'Reactionary' Ringtones Spark Arrests In Tibet Police in Tibet have swept markets in recent months looking for banned music. Chinese state media report that police have arrested two suspects for allegedly downloading to their cell phones music that the government considers "reactionary."
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'Reactionary' Ringtones Spark Arrests In Tibet

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'Reactionary' Ringtones Spark Arrests In Tibet

'Reactionary' Ringtones Spark Arrests In Tibet

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

To find out exactly what kind of tunes can get a person thrown in jail, we go now to NPR's Anthony Kuhn who filed this report from Beijing.

ANTHONY KUHN: Woeser is a petite Tibetan woman in a cream-colored tunic and silver jewelry, visiting a Buddhist temple on Tibetan New Year's Day. She's one of Tibet's most outspoken authors. And like many Tibetans, she goes by only one name. She's recently been blogging about the hidden world of reactionary ringtones, subversive songs and dissident downloads.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AMA JETSUN PEMA")

WOESER: (Through translator) And as soon as this song came out, everyone was very excited. And we all ran down to the markets to listen to it and to buy it, as if it would disappear if we didn't. When it was eventually labeled as reactionary, everyone said, oh, it's finally been exposed.

KUHN: Until her retirement in 2006, Jetsun Pema ran the Tibetan Children's Villages, a network of schools and orphanages for Tibetan exiles in India. She also just happens to be the younger sister of Tibet's exiled religious leader, the Dalai Lama.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DALAI LAMA")

KUHN: Some songs are dead giveaways, Woeser explains. They're usually sung by Tibetan exiles who aren't afraid to sing their god-king's name loud and proud. But poet that she is, Woeser prefers another kind of song, which refers to exiled gurus allegorically.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KUHN: The songs usually sound melancholy and express a feeling of loss.

WOESER: (Through translator) The sun is a traditional metaphor for the Dalai Lama; the moon, for the Panchen Lama; and stars, for the Karmapa Lam. This song sings how the sun, moon and stars are no longer in Tibetan lands. The lands are now very dark, and we are sad that we can't see them.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KUHN: Woeser notes, though, that more militant music is marching onto the Tibetan plateau.

WOESER: (Through translator) Now, a lot of young Tibetans living in the West are adopting Western forms of popular music, such as rap. These kinds of songs may gradually become a stronger voice in the exile community.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NO NEXT TIME")

NAMGYAL YESHI: (Singing) The time is running and running, I am getting older and older...

KUHN: Straight out of Queens, New York, Namgyal Yeshi raps about an onslaught of beggars, thieves and migrants flooding into Tibet from other parts of China, and of birds, fish and trees disappearing from the land.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KUHN: Woeser says the whole idea of slapping political labels on music is absurd.

WOESER: (Through translator) Just by categorizing these songs as reactionary, we can see that the thinking of the authorities in Tibet is still stuck in the Cultural Revolution. And the current atmosphere in Tibet of captivity and terror is similar to that era.

KUHN: Unidentified Man (Singer): (Singing foreign language)

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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