Norwich Tibet Week
A touch of Eastern mysticism comes to Norwich today with the start of the fifth Norwich Tibet Week. But beyond a sense of the exotic and spiritual, it is the Chinese occupation of Tibet and the plight of its people that the event’s organisers are hoping to keep high on the agenda, as Rowan Entwistle found out.
Amid of the glory of the Olympics and the heroics of our own Kelly Holmes in Greece last month, it was easy to miss the small but determined show of strength from a non-sporting team.
As the games in Athens drew to a close, a peaceful protest by six Tibetan activists, representing the worldwide movement for Tibet, was halted at the Olympic Sports Complex by police officers.
The activists displayed their own version of the Olympic flag which showed five bullet holes replacing the Olympic rings and carried the slogan “China plays games with human rights”.
The protest was to coincide with the passing on of the Olympic flag to Beijing, the hosts of the 2008 Games.
But the supporters of Tibet do not just use the international stage to stage their peaceful protests.
Alison Reynolds, director of Free Tibet, an organisation very much involved in Norwich Tibet Week, said: “Greater awareness about Tibet and increased public pressure are crucial to bring about a better future for the Tibetan people.
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“Events such as Norwich Tibet Week inform people and inspire them to take action, whether by writing letters, by lobbying a Member of Parliament, or telling their friends about Tibet. Public pressure has brought about the early release of more than a dozen Tibetan political prisoners, and helps generate more pressure on China, to bring its occupation of Tibet to an end.”
But what is it about Tibet that engages so many people, including celebrities such as Richard Gere, John Cleese and Joanna Lumley, in the West?
Certainly their peaceful approach to what has happened to them and the wisdom and humanity of the Dalai Lama, the country's spiritual and political leader, has much to do with it.
Since Tibet was invaded by the Chinese People's Liberation Army in 1959, more than a million Tibetans - 20pc of the population - are thought to have died through imprisonment, execution and starvation, with many thousands more, including the Dalai Lama, fleeing into exile.
But rather than to adopt violence, the Dalai Lama and his followers have embraced a non-violent protest.
And despite the country's sad plight, its people, who are Buddhists, have a happiness and a resilience which many people in the developed world long to emulate.
Norwich Tibet Week aims to give avid Tibet supporters, and those new to the cause, a varied flavour of the country's rich culture.
Among the many events being hosted in venues across Norwich will be a talk tonight, Tibet, Past, Present and Future by Ms Reynolds and Kesang Takla, the Northern European representative of the Dalai Lama, at the King of Hearts at 7.30pm.
There will also be talks on Tibetan astrology and medicine, and all week monks from Tashi Lhunpo Monastery, one of the most important monasteries outside Tibet, will be creating the Mitrupka Sand Mandala from millions of grains of coloured sand.
This sacred sand painting will be made at the King of Hearts Centre while throughout the week a video installation of the same image, created in Glasgow during the visit of the Dalai Lama this spring, will be on view at Norwich Arts Centre, the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library and The Cut Arts Centre, Halesworth, Suffolk.
The Tashi Lhunpo monks will also lead workshops in traditional Tibetan monastic crafts such as butter sculpture and prayer-flag printing.
And throughout the week there will be a number of Tibetan charity stalls in Norwich Market and Hay Hill as well as a gig at the Norwich Arts Centre this Saturday, September 11, at 7pm in aid of participating charities and Tibetan organisations.
t For full details visit www.norwichtibetweek.co.uk or call 01603 630484/01986 894500