped office of the de facto exile prime minister, to advocating partisan politics in an increasingly pluralistic system. In chat-rooms hosted by Tibetan exile websites, young Tibetans are talking to each other from across the globe about what is happening in Tibet to looking for suitable dates for the weekend.

The growth of the Tibetan exile media has a significant impact on the development of a democratic community. As a pillar of the exile body politik, the Tibetan media have access to the proceedings of the exile parliament. This transparency of the decisions and deliberations of the exile legislature through the exile media has enabled the refugee community to watch, gauge and understand the actions of their elected representatives and reserve their right to reward or punish the concerned deputies in the next elections.

Most important of all in the building of a civil society is the fact that the mushrooming of the exile media has spawned a growing number of NGOs, mostly based in Dharamshala, the capital of the world of the Tibetan Diaspora. These NGOs, all with their newsletters and journals, are adding their own distinct voice and concerns to the deliberations within the exile community and shaping their opinions.

The taking of firm roots of a free, boisterous press in the Tibetan refugee community has facilitated the Dalai Lama’s own efforts at the democratisation of the exile Tibetan polity. It has introduced a great deal of transparency in the workings of the Tibetan exile administration. And it has given the Tibetan refugees a strong and decisive voice in their political participation, strengthening the cohesiveness and vibrancy of the community.


  • [1] The Tibetan Book of the Dead, W.E. Evens-Wentz (ed.), London 1957, p XXXVI.
  • [2] Bray, John, “The Contribution of the Moravian Mission to Tibetan Language and Literature”, published in Lungta, winter 1998, published by Amnye Machen Institute, Dharamshala, India.
  • [3] Bray, John, ’A.H. Francke’s La Dvags Kyi Akhbar: the First Tibetan Newspaper’, a paper presented at the Conference on Ladakh, School of Oriental and African Studies, London University, December 1987; printed in: Tibet Journal, vol. 13, no. 3, 1988.
  • [4] Writes Professor Dawa Norbu in his introduction to the two-volume biography of Tharchin Babu, Called from Obscurity: The Life and Times of a True Son of Tibet – Gergan Dorje Tharchin by H. Louis Fader, published by Tibet Mirror Press, Kalimpong, 2002
  • [5] ’G.Tharchin: Pioneer and Patriot’, an interview with Tharchin Babu in: Tibetan Review. December 1975.
  • [6] ’All the news – Tibetan style’ by Topden Tsering in: Tibetan Bulletin, January-February 1999.
  • [7] ’G.Tharchin: Pioneer and Patriot’, supra.
  • [8] Tashi Tsering, The Life of Rev. G. Tharchin: Missionary and Pioneer, Amnye Machen Institute, Dharamshala 1998.
  • [9] Jyoti Basu later became independent India’s longest-serving chief minister (of West Bengal).
  • [10] Tashi Tsering, supra.
  • [11] Ibid.
  • [12] Topden Tsering, ’All the news – Tibetan style’ in: Tibetan Bulletin, January-February 1999.
  • [13] Ibid.
  • [14] Ibid. Sonam Topgyal was Chief Kalon from 1996-2001.
  • [15] Ibid.
  • [16] Ibid.
  • [17] Editor-la passes away, an obituary on Tsering Wangyal by Thubten Samphel in: Tibetan Bulletin, January-February 2001.
  • [18] Mang-tso means ‘democracy’ in Tibetan.
  • [19] The letter is with the VOT, Narthang Building, Gangchen Kyishong, Dharamshala. VOT’s email is [email protected]. Typos and spelling errors corrected to hide the identity of the writer.
  • [20] “The Dalai Lama is the key to Tibet issue”, by Wang Lixiong, an article written in Lhasa and Beijing between May and July 2000. The author lives in Beijing.
  • [21] Wei Jingshen, “The Special Status of Tibet”, reprinted in: Tibetan Bulletin, January-February 1994.
  • [22] published by the Department of Information and International Relations, Dharamshala, 29 September 2000.
  • [23] “Tibet-related external propaganda and Tibetology work in the new era”, by Zhao Qizheng, Minister of Information, State Council of PRC, on 12 June 2000 in Beijing, published in: Beijing’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, Department of Information and International Relations, CTA, Dharamshala, 2000.


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