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On a Wing and a Prayer, Dalai Lama Tweets to Chinese

HHDL twitter

Today the Dalai Lama will get to broadcast his thoughts to many thousands of Chinese, 140 characters at a time. He's considered an undesirable to the authorities there, remember, and his team has had to resort to some holy hacking to get the message out.

Hearing from His Holiness the Dalai Lama (HHDL, or Tenzin Gyatso to his pals)—about, say, his anti-establishment stance on Tibetan autonomy—is tricky for mainland Chinese citizens, thanks to the strict national control over media and censorship of China's Net ties to the outside world. The government even goes so far as blatantly slandering the Nobel Peace Prize winning humanitarian, and years of dialogue between officials and the Dalai Lama have gone nowhere.

But the Dalai Lama has found a fabulously geeky way to get his opinions broadcast on the mainland. He's had a verified Twitter account in his name for quite some time, and several times a day it's a vehicle for some of his thoughts, musings, observations about life, and news stories about where he's been or who he's spoken to—the latest tweet from earlier today is pretty representative: "Meeting so many people from all over the world and from every walk of life constantly reminds me of our basic sameness as human beings."

Twitter is apparently pretty accessible in parts of mainland China, despite being officially blocked, as there are ways and means of fooling the Great Chinese Firewall into letting users access "forbidden" data. And Twitter itself has an open attitude to third party apps and servers accessing tweet feeds, some of which can circumvent the firewall directly. So Twitter's a great vehicle for HHDL to access normal Chinese. But today's hour-long question and answer session still had to be trickily snuck past the authorities: Direct questioning would've been technically hard, so some 250 questions were selected by about 12,000 online voters via a Google Moderator site. Given the harsh censorship of Google meted out by the government, it's a miracle this site actually remained unbarred long enough for the votes to be cast—though it was locked down by the authorities yesterday. Because the HHDL Twitter account would've been an easy censoring target, the plan was to broadcast the chat session via the feed of Chinese writer Wang Lixiong (or so the AFP reported anyway.)

Some Twitter-hunting reveals that Lixiong's tweet feed has but one old entry, and connects to his blog. This page has mention of the votes for the questions, but not today's public chat—which he stresses as unusual, as HHDL will speak more to "real" Chinese citizens rather than activists. So, we're looking for news of the conversation for you, and kinda hoping that the Dalai Lama's holy hackery hasn't been defeated by the powers that be.

To keep up with this news follow me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter. That QR code on the left will take your smartphone to my Twitter feed too.