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Posts Tagged ‘gendun choephel’

· Statement Director (am)

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Angry Monk

Statement Luc Schaedler

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Why Gendun Choephel

«The idea for the film «Angry Monk» originated during several trips to China, Tibet and India between 1988 and 1999. Without being aware of it, I travelled to the same places that the protagonist of the movie visited 50 years before. Since 1988 I have been studying the country of Tibet and how the western world perceives it. And I repeatedly came across the name of Gendun Choephel.»

A wanderer between worlds

«Gendun Choephel (1903-51) was a wanderer between worlds — at once a dreamer, a rebel and a researcher. He lived in a time that was decisive for the future of his country, between the British colonial invasion of 1903 and the occupation by the Chinese army in 1951. At that time Tibet wasn’t the inaccessible Shangri-La that people often claim, but a torn country on the verge of big changes. Tibet’s attempts to introduce a new social structure and to find its own way into the twentieth century failed because of the resistance of the conservative nobility and the monasteries.»

Breaking the isolation

«As Tibet moved towards isolation, Gendun Choephel was open to new experiences. We can trace his path through his writings, articles, pictures and sketches. He looked at his own society in a critical way, was interested in political issues and tried to apply them to everyday life; he was, therefore, the initiator of critical and intellectual thought within Tibetan society.»

Becoming a role model

«During his last years, Gendun Choephel became a role model for many young Tibetans in Chinese-occupied Tibet and also for those in exile in India. While their parents lost Tibet, the younger generation looked for role models that would allow a critical view of their own society. But the western world only slowly became aware of Choephel because his life story doesn’t mesh with our rigid image of Tibet, which prefers to portray Tibetans as victims rather than the makers of their own history.»
Luc Schaedler

Statement Director - Angry Monk - Luc Schaedler

Luc Schaedler, 2018

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· Interview Director (am)

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Angry Monk

Luc Schaedler

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Interview with director
by Till Brockmann, 2005

 

Why did you chose the title «Angry Monk»?

A monk is not supposed to be angry. The title is thus contradictory and provocative and that’s intentional; this contradiction is part of what the movie is about. The way the West sees Tibet has more to do with our own projections than with reality. Interestingly, in German and English there is a note of irony in the title which gets completely lost in the Tibetan translation. I found out that the title cannot really be translated into Tibetan. Apparently the combination of «angry» and «monk» is not planned…

Why a film about Tibet?

I travelled a lot in Asia and I often passed through Tibet. I first went to Tibet in 1989, shortly after the Tiananmen massacre in Bejing – during the time of the Lhasa uprisings. I also worked on Tibetan issues during my anthropology studies at university. A part of me is always on the road, seeking an encounter with all things foreign. My film is surely also the result of this personal interest, a way to give it a shape. But it also has purpose to actively participate in a specific discourse, the discussion that the West had long been having about Tibet.

Why a road movie?

It was the idea from the beginning. Somehow that’s the point of the whole story. Because in a broader sense the whole life of Gendun Choephel, the central figure, was a journey. A journey from the border provinces to the city of Lhasa. From there he went abroad and came back again. Apart from this outer journey, there was the inner journey of a man who, agile-minded as he was, always remained «on the road».

And furthermore, as already mentioned, the film is structured like that because I got to know Tibet as a traveller, too. Finally, a last aspect, the film is a dialogue with the past which is also a kind of travelling, time-travelling so to speak: the film moves back and forth between present and past that mirror each other…

What about a permission to film?

I was aware from the beginning that the authorities would have informants and therefore always knew what was going on. Thus, shooting secretly and getting an official permit for a bigger project were out of question. For that reason I had the idea to work with a small and unobtrusive team; actually, just the cameraman Filip Zumbrunn and me. We behaved like tourists, like teachers who wanted to show the video material to their students back home.

Partly we were shooting the usual stuff: markets, monasteries, like all tourists do… (smiling), but we were really lucky, too; if we had been searched at some point and they would have found all the many videocassettes, who knows… But even if the film is critical of China, I clearly never meant to make a film against China. What I am interested in is the inner dynamics of Tibet and in this regard China is just one of the factors. After all I’m critical of Tibetan culture as well.

What do you mean by that?

First of all, I’m very critical of the one-sided way the West looks at Tibet: as a spiritual refuge, an inspiration for the mind… some managers even go to Buddhist monasteries to prepare for the next round of globalization debates. A lot of damage is done by reducing Tibet to a peace-loving pseudo-paradise, perceiving it as «Shangri-la» with all the Tibetans having a spiritual message ready for us. I believe this harms the struggle for Tibetan indepence. Furthermore, I find the romanticizing of the past rather problematic, though Tibet gets idealized not only in the West but by Tibetans as well.

For instance, hardly 5% of the people controlled the whole country and the mingling of religion and politics developed into an unholy alliance of the aristocracy and the monastic establishment. This prevented necessary reforms and a policy of openness. Such things are often forgotten. Gendun Choephel and many others as well, such as the predecessor of the present Dalai Lama, were open for change but they failed time and again with their ideas because of the opposition of conservative forces who of course defend their privileges.

Was your critical approach intentional?

Yes, of course. There are so many films full of admiration for the monasteries, for the lamaism and also for the nomadic society which has been celebrated as a remnant of an age-old, intact culture. Similarly, I dislike political reports that make us believe that Tibet is a destroyed culture and that any resistance against the Chinese is defeated or futile in the end.

But the situation is more complex and indeed a paradox: on the one hand so much has been destroyed since the invasion in 1950, especially during the cultural revolution it was done with meticulous precision. On the other hand, the Tibetans prove every day that there is a life under the Chinese. They have preserved their culture and language, they have kept alive more than one thinks. For instance, many of Gendun Choephel’s writings and paintings featured in my film, have been preserved in Tibet. In this sense Gendun Choephel becomes part of this «survival».

What I mean to say is that the Tibetans shouldn’t be perceived just as victims but as a people who have managed very cleverly to resist the Chinese and who will go on showing their subversive spirit. I never intended to make a purely biographical film on Gendun Choephel, but he serves as a key to the understanding of the history and the complex present of Tibet. Choephel was a man with many sides who had fought for change and at the same time remained a Buddhist all his life. He never turned his back to his own culture.

I deliberately chose to have only Tibetans speak about Gendun Choephel in my film: old people who knew him and other Tibetans of a later generation. At the end I cut out all the Western scholars and Tibet experts whom I had interviewed as well…

Why is the Dalai Lama missing?

I did this on purpose. Probably it would have been easy enough to get an interview with him. But I didn’t want his presence to dominate the film and the other interview partners to be pushed to the background. No matter what he would have said about Gendun Choephel, it would have been a confirmation for many that the film is justified. I didn’t want that, I didn’t want to have this «offical stamp». In my view it is very important that there is a parallel discussion on Tibet which doesn’t rely exclusively on the voice of the Dalai Lama.

AM-Interview-Director - Angry Monk - Luc Schaedler

Luc Schaedler, shooting of «Angry Monk», 2001

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· Bio Gendun Choephel (am)

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Angry Monk

A short Biography

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Childhood in Eastern Tibet
(1903-1927)

He was born 1903 in a small village in eastern Tibet, near the silk road, at the Chinese border, in a remote region populated by nomads. This region was inhabited by Muslims, Chinese and Tibetans that were constantly fighting each other. The villages often were attacked and looted by warlords. In this explosive and mixed cultural climate Gendun Choephel started to be interested in his Tibetan identity early on.

He received a traditional education as a monk in the most important monastery of the region, where he developped a friendship with an American missionary that the other monks and his family resented. In 1927 he left the monastery and moved to Lhasa with a caravan of merchants.

Monastery education in Lhasa
(1927-34)

In Lhasa Gendun Choephel studied in Drepung, the biggest monastery in the world. His rebellious attempts to bypass the monastery’s rules annoyed the other monks. Ultimately, monastic life suffocated him too much in Lhasa as well and he left the monastery. Afterwards he survived as a portrait painter and artist for rich aristocrats in Lhasa. In 1934 he met Rahul Sankrityayan, an Indian researcher of Buddhist teachings who also was a communist activist for the Indian struggle for independence from British colonialists.

Journey across Tibet (1934-1938)

Rahul Sankrityayan and Gendun Choephel travelled together across Tibet searching for old texts that were destroyed in India centuries earlier but had survived in remote monasteries in Tibet. For Rahul, historical research is part of his political fight; for him researching history is the key to the present. Gendun Choephel was Rahuls translator as well as his mediator for Tibetan culture. At the same time the fascinating stories about India awoke his curiosity.

Journey across India (1938-1946)

In India, Gendun Choephel was confronted with a foreign world. For the first time he saw a railway and other technological achievements. India was then undergoing radical changes and, contrary to Tibet, the Indians took their destiny into their own hands. The fight for independece was at its peak. Gendun Choephel’s view of his own culture started to change; in India he experienced the most creative phase of his life.

He travelled across the country as a Buddhist pilgrim, lived in the crowded city of Calcutta, saw the ocean, visited brothels and libraries, wrote his first newspaper articles and translated the Kamasutra in Tibetan, enriching it with his own experiences. He sent many of his writings, notes and sketches back to Tibet in order to convey his impressions of a foreign world.

Return to Tibet (1946-51)

In 1946 Gendun Choephel returned to Tibet passing through the Indian-Tibetan border town of Kalimpong which, next to British and Chinese agents, was a nest of radical Tibetans who fell out of grace with Lhasa’s government. In 1939 they founded the Tibetan Revolutionary Party. Choephel got acquainted with the party and designed their logo: a sickle crossed by a sword. The Tibetan Revolutionary Party’s goal was to overthrow the tyrannical regime in Lhasa.

In Lhasa (1946-51)

When Gendun Choephel arrived in Lhasa the Tibetan government was already informed about his political activities. He began to write the political history of Tibet but this attempt was abruptly stopped by his arrest. He was accused of insurrection and thrown in jail for three years.

In 1949 he was freed. But his heart was broken and he drowned his desperation in alcohol. Soon afterwards the Chinese army overran the Tibetan troops in eastern Tibet and, in 1951, shortly after the occupation of Lhasa by the Chinese army, Gendun Choephel died. Supposedly he commented on the political events of his era in this way: «Now we are in deep shit!»

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More on Gendun Choephel:

Biography of Gendun Choephel by Donald Lopez Jr.
(Chicago University Press)

Short Biography of Gendun Choephel
(Archive.Today)

More information on Gendun Choephel
(Rigpa Wiki)

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AM-Bio-Gendun-Choephel - Angry Monk - AM - Bio Gendun Choephel

Gendun Choephel shortly before his death, 1951

 

AM - Bio Gendun Choephel - angry monk - am-bio-gendun-choephel

Gendun Choephel, 1940’s

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