Grab that Torch!

Last Monday morning as I was packing my toilet stuff for a trip to San Francisco, my older daughter, Namkha Lhamo, rushed into the bathroom. She had seen the anti-torch rallies in London and Paris on TV, and was clearly excited. “Pala, Pala, are you going to steal that Olympic torch” she demanded.

“Yeah, sure,” I replied, “but when I bring it back, I want you to share it with your little sister.” I carried on in that bantering vein (which I really shouldn’t) telling her that she could take it to school for Show and Tell, and that when I died she could sell it on EBay for her college fund. Earlier, she had expressed some doubts about the protests. She had heard someone on National Public Radio saying it was wrong to mix politics with sports. So as I drove her to school that morning I tried to explain where things really stood.

Countries have always boycotted the Olympics when it was in their political interests to do so. America and the West boycotted the Moscow Olympics when the Russians invaded Afghanistan. Then the Soviet bloc states boycotted the Los Angeles Games in retaliation. China completely boycotted the Olympics from 1948 to 1976, because of Taiwan’s participation in the games. In 1979, the International Olympic Committee, under pressure from China, declared that Taiwan athletes could only participate as representatives of “Chinese Taipei”, and not Republic of China or Taiwan. If this isn’t politicizing the Olympics, what is?

In Beijing’s case one important reason for hosting the Olympics is, without doubt, to rehabilitate its image; to reprogram peoples memories about the past, especially the past concerning the Tiananmen massacre. The regime has worked hard to brainwash Chinese (and some Western) minds and in fact has been able to induce a kind of collective amnesia about these events that were witnessed worldwide, even the famous image of the young Chinese man who stood in the way of advancing tanks. His lonely act of defiance astonished the world then, but incredible as it may sound, the regime has managed to erase the “Tank Man’s” image from Chinese memory. In a 2006 Frontline documentary film, The Tank Man, a retrospective on the events of ‘89, the filmmaker Anthony Thomas shows the iconic photograph to undergraduates at Beijing University, the nerve center of the 1989 protests; none of them recognize it. The students appear genuinely baffled. Thomas concludes “… only one sensed that the photo had something to do with the events of 1989, but the Tank Man meant nothing to him.”

That is why, I am fairly certain, the torch started its global journey from China at Tiananmen Square and, from what I gather, is going to end its world relay there. A new set of more agreeable, even glorious, images of the infamous square will replace the blood-drenched ones of 1989, in the consciousness of the world. Who is to say that this global brainwashing exercise will not be entirely successful?

The purpose of the Beijing Olympics is only secondarily about sports, and only remotely about world peace and harmony. In the case of Beijing ‘08 it is primarily a propaganda tool for the legitimization of a repressive Communist/Fascist state. Hitler wanted the 1936 Olympics in Berlin for much the same reasons. Even the Olympic torch relay, which was invented and “planned with immense care by the Nazi leadership”, has a fairly sinister story behind it. Read the BBC account, “The Olympic Torch’s Shadowy Past”, and the New York Times feature “The Relay of Fire Ignited by the Nazis” and prepare to be disturbed.

To be fair, the Nazis hadn’t yet committed any of their major crimes against humanity in 1936. The PRC, on the other hand, has probably murdered more people to date (60-90million) than the total number of those killed (roughly 72 million) in WWII, military and civilian, including the victims of the Holocaust. Yet even at that early date Germany had, away from the gaze of visitors, already built concentration camps and filled them with Jews, Roma (gypsies), Communists, homosexuals, socialists, labour leaders, Jehovah’s Witnesses, people with disabilities, and others.

Present day prisons and Laogai camps in China accommodate a similar variety of victims: Tibetans independence activists, Uighurs, Falun Gong practitioners, Catholic bishops, pastors of underground Protestant churches, lamas, mullahs, monks, nuns, labour organizers, democracy activists, human rights lawyers, dispossessed peasants and the like.

Hitler was determined to use the Games to legitimize the Nazi regime and to demonstrate German racial superiority. And nearly everyone went along blithely with this propaganda exercise: international athletes, national leaders, celebrities, religious leaders, intellectuals, artists, journalists and tourists. The CBS correspondent, William L. Shirer, reporting from Berlin that summer mentioned that the city was beautiful, the weather balmy and the sky blue. In line with his personal obsession with cleanliness the problem of pollution so concerned Hitler that he encouraged industry to work toward the complete elimination of noxious gases. Anti-pollution contrivances were already installed in a number of factories in the Ruhr basin, and new plants were required to construct preventive devices to avoid pollution of the waters.

Chinese leaders haven’t been as conscientious as the Fuhrer about such things, but they have nonetheless been equally ruthless in making sure the Olympic Games serve the interests of the Chinese Communist Party in ‘08 as it did the Nationalist Socialist Party in ‘36. For quite a while now it seemed that Beijing would pretty much be allowed to do exactly that without any fuss or bother. The Dalai Lama’s statement some years ago that China deserved to host the Olympics effectively deflated the efforts of those attempting to challenge China on this issue. Only a few groups, notably the Students for a Free Tibet, attempted some dramatic but small scale protests. But then on 10th March of this year, starting from the ancient Tibetan capital, Lhasa, protests, demonstrations and riots broke out all over Tibet, China and the world, and the rest, as they say, is history.

When I was in San Francisco last week for the monster torch-relay protests, it struck me how the motto of the Beijing Games “One World One Dream” could have been a fitting rallying cry for the demonstrators. Thousand of Tibetans from all over the United States and Canada (a few even from India and Nepal), marched with their brilliant red, yellow, white and blue national flags. The large contingent of SAVE DARFUR students groups were distinguished by waves of green flags and green tee shirts, while FREE BURMA was represented by a host of brown flags. The blue and white flags of FREE TURKESTAN and the yellow and orange stripes of the unexpected Vietnamese contingent, were no less gloriously eye-catching. In variations on the Students for a Free Tibet name, individual protesters carried signs declaring: Bikers for a Free Tibet, Humans for a Free Tibet, Taiwanese for a Free Tibet, Chinese for a Free Tibet, Americans For a Free Tibet, Greens For a Free Tibet, Italians For a Free Tibet, Armenians For A Free Tibet, Free Thinkers For a Free Tibet, San Franciscans For a Free Tibet, Sentient Beings For a Free Tibet, and in full camouflage uniform a solitary “Montagnard For a Free Tibet”. This being Frisco we were also treated to a few Lesbians for a Free Tibet, and A Queer Person for a Free Tibet.

Unlike the 11,000 Chinese counter-demonstrators, whose idea of “One World” was presumably one dominated, if not ruled, by Beijing, and who had all been shipped in organized platoons, in chartered busses (with one lunch box per person) paid for by the Chinese Embassy, the multi-cultural, multi-racial, noisy but effective protesters on our side were all there absolutely on their own initiative, time and money. The one common thread that tied our disparate groups and people together was our one sincerely and tenaciously held dream of freedom and peace.

At this stage of events no one really needs to be told that Beijing doesn’t deserve the Olympics. But having the intellectual and moral arguments lined up and made clear, as I have attempted to do here might, it is hoped, contribute that little extra motivation, that oomph, to the special person in the right place in Istanbul, New Delhi or Hong Kong to reach out a little further than he might otherwise have done, and grabbing that torch hurl it mightily into the Bosporus, the Yamuna or Kowloon harbour.


19 Replies to “Grab that Torch!”

  1. Another nice shot.

    I have two requests for Jamyang La,
    1. It is good if you can put your portfolios, so that will give even greater weight to your already academically and analytically researched articles.

    2. As we all know, His Holiness is just a mortal as anyone else (despite spiritual dimension of His Person), therefore, it is highly important for Tibetans to think about the situation of TGIE in India during his absence. Will India allow TGIE to operate as it does now or will India restrict TGIE’s operation or will India bann it altogether on persuasion from Beijing? In order to prevent such political change, what should Tibetan people, TGIE, His Holiness, and their Supporters should do in order to let TGIE function without interruption during the plitical vacuum?


  2. Thank you Jamyang Norbu la for starting your blog. Where can I buy a copy of the Shadow Tibet? I am someone who prints out all your essays to better understand and assimilate your thoughts, opinions and knowledge. This blog is an amazing idea and I am sure it will spark an intellectual and political awakening – something so necessary for us Tibetans. Bod Gyalo!
    Good wishes from Australia

  3. Jamyang La,
    Thank you for your wonderful blog. The Tibetan struggle is something very close to my heart. I would love to mention your site on my blog.

    Your articles are very well written and very well supported academically.

    Keep up the excellent work,
    With Best Wishes.

  4. U R the true torch bearer to the younger generation of Tibet.
    You light us with your vast knowledge of Tibet’s history & current situation.
    Please inspire us continuosly with your great wisdom.
    Your PEN & our courageous country fellow inside Tibet are the ICBM to thwart/expel the invaders from our phayul (Bhoe Gangchen) forever.
    Thank you …Jamyang la
    Have a long & healthy life ..

  5. Having your own blog site is a great idea. Now we can read all your writings on one site without missing anyone of them. Also, we can revisit your previous writings.

    How about uploading some of your previous writings from each decade, say, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, etc? I know you possibly can not upload all of them since you have been writing for all those years.

    One thing that came out of recent event is general Chinese dislike of Tibetan. I can understand Chinese who live in mainland China because they are tightly controlled as to what they hear or see in the news. It seems many oversea Chinese seem to be outraged by Tibetan. Is it Chinese nationalism? Do you see it affects us in our cause? I know many of the pro-Olympic rallies are funded by Chinese embassy around the world to mitigate our rallies.

  6. I’ve read many of your articles and some books including Mandalas of Sherlock Holmes. I deeply thank you for raising Tibetan awareness through your approach. The article on how Tibetans create new words for new things is one of my favorites. Now that you have your blog, i am so excited and thankful, so that I can ask you questions. Thank you.

  7. Jamyang la, you’re right. I was also one of the protesters during the San Francisco leg. It is pretty clear that the Chinese students were indeed packed, canned and shipped by their embassy. They carries uniform flags and placards. On the Tibetan side, almost everybody carries his own placards with different style which clearly shows their passion and motivation. Tibetans and Tibet supporters were shouting out of their concern for Tibet while the Chinese were simply inciting their counterpart with chauvinist attitude.

  8. Respected Sir,
    I am very happy to go through your blog as it is like the pearls of wisdom, quenches my intellectual thirst and directs the wind of my thinking.
    Regarding the issue of olympics, I go with you that politics has been mixed with games and religion, which is a collosal fallacy of then politicians and sports personalities. But if we, tibetans take this chance and try to stop the Games, we are too opportunistic without considering the fate of more than a billion people. Because Olympic Games in China is the dream of millions and the aspiration of a billion.

  9. Hi Jamyang la,
    i must say thanks for your valuable contribution to our country’s cost. So far you have worked really hard but there was time when so many people are against your view…however thesedays there are so many youngsters who are well educated who complete agree your views and idea. I truly appreciate your stand and we the young generations are always with you.
    Tashi Delek.

  10. You know me and a loved one were joking about the torch and how no citizen gets to see it now. Of course she knew I found that fact to be extremely funny, despite the seriousness that has given rise to the demonstrations around the relay.

    I proposed that perhaps the torch would boycott the Olympics now and refuse to light the cauldron in Beijing during the opening ceremonies. And that the PRC would then arrest the torch for being a splittist.

    I shared this online on Myspace and was thoroughly hate-mailed by many Chinese supporters of the PRC. Of course, despite the seriousness of that, I found that funny too. It is funny, though sickening at the same time, that people, any people, would think the torch and a good circus in Beijing is worth more than human lives.

  11. Palden kyap, I’m not sure what message you were trying to get across, but the question that must be weighed is not about whether the Beijing Olympics are the aspiration of a billion people, but which is more urgent and important to address: the needs of 6 million people for basic rights, or the indulgent nationalist aspirations of a billion people. Even if the number were not 6 million but just a single person, the former would be immeasureably more significant than the latter. The world does not owe China, nor the Chinese people, any honor or recognition until China withdraws from Tibet.

  12. Dear Sir
    I felt great going through your article. I have always regarded your articles as our best defense against the massive propagandas of the Chinese Communists and their Western apologists. Thank you for so valiantly defending the cause of our rightful Rangzen and enlightening so many young Tibetans.
    I agree with your view that the Olympic is being used by the Chinese communist to legitimize their repressive rule and to downplay the Chinese people’s democracy movement and freedom movements in the occupied regions of Tibet, Xinjaing, etc.
    I am very disappointed with the IOC for sacrificing human rights and freedom at the altar of business and military power. Now there is no Olympic spirit left in the game.
    I am also angered by the way in which Indian authorities reacted during the torch relay at New Delhi. It is a complete shame and a national farce.
    Sir keep writing!

    by Tsoltim N. Shakabpa

    Some Tibetans are asking for autonomy for Tibet from Communist China while many Tibetans, especially the young who are the future of Tibet, are struggling for total independence. Why would some Tibetans ask for considerably less freedom than those of us in exile currently enjoy? Why would some Tibetans seek an agreement that denies us the right to manage our own foreign and military affairs, travel freely anywhere in the world and freely voice our opinion of political leaders? Under the sovereignty of an autocratic communist regime we certainly wouldn’t have those rights. What use is autonomy under Communist China if it means denying the intrinsic values we cherish?

    By asking the communists for an official agreement to have autonomous status for Tibet, we will be surrendering to marxists and atheists many of the rights we are now entitled to and locking ourselves into a constricted and precarious situation from which we cannot withdraw.

    If we enter into an official agreement on autonomy under the sovereignty of a tyrannical communist regime some of the restrictions, including firm restrictions on all foreign and military affairs, we will face are:

    1. Practice of Tibetan religion, culture and traditions within “autonomous”
    Tibet will be under strict Chinese scrutiny.
    2. Promotion of Tibetan culture, religion and traditions abroad will either
    be prohibited or restricted as it concerns foreign affairs.
    3. Restrictions on all foreign travel.
    4. If ever the Dalai Lama is allowed to travel abroad, he will be
    accompanied by Chinese agents, who will dictate what he may say or
    5. Tibetans will have to carry Chinese passports when traveling abroad.
    6. Tibet can never be represented in any international body or agency as it
    concerns foreign affairs.
    7. Foreign investments in Tibet will be controlled by China as it concerns
    foreign affairs.
    8. China will have the authority to impound or export from Tibet any
    valuable Tibetan resources as they can claim it affects Tibet’s foreign
    welfare and affairs.
    9. China will have full control over the flow of the Drichu and Machu
    Rivers in Tibet as China will claim they affect the Yangtse and Huang
    Ho Rivers in China since the Drichu becomes the Yangtse in China
    and the Machu becomes the Huang Ho in China. Any such activity will
    gravely affect the Tibetan ecological and environmental system.
    10. Tibetans, within Tibet, will never be permitted to record for history all
    the misdeeds that China inflicted upon Tibet.
    11. Tibetans will never be permitted to claim restitution from China for all
    the misdeeds (killings and torture) inflicted upon them.
    12. China will never agree to having the whole of ethnic Tibet under one
    Tibetan administration. Thus autonomous Tibet will simply be a
    miniscule semblance of what independent Tibet was.
    13. The Chinese will always deceptively impose their own puppets on a
    Tibetan administration under an agreement for autonomy.
    14. Tibetans will never be allowed to raise their national flag.
    15. China would be free to continue flooding autonomous Tibet with Han
    Chinese as they would be the sovereign rulers.

    The above are just a few of the restrictions Tibetans will face if an agreement on autonomy is signed. And, furthermore, who is to say that the Communist Chinese will not tighten the noose around the necks of the Tibetans as they did after the first signing of an agreement on autonomy in 1951, which they themselves dictated?

    Even if Tibet ever realizes autonomy under the sovereignty of Communist China, Tibetans will never truly trust the situation. Tibetans will set one foot outside Tibet and the other foot in Tibet. And unlike Hong Kong, which is mostly made up of Chinese, Tibetans will never completely assimilate with the Han race because of the Han’s superiority complex nor accept a communist regime as their ideologies differ completely.

    The Tibetan Government-in Exile’s chief envoy in his negotiations with China proclaims “we must not look at the past” in order to avoid upsetting the Chinese with the touchy subject of our history of independence. But the very intrinsic values of Buddhism teach us that our future depends upon our past. The past is what makes us Tibetans and the past is what will make the future. Even the Dalai Lama’s own elder brother, the honorable Taktser Rimpoche, despite his age and physical disability, is valiantly fighting for independence, not for autonomy. My own late father, the historian, statesman and former Finance Minister of independent Tibet, Tsepon Wangchuk Deden Shakabpa, steadfastly stood for an independent Tibet all his life.

    With autonomy under the sovereignty of Communist China, Tibetans will go the way of American Indians with even far less freedom. For real freedom, the only option is to continue the struggle to regain Tibet’s independence or have an agreement for genuine autonomy with a truly democratic state. The fall of empires through the ages, as well as the fall of the Spanish
    and British Empires, the Nazi Rule and the Soviet Union is proof that impermanence is the constant in nature. Dictatorships in Burma, Kenya and Zimbabwe may yet fall. Therefore, the Chinese tyranny and power over Tibet and its other colonies will too one day soon come to an end. Just like India, the Philippines, many African nations and eastern European countries, one day Tibet too will be free and independent if Tibetans continue their struggle for freedom no matter how long it takes.

    Why would the Tibetan Government-in-Exile sign “another” agreement on autonomy with Communist China when under communism China has already flagrantly reneged on the 17 Point Agreement of 1951, which they themselves dictated? An agreement is like a “paper tiger” to communists. They feel they can easily tear it up when and if it doesn’t suit them and use it in a predatory manner when it does.

    Further, communists believe that religion is poison, as Mao himself told the Dalai Lama, while Buddhism is a sacred religion to Tibetans. Also, since communists believe that religion is poison, they logically believe that the religious head of an institution is “lethal” poison, which the Tibetans can never accept because to Tibetans the Dalai Lama is not only the supreme head of their religious institution but also the reincarnation and emanation of the God of Compassion.

    Moreover, communism is fraught with dictatorship and totalitarianism while Tibetans fervently believe in democracy.

    I firmly oppose any gesture or effort to enter into an agreement with communists for autonomy for Tibet, in this case with Communist China.

    Communism is faltering and failing worldwide. Millions of Chinese who have fled their own country are clamoring for democracy in China. Chinese intellectuals and students within China are demanding democracy. The silent majority in China is wishing for democracy. There is a growing split between the hardliners and pragmatic progressives within the Communist Party in China. The country is no longer ruled by one man. She is ruled by consensus within the Communist party and every day the liberals within the party are gaining strength. Finally, China will have to embrace democracy if she is to be accepted within the ranks of nations that uphold human rights and if she is to compete fairly with its equally populous neighbor, India, which is rapidly progressing economically within a free and democratic environment.

    Having said the above and as a Tibetan who longs to return to a free Tibet, it is my secondary hope and prayer that our hardline position to gain complete independence for Tibet will strengthen His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s hand to achieve “genuine” autonomy for Tibet under a single, democratically-elected Tibetan administration over the whole of ethnic Tibet within the framework of a truly democratic China. Treaded carefully and calculatingly, this may well be a stepping stone to total independence.

    We must ignite the flames of freedom and follow the star of Tibet to seek the fountain of bliss.

    Long live His Holiness the Dalai Lama!


    The Potala, the seat of the mighty Dalai Lamas,
    Is just a tourist attraction now
    The Jokhang, the holiest place in Tibet,
    Is a mere travesty now
    The three great monasteries
    Have just symbolic monks now
    The sacred ancient relics
    Are sold in international antique markets now
    In their own country
    Tibetans are second class citizens now
    The voices of freedom
    Are smothered now
    The once happy people of Tibet
    Are in tears now
    The quaint old streets of Lhasa
    Are filled with bars and Chinese prostitutes now
    The elegant wild animals
    Are going extinct now
    The majestic snow-capped mountains
    Are melting now
    The crystal blue lakes
    Are filled with atomic waste now
    The pristine environment
    Is completely polluted now
    Lhasa, God’s earth,
    Is the devil’s paradise now

    What hath Communist China brought?
    Only pain and destruction
    What hath Marxist China wrought?
    Only strain and abduction
    What hath atheist China sought?
    Only reign and seduction

    TAG LINE: A passionate political activist for a free Tibet, Tsoltim N. Shakabpa is a retired senior Tibetan-American international investment banker turned a recognized poet with 5 acclaimed books of poems to his name.

  14. Hey man

    Please stop encourage those under the pressure and at the gun point, dont accuse His holiness The Dalai Lama and Tibetan Government Lo, i think it is time to Stop write as you are always against the our policy, it seems you are getting something the chinese rite, dint write those clueless articles, if you are really dare to, then write articles against the chinese government and reply those chinese Writers, go to BCC discussion around talk with those chinese writers and talk face to face, then we will appreciate, otherwise please stop Wrtiting if you can.

  15. Author : DJ Fadereu (IP: ,
    E-mail :
    URL :
    Whois :
    Dear Mr. Norbu,

    I have been a big fan of yours since I read The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes. Dare I suggest that you should read this essay?:

    He makes some very important and urgent points.

  16. “Free Advice for the Free Tibet Crowd” is the standard sort of patronizing treatment Chinese and Sinophiles have been giving Tibetans for decades. Nothing new there. My free advice for them is that they need to recognize themselves as the oppressors they are and start listening to the people they purport to be giving advice to.

  17. Hi,
    I thought you meant “grab the torch” in San Francisco but you grabbed the torch in NY.
    You said “Don’t stop the revolution”, it is easy to write on the paper but it is hard to do in Tibet. It wasn’t violent if you watch closely. Your idea No made in China, I like it.

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