Friday, September 12, 2008
FEARLESSNESS IN A TRIBALIZED TIME
few weeks ago, I was alerted to a new writing by the fearless Tibetan author / poet / citizen journalist Woeser, in response to her recent harassment by Chinese authorities while she was on a home visit to Lhasa. It's a powerfully-worded poem on her "hurried farewell" following this paranoid psychological abuse by the imperial Chinese rulers of her country, and translated by her publisher, Ragged Banner Press: The Fear in Lhasa.
She wrote the poem "on the road out" of her hometown, with a broken heart. I was not willing to quote a passage here, as it absolutely needs to be read in full. Woeser's short postscript should be all the prompting an interested person would need, to go and spend two minutes to read the original on her own publisher's website:
I was in Lhasa from August 17 to August 23, my shortest stay ever, and I had no choice about leaving . . . these words were to remember it by.Like I said, she's fearless.
And there’s something I want to say: You have the guns. I have a pen.
But before I could turn around, a bunch of "Tibet blogs" had lifted the entire poem and pasted it into their own sites -- some without even including her dynamite postscript, and without even a link to the original on her publisher's site. (Coincidentally, my own dispirited mood about blogging lately began at around the same time.) But never mind that; if you haven't read it yet, read it now. And Woeser, if you can see this, zap zap jé (Tibetan for "I beg you to be careful").
Just prior to arriving to this official unwelcome in Lhasa, Woeser had spent some time in Amdo. Her journalist report, written for Radio Free Asia's Tibetan language service, has now appeared on her "New Work" page at Ragged Banner, which bears watching -- especially now, since the Chinese government has been extraordinarily successful at preventing any information on current conditions from escaping the Tibetan plateau.
This reportage from last month (written August 16 in Golmud) is a good companion to the Tibetan film Jigdrel: Leaving Fear Behind, which was recorded in the six months immediately preceding this year's March 10 uprising (the film-makers are now in jail for it). Woeser finds, in talking to the people of Amdo, that not only had the Chinese government's policies politicized the Olympics (despite their shrieking admonitions against others for doing so), they had literally tribalized them.
The authorities' considered response to the inevitable result of their own totally failed policies in Tibet has had the effect of driving Tibetans and Chinese further apart than they have ever been. The heavy-handed crackdown on any expression of "Tibetan-ness" reached ridiculous proportions, with cultural festivals hundreds of years old absolutely forbidden by authorities. China's propitious 08-08-08 ceremony in Beijing coincided with the 'seventh month festival' always held at the great Labrang Monastery in Amdo.
One crestfallen monk told me: "The government has forbidden us several things: no leaving the monastery, no holding meetings, and no protests. More than a hundred plainclothesmen dressed as tourists have been circulating inside the monastery for many days now, every day. Each work unit and the nearby villages have assigned someone to watch us closely. Ordinary people can enter the monastery to worship only if they show their papers. Ai! They have their Olympics; why won’t they let us hold our traditional gathering too?"In southern Gansu, August 12 was to be the opening day of the traditional horse-racing fair of Sang Khok, when between ten and twenty thousand nomads would gather for the yearly event. Although a large number of Tibetans had already arrived on the grassland for this traditional holiday fair, with a stroke of their pen the Chinese authorities banned it.
The reason was obvious without being stated. These days, any Tibetan is viewed as a potential terrorist. An assembly of tens of thousands of Tibetans would naturally be considered highly dangerous, plus it would have coincided with the Beijing Olympics.She reported that the local anger which this measure triggered had made the officials even more cautious. Xiahe, the town next to the Labrang Monastery, was completely closed off -- no one gets in, and no one gets out. The prairie of Sang Khok, which should have been alive with thousands of people enjoying their own traditional festival of Tibetan sport, had been "hermetically sealed by a ring of soldiers and police armed with live ammunition."
This, as Beijing was playing host to a world festival of sport -- as well as tens of thousands of journalists gushing over how wonderful it all was. If you think an elderly Amdo farmer (who 50 years earlier had been classified as a "seditious element" and served his "re-education through labour' sentence for it) wouldn't see the hypocrisy, you'd be mistaken.
"It was only because they wanted a successful Olympics that China agreed to hold talks with the Dalai Lama's envoys. They talked a couple of times, and their attitude got worse and worse; maybe once the problem of staging the Olympics had been solved, they basically didn't care. The word of China can't be trusted. Today like this; tomorrow like that: look at the Olympics."Another Tibetan man described to her how his own two children, who had grown up in Han Chinese cities, were profoundly changed by the results of China's propaganda efforts. Recall that after five days of peaceful marches in Lhasa were suppressed by force, a violent riot broke out on March 14. It also ended on March 14. Chinese state television broadcast the worst scenes of violence (expertly captured by on-duty Chinese security forces) in a continuous loop, for weeks on end. What was the intention? To cement in the Chinese consciousness the idea that this riot was the only noteworthy thing that happened, that there is no other side to the story, and that Tibetans are violent animals.
That man's children had not felt very "different" for being Tibetan, living among Han Chinese before March 14. After that date, their classmates reviled them as "Tibetan independence elements." Watching the Olympics, he said they could not cheer the Chinese teams but would only do so for foreign teams and "couldn't stand to see Chinese teams win." The father is worried for their future. The Chinese authorities have introduced tribalism into the mix, and they don't know how dangerous this will be (or maybe they do?).
Woeser spoke to a monk who had been detained and beaten in March, just like thousands of others.
"The Olympics have frightened lots of people, not only Tibetans. Even many officials now have the mindset of soldiers facing a daunting foe. But for Tibetans the fear is greater because other people treat you as an enemy from the start. This Olympics has become not only politicized, but tribalized: it goes against the Olympic spirit. And these humiliations are etched forever in the minds of those who endured them."This is the part the Chinese don't get. They can come down hard with their righteous broom of harmonious uniformity and believe they can sweep all inconveniences under the rug, hide away the things they don't want seen -- but they can't. Humiliations are etched forever, and that's a long time.
A monk called "Jigme" (Fearless, in keeping with our theme today) from the Labrang Monastery has given a twenty minute video account of his experiences after his arbitrary arrest following the uprising in March. These experiences include being humiliated for his nationality (there's that tribalist policy again) and being tortured while in Chinese detention.
The interview was broadcast on VOA's Tibetan Service, Kunleng Television, and the raw video may be downloaded here in Real or Windows formats. The interview is in Tibetan (or perhaps Amdo, I'm not sure). It can also be viewed at YouTube, in two parts.English translation of Jigme's video. She normally writes in the Chinese language, but if you scroll down a bit, you'll find the English translation.
On March 22 (nearly two weeks after peaceful protests began on the 10th) Jigme left Labrang and went to the local market. As he returned to the monastery, his cell phone rang. As soon as he looked at it (caller ID hidden), a vehicle pulled up in front of him.
Four soldiers arrested me and dragged me into the vehicle. When I looked back, I saw a nun. I shouted "Ani! Ani! (nun, nun!) several times and made sure she saw me getting arrested. Once in the vehicle, they covered my head with a black cloth and handcuffed me. Then with guns pointed to my head, and my body pressed down, they took me to the armed police guest house.The interrogation place was in back of the local police station. He was searched, relieved of his possessions, and put in a chair with hands tied. A young Chinese soldier aimed his weapon at the monk.
"This is made to kill you, Ahlos (derogatory term used for Tibetans by some Chinese). You make one move, and I will definitely shoot and kill you with this gun. I will throw your corpse in the trash and nobody will ever know."Jigme realized that, as a Tibetan, he had less respect from the Chinese than an animal would have. If a dog were killed, someone could claim it. Not so for a dead Tibetan. He understood that there is no racial equality in this place. They interrogated him, with much of the questioning focused upon His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Chinese paranoid fixation that he had instigated the violence. Jigme was resolute in rejecting the accusations. After a few days of this, Jigme was taken to a jail.
At the prison, the soldiers commanding us in Chinese 'one, two, three', as some of us could not understand Chinese, they scolded us - they would call us "animals', 'fools', and beat us with batons. When we asked why they are beating us, they reply that you people cannot understand Chinese language and mock us.This is Tibet, where lack of fluency in a foreign language is cause to be beaten and abused as "animals." Han tribalism at its finest, enforced at gunpoint. Young or old, it made no difference. Involved in protesting or not, it made no difference. Prisoners need to be moved? Tie them together in twos, toss them into a truck like chunks of wood (injured or not, never mind). No clothing or bedding provided, and relatives are not allowed to bring such things, nor food for them. They huddle together against the cold. All this is permitted, because they are Tibetans.
A group of these Tibetans were taken to another prison, where the inmates were all Han and Chinese Muslims. The new Tibetan prisoners were given the filthiest jobs, cleaning urine and excrement every day. Jigme and the other monks were forcibly disrobed, made to wear layman's clothes and humiliated. He stayed in that place for a month, enduring daily interrogations and accusations.
"You have been involved in activities and have led organizations. You have made calls to many outside provinces. What have you achieved from those? Where did you print the Tibetan flags? How many flags did you print? How many members are there in your group?", and "You have no choice but to accept these crimes".He was hung for hours by the hands, beaten on the face, chest and back, until one day he was taken to hospital. Upon regaining consciousness, he was returned to the prison to go through it all again.
Once I was beaten continuously for two days with nothing to eat nor a drop of water to drink. I suffered from pains on my abdomen and chest. The second time, I was unconscious for six days at the hospital, unable to open my eyes or speak a word.When Jigme was nearly dead, they released him to his family. Many Tibetans have died within days of their release from such treatment, during the past five months. But Jigme pulled through. His jailers lied to the provincial authorities and to his family, saying they never tortured him. He was forced to sign a document stating the same thing, and then spent the next three weeks in a hospital recovering from the ordeal.
When he finally returned to Labrang, he found that about 180 monks -- including his senior monk and and their teaching Lama -- had also been arrested. Their severe beatings were described to him, as well as the Chinese who took pictures of the abuse festival with their mobile phones.
I also found out that during the police and soldiers raiding the monastery, they stole religious statues, money, personal belongings and even foodstuff from the monastery and monks' private residences. It is apparent that the real looters and murderers are these soldiers of Chinese Communist Party. They engage in illegal acts and we are the ones who are arrested, beaten and tortured and killed.The thieves of course, would take only what was valuable to them, things that could be sold or consumed. Items which are valuable to the Tibetans but useless to the Chinese -- such as framed pictures of the Precious One -- were simply desecrated and destroyed before their eyes. Here is the "harmonious society" China is building.
Recall that Chinese officials assured the journalists that there would be no retribution for those monks who simply spoke their consciences. Like the Amdo farmer said, the word of China cannot be trusted.
Monks are being beaten off and on all during this period . Not only that, monks who spoke to some reporters were beaten with batons and had their legs broken; on some, they used electric batons on their heads and in their mouths - the electric baton affected their brains and some have become disabled… sort of insane. We endured such torture. Now our main hope is that the International media and the United Nations' investigators come to Tibet and check on the real situation and then report on it after they assess their findings. This is our main hope.There were upwards of 20,000 international journalists in China for the Olympics (the number may have reached 30,000). I haven't heard of a single one who tried to make an undercover expedition, even into the very fringes of the Tibetan plateau. China flatly refuses to permit entry to any "special rapporteur" of the United Nations, and even refused to admit the chairman of the UN Human Rights Council. I've noticed no pushback on this issue whatsoever.
Jigme is not now in a prison, but he's no more free than when he was. He cannot go out, nor make phone calls. He is constantly watched, as all the Labrang monks are. He's supposed to be studying the Chinese constitution, and writing his confessions. But he has left his fear behind.
I said these to the face of my captors: if you kill me, then that will be the end of it. But if am able to go outside and get the opportunity, I will talk about the torture I went through; I will tell the people of the world as a truthful witness, about the sufferings undergone by friends and report these to the media.I have to assume that, since he has done what he said he would (by making this video), that this recording was made secretly inside Labrang, and somehow smuggled out.
What can one say about such men as this? Courage in such extreme measure can only be gauged by the equally extreme depravity they are forced to live under. Nothing is left to lose. Describing the heavy Chinese military presence all around him, Jigme says this:
There is military presence in every place. In the barn belonging to our monastery, they have made effigies out of straw and dressed them in Tibetan robes. The Chinese soldiers use them for doing bayonet practice. It seems that their enemy are the Tibetan people and the robe-wearing monks. Not all arrested Tibetans were involved in protests. Why are they stabbing their bayonets on the effigy with Tibetan dress as their military exercise? It is not just monks who are suffering as a result of the Chinese viewing Tibetans as their enemy…..even Tibetan staff members, students and the ordinary Tibetans…. all are suffering. This big government, big country, and big nationality is using weapons, tanks and cannons on a small, humble people such as the Tibetans. Thousands of soldiers are surrounding us. 'Kill the Tibetans who are disobedient', they ordered.And yet, and yet...
Now if both the Dalai Lama and the CCP work together to solve the Tibet-China issue through dialogue for the mutual benefit of both the Chinese and Tibetans, there is no reason why genuine and long lasting peace, stability and unity cannot be achieved.I don't know how they do it. Palden Gyatso was tortured for more than three decades (he has since escaped into freedom), lost all his teeth to the electric cattle prod, yet to this day he maintains that his proudest achievement is that he never lost his compassion for his tormentors. How do they do it?
Jigme's is one story -- there are thousands more like his, being endured in detention camps, in prisons, and even in school compounds, as you read this. Some are monks, some are nuns, and some are just regular Tibetan people. Hundreds of them were transported out of central Tibet months ago, and we are just beginning to learn of their fates. Does cramming masses of people into trains for transport to far-off detention camps raise any uncomfortable memories? Anyone?
According to an authoritative source who spoke on condition of anonymity, 675 Tibetan monks from the three targeted monasteries were put on a train from Lhasa on April 25.The central repository for these monks was a military detention centre in Golmud (in Tsonub Prefecture, Qinghai). Those monks originally from this region of Amdo were then deported to their respective towns under the custody of the "Qinghai United Front and Religious Affairs Bureau" for incarceration in the nearest prison or detention centre.
"Among those 675 monks, 405 were from Drepung, 205 were from Sera, and eight were from Ganden," the source said. The remaining 57 monks from outlying areas were said to have been taken from smaller Lhasa monasteries.
Those religious prisoners who originated from the Kham region of Tibet (now mostly subsumed by Sichuan province) were held at the Golmud detention centre for a longer time, until the Sichuan authorities were ready to deal with them. A monk identified as Tsering told Radio Free Asia that the first group was relocated to Ngaba Prefecture at the end of last month.
"Finally, a group of 50 to 80 monks and laypersons arrived at the Aba [in Tibetan, Ngaba] county center in Sichuan on Aug. 27," Tsering said. "They are being detained in a school compound close to the county government complex."There shouldn't be much doubt about that re-education after what we already know of the past five months. Those incarcerated at the school compound include 27 monks from Kirti Monastery and others from Tse and Gomang Monasteries, as well as some businessmen from the area who were arrested in Lhasa during the protests. Other monks from different areas in Sichuan were sent back in groups under the custody of their respective "United Front and Religious Affairs Bureaus" and police, during the last days of August. The last group was sent to Kardze on August 29. It's safe to say that they have not been "freed" but merely changed the place of their detention. Whether one is held in a prison, or in a government school compound -- if you can't leave, you are a prisoner.
"The county officials, the police, and the army are jointly monitoring them. They could be undergoing some kind of political re-education campaign."
Bhuchung Tsering recently wrote a piece for Tibetan World magazine which touches on the tribalism issue raised by Woeser at the top of this article.
The common feeling is that China, which takes every opportunity to proudly proclaim itself as a multi-ethnic nation, failed to act as one in dealing with the developments in Tibet. Rather, the government agencies, particularly the propaganda machinery, acted as if they represented just one community. A significant impact of this has been a never-before racial tension between Chinese and Tibetans, and the feeling among Tibetans that they are not being regarded as part of the "multi-ethnic family."In the current meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, the Chinese representative attempted to interrupt and halt the presentation of a German NGO, the Society for Threatened Peoples. The NGO statement was being read by a Tibetan, Tenzin S. Kayta. The short statement referenced a secretly-made documentary by Britain's Channel Four Television, Dispatches: Undercover in Tibet.
The Chinese delegate said the NGO statement was "irrelevant." The Council President (from Nigeria) overruled him. The Chinese delegate then claimed that "Tibet was a part of China and Tibetan people are one of 56 ethnic groups of China," and flatly rejected the very idea of indigenous people in China. "We don’t have indigenous people," he claimed.
The first remedy for that is to treat them like people, rather than as beasts to be disciplined with beatings and electrified cattle prods.
Bhuchung Tsering again:
Today, Tibetans who were always suspicious of Chinese policies have had their fears confirmed while those Chinese who did not have any particular feelings about Tibetans have been injected with a feeling of mistrust against them. A result of the official propaganda is that the Tibetan people are seen (by the Chinese people) as an ungrateful lot who are against the Chinese people. On the Tibetan side, among ordinary Tibetans distrust in Beijing has increased exponentially in the light of its short-sighted approach. This is not good for China's own long-term interest.Many Chinese people actually already recognise this truth, but still far too few. By the time their leadership eventually makes it into modern times, or is replaced by one that will, it may well be too late.