Richard Martini (Writer), Richard Martini (Producer), Richard Martini (Director), A Richard Martini Film (Studio), Robert Thurman (Actors)
120 minutes, NTSC
Join Professor and Tibetologist Dr. Robert Thurman as he takes a journey into Tibet, giving a tour of Lhasa, the Potala Palace, the monasteries their, Shigatse, Gyantse, all the way to Mt. Kailash where he makes a dangerous trek around the most sacred mountain on earth and leads his group to the waters of Lake Mansarovar.
— There’s a lot to admire about Tom Hugo, and not just the washboard
abs that are a glaring feature of his Twitter account profile photo.
starters, Tom Hugo seems to be well-versed in Chinese, and he evidently
cares deeply about the Tibetan people, judging from the profusion of
messages he has posted on Twitter in recent months: There are
photographs of Tibetans in “unique exotic dress,” articles showcasing
the Tibetan people’s deep appreciation for China’s governance of the
region and video clips that portray happy Tibetans singing and dancing on state-run television.
“Tibetans hail bumper harvest of highland barley,” read the headline on one recent posting.
There’s only one problem with Tom Hugo’s Twitter account: It’s fake.
The visage accompanying the account belongs to a Brazilian model named Felipe Berto, and nearly every video, article and photograph the ersatz Tom Hugo tweets comes via propaganda websites linked to the Chinese government.
The ruse is not an isolated one. In recent days, Free Tibet,
an advocacy group based in London, has identified nearly 100 similar
sham accounts whose sole purpose appears to be disseminating upbeat news
and treacly stories about Tibet and Xinjiang, the region in far-western
China whose native Uighurs, like the Tibetans, have bridled under
Beijing’s heavy-handed rule.
it comes to Tibet, nothing that China does surprises us, but this
appears to be something new,” said Alistair Currie, the media manager
for Free Tibet, who says the group’s researchers have stumbled upon
hundreds of other Twitter accounts they believe were also created to
spread China’s view on a number of contentious issues. “It’s an
insidious effort to change the message and muddy the waters about
there is no direct evidence to link the Chinese government to the phony
accounts, the content and breadth of the effort would suggest the
involvement of a state actor. The subterfuge is not dissimilar to that
carried out by members of China’s so-called Fifty Cent Party, the
government-paid lurkers who earn 0.5 renminbi per posting on Internet
message boards and chat rooms in an attempt to sway public opinion on
issues deemed politically delicate by the Communist Party. “I genuinely
struggle to think of anyone else who would stand to gain from this,” Mr.
Currie said of the fake Twitter accounts.
An employee of Wuzhou Media Corporation, the Beijing company that creates the websites
often featured in such tweets, said he knew nothing about the bogus
accounts. But in an interview, he suggested that such tactics fit in
well with the company’s mission of producing propaganda tailored to
Western audiences. “We use a tone and style that’s easier for foreigners
to accept,” said the employee, who would give only his surname, Yu. The
company, he said, has a staff of nearly 300 people.
Foreign Ministry and the State Council Information Office, the
government agency that regulates the Internet in China, did not
immediately respond to interview requests on Monday.
use of fake Twitter accounts would also appear to dovetail with China’s
increasingly sophisticated effort to present the country in a more
flattering light while trying to bring the world around to its point of
view on thorny issues, among them the continuing territorial dispute
with Japan and widespread perception in the West that China restricts
religious freedom and represses ethnic minorities like Tibetans and
recent years, the government has sprinkled hundreds of college campuses
across the globe with Confucius Institutes and financed overseas newscasts
of the national broadcaster CCTV in a half-dozen languages. In the most
recent soft power push, state-owned film companies have formed a
partnership with Hollywood to produce blockbusters like “Transformers:
Age of Extinction” that feature Chinese actors.
when it comes to leveraging Western social media outlets like Twitter,
Facebook and YouTube — all of which are blocked here — Beijing’s efforts
would appear to be a bit ham-handed. On Twitter, many of the fake
accounts identified by Free Tibet use stock images or headshots found on
the sites of commercial photographers in the United States. Others
employ the likenesses of actors like Erica Durance, who played Lois Lane in the television series “Smallville,” or in one case, Syd Barrett, the lead vocalist of Pink Floyd, who died in 2006. Oddly, many of the Twitter handles, like Oliver Nina, Felix James and Philomena Rebecca, appear to be created through the combination of two first names. Nearly all the profile images are those of Caucasians.
a photographer from suburban Atlanta, was dismayed to learn that a
portrait she had taken of a high school student ended up as Lydia May, a woman who, judging from her tweets, was peeved by the Dalai Lama’s visit to the United States this year but also thrilled to share with her followers an article titled “Xinjiang eyes housing, education for poverty mitigation.”
not like she’s being used to promote horrible stuff, but it’s still her
likeness and she’s just a teenager,” Ms. Kowalski said by phone. “It’s
kind of bizarre, and frustrating. And it’s also illegal, at least in the
accounts on Twitter are not new; some experts estimate that as many as 9
percent of all Twitter handles are made up, although the company says
the figure is under 5 percent, according to its securities filings. Jim
Prosser, a spokesman for Twitter, said the company works hard to weed
out illegitimate accounts and sometimes takes legal action against those
who abuse its rules. “We have a variety of automated and manual
controls we constantly use to detect, flag and suspend accounts created
solely for spam purposes,” he said in an email.
hard to say whether the counterfeit Twitter accounts that disseminate
pro-Chinese propaganda are having the desired impact. Tom Hugo, the
shirtless wonder, has more than 2,600 followers, but many appear to be
fellow fraudsters who retweet the same material. One recent tweet, an article that described the Dalai Lama as a “chess piece” used by the United States to contain China, was retweeted 6,500 times.
Most of the accounts, however, are more like that of the putative Felix James,
who has just a few dozen followers and who seems to rarely get retweets
of his bland postings about tourist attractions in Tibet (although
perhaps it’s because his profile photo, a man with a cellphone glued to
his ear, is a stock advertising image that can be found on scores of
websites, including those selling curtains, shipping containers and
interviews, several genuine Twitter users who follow the fake ones said
they were not entirely surprised to learn they were following pro-China
propagandists. Some, like Scott Eddy, a consultant
who helps entrepreneurs expand their social media footprint, said they
simply follow anyone who agrees to follow them. “I’m pretty aggressive
when it comes to building a fan base,” Mr. Eddy, an American who lives
in Bangkok, said in explaining how he ended up with 479,000 Twitter
whether he thought the creative minds behind the false pro-China
Twitter accounts were on to something, Mr. Eddy laughed. With so many
followers, he screens out all but the most compelling followers from his
timeline, ensuring that the fraudsters end up tweeting into a black
hole. “I want as big a stage as absolutely possible,” he said, “but that
doesn’t mean I want to read garbage.”
If i may, having been to tibet, made a documentary there, having been to dharamsala, made a documentary there and studied the history of the tibetan people, especially the invasion of the tibet by the british in 1906. I've been to dharamsala a few times, and have taken a class in Tibetan philosophy with Robert Thurman. That's all a way of saying I've studied their history, I've studied the history of the monasteries in Tibet, the various Dalai Lamas and their political structures, and have read nearly all accounts of tibet from western points of view. Charles Bell's books are excellent, as he became friends with the 13th Dalai Lama, lived freely as a british soldier in Lhasa for over a dozen years, and his books paint an excellent description of both common and higher placed people. There was a lot wrong (by western standards) with the feudal system, but it was the one they were trying to change when the 14th showed up and was chased from his country by the Chinese. My documentary "Tibetan Refugee" interviews Tibetans who've just fled Tibet (shot in 2000) and in their own words speak why they fled. Tibetans can learn Tibetan in school, but only if they pay for it. Tibetans cannot hold jobs that Chinese people want. Tibetans are treated "like slaves" - i interviewed a Doctor who left because he was being forced to give women abortions who didn't want them. I spoke to ten Han businessmen in Lhasa who said variations of "I hate Tibetans, I hate their food, I hate their climate, I hate everything about being here - but I'm paid triple wages by the govt to come here." All ten told me they'd move back home the moment the money dried up. Penn & Teller's account is laughable - starting with the premise that Buddhism is a religion and that the Dalai Lama is a God. Neither is the case. The Dalai Lama calls themselves a "non theistic religion" which the last time I looked means atheist. No belief involved. No belief in a higher power involved. No gods. Just an examination into the nature of reality. It was Tsong Khapa, founder of the Gelupka order in the 14th century, who claimed that the 1st Dalai Lama was his teacher, and he knew the 2nd as well. They began an elaborate system of testing reincarnated people - and it carried for the past six centuries, and wasn't picked up by the West until Ian Stevenson, Carol Bowman at UVA began examining cases of reincarnation (from western science standards) for decades. But not centuries. The idea that the Tibetans are somehow masters of their own fate, masters of the prisons (I interview a number of survivors from Drapchi prison) is just nonsense. It's the equivalent of saying slavery was good for the slaves, as it got them out of the tropics. (Yes, I've heard Chinese engineers talk about the great roads and electricity in Tibet - and I've used them - but no one wants to be there who isn't from there. The Han women who get pregnant HAVE to leave, as they get birth defects at the high altitude. So let's start there - basically if you're going to write about a place, I suggest going there. Not hard to do, many companies offer trips. Lhasa may seem like a Disneyland resort now - but if you spend a few days there, you'll find the Tibetan people, despite the boot that's been put on their heads, are resilient people, and their faith and culture is hidden from public view. It's there. Ingrained in their courage to withstand the onslaught. But that's just me. the two dox, if you're curious, are free on youtube, "tibetan refugee" and "Journey into Tibet with Robert Thurman" - i made them free so people could see for themselves, without having to take a plane ride to get there. My two cents.
This is a blog for the Documentary "Tibetan Refugee" and "Journey Into Tibet."
Rich Martini and Kutenla, The Medium of the State Oracle of Tibet
I shot the film Tibetan Refugee in Dharamsala, India a number of years ago. I was visiting Dharamsala to see His Holiness the Dalai Lama speak, and while I was there I visited with my friend Thubten Ngodup, the Nechung Medium of the State Oracle of Tibet. YOU CAN PURCHASE THEIR CD HERE.
While I was there, he asked me to help him make a CD of the Nechung Monks performing live in their temple. You can find music from that recording here, or you can watch the monks in action here.
Kutenla, the Nechung Oracle, suggested I make a documentary about Tibetan refugees who had just arrived after walking across the Himalayas to freedom. Even that sentence sounds difficult - and to hear their stories was heartbreaking.
I discovered that people were sending their children away from their homes in Tibet so they could learn about their culture before it was destroyed by the Chinese government forever. These beautiful children were not allowed to learn Tibetan language or culture at home - and if you listen to their reasons for coming to India, you'll understand more clearly why so many people have chosen suicide, self immolation, rather than suffer further under the heel of the Chinese government.
It's hard for those in the West to understand what is really happening in Tibet. It's hard for those in China to understand what is really happening in Tibet.
I know, I've been to both places. In Shanghai and Beijing, they only hear bits and pieces of this outer realm, that they've been taught is part of China, but when they examine the truth and the record, can clearly see with their own eyes that Tibetans are as related to the Chinese as Africans are. But that's an argument for theoreticians - and I'm happy to make it, but not here.
This is a story in the words of the people themselves. They talk about why they were forced to flee Tibet - monks who were being tortured, doctors forced to commit abortions on women so they won't have more Tibetan children.
While I was in Tibet I informally asked some of the Han businessmen and women what they thought of Tibet. All ten of them said the same things; they hate Tibet. They hate Tibetan food, they hate the climate, they hate the altitude. As one businessman said "If I could make triple wages back home I would never have come here. I can't wait to go home!"
What that means is that eventually - these people will grow tired of Tibet. They will never adapt. They will never consider it home.
In essence it's the same as what happened to the Native American tribes in the U.S. - once the europeans had stolen all of their land, all of their oil, all of their precious resources, they left them alone. It only took 150 years to do so - but the Native American nation is rising again. The wealthiest casino operators in the world have taken their money and invested it in their people.
So one can only hope that one day the Chinese will do the same. Leave Tibet. Go back home. Once they've taken all their gold and oil and precious resources, they will leave. Because it isn't an easy place to live, and only Tibetans like living there.
Anyways, that's my two cents.
I'm including links to two of my films here: one is TIBETAN REFUGEE. The other is JOURNEY INTO TIBET.
One allows Tibetans to speak for themselves about what's really happening in Tibet. The other I shot while on a trip around Mt. Kailash with esteemed professor Robert Thurman. I could not allow my film to be political - but I felt it was important just to document what the experience is like going to Tibet. So if you have a desire to go there, enjoy this film.