Tattoos of Tibetan Refugees [VIDEO]

Today on TV, we see so many TV shows dedicated to the stories behind tattoos.  In the three years that I have been coming to the Tibetan community of Dharamsala in India, I’ve been quietly observing the tattoos of the people here.

In many cases, these tattoos mark the skin of former political prisoners. In other cases, they amplify the desires of those Tibetans born in exile to return to their homeland.

Tattoos themselves draw a very mixed reaction: fond admirers or staunch critics, geography, generation, and religion all play a role. Regardless of these factors, tattoos are like the proverbial picture which is worth a thousand words.

Here are three stories I’ve captured from the past week:

Palden Gyatso was tattooed as a young monk in Shigatse (Central Tibet). Here, he talks about his tattoos, their meaning and their ultimate removal by Chinese prison guards during the cultural revolution:

Pasang Dorjee had ‘Free Tibet’ tattooed while he was a prisoner in a Chinese forced labor camp. In this video he refers to the ‘fake Panchen Lama.’ In 1995, the Chinese government abducted the Tibetan reincarnate Panchen Lama, recognized by the Dalai Lama, and appointed their own in hopes of controlling Tibetan Buddhism. Dorjee was arrested while protesting a ceremony to honor the fake appointee, in which the Chinese would have paid his monastery.

Many young Tibetans, newly arrived in India from Tibet, bear tattoos. They are a mix of the cultures that this new generation faces: Tibetan, Western and Chinese. Here, Pasang talks about the tattoo process, and why he risked his life to flee Tibet.


Photo credit: Built On Respect, 2011


Jane R.
Jane R8 years ago

Thank you for sharing this story.

Bernadette P.
berny p8 years ago

The Tibetan people will survive no matter what!

Jane H.
Jane H8 years ago

wow----really beautiful comments

Bente Saedal
Bente Saedal8 years ago

Im grateful to the people who is telling us about Tibet, Israel, China mm and whats happening in our world today, and what
people have been true in the past as well. Today,I think tattoo
is an great way to express feelings and share art with others.
I like what you are doing here and other places too, so thank you for the info.

Denise Miller
Denise Miller8 years ago

Thank you for the information.

Eugene C.
Eugene C8 years ago

It's true, the Chinese Government cannot take away what is in a Tibetan's heart and soul but they sure have tried. Tibet is so rich in beauty and culture, how can we ever support this crime against humanity. The Chinese Government has a great deal to answer to, namely the attempted destruction of an amazingly dignified, spiritually aware people that have so much to offer us all. May Tibet be Free!

Camila K.
Kamila A8 years ago

its up to all of us to change things for Tibet. The Dalai Lama doesn't use confrontation, battle, defensive actions, he awaits the world to finally wake up----will we? We must.

julieanne bowes
julieanne bowes8 years ago

Free Tibet.....we cant forget about China's shame now we do big business with them.

Xhio Rieke Sandoval
Xhio R8 years ago

sad history :(

Judy Emerson
Judith Emerson8 years ago


Hoping WE, THE PEOPLE of the USA will muster similar commitment for supporting education, healthcare & our environment! Maybe WI's demonstrators will inspire us further!