Undercover in Tibet, one of over 120 films at this year’s One World festival, features the testimonies of victims of Chinese repression, including a Tibetan monk who describes being tortured, a woman forced to undergo sterilisation and former nomads made to live in isolated compounds. Those interviews were secretly recorded by Tash Despa, who escaped from Tibet in his late teens and returned, on a UK passport, a decade later. Ahead of a screening of the documentary, I asked Tash Despa how much danger he had been in while filming in the tightly controlled territory.
“The danger I can’t tell. Maybe my life was in danger, definitely…some people could come in the night and just kill me. That was the danger. Also my family was in danger as well. But still I thought, this is a really good chance to bring the truth inside Tibet to the outside world. That’s why I didn’t really think about my danger too much. As a Tibetan you have got your responsibilities on your shoulders.”
Since the film was made have your family had any problems with the authorities?
“There are no problems, at the moment. Also my contributors are fine, because we blacked out their faces, we changed their voices. That’s why I think they are all right.”
There was a gap of 10 years from when you left to when you went back. Had Tibet changed in that 10-year period?
“From the outside Tibet had changed a lot. There were beautiful roads, and the people had nice clothes, motorbikes, cars. But inside they have got nothing. Also my first impression was that Tibetan youngsters are speaking…50 percent in Tibet speak Chinese…”
So sinocisation is working?
“Yes. Also Tibetan nomads are at the root of Tibetan culture and everything, and they’re moving them into the middle of nowhere. Their livestock is confiscated by the Chinese government…The men are becoming alcoholics, there’s gambling, robbery. And the women are becoming prostitutes – they go to another town…This had never happened in Tibet before. Now if you go to Tibet there are hundreds and thousands of Tibetan prostitutes.”
Honestly, in 20, 25 years from now how do you think Tibet will look? What kind of country – or territory – will it be?
“I think in 20 years, if we keep going like this, without help from the outside world, if China doesn’t change, I think Tibet is going to…vanish. If you don’t read and write in Chinese you don’t get a proper job, and because of that people are sending their kids to Chinese schools. So I think Tibetan culture and everything is going to vanish in 25 years’ time, if we don’t get any help from outside.”
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