‘Remember the suffering brought by the changing times to the people of the snowland, the people endowed with history, courage and a sense of national responsibility. Remember their unflinching determination and let us continue to develop our own sense of national responsibility’.
The Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso
April 30, 2000
In 1950 China invaded Tibet. The occupation that ensued was undertaken through brutal oppression, destruction and degradation with actions and policies aimed at destroying the traditional Tibetan way of life and wiping out the national identity of its people. This literal and metaphorical rape of the Tibetan people, land and culture forced thousands to flee. Many followed their leader, the Dalai Lama, into exile in India after a national uprising in 1959 during which an estimated 430,000 Tibetans were killed. Today there are over 150,000 Tibetans refugees living in exile worldwide with the vast majority in India and Nepal. China’s stranglehold over this peaceful nation continues unabated till today, threatening to squeeze out the last breath of the old Tibetan way of life.
Now we stand on the precipice of another tragedy. A more subtle and insidious one but one just as grave; the death of a generation. A generation of people who still remember Tibet before the Chinese invaded and who are still are alive to tell the stories.
It is now of even greater pertinence that we capture and share these stories so that even if ‘Rangzen’ (meaning: freedom in Tibetan) is never attained; the rich, ancient culture of this peaceful country, the sense of national identity and accounts from a time when Tibet was free will not be diluted, or worse still, totally expunged.
Rangzen is an ongoing project which is comprised of a collection of images taken of Tibetan refugees living in exile in India and Nepal combined with their individual stories, Tibetan activist poetry, writing and art. These are woven together with images of landscapes looking towards Tibet from the Himalayan regions of India and Nepal through which many refugees made the dangerous crossing as well as images of ancestors of Tibetan’s who fled Tibet for Nepal during the ‘cultural revolution’ and continue to live a traditional Tibetan lifestyle today, something which has been mostly eradicated just over the border in Tibet itself.
The individual stories are powerful in their own right but when woven together they will form and over-arching narrative of the Tibetan struggle and piece together the collective consciousness and identity of 1st, 2nd and 3rd generation Tibetan refugees in exile. More importantly they will serve as a document of Tibetan identity, what it means to be a Tibetan and the importance of continuing to share stories and traditions of a bygone era in order to preserve this precious identity even in the absence of a free and autonomous Tibet.
These people are Tibetan. These are their stories. Hear their voices.