Tibet: Cry of the Snow Lion

A group of exiled Tibetan monks at a candlelight vigil in Dharamsala, India.

The chilling documentary Tibet: Cry of the Snow Lion creates a credible portrait of hopelessness intermingled with shards of faith. The movie opens with picture postcard shots of sunlight glinting on snowy peaks, yet within minutes it pulls us right into the September ‘87 Lhasa massacre, into the thick of Chinese police rampaging against Tibetan monks. The director, Tom Peosay, shapes this sequence from the point of view of American tourists, a choice that makes the material all the more harrowing — the gee-whiz innocence of a vacation visited by explosions and murder. After that, we Americans are on our own, and so are the Tibetans.

Peosay and his crew track the obscene twists and turns of China’s “liberation” of Tibet over a 50-year period. By the film’s end I felt a sense of beautiful anguish that the most tightly woven paranoia thrillers can give. I was awed by the systemic destruction, right down to the Communist officials’ unflinching abduction of the child whom the Dalai Lama had designated as his successor; they replaced the boy with one of their own. This, after shelling monasteries, after perpetuating a red-light district in Lhasa (home to over 600 brothels) to serve the occupying Chinese soldiers. Sharply, the film grants equal time to China apologists — Xiu Bing, for one, a consul based in Los Angeles, appears here in all his hypocritical post-Maoist yes-man glory.

It’s impossible to state which atrocity disturbs more, the use of electric cattle prods to torture monks and nuns, or watching human rights policies usurped by big business into a cesspool of Western franchises. Snow Lion courageously points up our democracy as a tool for subsidized repression. Seeing footage of the exile delegations from the late 1970s, and of the riots instigated by the Red Army after the Dalai Lama won the Nobel Peace Prize, one tends to wonder about the priorities of the U.S. government: especially in the climate we live now, a climate wherein the U.S. struggles to justify an unwarranted invasion and occupation of Iraq, as it simultaneously mouths homilies about “freedom” and fighting terror. – NPT

June 8, 2003