China: Tibetan musicians arrested and “effectively silenced”



Tibetan musicians arrested and ‘effectively silenced’

Since March 2008, the Tibetan singers Drolmakyi and Jamyang Kyi, the musician Lhundrup, as well as four other celebrities have been arrested and held in custody without charges by the Chinese authorities, reported Los Angeles Times.

On 30 March 2008, Chinese authorities arrested the singer and nightclub-owner Drolmakyi as she was hanging laundry from the balcony of her apartment. She didn’t even get to say goodbye to her three children, ages 9 to 13, who were playing outside. They came back and found their mother gone. After nearly two months in custody, Drolmakyi was permitted to return home in late May.

“She’s been basically told she has to shut up for a while,” said the friend, who asked not to be quoted by name. She believed that a condition of the release was that Drolmakyi cannot appear in public or discuss her arrest.


Click to read more about music censorship in China
China: tension over Tibet

Seven Tibetan cultural figures arrested
This was reported in an article by Barbara Demick in Los Angeles Times on 8 June 2008. Barbara Demick also mentions the arrest of a musician who recorded a popular music video that refers obliquely to the Dalai Lama’s flight from Tibet to India, referred to simply as Lhundrup – and also mentions Jamyang Kyi, the prominent Tibetan singer and a song-writer from Xining who was arrested on 1 April 2008 and held without charges by the Chinese authorities.

According to Barbara Demick, at least four Tibetan cultural figures were arrested in recent months under similar circumstances with no warning or formal charges. Friends and family say they eventually secured their releases by paying large fees and promising to keep quiet.


Silencing the celebrities
Robert Barnett, a Tibet scholar at Columbia University in USA, believes that the Chinese security forces tend to focus on local celebrities and people with ideas – intellectuals, artists, teachers, writers and so on – because even unintentionally they might inspire other Tibetans to think along ‘unofficial’ ways. They might inspire others to think about what it means to be Tibetan. The authorities worry habitually about new ideas spreading and ‘infecting’ the populace.

“Most of those arrested were believed to have been released under conditions similar to those for Drolmakyi, meaning that they have been effectively silenced,” Robert Barnett told Los Angeles Times.

In an email to Freemuse on 17 June 2008, Robert Barnett elaborated on this. He wrote:

    “The Chinese authorities seem particularly concerned about popular music and potential ideas that can be conveyed by it. They focus on attacking any obvious references in songs to the exile Dalai Lama, or the plight of being under occupation. In the 1980s and 1990s, several people were arrested for singing songs in the streets or in prisons, including the famous ‘Drapchi nuns’, who made a secret tape recording in prison of songs about Tibet, and received additional sentences of up to 10 years. It’s much rarer for professional singers or artists to be arrested, though.

    Often these references are very veiled, but sometimes one can guess at the real meaning of some songs. But in many other cases, metaphors in song lyrics can be read in political ways by listeners without the singers deliberately intending to communicate these meanings.

    References to the sun and moon might refer to the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama, a long lost love might be the Dalai Lama, and an absent younger brother might be the Panchen Lama – but they also might not be meant to have any second meanings.

    In those situations, the authorities might well end up arresting singers more or less at random: they always can’t be quite sure who intended their songs to be hidden calls for freedom.

    For example, Jamyang Kyi certainly did not sing any songs with any political meanings during her concert at Columbia University in March 2006, or elsewhere – but she was arrested this April anyway.

    In such cases, the authorities spend weeks interrogating the detainees, sometimes using torture or humiliation (Dabe is famous for his beard and long hair, but he came out of prison last month with it all shaved off). They try to find some other reason to justify the arrest, such as contact with an exile government activist, or something like that.

    I think that they hope not to have to use the song lyrics or writings as the reason for the arrest, so that they won’t be accused of arresting people just because of their ideas. But usually local people will believe that is the real reason.

    In most of these cases so far they are allowing the singers and intellectuals to go back to their homes under a kind of house arrest while the investigations continue, searching for some reason to put them on trial and prevent them from talking to others about their situation.

    This suggests both that Tibetan song in itself is seen as dangerous by the authorities, and that the officials will create more nationalist feeling and anger with China by trying to silence these singers.

    So far they haven’t touched the really big names – Yadong and Kunga, for example – but there are lots of rumours that they plan to, or already have.

    The important thing here is publicity – the more these arrests of artists and intellectuals are made public, especially where the reasons for the arrests are so trivial or are even based on guesswork, the more counterproductive it will be for officials to continue this policy of arrests, and the more the reputations of these artists will be increased.”

Dunglen music – about identity
Drolmakyi is a 31-year-old single mother, a member of the local government council and a well-known figure in Dawu, a dusty little town perched high on the Tibetan plateau. The town is situated in the Golog prefecture, which is an enclave of 120,000 ethnic Tibetans and fewer than 10,000 ethnic Chinese in China’s Qinghai province, outside the Tibetan Autonomous Region.

Barbara Demick told in her article that Tibetan folk music was enjoying a revival in this area, particularly a relatively recent style that started in the 1980s, known as dunglen. The songs are slow, sad, hypnotic and invariably about lost love or some tragedy. The exile of the Dalai Lama and the loss of Tibetan identity under Chinese communist rule were perfect subjects for the style of music.

Donzhub, a ponytailed young man who occasionally played in Drolmakyi’s nightclub, a place painted with colorful murals of lotus blossoms and other Buddhist symbols, is quoted as saying, “We used to sing about things we couldn’t talk about.”

Drolmakyi’s mother said she’d heard that Drolmakyi had sketched a Tibetan flag to use in one of her nightclub acts. Under Article 105 of China’s criminal code, people can be charged with “incitement to subversion of state power” for criticizing Chinese rule.

CDs of arrested singers removed
Despite the 12 May earthquake in Sichuan province Tibetan protests and the Chinese crackdown have continued. According to Tibetan exile groups, 80 nuns were arrested in late May in Ganzi, in Sichuan, and Chinese state media announced recently that 16 Buddhist monks had been arrested and had confessed to planning bombings in Tibet.

In Dawu, it was easy to see examples of changed behavior after the arrests. The music shops lining the main market stopped displaying the videos and CDs of arrested singers. Even in homes, many Tibetans said, they have stashed away such photos.
“You never know when the police will come,” said Cebu, a 50-year-old Tibetan herder.

At Jantar Mantar in India, as a mark of solidarity to the ongoing Tibetan protests inside Tibet and at the same time observing the 49th year of Tibetan people in exile, Mudrel Tibetan Music performed 49 hours of non-stop traditional Tibetan music on 16-18 June 2008.

This summary is published with permission from Barbara Demick
Photos of Drolmakyi and Lhundrup: courtesy of Robert Barnett

Click to read more about Jamyang Kyi's arrest
Jamyang Kyi

Click on photo to read more about her arrest


Cover of video-CD by Lhundrup

Read Barbara Demick’s article:

Los Angeles Times – 8 June 2008:

‘China silences Tibet folk singer Drolmakyi’

      Jamyang Kyi

      “The sun and the moon have departed
      through the mountain pass.
      The person who gave hope is gone.
      He looks at the Tibetans
      and sees that this is the Tibetans’ fate.”


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