Feb. 19, 2020 By Michael Dorgan
More than 150 people took part in a demonstration outside the Elmhurst library Saturday to protest an exhibition on display about the life and customs of Tibet.
Protesters from various Tibetan affiliated groups rallied outside the 86-07 Broadway library and called for the exhibition to be shut down. Protestors said that the exhibition whitewashes China’s brutal human rights atrocities and depicts Tibet as a place where freedom of religion and language rights is respected.
The exhibit, called Everyday life in Tibet, contains photographs of cultural events, various landmarks, and of children writing in Tibetan. The exhibit is part of a wider series called “China Today,” which has run in other Queens Public Libraries and was created by an affiliate of the Chinese consulate.
Students for a Free Tibet (SFT), who advocate for Tibet’s political freedom and spearheaded the demonstration, said that the display is politically motivated and fails to show the hardship their fellow countrymen face.
China invaded Tibet in 1950 and has occupied the independent nation since.
Queens is home to the largest Tibetan diaspora community outside of Asia and the exhibit is extremely offensive to New York’s Tibetan community, they said.
An online petition demanding the removal of the exhibition was posted by SFT to Change.org last week and has garnered more than 3,300 signatures.
“Tibetans have faced displacement, statelessness, and other brutalities propagated by the Chinese government and the exhibition is a brutal reminder of the suffering Tibetan’s have faced for generations,” the petition reads.
“Hundreds of thousands of Tibetans have been killed as a direct result of the Chinese occupation, and over 6,000 monasteries have been demolished through Chinese state-sponsored violence inside Tibet,” it says.
SFT, along with the Regional Tibetan Youth Congress, met with Queens Public Library staff on Friday to discuss the matter but the library refused to take down the exhibit leading to Saturday’s protest which also included members from the Tibetan Community of NY/NJ, U.S. Tibet Committee, Chushi Gangdruk, and former Tibetan political prisoner Nyima Lhamo.
“There are so many young Tibetans who go to this library and now they have to see an exhibition that shows that everything is fine in Tibet, when in reality they know about the plight of their families in Tibet,” Pema Doma, Campaigns Director at Students for a Free Tibet.
“Imagine if a library had an exhibit which showed white Americans in blackface. This is how we Tibetans feel when we see photos on display of Chinese people proudly appropriating Tibetan dress,” she said.
A spokesperson for the Queens Public Library said that library officials had an honest, respectful meeting with members of the Tibetan community and came away with a deeper understanding about the pain the exhibit has caused them.
“During the discussion we explained that Queens Public Library is a forum for many different points of view, including those that stir passionate debate. We also communicated that we hope they will offer their perspectives in the form of an exhibit and/or programming to encourage further dialogue,” she said.
“However, there is no plan to take down the exhibit,” she said.