The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) recently launched a smear campaign on social media against the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader, who has lived in exile in India since 1959 when he was forced to flee his homeland, occupied by Mao’s China, reported The Diplomat, adding that this campaign was not new as China has been vilifying him in every medium possible ever since 1959.
But how did the CCP initiate the April campaign? The source of the raw material was a relatively routine event in Dharamsala, the report stated, adding that a Tibetan refugee charity employee from India was able to arrange for her small son, who is about 8 years old, to meet the Dalai Lama. This took place on February 28 and online video clips were uploaded to celebrate the joyous event.
“A month went by and the Chinese propaganda agencies were likely formulating strategies about how to respond to the expected renewed criticism of China. In recent years, they have increased their efforts to manipulate social media globally rather than only domestically, using international platforms rather than Chinese ones,” the report read.
When the propaganda officers discovered the footage from February, they must have thought they had hit gold. To make it appear as though the Dalai Lama wanted to kiss the 8-year-old boy, they cropped away a portion of the image. (He does stick his tongue out, and even says, in halting English, “Suck my tongue!”), reported The Diplomat, an international current-affairs magazine for the Asia-Pacific region.
The clip was distributed via a Twitter account created in February and included a slur on the Dalai Lama. It spread globally through networks of trusted pro-regime people and linked bot accounts. Within days, it had millions of hits. And so it went on, with many memes adding to the conversation, the report stated, adding that suddenly, many people with only the vaguest notion of the Dalai Lama could be heard condemning him.
“What actually happened, though? It turns out that feeding toddlers by mouth is usual in Tibet and that this tradition still exists, at least in the Dalai Lama’s former home region of Amdo. Because of this history, there is a running joke among elderly Tibetans that when they run out of treats to give their grandchildren, they will thrust out their tongues and say, ‘You may eat my tongue, for I have nothing else left’. That the Dalai Lama said ‘suck’ instead of ‘eat’ was possible because he was thinking of sugar, not food-the actual Tibetan phrasing is che le sa, literally ‘eat my tongue’,” the report stated.
The entire video isn’t “sexual” in any way, it added.
The Dalai Lama humorously pushes his head onto the boy’s shoulder to demonstrate how he used to fight with his elder brother when they were younger. Then he performs another traditional gesture of respect known as oothuk, which is similar to a formal handshake in the West, by pressing his forehead against the boy’s forehead, the report noted.
“Afterwards, both the boy and his mother (who sat a short distance away during the entire exchange) were interviewed. Both of them were ecstatic to have experienced this. Nothing untoward occurred; in fact, the boy received a po kiss (a customary elders’ kiss on the mouth and cheek given to children) immediately before the Dalai Lama stuck out his tongue to indicate that they were finished,” The Diplomat stated.
The Indian child asked whether he can “hug” the Dalai Lama. At first, the Dalai Lama did not get the English word, the report stated, adding that in Tibet, handshakes and hugs are typically avoided.
“But he got the best of both worlds: oothuk, po, and the “che le sa” joke; plus a hug, a handshake and a chat, as we see in the full video,” it added.
Most people in the West have no clue about Tibetan cultural practices, let alone about “eat my tongue” as a non-sexual concept. In addition, many people in the West are aware of Catholic priests who have been found guilty of paedophilia, the report noted, adding that combining the two, Chinese propagandists found an opening for implying that the Dalai Lama too, as a male “priest” of sorts, indulged in a similar crime.
The trick succeeded, beyond expectations: Damage was inflicted globally, to the reputation of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan people. The recent widespread atrocities committed in Tibet by China have received little attention in the Western media, the report noted.
Curiously, the Dalai Lama’s office sent out a statement expressing regret for “the hurt his words may have caused.”
Many Tibetans were angry about this. The majority of people don’t believe there is a need for the Dalai Lama to apologise to the world, not even strategically. In fact, the apology for “any hurt caused” may have something to do with Tibetan Buddhists’ inclination to feel bad (independent of culpability). There were spontaneous demonstrations in Dharamshala and in Ladakh in support of the Dalai Lama.
Democracies must clearly exercise better control over platforms like YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and others, lest these potent ones be taken over and turned into weapons in the hands of authoritarians both at home and abroad, according to The Diplomat.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)
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