Viral Rap Video Marks Tibetan Cultural Renaissance

India’s Sunday Guardian discusses the information war and repression of Tibetan identity in the context of a viral Tibetan rap video titled “Shapale,” named after the Tibetan meat dumpling hanging from the singer’s neck, which the Ministry of Truth banned earlier this year:

New campaigns directed against Tibetan culture and religion mean that almost any expression of Tibetan identity not directly sanctioned by the state can be branded as “reactionary” or “splittist” and penalised with torture, a long prison sentence, or worse.

Singers, artists and writers have “disappeared” and faced interrogation and torture under a new drive against “cultural products” with suspect ideological content, such as songs referring even metaphorically to the Dalai Lama. In music bars in today’s Tibet, performers are no longer allowed to address the audience as “Tibetan brothers and sisters” because it is considered “subversive” to the “unity of the nationalities”.

But both despite and because of the crackdown, Tibetans are irrepressible in expressing themselves and their pride in being Tibetan. This has led to a remarkable cultural and literary resurgence across Tibet since a wave of protests spread across the plateau from March 2008 onwards. Tibetans are redefining what it means to be Tibetan, and in doing so are creating a space that exists beyond the terrifying constraints of the Chinese state.

London-based blogger Dechen Pemba highlights the significance of shapale:

Along momo, shapale is THE favourite food of Tibetans, particularly kids love it as it’s oily and yummy. When grown-ups hit naughty kids on the bum, that’s also called giving a shapale, so this song is super fun and funny for Tibetans (yes, it’s Tibetan humour!). Amongst the wordplay, fun visuals and fun lyrics in the Shapale Song, there is an underlying important message in the rap: “Even if you live in the west / Don’t forget that Tibet is where you come from / speak Tibetan and write Tibetan / Be proud to be Tibetan.”

Younger generations within Tibet have previously turned to music, especially in light of a series of protests and crackdowns since 2008, to express their identity in the face of the censorship imposed by Beijing:

See additional coverage of Tibet, via CDT, including “Red Songs” of socialism and Tibetan liberation promoted by the Chinese government and the February release of a Tibetan singer after a year in prison for his pro-independence music.

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