Dhondup Wangchen (Döndub Wangčhen)

* 1974

  • „The Czech Republic also has a history of repression; Czech people also suffered a lot. That connects us with the Czech people. Tibet is undergoing difficult times, Xi – Ji Ping is now the leader in China and he became sort of the second Mao. In a very planned manner he is carrying out policies that lead to the genocide of the Tibetan people. I came to this country with the hope for support. This hope is also based on the relationship that the Tibetans have with the Czech people and the past of the Czech people. I understood that His Holiness the Dalai-Lama visited Czech Republic several times and met with its leader. My hope is that the support that is there will continue. So I came here with the hope of support for Tibet.“

  • „You are right, it was a difficult escape. I had to prepare the escape meticulously. What I first did was a video where I explained the circumstances of my decision. I felt that if I don´t succeed with my escape, it should be known why I tries to. So I recorded my own statement and talked on this video about my plan to escape from China. What I also realised was that a lot of people were suffering because of contacts with me. It was clear to me that I had to end this unbearable situation for them. Therefore, my first step was to go to the province of Yunnan in the South of China and then I went to a border town close to Vietnam. And there I found someone who helped me to cross the mountains on a motorbike. He took me over the mountains, the roads were very bad, they were the side roads. It took us two days and two nights to cross the border. Having arrived there, I went across some neighbouring countries. Laos, Cambodia, Thailand. Finally, with the help of some friends, I managed to come to Switzerland. And from Switzerland I went to the US.” Útěk “Máte pravdu, utéct bylo složité. Musel jsem si útěk pečlivě připravit. Nejprve jsem pořídil video, kde jsem vysvětlil okolnosti svého rozhodnutí. Měl jsem pocit, že kdyby se mi útěk nezdařil, mělo by se vědět, proč jsem se o něj pokusil. Takže jsem natočil své vlastní prohlášení a popsal na vidu své plány utéct z Číny. Také jsem si byl vědom, že spousta lidí trpí kvůli kontaktům se mnou. Byla mi jasné, že tahle neúnosná situace musí skončit. Takže mé první kroky vedly do Jun-nanu, to je provincie na jihu Číny. Potom jsem šel do hraničního města blízko Vietnamu. A tam jsem našel někoho, kdo mi pomohl dostat se přes hory na motorce. Vzal mě přes hory, cesty byly velice špatné, byly to vedlejší cesty. Překonat hranici nám trvalo dva dny a dvě noci. Když jsem tam dorazil, pokračoval jsem přes další sousední země. Laos, Kambodža, Thajsko. A nakonec, s pomocí jistých přátel, se mi podařilo dorazit do Švýcarska. A ze Švýcarska jsem potom šel do Spojených států.”

  • "In this letter I also called people outside the prison to pressure the prison authorities to change the situation in the prisons. This letter was sent to the outside. It took 52 days until the secret police found out that there is this letter. And this had immediate consequences for me, I was put in solitary confinement. In Tibetan we call it the „dark hole“. In this solitary confinement, the base is very small, there is no real matrass, just a thin layer to sleep. I was for 84 days in this dark place, solitary confinement. The Chinese rules say that it is not allowed to have people longer than 40 days in solitary confinement, because people who stay for such a long time, they get sick. They get mentally sick, physically sick. For many people to be in this small place, where it is dark and where you eat and shit in the same place and where you are not allowed to go out, is and unbearable situation. I spent 84 days in this hole. About my mental sanity – the base for my belief is that I was convinced that I am carrying out struggle for my people and that this struggle is important and just. This helped me a lot. Eighty-four days of solitary confinement was also about hunger and this horrible situation of deprivation. It helped me a lot that I prayed and prayed the Tibetan mani-mantra (om mani padme hum) and I prayed the long-life prayer for His Holiness the Dalai-Lama. And I did it in repetition, endlessly.“

  • “When I was sent to prison, I was told that I will have to work. It was a kind of labour camp and I had to fulfil many kinds of work. In the prison, there is also the rule that there shouldn´t be any kind of discrimination of prisoners based on nationality or whatever. Prisoners should all be treated equally. But for the political prisoners the situation was different. There were no reductions of sentences for them, even id they fulfilled all the requirements. These prisoners also had to participate in the self-correction sessions. Every month there was a session when political prisoners had to confess their wrongdoings and promise betterment. The Tibetans were asked to denounce the Dalai Lama. You can imagine that this is something that is impossible for a Tibetan. The Tibetans refused to do this, so the consequence was that the Tibetans were beaten and tortured. The beatings led to injuries that were very heavy, many Tibetans died or became very sick because of the beatings and injuries inflicted on them.”

  • "After my arrest, my family found a human rights lawyer from Beijing, who visited me also in prison, his name was Li Dunyoung. I was able to speak to him for one hour and I explained to him that I was arrested under illegal circumstances and explained to him my case. He then was sent to Eastern Turkestan, Xinjiang, and after some time two other lawyers came, they told me they were government lawyers and that my lawyer will not be involved in the case any more. Of course, I was not willing to accept the government appointed attorneys. In December 2009, the court hearing took place, two or three judges were there, the security personnel, the police who arrested me were also there. There were two hundred or three hundred people in the audience and they were all Chinese. My lawyer, the lawyer my family hired, was of course not there and my family also not. Then the trial begun and the prosecutor explained that at our documentary has gained a lot of international attention and has done a lot of harm to Chinese nation. The second argument was that many Tibetans are protesting for my release, especially the Tibetan youth was leading the protests. And then the verdict came and there were two reasons I was sentenced for. The first reason was that through my documentary I have endangered the security of China. The second reason was separatism that I became culpable of through my film. The sentence was for six years, but in fact I spent six years and three months in prison.”

  • „In 2008, Olympic Games were awarded to China and I remember clearly that propaganda from Chinese side was quite strong. They talked about happiness of Tibetan people and about how many improvements were made in Tibet. But the experience of three generations of Tibetan people (I am the third generation under Chinese rule) was quite different. Our experience was that the development was totally negative for Tibetans. There was so much suffering and I understood it the more the better. At the same time we saw Chinese propaganda that everything was getting better in Tibet and China and this was in conflict with our experience. There was a tradition of non-violent protests in Tibet but only few of these protests got the attention of the outside world. I felt, with my friends, that we have to do something about it, that it is our responsibility to convey to people outside Tibet the true feelings and opinions of the Tibetans. So we travelled through Tibet, visited many people, talked to many people and collected the testimonies of these people in a twenty five minutes documentary film. In total, there were about 45 hours of recordings. It is said that 108 people talked to us, but the true number is around 120 people that talked to us. And these men and woman talked about their family history, they talked about people who suffered under occupation, about suicide, starvation, they talked about the whole experience. Among the people who talked to us were also Tibetan officials, teachers. People from all regions of Tibet.”

  • “I come from a small village and being in Lhasa was for me being in a big city. I saw all these people praying, people in Tibetan clothes. And the monasteries were huge, much bigger than in our village. For the first time I got the sense of being Tibetan and I also had a strong feeling of Tibetan identity. I spent several months in Lhasa. One day, protests happened there. A small group of monks from the monastery of Ganden came to do a protest. They were calling slogans like ´For the Tibetans!´and ´Long love Dalai-Lama!´ And suddenly the place was filled with Chinese security forces and they beat the monks and pushed them to the ground. We, the bystanders, were pushed aside and put under control. Than, some days later, three nuns in front of the main temple, Jokhan temple, staged protest. And the same happened, military forces came there, put the nuns on the ground and started beating them. Public was put away, it was a very dramatic scene. People around were crying, there was a lot of emotions. For me as a young man, it was an eye-opener. I suddenly understood that we as a people have a history. That we as a people are suffering, because of external circumstances.”

  • Full recordings
  • 1

    Praha, 23.01.2022

    duration: 02:56:15
    media recorded in project Memory of Tibet
Full recordings are available only for logged users.

I wanted to allow the Tibetan voices to be heard

Dhondup Wangchen, Prague 2022
Dhondup Wangchen, Prague 2022
photo: Natáčení

Although the Tibetan villager Dhondub Wangchen was not able to visit schools, he counts today among the best known filmmakers of his country. He was born in 1974 in Eastern Tibet and belongs thus already to third generation confronted with Chinese rule. In 2008, when Beijing hosted the Olympic games, Wangchen felt a need to counter the prevailing Chinese propaganda. He bought a cheap amateur camera and set on a travel through Tibet. Together with his friends, he interviewed 120 Tibetans and collected 45 hours of film material. His interviewees speak about their own sufferings and those of their families, about a deep inner connection to the Dalai Lama and about their inability to comprehend why the Olympics were awarded to China. In March 2008, when the documenatry film under the title Leaving Fear Behind was shown to foreign journalists in Beijing, its author was alredy under arrest. He was tortured in detention and the attorney chosen by his family was not allowed to accept the case. Wangchen spent more than six years in Chinese prisons and labour camps, in adition he was confined to eighty-four days in a row in dark solitary confinement. Three years after his release he adventurously managed to flee from China through Vietnam. He lives in the USA. He has received the Václav Havel Award for Creative Dissent and the award granted by Commitee to Protect Journalists. He visited Prague in 2022 upon invitaion of two Czech organisations - Potala and Czechs Support Tibet.