I met Adam Yauch only once. It was during a bathroom break, which came at the end of a heated session in a Tibet-China conference at Harvard in 2002. I rushed to the bathroom and found myself standing next to Adam Yauch, who was using the urinal to my right.
We greeted each other in Tibetan. I was an international relations student at Brown University at the time.
“Isn’t it appalling, what they were saying?” I said, referring to a couple of Chinese academics who had been arguing that the Chinese Communists truly wanted to liberate the Tibetans, almost “out of kindness.”
They were describing Tibet in a language that betrayed their Han chauvinism, and every Tibetan in the room was visibly distraught. But most of us were tongue-tied, understandably intimidated by the heavy use of political terminology by professors and researchers who hid the ultimate weakness of their arguments behind the cloak of academic jargon.
One of the Chinese academics had a deep, commanding voice that made up for his thick accent. He seemed to be aware of the impact his voice was having on his audience, as he continued to lecture the Tibetans about how much Chinese leaders truly respected the wishes of the Tibetan people.
At that point, Adam stood up and said, in a soft but firm voice, “If the Chinese authorities respected the Tibetan people’s wishes so much, then why wouldn’t they just pack up and leave Tibet? Because that’s clearly what the Tibetans want.”
Silence fell upon all. The academic had no answer, because the question was direct, simple and honest. It pierced right through all the pretension, and illuminated everything in an instant.
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