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By Woeser, translated by High Peaks Pure Earth
Losar is almost upon us and, as we all know, Tibetans have very different feelings towards this year’s Losar. The concerned authorities took notice of this very early on. Party Secretary Zhang Qingli has repeatedly given the orders, saying “playing the first move of the chess well, and wage a war on one’s initiative well”. Various state media have attributed this “Not celebrating Losar” to the Tibetan Government in Exile and the Tibetan Youth Congress. In reality, “Not celebrating Losar” was first proposed by Tibetans in Tibet and originated out of spontaneous wishes. Nobody organized Tibetans “Not celebrating Losar”; nobody called on Tibetans “not to celebrate Losar”, no, no. However, the impact is tremendous, everyone is aware of this great ‘civil disobedience’ all over Tibet.
Some say that this kind of “civil disobedience” is only at a low-level, that it is merely not celebrating and nothing more. They maintain that it is a safe action which ends on the individual level, is short-term and does not entail much great risk. In fact, this is not true. Over the past year, the military might all over Tibet has been so great that all Tibetan areas have become prison-like. In today when you could even be arrested for listening to music, “not to celebrate Losar” has been regarded as a serious “separatist” activity, so much so that some Tibetans have been accused of spreading “not to celebrate Losar” rumours and been arrested. In fact, ‘civil disobedience’ in Tibetan areas is even more difficult to carry out than in other places, therefore any kind of result obtained is worth paying attention to.
The way this government treats Tibetans is inhuman. Any kind of Tibetan demands have been trampled on contemptuously. All Tibetan hopes have been shattered contemptuously. The Dalai Lama has not been able to return to his own homeland for fifty years. The Panchen Lama has been missing from the world for thirteen years. It has been ten years since the Karmapa left his home…there is also the wrongly imprisoned Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, how many elderly people in Kham called out his name as they breathed their last words, and they all died with the injustice unaddressed. Those locals haven’t been celebrating any festivals or holidays for the last few years…Many predictions have become an alarming reality, the thirteenth Dalai Lama once said: “Tibetan people will be stripped of their rights and property, and we will become the slaves of the invaders…” One of my monk friend’s 70 year old mother took to the streets last year to protest. Later, a working group went from door to door to investigate why they had participated in protest, were they not demanding “Tibetan Independence”? The old woman said: “Independence or no independence, I don’t know, neither do I understand it, but I know very well that we don’t have freedom, we don’t have rights, I took to the streets, and what I want is freedom and rights.”
And Tibetans have never stopped voicing their demands and protesting: major episodes of dissent occurred in 1959, 1969, 1979, 1989, 1999… and right up until last year when the scale of demonstrations shocked the world. Of course, the inhumanness of the authorities once again became reality: its response is still heavily armed military police, armoured vehicles and jails. It has always been nothing but “strike hard” campaigns. People who live under such state violence usually fear the violence, and they have to be silent because of their fear. It is a long-term silence and a silence in which people are leading a befuddled life. It is also a silence in which “people are deeply grateful”; and it is a silence in which they can only prostrate, hang up prayer flags and distribute lungtas (wind-horses)… This is not something one can not understand. But this time it is different.
A Tibetan went back to Lhasa from the west and after spending a short time very cautiously, he returned to the free world. He sent me a letter and said that when he went back before, he was always disappointed with what he found. He said people only talked about money or having fun. But this time when he went back he felt there was hope because it was totally different. I also have a Tibetan friend who went back to Amdo from a Chinese area. This friend visited cities and towns and villages and he was encouraged by everyone he met: everyone from government officials to herdsmen from his hometown. So he told me: “I have been surprised again. Last year Tibetans surprised everyone, and this year it’s the same. This is so great, we are of one mind. It gives people hope.”
What’s striking here is that these two friends independently expressed to me their hope. And this struck me as unusual. It reminded of a Czech intellectual who once commented on the relationship between the citizens and the unjust authorities: The more one acts like a slave and a servant, and is full of fear, the less seriously the authorities will take you. Only if you have them understand that injustice and despotism can not proceed without obstruction, will you have some hope that they will restrain themselves to some extent. People must forever keep their dignity, not to be scared of threat, not to servilely beg others, and only to tell the truth. In doing so, people can create a kind of pressure because all these are acutely set against the actions of the authorities.”
19th February, 2009, Beijing
From Mechak.org (Mechak Center for Contemporary Tibetan Art)
What is this? Let that Moment Become Eternal!
New Works by the Tibetan Artist Losang Gyatso
Likely they had known that that moment would appear not only on televisions in many countries but also through the omnipresent internet connections. Let alone other venues, the first ten pages of a YouTube search for “Jokhang” can lead to at least nearly a score of videos that were from the footage recorded that moment. They must have known it. They must have been told in advance that reporters from foreign media (a couple dozen of them) would arrive in Jokhang that morning – for the first time in seventeen days since the temple was closed on March 10th. Everyone was ready. Authorities had assigned some of the most obedient Tibetans to cooperate. Yet, “Those worshippers, they are all cadres in disguise; it’s a cheat….,” they, those monks in Jokhang, told the truth at that moment. Apparently, they had been preparing to speak out. Nevertheless, it is impossible that they had not thought of the unpredictable price they would have to pay by doing so. As a result, their participation disclosed the episode which was orchestrated to give the impression that Tibetans are fortunate and free. While rushing out to surround reporters, they desperately yelled: “No, we don’t have freedom! The Dalai Lama is innocent….” The reporters who had been invited to tour the tightly controlled Lhasa finally saw the act which had the most shocking journalistic effect; in a matter of minutes, the authorities were left no place to hide the intention behind the show they had wanted to stage. That shocking moment was said to have lasted about fifteen minutes. I remember clearly the indescribable pain which I felt that evening when watching the short segment of that moment on the internet. I was reminded of this line by Anna Akhmatova – “The heart gives up its blood.”
Nevertheless, most likely they have not known that, months later, that moment had been recreated by an artist. Although art should be unbounded by boundaries of nation and artists are often not tied to their native place — as deities are not confined by their sex, I would still rather refer to this artist in a more restrictive and somehow assertive manner. He, Losang Gyatso (la – according to the formality of our tradition) is a Tibetan artist. The point here is “Tibet.” Although he now lives Washington, DC, although he has not returned to his native place in the Snow Lands for the past forth-nine (and soon fifty) years, he is the Tibetan artist who has through his work of art transformed that moment into six images. In the meantime, he has also created another six images to note another moment in the Labrang Monastery in Amdo, which was as crucial as the one in Jokhang. These twelve images are all modeled after monks who are recognizably Tibetan and native, and they are a great deal similar to each other. Yet, they are also apparently different. One image is more so than the other in overwhelming their beholders. I can nearly hear their voiceless cries piercing through the internet; my ears hurt.
I have fallen in love with Woeser’s writing and found a wonderful piece of prose online called “Nyima Tsering’s Tears”. I have included it below. It is very moving and emotional and I cry every time I read it. I have wanted to add a more personal note to this blog and Woeser certainly does that:
Nyima Tsering’s Tears
It was one of those hot summer days in 1999. As usual the Tsuglakhang was packed with pilgrims and tourists. And, as usual, Nyima Tsering was at the entrance selling tickets and always ready to give tours in English or Chinese to visitors from far away. This was his job, unlike other lamas, as he’s called in the press or on TV: “tour-guide lama”. Yet he’s not only a tour guide, he also holds many other titles, among which the most special one is Member of the Standing Committee of the People’s Assembly in Lhasa. So, in the news on Xizang TV and Lhasa TV we often see a young monk in his maroon robes sitting amidst those taciturn-looking officials in their laymen’s clothes. He always looks calm, sensible and self-assured.
On that day, someone suddenly notified him to submit two photographs to the concerned department for his passport application. Nyima Tsering was told that he was to fly to Beijing a few days later, from where he would join other officials from various government departments to attend an international human rights convention in Norway. Norway? Isn’t that the country where the Dalai Lama received his Nobel Peace Prize in 1989? Nyima Tsering felt slightly excited and uneasy. When he went to submit his photographs, someone there exhorted and advised him again and again. Having noticed his strange expression, the man said: “Relax, the people you will be travelling with are all high-ranking. They won’t be like the officers in Lhasa who know nothing.”
Soon Nyima Tsering boarded an aeroplane alone to Beijing. Of course, there were people who saw him off and received him at both ends of the flight. He couldn’t quite remember who he had met or what he had said. Two days later he was on board again with another ten to twenty member delegates heading to Norway; still he could barely remember anything on the way. This was Nyima Tsering’s first overseas trip. He should have been very clear about his experiences. However, compared with the phrase “human rights” other matters were just not that important to him. What else but the convention could have concerned him so much? After all, he was the lone Tibetan coming from Tibet and the only lama in monastic robes.
But those people were indeed different. They were older than him and unlike the Lhasa officials they looked well-educated, had good manners, were not loud-mouthed nor bossy. To this day, Nyima Tsering still remembers an official from the Committee for Nationality and Religion, at an embarrassing moment when he couldn’t hold back his tears, quietly asking, “Are you feeling unwell?” Then no more words. Finally, when he burst into tears, no one demanded any explanation; that was, however, a kind of understanding that Nyima Tsering appreciated very much.
These days, whenever the convention is mentioned, Nyima Tsering tends to avoid talking about a lot of details. This includes the convention’s proceedings, participants, contents, its background, environment, atmosphere, or the gatherings, discussions, and sightseeing etc. outside of the convention. In fact, the two incidents Nyima Tsering suddenly mentions come out of nowhere. All of a sudden. As if it has been kept in his heart so long that it can no longer be suppressed. He bluntly stopped the chatting, letting the incidents that happened a long time ago burst out of his mouth.
For fifty years, Tibet has been a largely silent world, one where no Tibetan speaks out openly. But in 2003 the Tibetan poet Woeser stepped forward from the shadows with Notes on Tibet, a set of uniquely frank essays on modern life which, though quickly suppressed, were followed by major works of poetry, reportage, history, and cyberjournalism. She found herself compelled to move from Lhasa to Beijing, where, under constant harassment by the authorities, she has continued, as if without fear, to produce work that is honest, lyrical, and daring.
Here are a couple of her poems:
“Remembering a Battered Buddha
Twenty days since I left Lhasa
But still I see that statue of the Buddha with its face bashed in.
It was on a street vendor’s stand in front of the Tromsikhang neighborhood office.
I noticed it from a distance.
I’d gone to Tromsikhang Market to buy droma,
But at the sight a sudden grief assailed me.
I drew closer—couldn’t help it—to this thing so crushed:
It seemed alive, leaning against a shelf in agony,
The face hammered, an arm hacked off, the whole figure chopped off at the waist.
Hurting so bad, leaning against a rack of the goods
That surrounded it: soy sauce, bean jam, salad dressing, and roll after roll of toilet paper,
All introduced into our life long ago from inland China.
Around its neck an ornament, once exquisite, inlaid with colored stones,
And at its chest a wondrous beast with lion head and body of man,
Stacked on a fragmentary chorten.
In what sacred shrine or pious home were these things once venerated?
Hurting so bad and leaning against the rack of merchandise,
It emanated the calm of still waters, but pain stabbed into my marrow:
As I looked on in grief, I sensed a story being played out
That had both a present and a past.
I was moved by the shadowy fate that had brought us together,
As if melted snow from the high peaks had filled my being.
Hugging his knees, the peddler made a pitch:
“Come on, buy it! Don’t the old buddha look grand?”
“When did it get beat up like this?” I asked.
“Cultural Revolution, obviously!” he glanced up, “Had to be the Cultural Revolution.”
“How much?” I wanted to buy it, to take it home,
But this peddler from Jiangxi wouldn’t budge from three thousand.
So with reluctance and regret, and many an afterthought,
I left that broken buddha streaming rays of pain.
I only took some pictures,
So when I miss it I can turn on my computer and have a look.
Friends say it may have been a brand-new buddha, wrecked thus
To fetch a higher price, and the link to the Cultural Revolution was a fiction.
Maybe so; but the hurt remains.
I wrote these lines to try to let it go.
May 14, 2007
“On the Road
On the road with edgy mind,
I’ll flee the chaos of this floating world,
Pick a place to settle,
Find choice words
To tell this passing turn of the Wheel.
On the road one meets by chance
Men and women of immense dignity;
One’s natural pride is humbled.
The ruins that overspread Tibet with shadows dark as night
Have a nobility not found in ordinary men.
Among those encounters:
One dear to me, long−lost,
I, too, am pure and honest;
Mine, too, a sincere and gentle heart;
I wish as seasons change I could change with them.
No need for gifts to one another;
We are the gifts.
On the road, an elder of my people says:
“Golden flowers bloomed on golden mountain;
While golden flowers bloomed, he did not come;
And when he came, the flowers had died.
Silver flowers bloomed on silver mountain;
While silver flowers bloomed, he did not come;
And when he came, the flowers had died.”
On the road, walking alone.
An old book without a map,
A pen, not much to eat,
Ballads from a foreign land:
These will suffice. On the road,
I see a black horse
Who does not bow his head to graze but shakes his hooves,
Vexed that he can’t run free.
Yet also, deep in meditation caves among the vast mountains,
The hidden forms of men.
What sort of heart will honor and revere them?
On the road, a pious mudra’s not complex,
But it ill suits a tainted brow.
A string of special mantras is not hard,
But they’re jarring, from lips stained with lies.
On the road,
I clutch a flower not of this world,
Hurrying before it dies, searching in all directions,
That I may present it to an old man in a deep red robe.
A wish−fulfilling jewel,
A wisp of a smile:
These bind the generations tight.
This snow−clad mountain, melting, is not my snow mountain.
My snow mountains are the mountains of the past,
Far at the sky’s edge, holy and pure:
Many a lotus, eight petals opening,
Oh, many a lotus, eight petals opening.
This lotus, withering, cannot be my lotus.
My lotus is the lotus of the past,
Enfolding the snow mountains, lovely,
Many a prayer flag, five colors fluttering,
Oh, many prayer flags, five colors fluttering.
The past, the past… such a past!
A host of divinities sheltered our homeland
As a lama keeps watch over souls,
As a mastiff stands guard by the tent.
But the host of divinities is long gone, now,
The host of divinities is long gone.
Yunnan, in sight of Mt. Khawa Karpo”