Tattoo Blog

Art that adorns the flesh…

Tattooed For Independence

June 8th, 2010 by

In 1950, The People’s Republic of China invaded the autonomous nation of Tibet.  The arrival of communist China brought with it great hardships for the Tibetan people and in particular for Tibetan Buddhism, which the PRC views to this day as a threat to China’s power and control.  Since 1950, China has commit a virtual genocide of the Tibetan people and systematic destruction of its culture.  Exiled and revered Tibetan spiritual leader Tenzin Gyatso (better known as the Dalai Lama) fled his native Tibet in 1959 to India.  Even today images of the Dalai Lama are strictly forbidden in China and despite crack-downs that involve arrest, torture and murder, many Tibetans still resist what they feel to be the occupation of their country.

In 2008, I visited Dharamsala, India, the home of the Dalai Lama and of many Tibetan refugees.  While I was there I didn’t see many tattoos, but I did meet a continuous stream of some of the kindest, most honest and sincere people that I’ve ever met in my entire life.  Though I have long been aware of the situation for Tibetans who oppose the Chinese occupation of Tibet, I was not aware that yes, tattoos actually do play a role in the lives of many of the Tibetan political prisoners and activists alike.  From images of items used in Tibetan Buddhism like the swastika – which incidentally was in use as a symbol of purity for thousands of years before the Nazis stole it and degraded it with their filth – to the endless knot, to words like Rangzen, which in Tibetan means “Independence”, Tibetans are tattooed and they’re taking a risk for it.  In this video you’ll see an interview with a Tibetan political prisoner who served 5 years for writing about and encouraging Tibetan independence.  He shows off his tattoo and explains the significance behind it as well as speaking of other tattoos Tibetans have that serve to resist the Chinese occupation.

What I find very interesting about all this is that resisting the Chinese government is one act that can and will land Tibetans in trouble.  Add to this being tattooed with the sentiments that these Tibetans are espousing and the danger level increases.  While I watched the video, I considered the versatility of tattoos and the dedication involved with being tattooed in Tibet, which can result in so much more than simply being refused a job or viewed as an unsavory element of society.  It literally can be the difference between freedom and prison or life and death.

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