The 2008 uprising and the Olympics


image3Wangpo Tethong
by Wangpo Tethong1

There is a widespread perception that the main cause of the 2008 uprising (or “unrest,” as it is named by some authors) was feelings of discrimination and an urge for free expression, especially among young people in Tibet. This essay, however, suggests that a multi-year campaign by activists in exile and in Tibet contributed to the expectation that the 2008 Games were a unique opportunity to pressure China with various forms of political activities. The Chinese government responded to the uprising, the extent of which surprised everyone—first with denouncing the Dalai Lama for instigating the protests, and then with offering a meeting to exiled Tibetan representatives. The Chinese leaders waited for the games to be concluded, and then declared that it no longer had any interest in talks with the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual and political leader of Tibet.

A long prologue

Dhondup Wangchen 2

We already have an eight-hour flight from Zurich behind us. We have flown over Greenland and the endless expanses of the Canadian West, and next to me sits Dhondup Wangchen, staring down at the Rocky Mountains. I wonder what he is pondering. In a few hours, after ten years of forced separation, he will take his family into his arms. It is Christmas Eve of 2017, and for his brave family, a story of painful uncertainty will come to an end.

Dhondup Wangchen is one of the most recognized faces from 2008 for people interested in Tibet. Contributing to his fame was the 26-minute documentary film (“Leaving Fear Behind”) and the international campaign for his release.2 The image of a man in a washed-out grey T-shirt—speaking into the camera in clear and short sentences to the beat of his hand on his thigh—resides in the collective memory of the Tibet movement.

Thousands of Tibetans rose up with tremendous energy and courage to a national uprising in March and April of 2008. The filming of “Leaving Fear Behind” was conducted before the uprising, and can be seen as a report about why the Tibetans took to the streets. The film thus became an important documentary about Tibet and the Tibetan resistance: It speaks of the hypocrisy of the Olympic Games, and of the oppression and the ruthlessness with which China is gradually assimilating Tibet. For the young men and women; the monks; the nomads and the farmers who spoke in the film and for Dhondup Wangchen himself—it is clear that only the Dalai Lama’s return to Tibet can put an end to this tragedy.

Tsering Woeser’s frequent blogging in 2008 kept a steady flow of information from the ground coming out.
Tsering Woeser’s frequent blogging in 2008 kept a steady flow of information from the ground coming out.

The uprising had epochal character for Tibet. The Tibetan highlands had not seen such an uprising since 1959. A look at the blog of Tsering Woeser, a Tibetan writer who has meticulously documented the entire uprising year, reveals the drama that unfolded in that year.3 Neither before nor after did the issue of Tibet receive such attention in the international media and political arena.4

The protests were intense, spread across the entire Tibetan plateau and in general very peaceful. Nevertheless, the authorities applied brute force to suppress them. Depending on the sources, between 140 and 219 Tibetans were killed by the security forces.5 The protests in Tibet and the subsequent solidarity actions abroad against the Olympic torch relay were of unprecedented intensity.  A series of special programs on China’s state television fomented open inter-ethnic hostilities. Many people in China indulged in aggressive government-spurred nationalism.

On the other hand, there were Chinese lawyers6 and intellectuals who openly took sides for the Tibetans.7 The massive military action and the “political re-education measures” in Tibet and in China itself took the wind out of the sails of the Tibetan uprising. The earthquake in China on May 9, 2008 finally changed the messaging about the Olympic Games: in one fell swoop, China was no longer a perpetrator but a victim and the Tibetan issue disappeared from the headlines.

Dhondup Wangchen, Leaving Fear Behind, premiered on 6 August 2008 in Beijing.
Dhondup Wangchen, Leaving Fear Behind, premiered on 6 August 2008 in Beijing.

The premiere of “Leaving Fear Behind” took place shortly before the Olympic Games in Beijing under clandestine circumstances. Reuters journalist Ben Blanchard reported on August 6, 2008: “The film, ‘Leaving Fear Behind,’ was shown to a small group of foreign reporters in a dingy hotel room in central Beijing, not far from Tiananmen Square.”8 Caution was justified. A screening for a larger group was stormed the same day by the police. Dhondup Wangchen and his assistant, Golog Jigme, were in custody at the time. Both had already been subjected to extremely brutal interrogations on several occasions, without Chinese interviewers learning that the reason for their silence was a film that for the first time allowed a very deep and unbiased view into the hearts of Tibetans in Tibet.9

When the film was shown two days before the opening of the Olympic Games, the Olympic campaign by Tibet groups was quickly nearing an end. On the same day and in the days following, long-planned actions by activists, mostly from the USA and Europe took place in Beijing.10 These protests marked the end of a series of campaign activities and a historic uprising that Tibetans and their leaders still find difficult to interpret.11

Sabotage or Revolution – Colliding Perspectives

In the first days after March 10, 2008, there was an unprecedented euphoria among Tibetans, astonishment among foreign observers, and anger among the Chinese leadership. Day after day, reports of increasingly spectacular protests emerged from Tibet. More and more people began taking to the streets—not only in Tibet, but everywhere in China where Tibetans live. The superpower China seemed to be losing control of the Tibetan plateau. Brave journalists produced media reports that flickered across screens all over the world. Sympathies were distributed unilaterally: They belonged to the Tibetans and Tibet.

The case was very simple for the Chinese authorities. On March 18, 2008, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao appeared in a press conference in Beijing, noting that the “Dalai Clique” instigated these uprisings: “There is ample fact and plenty of evidence proving this incident was organised, premeditated, masterminded and incited by the Dalai clique.”12 The Dalai Lama reacted the same day with a press conference in his Indian exile in Dharamsala.13 He not only denied any involvement, but invited the Chinese leadership to Dharamsala to make sure on the spot that their accusations were unjustified.

Lhasa, 10/14 March 2008
Lhasa, 10/14 March 2008

The Dalai Lama’s mood during those days was not good. The interview with the German news magazine “Der Spiegel” provided deep insight into his constitution at that time. His first reaction to the news from Tibet was bewilderment: “I cried. I sat with the Prime Minister of our government in exile and we both wiped tears from each other’s eyes. So much suffering, so much despair. I was just sad, deeply sad.”14

It is clear that the Dalai Lama had no effective influence on the events. This left him in a position of observation, from which he could only follow the events in Tibet with concern. Commenting very emotionally on the isolated acts of violence committed by the demonstrators, he said: “I condemn this, and it makes me sad when my compatriots act in this way – even if it has certainly happened out of deep-seated disillusionment and despair that they are only second-class citizens in their own country. It’s not an excuse for violence. […].” However, he left no doubt as to who he considered to be the true victims and perpetrators: “But one thing is certain: it was mainly innocent Tibetans who suffered from the brutality of the police and the military”.

For the activists and the young Tibetans, among whom a few were advocates for a violent path, he communicated paternal mildness but little confidence: “Of course I understand the impatience of the young. But they have no concept, just emotions.”

Today, ten years later and knowing all the facts, he will probably have to change his mind, at least partly. The protest was not completely without political calculation and concept. The young Tibetans, both inside and outside Tibet, made a significant contribution to the fact that the whole world spoke of Tibet in the days around the Olympic torch relay. It is this attention that made his call for international solidarity resonate. Even if he did not mention this connection, he realized the positive effect: “But of course the international pressure has had an effect on Beijing. I can only encourage every free society, especially Germany, to maintain this pressure. The whole world must help us. The Chinese are very concerned about their international reputation.”15

Admittedly, nobody came to Dharamsala from Beijing, and no international investigation of the events in Tibet took place, as the Dalai Lama wished. Beijing’s interpretation that the uprising was controlled from abroad has also not changed since. In 2015, in a comprehensive white paper on Tibet, the Chinese government even intensified the accusations: “Moreover, he has planned and instigated activities of sabotage, including violent disturbance during the Beijing Olympic Games, violence in Lhasa on March 14, 2008, and incidents of self-immolation”.16

But the Dalai Lama did not only suffer the displeasure of Beijing in those days, which were reigned by political euphoria, and during which cool political judgment and sober analysis were compromised. Criticism against him and the exiled Tibetan government also came from a completely different direction. The Dalai Lama’s statement to stop the march to Tibet and his dramatic appeal to Tibetans in Tibet not to use violence was the wrong news at the wrong time for some exiled Tibetans. Jamyang Norbu summed it up in a nutshell: Don’t stop the revolution, Step out of the way.17

Gongmeng, a group of Chinese academics provided an social and economic analysis, rejecting the notion that the uprising was instigated by outside forces. They concentrated on the social and economic causes and demand from the party to reconsider its Tibet policy. Such a narrative while being superficially favorable to the Tibetan interest reconstrued the uprising as “social unrest,” which does not help to understand an issue which is political at its very core. The banners at the protests spoke clearly: “We have no freedom of expression” ; “Peace and democracy—We want to pray for the victims of our people” ; “In solidarity with the people of Tibet” and “His Holiness shall come—fight for freedom”.18 The slogans shouted by protesters included: “Don’t let so many Chinese into Tibet”, “Long live the Dalai Lama” and “Free Tibet”.19

The 200-page report by the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) from 2009 gives a lot of consideration to the rationale of Chinese academics. It quotes the Gongmeng group with the following: “Understanding is a pre-condition for discussion, unity and development. If the promotion of healthy development in Tibetan areas is truly desired, then there must be a change in thinking and an adjustment in thinking behind the current nationality theories and policies.”20 The Chinese government failed with its Tibet policy, because it did not implement an adequate autonomy policy, the report says. The analysis is broadened with the remark that there were many causes, and that China had paid too little attention to the special needs of Tibetan culture and its spirit. For the authors, however, Tibetans who expressed political attitudes, and reacted to developments from the outside world in a planned and political manner, did not conform to their conception of a Tibetan.21

In a recent radio discussion about the uprising with Dhondup Wangchen and Kunga Tashi, a CTA China expert, the discussion about the year 2008 revolves—as is typical of discussions on this anniversary—above all around the consequences of the uprising.22 Three observations are central for Kunga Tashi: 1. The Tibetan youth were mobilized politically to an unprecedented extent; 2. The protests spread suddenly across the plateau, leading to international solidarity; 3. The perception of the Tibetan struggle was thus massively changed in China, as well as in Tibet itself. Thus, the wave of over 150 self-immolations after 2008, based on this conclusions, could be seen as the continuation of the uprising, changing the nature of protest from a more collective to an individual form.23

In this article, an attempt will be made to consider a viewpoint that has so far been neglected. The focus is on the question of which preconditions and which triggering causes are responsible for the 2008 uprising and its unbelievable dynamics. This should be done not only out of historical interest, but also with the aim of reflecting on the political campaign work of the Tibet movement.

Every Uprising Has A Beginning

Every political protest, even if carried out by a group, can be analysed as an individual decision. This includes weighing opportunities and dangers, which can at times be more emotional or more rational. This applies to Tibetans and people worldwide. In the case of Tibet, there is the situation in Tibet, perceived as unjust and discriminating: Have the social and economic parameters deteriorated? Has the Chinese oppression and injustice become more intolerable? Or are we influenced by a growing political awareness (which can be expressed in the form of political songs, etc.) and how is the perception of the general political situation changing?

Source: Presentation „Tibet 2008“ for Tibetan Youth Association Europe by Wangpo Tethong,  Einsiedeln, 2018.
Source: Presentation „Tibet 2008“ for Tibetan Youth Association Europe by Wangpo Tethong, Einsiedeln, 2018.

Having answered these questions, the catalyst for the uprising, has not been yet identified in a historic context. In our case, it was the Olympic Games. The communication of this opportunity as a favorable timing for protest was supported early on by a rhetoric of urgency and indignation: “How can it be that the world’s youth meet in Beijing for peaceful and sporting competition, while oppression prevails in Tibet!”. This was the message of the Tibetan activists inside and outside Tibet, and should denounce the moral questionability of the games. The condemnation of a double standard is effective and follows our natural sense of justice. The author recalls that this thought was repeatedly mentioned in radio reports and interviews by Radio Free Asia (RFA), Voice of America (VOA) and Voice of Tibet (VOT). The Olympic campaign was more intensively covered by the Tibetan media after the Athen Olympics in 2004, and at the latest after the Tiananmen protest of a group of Tibetan exiles that carried a banner with the slogan “Hu, you can’t stop us”  in 2006.24 It can be assumed, in retrospect, that the radio reports had an effect in Tibet and contributed to sensitizing the public for the opportunity lying ahead.

International Olympic Comittee headquarters in  Lausanne, presentation of Human Rights Report to the IOC, Summer 2002.
International Olympic Comittee headquarters in Lausanne, presentation of Human Rights Report to the IOC, Summer 2002.

Similarly, in Tibet itself a discussion about the games began early on. The first publications on the Olympic Games appeared around 2005.25 Tibetans from inside Tibet subsequently confirmed, for example, that they were aware of the 2006 Tibet Olympic action in Beijing. Golog Jigme insists, however, that the Olympic Games were already an issue in Tibet in 2001. In his opinion, the exile activities would not have had a decisive influence. In 2006 and 2007, at the latest, there were also underground writings circulating with slogans against the Olympic Games, and there were also thoughts and plans about protests. He had also seen leaflets on the Olympic Games in his region.

One of these writings calls for protest very concretely and with strong conviction:

“It should be clear to us how we should behave in view of 2008. Anyone who is Tibetan should be aware of the tireless efforts His Holiness the Dalai Lama has made over the past 70 years for the Tibetan people and its nation. It need not be stated here that the Chinese government is forcibly detaining the Panchen Lama. Faced with this situation, it would be sad if Tibetans behaved as if they did not hear and feel anything. The Tibetan nation is violently oppressed and deprived of its riches. The death of many of our brothers and sisters will remain a wound in our history that we must never forget. The Dalai Lama and with him 150,000 Tibetans are forced to live in distant lands. Many of our brothers and sisters are imprisoned in dark prisons. We know that. All school graduates have been given a job for the past five to six years. We know this is just a trick and a distraction. Therefore, and because we are all cognizant people, let us remember that we must not stand apart in the Tibetan struggle for freedom. If Tibet [up until the Olympic Games, author’s note] has not gained freedom, we have the responsibility to protest so that the Olympic Games do not take place in China. It is up to us, young Tibetans, not to let this opportunity pass us by. It is up to us Tibetans in Tibet to show the people of the world what the true situation in Tibet is”.26

Another indication that the topic of the Olympic Games in Tibet was discussed relatively broadly are the statements in “Leaving Fear Behind”: “These games are for the Chinese only. We have nothing to celebrate here.” In another scene, it is said: “People from all over the world are invited to this peaceful festival, but we are not allowed to take part in it.”27 It is to the credit of “Leaving Fear Behind” that such room has been made for these statements. Without this film, these statements would never have been documented.

A Tibetan living in Switzerland, who regularly visits Tibet, confirms this mood expressed in the short documentary and even goes one step further: “In summer 2007, when we were in Amdo and Kham, there was already a very tense atmosphere there. On the one hand because of Ronge Adrak, who had publicly attacked the Chinese leadership during a equestrian game in Litang and on the other hand because of various activities of the compatriots in exile. They were all well informed, so I knew in 2007 that the situation was about to explode.”28

Within Tibet, especially among young people, there was a growing feeling of discrimination in all areas of life. The 2006 Congressional Gold Medal for the Dalai Lama gave the impression that the Tibetan cause was greatly supported internationally. Exiled activists contributed to the assessment that the 2008 Games would be a concrete opportunity to effectively express their frustration. So the frustration received a deadline, and the wait for the Olympic Games was dramatized. The Chinese government and the organizers of the Games contributed their share of drama by accelerating their pro-Olympic propaganda.

The First Act: The Search for a Strategy

In May 2006, representatives of 18 Tibetan groups gathered in Dharamsala in Northern India to discuss their search for a strategy and to coordinate their activities for the 2008 Olympic Games.29 This was the fourth and best attended meeting of the working group.30 Two actions had already taken place in China and the willingness to launch an Olympic campaign in India was strong. There were signs of anticipation in the working group and a competition for creative forms of action. During the day the planning meetings took place, as well as in the evening, there were well-attended public events in the hall of Club House Himachal in McLeod Ganj.

There was intensive discussion in the working group on a strategic level about organizing further protests within China, but at the same time some groups were not willing to reveal all their plans to one another. While it was clear that some groups from Europe and the United States would have better access to Beijing in August 2008, groups from India had to look for a different strategy. The five main exiled Tibetan NGOs in India decided to concentrate their resources in India.

The leadership of the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC)—the largest exiled Tibetan group—had internal leadership problems at the time, and was therefore rather irregularly represented at the meetings. In August 2007, however, on their initiative, by far the largest exiled Tibetan rally took place in the Indian capital, Delhi. Some viewed the rally led by the Tibetan Youth Congress as a huge success; others viewed it as a chaotically organized failure, from which the TYC has not recovered to this day. The “Return to Tibet” march by the five major Tibetan groups in India had a more lasting effect: “Masses” of Tibetan refugees should make their wish to return to Tibet come true. The march by more than 100 Tibetan nuns, monks and lay people led to many media reports, and can be regarded as one of the most important factors of inspiration to people within Tibet.31

The Dharamsala meeting was preceded by a series of actions and meetings of the Tibetan groups, which were essential for a strategy to be formulated beforehand. There was a significant conceptual confusion between 2001 and 2005, and each group seemed to think they had a better strategy and a more convincing slogan than the others. At the beginning, compliance with human rights standards was a major part of campaign communication. According to the first ITSN strategy draft from the year 2002, the goals were to be: “1. Link public focus on Beijing 2008 with human rights and the movement to free Tibet. 2. Gain commitment from International Olympic Committee (IOC) that human rights monitoring and accountability will be included in process leading up to Beijing Olympics. 3. Achieve greater freedom for foreign media to operate in Tibet and China”.32

The discussion about the objectives of the campaign lasted more than two years, while a series of protests took place. In retrospect, it was of essential importance to have started very early with the campaign activities. This helped to create awareness among supporters, potential outside funders, and to secure internal organizational funding. It can be safely assumed that the Tibetan Olympic campaign was the one campaign that had the highest turnover of financial resources in the modern history of Tibetan activism.33

Tibetan carried away after protest against IOC delegates decision for Beijing 2008, Moscow, 2001.
Tibetan carried away after protest against IOC delegates decision for Beijing 2008, Moscow, 2001.

The first international Olympic campaign against the 2008 Games in Beijing took place at the IOC Delegates Meeting in Moscow in 2001.35 Tibetans and supporters from Switzerland, the USA, England and India were there to prevent Beijing’s candidacy, and triggered an international media storm with their protest. For the first time, an activist group of Tibet supporters and Tibetans had managed to make the headlines worldwide. The mood among the activists was correspondingly enthusiastic.36

The slogan of the Moscow protest was: “China Plays Games With Human Rights”. Communication to the outside world suffered from the fact that various slogans were circulating. There were groups that openly called for a boycott, or put it into a conditional context: “No Olympics for China Until Tibet Is Free”. Others, on the other hand, chose the “Race for Tibet” and thus refrained from making any discernible political statement. Shortly before the Olympic Games in Athens, they switched to “Athens yes, Beijing no”. Finally, the international support meeting in Brussels in 2007 agreed on “Bring Tibet To The 2008 Games”, which had a subtle ambiguity that was not universally liked. One of the most active groups, Students for a Free Tibet, based their slogan on the official slogan: “One World, One Dream, Free Tibet”.

It was impossible to agree on a common slogan, and the efforts to formulate a common strategy were similarly tenacious and difficult.37 In contrast to the search for a slogan, however, the Olympics working group succeeded in reaching a minimum consensus on the campaign’s objectives in 2005, which was of greatest importance: the stage presented to the campaigners in the form of the Games was to be used by the campaigners to put pressure on the Chinese government. The campaigners agreed internally on a formula directed to Beijing: “Either you start to work for a political solution of the Tibetan issue or we will be there in 2008 and spoil your big party”.38 With this wording, they finally had left behind their internal disputes. Whether independence or autonomy was the ultimate goal is a political debate that still paralyzes the exiled groups to this day. (There was no talk of a boycott in the meantime. This would change again in March 2008, two years later.) Although the working group comprised many groups, it could not reflect all opinions. As in any grassroots movement, this meant that, when in doubt, each group did what it preferred.

In order to reinforce the threat of action on the ground, the working group was convinced that evidence was needed—ideally in the form of protests within China itself. These were actually carried out in 2004, 2006 and 2007. It was proved certain that actions behind the Great Wall were possible, and it was thus clearly communicated to Beijing that Tibetan groups would be in Beijing in August 2008. This threat had a psychological component, which formed the core of the campaign.

The campaign finally gained a convincing logic: The groups understood that the Chinese government had maneuvered itself into a blackmailable situation with the games, and that the campaign should not only carry out protests during the games, but also carry out actions in advance—when they would produce the greatest psychological impact. The Chinese Government had to be made aware of the responsibility on its hands: If they wanted trouble-free games, they needed to offer a political solution to the Tibetan problem.

Roadmap/Critical Pathway for Tibet Olympic Campaign.
Roadmap/Critical Pathway for Tibet Olympic Campaign.

Since ITSN had to ensure that the CTA’s sensitivities were not violated, it was agreed-upon to label the actions in China “individual non-ITSN actions”.39 The “ITSN-coordinated activities” included the protests against the Olympic torch relay, as well as Team Tibet activities, which had already started in 2007 and had an excellent public response. The group of Tibetan athletes who joined forces to form a Team Tibet deserve mention here. Their demand to the IOC was simple: We also want to be at the games!40 When the protests broke out in Tibet in March 2008, these activities were unfortunately over. In view of the many killings in Tibet, it was not possible to convey to the public the demand for participation in the games. The light and creative touch of the campaign, which had generated a great deal of media sympathy, disappeared.41

Throughout this process, the Tibetan Government in Exile and its leadership at the time showed virtually no interest in the 2008 Games. Occasional questions from journalists to the Dalai Lama led to his reluctance to make critical remarks, when compared to 1991. Nevertheless, the Chinese government publicly criticized him which led to his office’s  reaction on March 8, 2008, a few days before the uprising: “On the issue of the Beijing Olympics, it is common knowledge that his Holiness the Dalai Lama has consistently supported the right of China to host the 2008 Olympic Games”.42

In hindsight, it speaks to a certain carelessness of the campaigners that, while their overall goals were very ambitious and even highly utopian, a possible outbreak of mass protest in Tibet was never explicitly discussed during the planning of the campaign. The events that unfolded in the days and weeks after March 10, 2008 were, therefore, a surprise to them.

The Second Act: Surprised by Reality

The intensity of the 2008 protests in Tibet were unseen. It can be safely assumed that no one, not the Chinese leaders, the Dalai Lama nor the campaigners, had dreamed of such a thing. Though it is characteristic of Beijing’s mindset to think that the Dalai Lama or any other group from exile had instigated or masterminded the protest inside Tibet, the reality is, there were neither the resources nor the intention for such a plan.

The primary doubt that arose among observers is the question of simultaneous protests. How was that possible? In a paper published in 2012, Robbie Barnett points out that people in Tibet were well informed about the Tibetan shortwave radio stations and that mobile telephones made it possible to spread the news quickly:

All the information necessary for events to take place at roughly similar times was circulating worldwide in the international media, and these media outlets had been available for several years to most Tibetans through short-wave radio and satellite broadcasts from abroad. These broadcasts reach rural areas of Tibet more easily than urban areas, around which jamming stations are clustered. There was extensive publicity outside China and on these radio stations about exile plans to disrupt the preparations for the Olympics and to hold a march in India on March 10, the anniversary of the 1959 uprising that had led to the Dalai Lama’s exile. It was implicit in these reports that China would be less likely to use lethal force on protesters in the run-up to the Olympics, and it was well known that the Dalai Lama was involved in advanced stages of talks with the Chinese authorities, which protesters may have hoped to influence.”43

It is worth noting that it is confusing to state that all “necessary information” for a simultaneous uprising was readily available during the preceding years. It would be more adequate to say that the general mood in Tibet had reached a boiling point, with Chinese propaganda fueling the anger of the Tibetans, while foreign reports and news about the planned march by Tibetans from India to Tibet constantly raised expectations.44

Lanzhou, 16 March 2008 Tibetans stay together through good times and bad times (solidarity).
Lanzhou, 16 March 2008 Tibetans stay together through good times and bad times (solidarity).

Or to put it another way, the unbroken will to resist, the approaching Olympic Games, the underground debate and years of campaigns ensured that the ground was prepared for a nationwide protest without the need for conspiratorial coordination. The march in India, the monks’ protest in Lhasa and elsewhere in Tibet on March 10 were only the final sparks.

The protests in Tibet started on March 10, 2008—not on March 14, 2008 as the Chinese authorities claimed. Tsering Woeser provides a vivid impression of the 300 monks marching from Drepung Monastery to Lhasa chanting slogans along the way: “We demand religious freedom!”They also demanded the release of monks from their monastery who had been arrested a year earlier. The police intervened with tear gas and truncheons. A few hours later, they were followed by 14 monks from Sera Monastery, who in turn were brutally beaten. On the same day, a protest took place in Hualong in Qinghai Province, 2000 kilometers away.45

Lhasa, Jokhang, 27 March 2008, We want freedom, it is all fake!
Lhasa, Jokhang, 27 March 2008, We want freedom, it is all fake!

At the same time and unsuspectingly, a small group of Tibetan youth in the ancient greek city of Delphi came together for an alternative and Tibetan-style torch ceremony. It was the start of an alternative Tibetan torch tour.46

In retrospect, one can see how badly the Chinese government was prepared for these protests. The protests were tolerated for four days in the hopes of detaining as many ringleaders as possible, or possibly to depict the protests as violent. Images were repeatedly shown in which alleged Tibetan demonstrators ravaged shops. That didn’t help to calm spirits. On the contrary, the Chinese government’s violent verbal attacks against the Dalai Lama on March 18, 2008 poured even more oil on the fire.

The television reports of horsemen upon ponies invading an Eastern Tibetan city, or Tibetans storming police stations, raising the flag and proclaiming a free Tibet, triggered an unprecedented euphoria among Tibetans and their friends. However, there was danger of a brutal crackdown, and that the flow of news would dry up as soon as the Chinese military sealed off Tibet. In this situation, however, incredibly courageous people emerged in Tibet to ensure that the Chinese government’s plan failed.

“His Holiness come back (to Tibet, author’s note) —Fight for Freedom”.
“His Holiness come back (to Tibet, author’s note) —Fight for Freedom”.

Tsering Woeser ran a one-woman news agency in her small apartment in Beijing throughout 2008. With her blog, the petite but strong-willed Woeser managed for months to critically challenge the official government reports and to bring previously unnoticed facts into the limelight. This gave foreign correspondents in Beijing and the media outside China access to reliable assessments of events in Tibet. The Chinese government’s interpretation of the uprising, however, had no international echoes. It simply lacked credibility, although China made intensive efforts to regain media dominance over the issue. For this purpose, a group of foreign journalists was hastily taken from Beijing to Lhasa on March 27, 2008 to report on the “calmed situation”. In Jokhang Temple, 30 monks upset the plans of officials—to their complete surprise. They spoke through tears to the rolling cameras of foreign journalists about their despair, and the reality in Tibet, and that the Chinese propaganda was not to be trusted.47 A similarly disastrous action followed on April 9, 2008 in Labrang (Gansu Province) 2000 kilometers away, where a group of about 40 monks displayed a Tibetan flag and a banner with the inscription “His Holiness shall come to Tibet—fight for freedom” to the journalists present.

London, two Tibetans protesting against Olympic Torch Rally, March 2008.
London, two Tibetans protesting against Olympic Torch Rally, March 2008.

These events in Tibet and critical media reports made the Olympic Torch Relay a perfect focus for the latent popular annoyance in Europe and the US against the arrogance of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the Chinese government and the international corporations—all of which did not care about human rights—let alone the rights of Tibetans. The torch relay thus built energy to an extent beyond which Tibetan activists could have dared to hope for. The downside of this dynamic was that it was no longer possible to control what form the protests took. In London, Delhi, Paris and San Francisco, passers-by spontaneously blocked the running route and an irrational struggle developed around the fetish of the Olympic torch, which in the eyes of the protesters had to be prevented from reaching China under any circumstances. An incident occurred in Paris: While trying to snatch the torch from a wheelchair-torch-runner selected by the IOC, she fell. The media’s pro-Tibet mood was in danger of turning into an anti-Tibet mood.

One World, One Dream, Free Tibet, Mount Everest Base Camp, Tibet, Thursday, May 3, 2007.
One World, One Dream, Free Tibet, Mount Everest Base Camp,
Tibet, Thursday, May 3, 2007.

The Dalai Lama showed mixed feelings for the protests against the Olympic torch relay in San Francisco, which took place a few days before the interview with Der Spiegel. However, he understood the rage generated by the announced torch relay to Mount Everest. “If times were quiet, I wouldn’t be upset about it. But under these circumstances I understand the protests, without supporting them, of course.”48

The demand for a boycott picked up again during those days. President Sarkozy of France, US President George Bush, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown all called on China to resume talks with the Dalai Lama and questioned their participation in the opening ceremony. Despite it all, George Bush attended the ceremony. In the case of France, it took more than a year for tensions between Sarkozy and Beijing to ease.49

The Dalai Lama, for his part, used the wave of public support to participate in a Tibetan rally in Berlin on May 19, 2008, in front of the Brandenburg Gate, to promote political support and to commemorate Chinese earthquake victims. He called on his people to refrain from protests in front of Chinese embassies. The Berlin rally was the first and by far the largest political rally in which the Dalai Lama had participated outside India. The event was mobilized and organized in only ten days, but more than 25,000 people came to express their solidarity with Tibet. In these days before the rally, the Dalai Lama answered the question of a boycott by asserting that he still supported the games. If the Western leaders were to boycott the opening ceremony, this would be their decision.50

A Tibetan activist during the 2008 march, Source:"The Sun Behind the Clouds: Tibet's Struggle for Freedom." documentary by Tenzin Sonam & Ritu Sarin.
A Tibetan activist during the 2008 march, Source:”The Sun Behind the Clouds: Tibet’s Struggle for Freedom.” documentary by Tenzin Sonam & Ritu Sarin.

From his point of view, this attitude was sensible. Less than a month earlier, the Chinese government had agreed to resume informal talks with the Dalai Lama. The press reported: “China appeared to bend to international pressure on Friday as the government announced it would meet with envoys of the Dalai Lama, an unexpected shift that comes as Tibetan unrest in western China has threatened to cast a pall over the Beijing Olympics in August”.51 For a few weeks, it actually looked as if the protests in Tibet had contributed to steps being taken towards a political solution. The Dalai Lama’s envoys met with their Chinese counterparts in May, then again in June, and finally at the end of October.

Of course, everyone had doubts about the sincerity of the offer, presumably also the Dalai Lama. But what could he do? On May 4, 2008, Tsering Woeser wrote: “Some Tibetans also pointed out that the talk is just a show, and it will only be beneficial to the Chinese side. The CCP can set their mind at rest over holding the Beijing Olympics, and the heads of the western countries can also rest assured about attending the Olympics. The sacrifices made by Tibetans will all be wasted. However, does the CCP really think that they can drag on like this until the Olympics are over?”52 Yes, this was the Beijing plan, and it worked.

The last act: The End

On August 6, 2008, the same day that “Leaving Fear Behind” premiered in Beijing, Students for Free Tibet started their activities in China’s capital. Their members climbed on street lamp poles with “Free Tibet” banners; unfurled Tibetan flags; and surprised the security forces with creative protests in the vicinity of the National Stadium, included L.E.D. lights banners and large-scale laser displays on buildings. All activists were detained and then deported, but they accomplished to briefly draw the media’s attention to the situation in Tibet, and thus deprived the Chinese government of its immaculate propaganda success.

No Olympics for China until Tibet is Free, Beijing, August 2004.
No Olympics for China until Tibet is Free, Beijing, August 2004.

In Tibet itself, protests continued unnoticed well after the Olympic Games. The increased military presence, the control of schools, the repeated self-criticism that affected not only Tibetans in Tibet, but also those who studied in Beijing, led China to regain control of the Tibetans. After the Games, China no longer had to take international opinion into account and could freely rule. The last lonely protest in a series of around 600 protests in 2008 was held by a courageous 31-year-old woman on the morning of December 29, 2008 in Kardze in East Kham. Kunchok Dolma went to Dontuk Monastery in the morning, presented an offering in the temple, then went to Kardze’s market, distributed leaflets and called out “Free Tibet” and “Long live the Dalai Lama”. Her arrest was the last in 2008, raising the total to 6810.53

There was a phase at the end of 2007 when the group “Games of Beijing” seriously considered whether it would not be possible to carry out the first joint action of Tibetans in exile and in Tibet during the Games in Beijing. A campaign leader had already been appointed. But the preparations were so complicated and dangerous, especially after the March uprising, that this idea was soon abandoned. At the beginning of January 2008, however, the possibility arose to receive unfiltered statements on film from Tibetans in Tibet. Even if it was impossible to predict the quality of the material, it was clear that the film would be a sensation. On March 10, 2008, a Tibetan-born British woman named Dechen Pemba, who lived in Beijing, met a man from Tibet whom she did not know at the time in Xi’an. He was Dhondup Wangchen, who was arrested 16 days after the handover of the tapes.

In white shirt Florian Norbu, protest action during the games in Beijing on August 22, 2008.
In white shirt Florian Norbu, protest action during the games in Beijing on August 22, 2008.

The group Games of Beijing had planned the premiere of the 26-minute documentary as the last action for Beijing. Even though this film had nothing to do with the Tibetan Olympic campaign, in the strictest sense, it brought the slogan “Bring Tibet To The Games” to real fulfillment. The film had succeeded in raising the complaints, hopes and wishes of Tibetans inside Tibet to audiences at the Olympics in Beijing.

On his long flight back to his family, Dhondup Wangchen probably imagined how he could explain to his children, wife and parents the reasons for making this film, and how he could justify this sacrifice of six years in prison and labor camp, and another three years of separation from his family. The sentence of six years in prison, he may have concluded, was first and foremost proof of the Chinese state’s revengefulness. It may comfort him and his family – who are mentioned here as examples for the many brave people in Tibet – that thanks to their determination China’s intention to silence the people in Tibet at the Games, was impeded.

A Short Epilogue

On our journey into the present, we bring along a selection of memories of the people we’ve met, of the events that have shaped us, and of the stories that help us to understand the world and ourselves. The desire to share these stories that represent our lives is deeply human, and helps us to find our way into the future. The untiring effort to do this with sincerity is fundamental to human culture. Everyone contributes with his story to weaving a bond of memories that unites us as a family, community and nation. As for Dhondup Wangchen, it will hardly be the view down upon the Rocky Mountains that soon fades. He will guard other stories, like a precious fire in himself, to ensure that his sacrifice was not meaningless.

All we can do is puzzle over how the Dalai Lama remembers the 2008 uprising and this extraordinary September 12th, 2008. On this day, the Dalai Lama invited representatives of Tibetans in exile in a grand announcement to a special meeting in Dharamsala in northern India. His envoys had visited China two times since May 2008, and it became apparent that China’s willingness to talk was not serious.54 On October 25, the Dalai Lama announced that his confidence in the Chinese leadership had become “thinner and thinner” and that he had almost given up hope of finding a solution with the current leadership in Beijing.55 His desire to speak plainly in the face of collapsing hopes seemed to be closely linked to the dramatic events of the Olympic year 2008.

For its part, the Chinese government clearly formulated its blatant distrust of the Dalai Lama and the rounds of Sino-Tibetan talks that started in 2002 in its most recent white paper on Tibet: “When they thought the situation was working to their disadvantage, they would call for contacts with the central government; when they thought the situation was in their favor, they would break off these contacts. None of the negotiations were conducted in good faith—it was always the intention of the Dalai Lama and his supporters to divide China and achieve independence for Tibet.”56

If the Dalai Lama’s political strategy vis-à-vis Beijing over the past decades could be summed up in a nutshell, it is the role of an “honest broker” for his people. It was never his political temperament, and it will never be, to lead a political movement and direct his people to political action.57 Instead, he prefers pointing to the dire conditions in Tibet, making sensible suggestions as to how the problem could be solved to mutual benefit, with a compromise (“middle way”) and lobbying for international support. The uprising in Tibet and sudden dynamics around the Olympic Games were a unique test of his strategy. The louder the dissatisfaction in Tibet, the greater the international solidarity and the more international support (his most effective lever against Beijing) he received. However, the escalation of this mechanism led at the same time to a deepening of mistrust in Beijing.

More support for Tibet from the international community than what was received in 2008 is hardly conceivable.58 If no talks could be held, even under conditions such as in 2008, the model of the “honest broker” should be fundamentally reconsidered. No one can blame the Dalai Lama for trying. However, it raises questions to stick to this model, ten years after 2008, when it is clear that this path does not lead to a solution. It’s time to test other ways.

On November 17, 2008, the delegates of the “Special Meeting” met in Dharamsala.59 Due to the events of the last months, there was also a huge interest from the international media in the meeting. Journalists and television teams were everywhere in the streets of Dharamsala. Everyone who had rank and name among the exiled Tibetans was there, and debated for four days about the future course of the Tibetan government in exile. Never before—or later at similar meetings—has the debate been so open.60

A collection of individual responses from Tibet, supporting the course towards China of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in Exile (TGIE), played a crucial role in the debate. However, the discussion in the individual sub-groups was very lively. While some of the participants wanted to deal with the fundamental political situation, others were emotionally overwhelmed by the suppression of the uprising, and others discussed topics that ultimately had no relation to the current crisis and its consequences.

Two things became clear as the result of the past months:

1. China is not prepared to talk to the Dalai Lama about any kind of solution to the Tibet problem.

2. Their willingness cannot be enforced in the foreseeable future by maximum use of the known means of political campaigns, pressure or diplomacy.

What was needed then, and still of importance, is a discussion based on a analysis of the 2008 events, because there are a number of lessons from 2008 that are still valid today. An important lesson and core element of any future political strategy must be: Better understanding of the effects of our exile activities, the reality in Tibet, and the importance of communication with the the people of Tibet can unleash great potential. However, if we are to use our limited resources to provide meaningful support for political action inside Tibet and China, we need an open exchange on actions, their objectives and forms. Especially the self-immolations show that, if there is no exchange, and the Tibetan movement outside Tibet only acts as recipient and passive amplifier of news from Tibet—it leads to hopeless cycles of tragic repetition. An open discussion could lead to new perspectives and new forms of political struggle. But this hasn’t happened.

The delegates of the “Special Meeting” had no right to make binding decisions. Nevertheless, it was understood that the final document would point the way forward.61 As expected, the document would maintain non-violence, and condemn the Chinese government for the plight in Tibet. The September and October euphoria for a change of course was no longer felt by the higher-ups. November had taken away the CTA’s courage. The existing policies were reaffirmed—though against some resistance, a small group managed to include a clause in the final declaration stating that, if there is no change in China’s attitude in the foreseeable future, all strategic options, including the final political goal (autonomy, self-determination and independence) for Tibet should be examined.62

Ten years have passed since the flame extinguished in the Olympic stadium in Beijing. The political situation in Tibet and China has hardly changed since. Unfortunately, this also applies to the internal Tibetan debate. Since then, two elections to the exiled Tibetan parliament and the current exiled leadership have taken place, without alternative plans being presented. On the contrary, as a rule, the candidate who spoke out most clearly in favor of continuity and the “middle way” won. It was made clear in 2008 that Tibetans must free themselves from the same eternal debate of “autonomy”, “independence” or “the right of self-determination” for Tibet. They must look beyond this barren triangle for new political strategies. It is high time to think about alternative ways to freedom. Better ideas are necessary.



1. Wangpo Tethong led the International Tibet Olympic Campaign from 2003 to 2007 and was responsible for coordinating the activities of the members of the International Tibet Network. The task of the working group, which he headed, was to formulate a common strategy. In 2008 he worked with a group of young Tibetans from Switzerland and the UK on the post-production and distribution of Leaving Fear Behind. In the years that followed, he campaigned for the release of the two filmers, Dhondup Wangchen and Golog Jigme. He thanks Tenzin Tsundue, B. Tsering, Tenzin Sewo, Dechen Pemba, Yeshi Ngingthatshang, Golog Jigme and Jamyang Tsultrim, Tenzin Kelden, Dicky Tethong and Flo Norbu for the information and suggestions for this article; however the conclusions are the sole responsibility of the author. The article is a translation from “Das Aufstandsjahr 2008 und die Olympischen Spiele, 2018 published on

2. Dhondup Wangchen was sentenced to six years in prison for this film, the charge was “subversion of state power”. The film “Leaving Fear Behind” is available online.

3. Tsering Woeser, “Ihr habt Gewehre, ich einen Stift,” Eine Chronology der Ereingisse 2008 in Tibet, Berlin, 2009

4. The course of Google searches for the two terms “Dalai Lama” and “Tibet” shows a steep curve upwards in March 2008, which dropped significantly by May, See Powerpoint presentation “Olympics Campaign 2008″, VTJE Easter Conference, Einsiedeln, 2018

5. See the excellent article by Robert Barnett. According to Barnett, China speaks of 9, International Campaign for Tibet of 140 and the Central Tibetan Administration of 210 deaths, Robert Barnett ” The Tibet Protests of Spring 2008 “, China Perspectives, March 2009, URL : http://

6. See the NYT article of April 4, 2008, source:

7. See Tsering Woeser, p. 64ff, 30 Chinese writers publish a document with 12 proposals on how to deal with the crisis in Tibet.

8. I refer to the article by Ben Blanchard from Reuters. The second performance took place in Hotel “G”, which was blown up by hotel management and the security forces. A third screening for human rights experts and Tibetan experts took place a few days later at the Dutch Embassy in Beijing.

9. After his escape from Tibet, Dhondup Wangchen made a stop in Switzerland. The members of Filming for Tibet did a formal debriefing with him on December 23, 2017 and reconstructed the events. The above information is based on the notes of this debriefing.

10. According to Florian Norbu, a total of 46 courageous activists took part in the protests. The majority were non-Tibetans. He was a representative of the Tibetan Youth in Europe Association in Beijing and was arrested after an action on August 22, 2008 and taken to an interrogation center. The first protest by these same groups, in which 6 people participated, took place in 2007, far in advance of the Games at the Great Wall of China. The other actions took place during the Games in Beijing.

11. Since the events related to the campaign are described in detail here, the interpretation of the insurrection naturally receives an intentional and actor-related linearity. This is deliberate and is intended to form a conscious contrast to the mostly structuralist and determinist approaches to explanation.

12. March 18, 2008, China blames Dalai Lama for riots

13. March 18, .2008, “Dalai Lama denkt über Rückzug aus der Öffentlichkeit nach”, www.

14. See the very detailed interview with the Dalai Lama with “Der Spiegel” editor Erich Follath and the correspondent Padma Rao. The following quotes are from this interview.
“Ich bete für Chinas Führung, Interview mit dem Dalai Lama,” Der Spiegel, 20/2008

15. All quotes are from an interview with the German news magazin Der Spiegel.

16. See Tibet’s Path of Development Is Driven by an Irresistible Historical Tide, The State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China, April 2015, Beijing

17. See his article in which he urges the Tibetan government in exile in Dharamsala to oppose the events: Jamyang Norbu, Don’t stop the revolution, April 4, 2018’t-stop-the-revolution/

18. See the pictures of the rallies on the excellent website

19. See also the blog entries of Tsering Woeser, Ihr habt die Gewehre, ich einen Stift, Eine Chronologie der Ereignisse 2008 in Tibet, Berlin, 2009

20. The analysis of the report is significantly weaker than its chronology.
Central Tibetan Administration, CTA:2008 Uprising in Tibet – Chronology and Analysis, Department of Information and International Relations, Dharamsala 2010,

21. The whole report can be read on the website of the Interantional Campaign for Tibet.:

22. Radio Free Asia Discussion with Dhondup Wangchen and Kunga Tashi on March 17, 2008,

23. The self-immolations influenced, in any case, the Tibetans’ view of the largest Tibetan uprising since 1959: On the one hand, a narrative emerged that the development after the 2008 uprisings to self-immolations was stringent and without alternative. On the other hand, countless speeches at Tibetan rallies have described individual martyrdom as the highest form of protest, which aroused awe but no effective follow-up from audiences when compared to 2008.

24. In 2004, an international coalition of Tibetan groups in Athens carried out several actions at the Olympic Games: Sophie Bod and Anne Callaghan from Free Tibet Campaign as well as Dechen Pemba, Yeshi Ngingthatshang, Norlha Monkhar, Tenzin Sewo, Kelsang S. , Tenzin Frischknecht, Tashi Büwang, Martin H. and Wangpo Tethong were present. (all from Games of Beijing) and Jacky Miller and Hara Kolomiri from the Greek Tibet groups. In 2006, the first action of an exiled Tibetan took place in Beijing. Wangpo Tethong, Martin H., Tenzin Sewo and Dechen Pemba were involved in this action on Tiananmen Square in 2006.

25. My conversation notes, conversations with Golog Jigme and Jamyang Tsultrim, 4 May 2018. It was a book containing texts by Hortsang Jigme and Alag Jigme, among others.

26. Kyag Kyog Che wa’i bZhud Lam Dang Wo’d sTong ‘Bar ba’i Mi Tse, Tibetan Buddhist Publication, 2005/2006, S. 231 (ཀྱག་ཀྱ་ཆོགྱེ་བའི་བཞ་འབརུད་ལམ་དང་འོདྟ་ཚོང་འབར་འབར་བའིི་དཔ་,བོད་བརྒ་ཆ་ས་ནང་ཆོས་དཔ་ཚོགས་,་ཚ/2006)

27. Leaving Fear Behind,

28. Conversation notes with N.N., a person who does not want to be named. Private archive

29. The following information is based on two folders with my documents about the activities of Games of Beijing. Games of Beijing was founded on November 2, 2002 in order to bundle and finance the activities of the organizations in Switzerland. The association was dissolved as agreed in 2009. Only sponsoring organizations could be members. The composition of the activists changed continuously.

30. The working group of the International Tibet Support Network was founded in Prague in 2003. It met again in Paris in 2004, in Zurich in 2005 and then in 2006 in Dharamsala in full attendance. The members of the working groups were volunteers and were supported by the ITSN secretary. From 2003 to 2007 Wangpo Tethong was chairman, followed by Lhadon Tethong.

31. Tenzin Tsundue (Tibetan activist and one of the organizers of the march) and B. Tsering (former President of the Tibetan Women’s Association, member of the ITSN Olympic Working Group and co-organizer of the meeting in Dharamsala) were both involved in this action and confirm the course of events described here. See email and WhatsApp Message to Wangpo Tethong dated April 5, 2018.

32. The first strategy papers were drafted according to my memory by Alison Reynolds, who played a leading role in the campaign up to its end.
cf. Documents of the ITSN Working Group, Wangpo Tethong private archives

33. The estimated 300’000 Swiss Francs that the Swiss groups (Games of Beijing and Filming for Tibet) spent from 2001 to 2008 are, however, a very small amount compared to the millions that China invested in the Olympics

35. There had already been a action by Tibetan activists in Monaco in 1991. Beijing lost to Sydney at that time. The memories of the suppression of the student uprising at Tiananmen Square were still too fresh.

36. On site were Yangzom Brauen, Tenzin Sewo, Chokey Choklay and Alex B. from Switzerland, as well as John Hocevar (SFT) from the USA, Anne Callaghan (Free Tibet Campaign) and Karma Yeshi (Tibetan Youth Congress, India). From Zurich, the team was supported by Tseten Allemann, Nyima Thondup, Diki Lamdark and Jigme Ribi. Many of these activists remained committed to the campaign until 2008 or beyond, in many ways for Tibet.

37. See Wangpo Tethong’s email to Alison Reynolds and Anne Callaghan dated Aug. 3, 2002, discussing in detail the initial contact with Hein Verbruggen, Chairman of the Coordination Committee for the 2008 Games, and the objectives of the campaign. The members discuss if the campaign should take a principal stand, oppose the IOC, or focus on issues such as the free access of foreign journalist to information in China, or standards of human rights by the IOC, etc.
cf. Documents of the ITSN Working Group, Wangpo Tethong private archives

38. The ITSN working group agreed on this formula in 2005, but it was not communicated directly to the outside world. See Powerpoint Presentation, 2006 Dharamsala Meeting.

39. See Powerpoint presentation from 2006, the graphic has been available in a similar form since 2005. The graph shows a “road map” plan for the years 2003 to 2008, which has an almost prophetic character. On the left, a sequence of direct actions in China; and on the right, the public actions against the torch relay and other activities like Team Tibet, media work, etc..

40. A Tibetan National Olympic Committee was also established specifically for the 2008 games. The activities were coordinated from Switzerland, but the athletes came from India, France, Germany and the UK. The highlight was certainly Thomas Mann’s invitation to the European Parliament on November 8, 2007.

41. The extent of creativity is impressive, in retrospect: Alternative torch races, participation in popular races, football matches with prominent opponents and participation of the Tibetan team in a TV game show. In Switzerland, the majority of these activities were managed by Keli Gope. In India, there was talk of holding alternative Olympic Games, which were propagated by Lobsang Wangyal.

42. Reuters, 8. März 2008,
See also the statement by the Dalai Lama, on the occasion of the 10th March uprising of 1959

43. Robert Barnett, ” The Tibet Protests of Spring 2008 “, China Perspectives, posted March 2009,

44. Though it was clear from the start that the march would be stopped by Indian border police, the action created a huge media hype—but not too much enthusiasm with the Dalai Lama, who said: “I have also discouraged the organizers of the so-called peace march from here in Dharamsala to the border of the People’s Republic, because this could lead to disputes with the armed border guards.”
Interview with the Dalai Lama, Der Spiegel, 20/2008

45. cf. Tsering Woeser, p. 34ff.

46. There is a very interesting video by Dondup Shelkar documenting this very poetic event, The start of the alternative Tibet Torch Tour was organized by members of the Tibetan Youth in Europe Association in cooperation with the Tibet Olympia Group.

47. cf.

48. Interview with the Dalai Lama, Der Spiegel, 20/2008

49. see NYT article of April 1, 2009,

50. see Guardian article of May 21, 2008,

51. see NYT, April 25, 2008,

52. Woeser’s Blog, “Tibet Update May 1- 6, 2008,”

53. See “2008 Uprising in Tibet – Chronology and Analysis”, p. 166

54. An interesting collection of newspaper articles and opinions on the topic can be found on this blog:


56. See White Paper, 2015

57.It is undisputed that he has the potential to do so, in principle. In 2006, when he spoke out very emotionally but rather unplanned against wearing fur, he triggered a real popular movement in Tibet. For months Tibetans gathered to burn their precious fur stock.

58. It can also be assumed that the majority of Tibetans supported the policy of the “middle way”. However, it must be said that they would also support a change of course—if there had the blessing of the Dalai Lama.

59. The author was a participant himself and was there together with Yeshi Ngingthatshang and Tendon Dahortsang, two representatives of the Association of Tibetan Youth in Europe. The special aspect of this meeting was that many activists were invited. The majority of the approximately 560 participants were provided by former or current CTA officials.

60. See for the author’s and other’s opinion on this meeting.

61. The short report by Tenzin Tsundue provides a good impression of the highly emotional meeting. The young Tibetan woman he mentions is Yeshi Ngingthatshang. See Tenzin Tsundue, The Tibetan Resolution, 29 December 2008,

62. In my memory, the Tibetan text on the official CTA website does not correspond to the final document read out to all participants. See the report on the 1st Extraordinary Meeting of 21 November 2008,༄༅༅།།བཅའ་ཁྲིམས་དོན་ཚན་ང/



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