"Tibetronica" is an ongoing project that began with a documentary journey to
the Tibet and Xinjiang regions of China, filmed on hi-vision video between January and March, 2007.
"Tibetronica" is a word made by merging "Tibet" and "Electronica", as in club music.
Originally, the purpose of this project was to report eye-witness accounts of Tibetan and Uyghur cultures, in real-time, using internet technology. Funded by the Japan Polaroid Corporation during its first three months, the project was technically very successful, and was hailed by its fans as "the coming of Web 3.0".
While the project set out to be mainly cultural and politically neutral, the more our crew saw the realities of Tibet and Xinjiang, the more we became compelled to break our silence. As the video and podcast series evolved, we became increasingly candid in our reporting, which was a risky thing to do, given that we were inside China. Nonetheless, we felt that our daring stance paid off, as we were able to report from the ground, which has since become nearly impossible, following the unrest of 2008.
The videos you will see on the Japanese side of this web site are edited in a culturally neutral fashion, but if you were to understand the Japanese wording of the audio broadcasts which were simultaneously broadcast, the source materials start take on a different nuance. Unfortunately, the complex interplay of meaning are largely un-translatable.
When these videos were first made public in 2007, they received admiration and congratulations from a sizeable crowd. To be called "Web 3.0" really boosted our self-esteem, because it sounded as if we were the Steve Jobses of political activism and art at the same time.
But the flattery didn't last longer than one month. We also drew fire and misunderstanding from both camps on the issue of Tibetan and Uyghur independence. The fact that there was only Japanese annotation attached to the material increased the confusion. Some non-Japanese speaking viewers assumed that we were making light of the poverty and plight of Tibetans and Uyghurs, which was of course wrong. Other rude voices represented boisterous Chinese nationalism, insisting that these areas were historically Chinese territory, as if we did not already know that claim. Still others wanted us to write "Uyghur" instead of "Uighur", because the former represented a more independent orientation, while the latter was the notation used by the Chinese government. And on and on the complaints and requests went. We chose to ignore all abusive comments, and at large remained silent.
Later, we were briefly courted by the Japanese right-wing, and when we turned down their offers, we received a pick-up truck load of abuse in Japanese, too. Just the mention of Tibet and Xinjiang can do wonders to ignite a certain ilk of people, we found out. But all that was cool, because it meant that Tibetans and Uyghurs were getting more attention, either way.
We did take care not to jeopardize the people we met. We did not go around asking dumb questions like "Do you support the Dalai Lama?" or "Do you think that you have a right to independence?" As far as we know, none of our Chinese guides were later interrogated or intimidated, simply because they did not have any notion of the games we were up to. We were polite in our activities, and the main risks we took were in making radio broadcasts out of inland China, working around the great Golden Shield and the human eaves droppers who work for 0.5 yuan per hour. We pulled it off, no one got busted, and we even re-entered as tourists. I guess the PRC had better things to do than worry about us perforating their information black-out. We basically surfed the censorship, and it ended up in one groovy ride. Groovy China.
Now, two years later, we would like to be more clear about our orientations. The Tibetronica team supports greater autonomy for both ethnic groups, and if possible, we are hoping that China's government will change to accomodate more freedom for these people, as well as for all Chinese people. But at the same time, we cannot conclude with certainty if full independence for Tibetans and Uyghurs will be the best solution, and we continue to research the debate from both sides. As far as we can tell, there has been no consensus even among Tibetans or Uyghurs, inside and abroad.
So, the best thing we can do would be to show the world as much first hand source material of these wonderful cultures as technically possible, from our 2007 tour. As for political solutions, it would be up to each individual to do the homework and arrive at their conclusion. We cannot put the answer in front of you, and we will not rush to one conclusion or another to accomodate any particular ideology, even when we receive threatening text messages.
Is there a Tibetan and Uyghur Holocaust going on? We are almost certain that a form of ethnic cleansing is taking place within Chinese borders. But there just isn't enough conclusive evidence to fully support these claims, by Western journalistic standards. We took some of our secret footage to TV stations, and the major broadcasters turned our material down, saying it was not substantial enough. "If you filmed someone being beaten or shot, we would use it, but not this stuff," we were told.
Our amateurish execution and biased journalism notwithstanding, it is also true that Western and Japanese media have definitely neglected to place Tibetans and Uyghurs on higher priority. We ourselves wonder why so many talented journalists and newsroom producers choose not to cover these areas in greater depth. We often feel heartbroken when we hear updates of the dire news that leaks out of these regions.
But in spite of our emotionality and empathy, if we want to be of any help, we need to go beyond outrage and take concrete action. And such action does not always take the form of marching in front of the local Chinese Embassy. Showing anger is effective, but if done too much, it can turn into a kind of junk food of the soul. For example, verbally attacking the Han Chinese around the world would probably accomplish nothing to alleviate Tibetan or Uyghur suffering. But it is a semi-addictive pastime. We are at a juncture where we have to ask ourselves if we want real change. To make those essential changes to keep Tibetans and Uyghurs from perishing, we need dialogue and constructive engagement with the Chinese government, however impossible that may seem at times. The Chinese government acts and thinks on paranoia, but it is also staffed by some of the smartest people on earth. They do listen, even while they pretend not to.
So, when facing the crises of the Tibetan and Uyghur people, it really helps to not give into anti-Han racism, revenge-oriented thinking, nationalism, ethnocentricity, or some other group thinking. We are fully aware that there is long-standing and on-going censorship by the Chinese government, and that their documentaries are at best skewed, and at worst fictive. That is what we played with, live, throughout our stay inside. And because of that, we feel it important that each person think for themselves about the Tibetan and Uyghur human rights crises. If you are going to criticize the way the PRC thinks, do a better job yourself, and show them.
The best way to help Tibetans and Uyghurs is not to hate the Chinese. A much better form of action would be to tell your friends about the Tibetans and Uyghurs. Today.
That sums up our ideology. We hope you enjoy the raw footage. Just start here and go backwards to follow the chronology.