Tibetan Exiles Fight Online Censorship One Troll at a Time

This week marks the 50th anniversary of the Dalai Lama's flight into exile. With this anniversary, there have been renewed calls for Tibetan autonomy throughout the world, and a correspondingly harsh response by China's military within Tibet. In the UK Times, this profile of a Tibetan exile based in Canada named Thubten Samdup, who heads an online outreach program that seeks to counter anti-Tibetan sentiment in Chinese language message boards and chat rooms. Snip:
In a simple office overlooking the Himalayan foothills of India a young Tibetan man sits at a computer, trying to succeed where the Dalai Lama has failed for 50 years – by talking to the Chinese. Every day, Sonam and ten other Tibetans – all fluent in Mandarin – surf social networking sites in search of Chinese people to talk to about their homeland. It can be painstaking work.

“Hi, want to chat?” Sonam, 32, asks one man from Beijing. “You male or female?” comes the reply. “Male.” “Not interested.” Like this one, many of the millions of Chinese in chat rooms are searching for love. Most do not want to talk politics. Some become abusive when they realise they are talking to Tibetan exiles.

Sonam contacts about fifty or so people every day and says that half are willing to chat and five or six want to talk in depth. He now has 200 “old friends” to whom he sends information on the Dalai Lama to circumvent China’s “Great Firewall”, which blocks websites about the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader. “We don’t say this is right or wrong, or that the Chinese Government should be overthrown,” Sonam told The Times. “We just give people an alternative source of information.”

The aim of the project is bold: to change attitudes towards Tibet among ordinary Chinese in the hope that they will gradually shape Beijing’s policies. Sonam and his colleagues can talk to only a tiny fraction of China’s 300 million netizens – who are notoriously nationalistic. Arguably it offers better prospects, and more immediate results, than the failed negotiations between China and the Dalai Lama, who fled to India 50 years ago yesterday.

Wily Tibetan messengers outfox censors of 'Great Firewall' of China (UK Times -- did they really have to use the adjective "wily?" / Thanks, Oxblood)

Here's the website for the foundation headed by Mr. Samdup.

Related news: fishy reports of pink suitcases packed with TNT in Lhasa (later said to have been detonated by robots), military occupation of Lhasa during the anniversary of the 2008 riots; "How China Invaded California and Took Over Our Legislature", and an article published in Xinhua demanding that the Dalai Lama apologize to China (funny how that logic works).


  1. there is also a class of educated, cultured and well to do Chinese sympathetic to Tibet and the messages of Tibetan Buddhism. You don’t hear too much from them and even less these days in view of Beijing’s latest clamp-downs, but they are real and some do have potential influence. I rather suspect they are people with enough vision to realize that China must one day answer to the world for what it does in Tibet today. It is possible to love your country and disagree with your government of the day.

  2. Wow, this guy’s a hero. Good on him for what he does, and good on the people willing to at least listen and discuss.

  3. Beijing will probably never willingly grant independence to Tibet, Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, or the various other regions controlled by the PRC that have legitimate claims to sovereignty.

    I think that if the world at large was really so adamant about the freedom of Tibet and these other places, there would be more of a response on a diplomatic level.

  4. gr wth Tkn. n ddtn, lthgh spprt frdm fr Tbt, m n fn f th Dl Lm. Hs dcttrshp – whch ‘m crtn s hs ltmt gl – wld b jst s drcnn s Chns rl.

  5. @strevalex

    What makes you certain? And why are you sure it would be as draconian as the Chinese?

    I mean, I’m open to new information, but sans argument you sound like you’re making huge leaps to conclusions.

    Also, in the interest of freedom, we must strive to keep disemvoweling technology out of the hands of the Chinese government.

  6. I witnessed the chinese censorship machine work its magic here in San Francisco. During the olympic torch run, one of the torchbearers unfurled a tibet flag hidden in her sleeve. Almost immediately the chinese “security” detail stripped it out of her hands. In San Freekincisco on Van Ness Avenue in Broad daylight. I can only imagine the risks these guys are taking to spread the word, and my hat is off to them.

  7. make a case Strevalex, but I expect you can’t.

    As to diplomatic response; that has become increasing lukewarm with ascending Chinese economic clout. Typically, governments of democracies pander to what they perceive as the sources of funds for the next election campaign, rather than the popular wishes of the people. Since the exploitation of Tibet is a business, and many have come to drink at that well, the business lobby opposes diplomatic complaints about human rights violations.

  8. I’m definitely surprised that I was disemvoweled, considering that I hadn’t actually said anything terribly offensive. But, okay, I’ll take the unenviable position of being anti-Dalai Lama. The truth is, for all his celebrity, he’s the leader of a Puritanistic cult opposed to modern secular values. Check out Christopher Hitchens, Penn Jillette, etc. because I don’t want to go into great detail, at the risk that some touchy Buddhist will edit my post.

  9. Strev: Penn’s an ignorant blowhard on this one (I’ve listened to his “arguments”) Hitchen’s intellectually better but hardy impartial when it comes to ANYTHING religion related and if you characterize Tibetan Buddhism as a “cult” and “puritanical” to boot, it is obvious you have done no reading about it at ALL. Yes, you did say something offensive since careless words like yours have already done a great of damage to the innocent and helped the not-so-innocent in their crimes. Now you go forth and put some real study and work into understanding the situation and then if you can still muster an argument in favour of Chinese oppression better than tired slander against one man, please do so.

  10. I don’t characterize Buddhism thus – I characterize the man and his circle of devotees as technically in the right, but indeed puritanical, tyrannical and cultish. I am an atheist and so am in Hitchens’ camp, but it does disgust me to see people prostrate themselves to this mortal man, this Dalai Lama, who really has contributed nothing lasting to the advancement of human ideals. Sure, there’s his talk of peace, harmony, and the like. But all is lip service to his audience of Western admirers. Again, my arguments are NOT in favor of Chinese oppression but are AGAINST the Dalai Lama.

  11. and by attacking the Dalai Lama you help the Chinese government in oppressing the Tibetan people. Or were you going to champion them?

  12. #11 er. So, there’s something intrinsically wrong with following the teachings of one whom with you identify/believe?

    few people put the dalai lama out there as a god. Most people just think he’s wise, a spiritual leader along the lines of the Pope, and I’d agree.

    I’m curious if you’ve ever actually read any of his writings or are just being reactive.

  13. “for all his celebrity”, STREVALEX ?

    His job is to save his nation from destruction at the hands of a ruthless and very RACIST dictatorship. If his approach to this has made him a celebrity, that is hardly his fault, and if he puts his celebrity to work on behalf of his people, who have suffered unimaginably at the hands of the Chinese government, than how can you blame him?

    At the age of 16, with an ancient civilization looking to him as savior, the Dalai Lama had to look Mao in the face as Mao assured him that Tibet’s way of life would be destroyed. Mao was not kidding.

    Under the Dalai Lama’s leadership, the Tibetans in exile have managed to save significant portions of their civilization from obliteration and have taken steps towards modernizing their civilization – on their own terms.

    He has willingly created a democratic form of government for his people in exile, when he could have lorded it over them as the extremely advanced spiritual being they and other Buddhists believe him to be.

    He has not launched an insane “holy war against the infidels in Beijing”, as most leaders in his position would have felt obliged to do.

    You say you are an atheist – so is the Dalai Lama. If you knew the first thing about Buddhism, you would have known that there is no God in that belief system.

    Anyway, rather than shooting the rest of the fish in your barrel, I’ll just suggest you have the slightest clue what you are talking about before slagging off a figure who has worked tirelessly for peace.

    Oh and here’s the latest film clip about what the Chinese are doing in Tibet – some of it is so nasty I could not watch, but I guess that makes the point:

  14. I could see Tibet gaining HK/Shanghai style autonomy in several years, but not full soveriegnity. The argument for Tibet’s independance is similar to that of Quebec…

    Tibet has been part of China for over 300 years, longer then most countries have been in existance. It was annexed in a diplomatic agreement by the Qing Emperor back in the day.

    I mean, imagine if Texas seceded? Or hell, imagine is Quebec became it’s own country? The sort of completely unneccessary chaos that would result as some kind of frivolous cultural identity nonsense probably isn’t worth it.

    That said, the Chinese gov’t needs to stop messing around in Tibet and leave the people alone. Do what every other federal government in the world does, collect taxes and get all anal about copyright…

  15. “leader of a Puritanistic cult opposed to modern secular values.”

    Puritanistic – which is why he and his followers force people to be Buddhists, yes? This is why they force them to wear Scarlet Letters for sex outside of marriage, yes? This is why they hold trials of women and burn them at the stake, yes?

    Tibetan Buddhism is far from puritanistic, far from a cult. Their doctrines are descriptive, not proscriptive, and they use no force or violence, and the Dalai Lama has publicly deferred to science time and again.

    Modern secular values hold accuracy and perspective high. Modern secular values do not hold painting a gentle man and his cause of non-violence in such a false light.

  16. your assertion needs defending, Tarlss. And not by asking Beijing if “Tibet has been part of China for 300 years”. How about if the Tibetans take a vote on it? They should know after all. Or if say you were suddenly declared a vassal of China “going back 300 years”, would that alone be good enough for you?

    1. And not by asking Beijing if “Tibet has been part of China for 300 years”.

      Also, what does “part of” mean when you have a region that not only speaks a completely different language, but you can’t even get to. Up until the last few decades, Tibet was inaccessible, and interaction between China and Tibet was virtually non-existent. China wouldn’t even have been able to claim Tibet under squatter law.

  17. Think about some things at sometime. Don’t think all the time. Throwing your brain at this is just the usual Bug splatter on the membrane. Tibet is an open air museum for survival under extreme natural challenges. Liberal Chinese see the historic disparity between the salt of the earth Farmers and the Temple Elite. If I were the first non Tibetan visiter to look at the culture It would be easy to see that the pain generators were wearing robes. Follow the money.

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