KPU TALK event discusses ongoing persecution of Tibetan Buddhists

Tibetan refugees are saving their culture from China’s oppression

Dr. Ross Michael Pink hosting a lecture for TALK about the ongoing persecution of Tibetan Buddhists. (Kyler Emerson)

Dr. Ross Michael Pink hosting a lecture for TALK about the ongoing persecution of Tibetan Buddhists. (Kyler Emerson)

Hidden among cedar forests on the edge of the Himalayas in northern India lies the town of Dharamsala. The hillside town is home to the Dalai Lama and Tibetans in exile from the People’s Republic of China. 

In 1950, the People’s Liberation Army invaded the Tibet region. About 6,000 monasteries, temples, and shrines in Tibet were destroyed by the Chinese government. Monks and nuns of Tibet were forced to give up their vows, and many who resisted were killed or imprisoned and tortured.

“The Dalai Lama stayed for nine years…. It finally got to the point where [monks] believed the Dalai Lama was going to be arrested by the Chinese government and put in jail and never heard from again,” said Dr. Ross Michael Pink during a lecture about the ongoing persecution of Tibetan Buddhists held on March 4.

Pink, a political science instructor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, delivered the lecture in collaboration with the Third Age Learning at Kwantlen (TALK) series, an educational program for people over 50 years of age or who are retired and want to continue their learning. The annual membership fee is $10, and there are several events throughout each month. 

Dharamsala is the largest Tibetan refugee centre in the world, created in 1959 by the then Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru when the Dalai Lama fled Tibet. The settlement allowed followers of the Dalai Lama to relocate and preserve their culture. 

“In the middle of the night, the Dalai Lama and a small group of loyalists packed up some few precious Buddhist treasures, put them on horses, and fled over the mountains, very dangerous, and made it to Dharamsala,” Pink says. 

Pink lived in Dharamsala for seven weeks to interview refugees and former political prisoners of China, the Dalai Lama’s chief of staff, senior monks, cabinet ministers, poets and writers, and the art school director for his upcoming book on the Tibetan refugee crisis. The trip was partially funded by KPU. 

“It was one of my most inspiring experiences in life. The warmth, compassion, generosity of the Tibetan people and refugees just overwhelms you,” he says.

The Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA) was the first educational institution set up in Dharamsala, which has several programs and courses ranging from music, dance, and written word. 

“You see Tibetans from all walks of life making this point that language is culture, education is culture, music is culture, dance is culture. When those are suppressed, as they are in Tibet … the culture starts to fade away,” he said during his lecture.

“TIPA is the only institution in exile for performing arts. [Tibetan] children cannot study performing arts in Tibet, it’s banned.”

As the world watches Ukrainians defend their country, culture, and freedoms, Pink says those sovereign rights have historically been denied to the Tibetan people. 

“Every country has a right to exist safely, securely within their own borders. That right has been denied to the Tibetan people, it’s being denied to the Ukrainian people right now.” 

Pink says this is important to talk about because it’s a fundamental issue of justice, and human dignity and rights. 

“The Tibetan refugees are a metaphor for human rights and dignity for all people around the world who are oppressed. When we look at Tibetan refugees, we’re also learning about compassion for other minorities that are oppressed.”