Friday, December 22, 2006

"Raping Tibetan Music is Prohibited" by Tashi Dondan

When the singer who sang the Golden Mountain of Beijing attended the “Forum of Tibetan Music” in Chengdu, she tactfully criticized the phenomenon that some ethnic music have overly relied on “packaging” and have followed the path of popular music.

It is true that we need to emphasize the importance of the national element. I really hope that the one who made the above comment is Yadong or somebody else, but not her. I always hope that people will examine themselves first before they criticize others. It is indeed laughable if the “pot calling the kettle black (literally “ the one who fled fifty paces laughed at the other person who fled a hundred paces and called him coward), but it will make people angry when “the one who fled one hundred paces laugh at the other person who ran away for fifty paces”. Up to now I still do not understand how much national element there contains in the songs sang by her, and I even doubt whether her songs can be called music. I would rather hum the popular songs in our mother tongue than listening to those songs which bootlick others.

It is perhaps because I do not feel the happiness of those “liberated serfs”, after all I was born in the so-called era of happiness. My father once said to me, “you will be a person who will know how to fight for your freedom.” I think even if I was born in an “unhappy” era, I would still be able to strive for the freedom for myself and for people I love.

I fully understand it is rather “malicious” for me to put forward such a hypothesis about the past, but it coincidentally caters to the world view of some non-sense experts who do not respect history. Such songs as “the Mystical Heavenly Path” and “Oh, the Beautiful Qinghai-Tibet Railway” sang in the Tibetan New Year Party” sponsored by Tibet TV Station in 2006 made me disappointed at Rongdrong Ergya, and I do not exude tenderness and ‘love” for Han Hong any more. I believe that is not [real] music, and the music itself is not like this. Though it is beautiful to sing praises of the happiness, it will definite cause people to doubt the nature of the music if such songs enrage the audience so much that they will even shout abuse or get into a free-for-all.
I am risking my life to take the liberty to say the following word --- I would rather see Tibetan songs being completely sinicized and even its lyrics are in Chinese than listening to political songs of yours. “People should not be so shameless!”

2. It is not possible to bring about the transformation of Tibetan music into ethnic music simply through criticizing it. Nevertheless, in all fairness, “commenting on it” also has some impact. It is just like those people who urgently appeal to “preserve Tibetan culture, even though they have not done any significant things to preserve Tibetan culture in real life, yet their comments have also had some impact on people who take real actions. Lu Xun once said, “ There was originally no path in the world, it becomes a road after people have treaded on it. As the popular saying goes “Rome is not built in one day”, I think it takes time to preserve Tibetan culture and to transform Tibetan music into ethnic music. We need people to step forward and discuss such issues, but we need more people to actually work to improve the situation.

For example, when the “Vajara” band and the “Nine-Eyed Stone Zig” band sang some classic folk songs, these songs become eternal again, and it enables more people to remember the lyrics. Another example is the beautiful folk song known as Aku Palma in Amdo. I have four versions of the same song: the Guitar, pure dranyan (lute), rocking roll and Indian styles. Once an older brother sang for me Aku Pelma without accompanying in music, and I recorded the song with a tape recorder. Whenever I have a free moment, I will listen to it. Without accompanying music, it has some noises as well, but it is very beautiful. Many times I imagine that I was born on the grassland of the Snow-land for my previous life as well. The grassland near the lake of Korkornor, where there are black tents and white lambs beautiful as clusters of stars, has supported my ancestors, my family and me. Here we praise though songs the beautiful grasslands, lakes, mountains and brave eagles. But those who sing praises of the railway will never understand such happiness.

I believe as long as there is still one person who is producing Tibetan music, I am sure he will influence a large number of people to follow his footsteps. The reason is rather simple: as long as you plant a seed in another person’s heart, one day it will definitely take root and sprout.

3. A philosophical view considered to be the truth holds that every person has its own world. I think I do not have the ability to have all Tibetans to be fond of Tibetan music, after all, each follows his own bent. Even if I have such ability, I will not demand those who are fond of popular music to produce ethnic music. If I do so, am I not the same as those hooligan politicians?

A friend wanted to translate the song “Life” by the rock band “Vajara” into Chinese, but the result of his translation is rather plain: some couples get along very well with each other some children have great suffering…” It is apparent that the style and subtleness of the song was lost in the process of translation. Each culture has its own unique feature and flavor, indeed it is not a good idea to “rape” each other.

Tibetan music is powerful. I hope that those beautiful folk songs can be preserved, and also hope that the mainstream of Tibetan music are the ones with our unique ethnic features.

Many Tibetan singers have fallen into an indescribable vicious cycle. I can not define the style of their music, but it is definitely not Tibetan music.

Hope some people who produce music can hear my voice.

Wish Tibetan music would become more beautiful.

(1) 2008-1-27 18:33:00 | By: the Angry Tsampa

What you said is really classical. I strongly support you!!! What they raped is far more than our music.

(2) 2008-1-25 14:36:00 | By: by Tashi
We, the new generation of Tibet, are proud of the Vajara band. Only they are willing to express our innermost thoughts, and they have generated sympathetic responses from us. We will always support them, and similarly we will do our best as well.

(3) 2008-1-21 14:50:00 | By: visitor LPGs38

As the popular saying goes, human is like iron, but food is like steel.
This world is so cruel! If one has enough money, who would be willing to be an escort girl? I want to puke when I see those men. But what else can I do? I do not want to die of hungry. Are you going to give me money?
(4) 2008-1-15 18:13:00 | By: zhaxiluozhu (Tashi Lodro)

I really like the Vajara band. They are doing their best to create their own songs, but there are not many people who appreciate them.

(5) 2008-1-6 15:46:00, By: zuqiuwoaini (football, I love you)
Just like the sisters (Aja), they only know how to sing the old songs again, and they are not creative, but still they are so famous.

(6) 2008-1-4 17:17:00 | By: Tsedron
I strongly support it.

(7) 2008-1-2 22:10:00 | By: Gonpo Tashi

I support you, the owner of the blog.

(8) 2007-12-31 12:47:00 | By: tibetst
What you said is great. These are all problems. We need somebody like the owner of the blog to point out the problems to us. This is a happy event, and we should support it. At this time we can not say “I do not know what you have done for your nationality?”, what we need to do is to respect other’s effort. I do not know whether the one who says that “do you feel like you are living in a world of freedom in New York” has ever done anything for his nationality. But aren’t those who have brought up these issues doing something for our nationality? Can it be that one has to do something for his own nationality before he point out the problems and mistakes?

(9) 2007-12-30 8:47:00 | By: Repa
Dear owner of the blog, Please make your invaluable suggestions for our column “Think about Tibet in One Hundred Years Later”

(10) 2007-12-30 8:26:00 | By: Repa

The blog owner’s opinion is right. As a singer, the most important thing is to have his or her own ideas, and Tseten Drolma lacks this. I am not blaming her for lacking her own thought. It is probably that a certain historical period has produced a generation of people like her. Well, she did not know about it during the “Cultural revolution”, but she should realize her error and repent now. I hope that is the case. As a poet, a writer, a musician and a singer, the key is to have his or her own thought, otherwise, he or she will either be cursed by posterity or his or her name will be remembered for generations after generations. It is a pity that these has such a beautiful voice, and it is really a pity and it is a waste of talent for her to sing those garbage songs.

(11) 2007-12-28 14:03:00 | By: The love in the Grassland
“If one wants to save others, please save oneself first!” Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us! Please take care!

(12) 2007-3-27 19:36:00 | By: Wanzi (Pill)
I strongly support it.

(13) 2007-3-22 13:53:00 | By: Xueyi (Snow Ant)
I suspect that Hanhong does not even speak Tibetan, otherwise, why hasn’t she sung Tibetan songs?

(13) 2007-3-22 13:46:00 | By: Lala

I strongly support it.

(14) 2007-3-21 18:01:00 | By: lantian (blue sky )

It is really understandable that you worry about Tibetan music. Many times we also have similar thought about it. But your way to express it is a little bit too extreme. Indeed there are many problems for Tibetan music, and one of the problem is what course to take. However, to be honest, those singers you criticized are not the arch-criminals as you portrayed. They are singers produced at a certain historical period, and under the circumstances, some made their choices which are meaningful, but sometimes they had no choice.
If we truly compare what they did is right or wrong, to be honest, they did things right more than they did it wrong. I think we should at least show them the respect they deserve. Furthermore, we should not associate the carnal questions of right and wrong of the nationality with the specific jobs of these singers. In my opinion, the real reason is not them, it is the circumstance of a certain era and the fate determined by this environment. The improvement and progress of the fate, in fact, is related to every one of us. As far as art is concerned, it is not just the singers, the more important reason is the professional groups which produce music.

The reply of the blog owner:
I want to let you know that many times I blame myself for not doing enough, not doing a lot or not doing well enough. Why do I do that? It is all because I am a Tibetan. Tibetan regions are in such dejected states, and I believe this has something to do with me and with all Tibetans. We can term it as responsibility or the historical commitment. We must should our responsibilities.
Then when we talk about Tibetan music, who should I find to be the scapegoat? Is it possible that singers are not the ones whoa re responsible for it? Whatever the groups behind the singers want them to sing, they will sing it. This is precisely the problem. Facing the choice between their job prospect and the dignity of the nationality, they chose their job prospect! Everybody ahs his own thought, and nobody is so stupid, therefore, their current music is their choice. No matter whether they made the choice as they were helpless and had no other choice, the reality is this.

Thank you for your suggestions which have enabled me to see the other side of the issue.


22 December, 2006

Translated from Chinese
View the original here
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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

"On recent paintings of Tsering Nyendak" by Woeser

Nyendak is a Lhasawa. From a distance, I saw him walking closer. His youthfulness and disability hit a tender spot in my heart.

It used to be very easy to recognize that those who appear in Nyendak’s paintings are Tibetans. Lately, it is no longer the case. You can feel that he has done so intentionally—intentionally not letting his viewers be able to quickly decide on the identity of his sitters. Instead, he has been focusing on the theme of falling women.* He paints them slowly falling from the sky, smiling, looking relaxed and comfortable—including the one who is at the same time blowing up a balloon. (Too bright the balloon looks!) Disappearing from his canvases are those immediately recognizable symbols of Tibet: Tibetan dress, Tibetan hairstyles, Tibetan ornaments, and even the custom among common Tibetans of sticking their tongues out to greet each other. (Nyendak would like to make sure that you notice he is poking fun at the custom.) Yet, Nyendak recently seems to have decided to erase these Tibetan signs. He doesn’t need them since he himself is in Tibet and so Tibetan. Nevertheless, there is still something in this new batch of the artist’s work that speaks to my heart; they remind me of the way I used to feel about my own soul broken into pieces, drifting, and flying….

It is interesting to observe that, although Nyendak now seemingly prefers to keep the identity of his paintings outwardly ambiguous, in my eyes, they still make him the artist voicing what is going on in contemporary Tibet. With or without putting Tibetan garb for the figures in his painting, they always unmistakably resemble the real people from Amdo, U-Tsang, or Kham. They kept me lingering around in front of his paintings. Also, I should add that what Nyendak conveys is, I think, more than just a likeness on the surface. Having myself as an example, my upbringing, my way of dressing myself, the way I speak Chinese….they all help me be often mistaken as a Chinese. Yet, am I? Am I a Chinese? Yes, you are right; I am of course not. I am just like you; we are Tibetans hiding our sole identity deep inside our hearts. To say so does not mean I am nationalistic; I only want to be reassured of my own identity. That’s all.

Nyendak hangs his paintings at a street corner along Bakhor and quietly settles himself in one of the courtyards in Tsemoenling….. As for me, I was so eager to see his paintings, perhaps only because I found myself sharing the confusion of those who appear in his paintings. Even just at this moment when I am writing, I find something new: Yes, I see in his figures something about absence, about failure, which is mine and ours. Of course, Nyendak knows how to give light touches to his work and likes to “unintentionally” capture the details of everyday lives. For instance, he reveals that under the chuba of the Khamba woman riding on the bike are her red sport pants and a pair of tennis shoes! I admit that I am very enchanted by these kinds of details, although they seem to only appear in the earlier works of the artist. Now, what remains is only a hint of the Tibetan landscape that he paints from the perspective of the women who are falling from the sky slowly and look carefree. What can be better compared with the views that they are seeing? It is perhaps just like what you can see by pressing your nose to the small windows on an airplane steadily passing through the sky above the Amdo-Tibet plateau; you look down, find the endless mountain ranges, and glimpse tiny Tibetan houses that are scattered over or tucked away from the landscape.

When others cannot live without appropriating Tibetan symbols or Tibetanizing the scenes and human figures they create—as a Han artist who resided in Tibet for many years has recently done through his performance art of smearing the internet sign “@” all over mani stones and prayer flags—Naydrak, the painter, is deleting and subtracting, as though he is at home, in the midst of family members, feeling no need for any artificial gesture or heavy make-up.

*Translator’s note: “Falling” here is to be taken both literally and in a moral sense.
Translated from the original Chinese by Susan Chen
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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

"The Iron Dragon has Come" by Woeser

Behind the gala celebrations in Lhasa over the inauguration of the new Qinghai-Tibet Railway lies a deeper sadness and frustration.

The “iron horse" and "iron bird" that appeared in Tibetan prophesy over a thousand years ago manifested themselves in the twentieth century as the automobile and the airplane. The prophesy is optimistic, describing the iron creatures as the means by which Tibetan people are scattered around the world like ants, spreading the message of Buddhism to the “land of the red people.” But how about the train? What does it resemble more than a writhing dragon? And what does that portend?

An exiled Tibetan scholar entitled his work on contemporary Tibetan history The Dragon in the Land of Snows [1]. It is well known that the dragon is the symbol of China and the Land of Snows is the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. A "dragon" of flesh and blood is nothing unusual, but if the "dragon" is transformed into iron and steel, the consequences are profound.

The Tibetan language has two words for "train." One is rili, which the Tibetans borrow from Urdu, and the other is meiguoer, a loose translation of the Chinese word for train, which is far less popular. Both of these coinages are fairly recent, within the past few decades, and they were seldom heard until five years ago, when they began to resound like thunder. At last, just several days before the train made its formal entrance into Lhasa, the Tibetan Language Committee of Tibet Autonomous Region made the decision that the train from then on would be called meiguoer, not rili. (Does this mean news of the Iron Dragon of China cannot be disseminated in Tibet through an Indian dialect?)

A poem written in 1995
I feel I must write something. There were already so many "people outside the Land of Snows" (from the song “Yearning for the Magic Eagle”) feeling excited and agitated by nationalism. Some Tibetan-looking officials, experts and representatives of the people abased themselves in tearful welcome of the iron dragon that would run 1,956 kilometers along a "magic sky road" (from the song “Sky Road”) into the Lhasa terminal. Meanwhile, the hearts of the majority of Tibetan people were smothered by the Chinese red star flags, streamers and colorful balloons that shrouded the city of Lhasa. Of course, their voices had been stifled early on.

What a gala scene! Inland China sees few of these red tide displays nowadays, and journalists from Central China Television and Hong Kong’s Phoenix Television were moved to exclaim, "How patriotic Tibetan people are!" Ah, yes; watching the live broadcasting in Beijing, I wanted to say just one sentence: “Anyone who doesn’t look patriotic will be fined, don’t you get it?” In all of China, perhaps only the Tibet Autonomous Region has enacted such a policy.

A person from inland China was puzzled at this, and said, "We don’t understand it. Can you explain it?" A Tibetan from Lhasa patiently answered this question on my behalf: “Every family is required to fly the red star flag during the Spring Festival – the biggest Chinese festival – and it’s the same at all the other major holidays, including the Tibetan New Year, Labor Day on May 1 and National Day on October 1. It’s like that in Pakuo Street in downtown Lhasa; all the residential committees require it. If it were voluntary, that would be fine. But you’re forced to do it, and those who refuse to comply are fined or, worse yet, labeled ‘separatists.’ It’s hard to describe the mood under this kind of coercion....”

I feel I must write something. I recalled a poem I wrote many years ago, in the winter of 1995. At that time, I was working as an editor in the Writers’ Association of the Tibet Autonomous Region. One afternoon our office received a file from the Chinese Communist Party Committee of the Tibet Autonomous Region announcing that the atheist Party had appointed a boy as the 11th Panchen Lama, the reincarnated soul of the 10th Panchen Lama. The boy approved by the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet, as the 11th Panchen Lama had been disdainfully rejected by the Party. Sitting within that system, I felt frozen both physically and mentally. Overwhelmed with indignation at the lies I had heard and read, I wrote:

Listen, the grand lie wraps the sky;
Only two birds remain in the woods,
Saying, “Tibet, Tibet, you are fortunate”....

Not a single day passes where we are not reminded of our good fortune. It is said that since 1950, or to be more accurate, since 1959 [2], the Tibetan people have led a happy existence. But this "happiness" does not come from heaven or earth, nor was it bestowed by the "three exploiting groups" of Old Tibet, but rather has been given, and can only be given, by the Party. So even during the Cultural Revolution, when 6,000-odd Tibetan temples were smashed to smithereens, there were two singers in Tibetan attire with the Chinese last names of Zhang and Geng, who sang loudly through Tibetan lips: "Thank him (Chairman Mao) for bringing us happiness!" And so today people are punished for failing to hang a red star flag outside their homes, and red streamers garnish the streets of Lhasa, proclaiming, "The Qinghai-Tibet Railway is the road to happiness for all the nationalities in Tibet!" The leaders of Tibet have become so adroit and meticulous in their cosmetic efforts that even restroom attendants were issued with short-term salary cards for the railway’s grand opening, so visiting reporters wouldn’t see that people are normally charged for using the restroom.

The frog and the Nyenchhen Tanglha Mountain
What do the silenced Tibetan people say about the uninvited iron dragon, another "happiness" imposed upon them?

In 2004, construction of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway passed the Tanglha Mountain and the northern Tibetan prairie and moved toward Lhasa. A new folk tale spread quietly through Lhasa, which had the strong flavor of Tibetan folk literature, and passed from lip to ear, it acquired a magical aura. According to the story, at Damxung [3], a place very near Lhasa, railway workers dug up a frog from the earth. The badly injured frog was huge, and it became even larger with each telling. In the earliest version, it was hauled off on a wooden cart; later it was said to require a truck. In the tea houses and households of Lhasa, people related the frog tale in a low voice, accompanied by anxious sighs.

Why should digging up a frog make people so worried? People outside Tibet have difficulty discerning the deeper meaning. In the ancient tradition of Tibet’s Bön religion [4], the metaphor of the frog is profound. Like many other animals that live in the water, the earth, the rocks and the woods, like the snake and the fish, the frog is regarded as a spirit that brings both good fortune and bad. These creatures are collectively known in the Tibetan language as lu, which coincidentally is loosely translated into Chinese as "dragon." Because the lu are imbued with extraordinary magic, the Bön tradition includes many classics and rituals exclusively devoted to them. Eventually, after Buddhism was introduced into Tibet, and especially after Padmasambhava [5], the master of Esoteric Buddhism known for vanquishing monsters, entered Tibet, all kinds of lu were finally vanquished and converted to Buddhism, and became guardian spirits. Since then, the lu have held a very important position in the Tibetan pantheon.

As an embodiment of the lu, the frog has a function in Tibetan culture that transcends its animal nature. For that reason, when the train came and the lu that originally lived in the soil was battered black and blue and transported to an unknown place, the implication was that when the iron dragon arrived, Tibet's own "dragon" was unable to defend itself and was severely injured. This contemporary Tibetan folk tale, the author of which will never be known, is amazingly subtle in its expression of the frustrated and defeated mood of the Tibetan people.

The time moves forward to 2006. The iron dragon had in fact already arrived in the form of crude freight trains with none of the fanfare later stirred up by the grand opening. But an accident happened during the Spring Festival: a freight train suddenly derailed on the bridge built high over the Damxung prairie. It was said that people were injured, but the jittery authorities blocked off the site and imposed a news blackout. Another new folk tale spread quietly through Lhasa, again bearing a strong flavor of Tibetan folk literature, and taking on a magical aura as it passed from lip to ear.

In the recounting of an old man in Lhasa, the reason that the normally smooth-running train got into an accident was that it passed Nyenchhen Tanglha Mountain. How could a mountain cause an accident? This is also associated with the traditional culture of Tibet. According to Tibetan folk religion, the Nyenchhen Tanglha Mountain is one of many mountain gods, called Zanri in Tibetan, that guard Tibet’s northern Qiangtang Grassland. The mountains have magical powers to summon wind, rain, snow and hail, and to determine the increase and decline of living creatures, and the fortunes of human beings. The mountain gods are regarded as more easily angered than the other gods, so everyone must pass the mountain with the appropriate respect and awe, and should especially avoid raising a disturbance, which could bring disaster. The old man whispered mysteriously to me, "The mountain god was angered, so the normally smooth-running rili was overturned."

In this way, the Tibetan people used their own wounded culture to console their frustrated hearts.

An American’s omitted words
The grand triumph of the Qinghai-Tibet railway apparently required more than the high praises of Chinese themselves, and a quote from an American, discovered with much effort, became an authoritative testimony republished throughout the Chinese media. It was said that Paul Theroux, some fellow who loves to travel around by train, wrote these words while riding a train through China: "The Kunlun Range is a guarantee that the railway will never get to Lhasa." [6]

A poster on an Internet blog pointed out that almost all the reports about the completion and the opening to traffic of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway quoted Theroux’s sentence, but that the next sentence in the quote was omitted by most of the media: "That is probably a good thing. I thought I liked railways until I saw Tibet, and then I realized that I like wilderness much more.” [7] It’s obvious that what Theroux means is that it “might be a good thing" if Tibet were never accessible by train.

Now everyone talks about going to Tibet. Stirred up by media hype, ordinary Chinese people have suddenly developed a keen interest in Tibet. In the past, the long distance and the expense of the trip discouraged many prospective visitors. Now people can barely contain their excitement at the mere 48 hours and 300 to 1,200 yuan required for the journey between Beijing and Lhasa. A Han Chinese friend who once filmed a documentary in Tibet said that even Beijing’s unlicensed taxi drivers were clamoring for a chance to go to Tibet.

The celebrations of inlanders and the tears of an old Tibetan woman
After the Qinghai-Tibet railway had been operating for half a month, the broadcast media announced that 50,000 people had arrived in Lhasa. In Beijing, such a number would be undetectable, but the population of Lhasa, according to the fifth national census held in 2000, was 474,500, only about 3.6 percent that of Beijing. In other words, 50,000 people arriving in Lhasa in half a month was the equivalent of 1.4 million people arriving in Beijing. Of course, it’s possible that 1.4 million people is not that many for Beijing; in one year during the Cultural Revolution, Mao Zedong inspected a million Red Guards at Tiananmen Square, and that doesn’t seem to have resulted in the city’s destruction. But the situation of Lhasa is different. The population of 470,000 includes the surrounding seven counties, with only 140,000 people living in the city itself. Surely 50,000 people descending on a city of 140,000 is bound to cause a tremendous disturbance, and even the official media admitted that Lhasa was “overwhelmed”.

The grandmother of a Tibetan friend, an elderly and pious lady, always made a point of going to the Jokhang Temple [8] to worship on each Buddhist festival, in spite of her age and infirmity. According to custom, the faithful worshipped at the Jokhang Temple in the morning and at dusk, and tourists could visit during the afternoon. But once the passenger railway began operating, the temple had to give access to a constant stream of tourists from morning till night, forcing tourists and pilgrims to crowd together. In addition, many tourists refused to wait their turn, and failed to maintain a respectful silence, greatly disturbing those who came to seek spiritual consolation. The old Tibetan lady, stumbling with every step, could only hold up her flickering oil lamp and tearfully cry out in Tibetan, "I cannot escape the Chinese throng!" After returning home and contemplating more such experiences, the old woman wept at the realization that she might never again be able to worship Buddha at Jokhang Temple.

The 50,000 Chinese visitors were referred to by Lhasa residents as zizi, the Tibetan word for mice. Lhasa will continue to see many such zizi. The tourist industry predicted this year that 2.5 million people will flock to Tibet. A deputy mayor of Lhasa with the Chinese surname of Xu said that the increase in the tourists would not harm Tibet’s environment or culture, at the same time that he mentioned that the Potala Palace had cut down its visiting hours while accommodating double the number of visitors [9]. He seemed to suggest that once visiting hours were reduced by two hours, it would not be a problem for 2,300 people to walk up and down the palace stairs every day. Such words defy logic! After suffering bombardments by the People's Liberation Army in 1959 and the digging of air-raid shelters at the base of the hill during the "Digging Shelters and Storing Grain" campaign of the Cultural Revolution, the historical Potala Palace suffered serious structural damage that has been only partially corrected through subsequent repairs. With so many tourists climbing the stairs on a daily basis, there is a real danger of collapse. Already, in the summer of 2001, the authorities were forced to acknowledge that the flow of visitors was unsustainable when one of the palace’s walls collapsed [10].

Many effects of the Qinghai-Tibet railway, such as the marginalization of Tibetans and the plundering of resources, are not yet apparent. Even so, the constant flow of tourists is already a heavy burden in the daily life of Lhasa residents, who refer to the influx as the “yellow peril.” Someone sighed on the Internet, "For 311 yuan, the Sky Road brings you to tour Lhasa. Only 311 yuan is required to speed our destruction; that is too cheap. May the gods and spirits bless this holy land!" But today our gods and spirits are seriously injured; how can they bless our homeland?

Not long ago, a big charity benefit was held in Tibet. A group of people representing the media, corporations and sponsors went to the periphery of Mount Everest to clean up garbage and donate educational materials and daily necessities to nearby schools and villages. On the surface it looked like a noble activity to "assist Tibet," but it was eventually revealed to be a "commercial show" using Tibet to make money. One particularly heartbreaking detail was reported in the media: "The host gave a piece of chocolate to each child in a primary school, then had the pupils wave their candy in the air for five minutes while they were photographed. The show was really overdone; how must the children have felt?" [11]

Reading this detail, I remembered a Chinese movie called The Devils are Here, which was shown several years ago. It includes a scene in which a group of Japanese soldiers ride on large horses past a village, accompanied by the music of a military band, and a group of naïve Chinese children sit on a dirt wall at the entrance to the village, watching the scene with smiles on their faces. The commander of the Japanese soldiers bends down and kindly hands a piece of candy to each child, and the children cheer and scamper with joy, holding the candy in their hands. A piece of candy satisfies the generosity of the donor and the material cravings of the receiver.
Of course, I don’t to suggest anything in particular by referring to this movie – the use of candy in both cases is merely coincidental. But I wonder how many such coincidental offerings of candy Tibet will experience in the future.

Enjoying full benefits requires autonomy
In his comments on Kipling's novels, Edward Said holds that Kipling describes the people of India as creatures clearly needing the tutelage of the British. He says this tutelage is achieved by surrounding and then assimilating India in a narrative in which India, without Britain, would falter and perish through its own corruption [12]. This utilitarian view prevails in the attitude of Chinese toward Tibet. It seems that Tibetan people are also creatures requiring tutelage, wretchedly waiting to be liberated and fed. More lamentably, Tibetan people have been transformed into abnormal life forms, like the vegetables and flowers seen in vinyl hothouses all over Tibet these days. Once they leave the sanctuary of the hothouse, they will die, unaccustomed as they are to the outside world. Now, while still living in their own land, Tibetan people are smothering in the atmosphere created by outsiders, and are failing to acclimate to their own land. Since their land has become that of others, there’s nothing they can do about it.

And so the big, inappropriate squares are built one after another, and skyscrapers of ceramic tile and blue glass rise one after another, and streets named for Chinese cities like Guangzhou and Suzhou appear one after another. Clusters of bordellos and flocks of prostitutes lure customers from the street in broad daylight. Even traditional food taboos are ignored at restaurants serving live fish and shrimp and donkey meat. In his Culture and Imperialism, Edward Said describes imperialism as a mode of “geographic violence" that manifests itself in immediately changing local living spaces, lifestyles and political systems wherever it goes.

Officials, and the official media that are their mouthpieces, take on the tones of saviors and spokespeople of the Tibetan people when they say, “We hope the Tibetan people can also enjoy the right to modernization; tradition and modernization are equally indispensable.” This sounds quite reasonable, but let’s not forget that rights require power. How can tradition exist without power? And what is considered modernization? Do the Tibetan people need to enjoy the kind of modernization described above? Isn't it essentially a sugar-coated violence? Scholars in the hire of the dictatorship constantly describe claims that the railway will harm the natural environment and traditional culture as a false proposition. But reality has shown that the so-called modernization in Tibet is an equally false modernization. Regrettably, violence of various degrees – hard, soft and in-between – prevails in the vast land of Tibet, and all if it holds the banner of development, and in the name of modernization works its impact on the senses and hearts of the people. Is this the happiness bestowed on the Tibetan people?

The train has come. The iron dragon has come. Rili-Meiguoer has come. But the real problem for Tibet is not the railway. If Tibet enjoyed real autonomy, it would be fine for the railway – or any number of railways – to run to each and every village. But without real autonomy, we can only let other people decide our fortune as they see fit, and allow an increasing chaos that inevitably results in our yielding to those in power. At the same time, the conscience of many people also yields to those in power, with an ultimately unfortunate result. As Said wrote, imperialism presents its victims with the choice to surrender or perish. Yes, there is no other choice. For the people of Tibet, who do not have autonomy, whether they choose to surrender or to perish, the road they travel will not be the “magic sky road" or what Lhasa residents jokingly refer to as "the road to lunacy," but a one-way road to destruction.

Translated by Wei Liu. The original Chinese article was published in the August 2006 issue of Hong Kong’s Open Magazine (Kaifang).

1 Tsering Shakya, The Dragon in the Land of Snows – A History of Modern Tibet Since 1947, Pimlico, 1999.

2 China took military control of Tibet in 1959, and the Dalai Lama was forced into exile in India.

3 Also known in Chinese as Dangxiong.

4 For more on the Bön religion, see “The Bonpo’s Tradition” on the Website of the Government of Tibet in Exile.

5 Chinese pinyin: Lian Huasheng.

6 Paul Theroux, Riding the Iron Rooster, Putnam, 1988.

7 The blog posting can be accessed at For a Chinese media report using only the first part of the quote, see People’s Daily Online, “First train enters ‘insurmountable’ Kunlun Mountains,” July 2, 2006.

8 Known in Mandarin as the Dazhou Temple, one of the most sacred shrines in Tibet.

9 Xu Chengcang, quoted in “Lasa fusizhang: youke zengjia bu hui pohuai Sizang shengtai wenhua [Lhasa vice-mayor: the increase in tourists will not damage Tibet’s environment or culture],”, July 2, 2006.

10 See Oliver August, “Tibet Palace Damaged in Quest for Tourists,” The Times, August 18, 2001, posted on the Website of Tibet Environmental Watch.

11 Quoted from Xinhua Net, “Baozi biancheng daohuosuo: Sizang yici gongyi huodong beihou de ‘shangye xiu’” [Bread becomes ammunition: The ‘commercial show’ behind the Tibet charity benefit],” June 19, 2006. The news article includes a photo of the children holding up their candy.

12 Probably from Culture and Imperialism, but Said also wrote the introduction to the Penguin Modern Classics edition of Kipling’s India-based novel Kim.
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"Temporary September" by Woeser

It’s the season to enjoy good fruit
I meant to change into work clothes
Planning, at the instant the moon reached fulness
In some garden encircled by deep-hued vegetation
Right in the middle, you don’t see many such, so calm
The one that’s meant for me,
Hanging so high, on which branch?
An embarrassment of riches; which should I want most?

I’m a moody gal
No longer young, no longer fresh
But still get high on emotion
No shortage of illusions
This time the delusion’s so real
I want it bad, I’ll supply whatever’s missing
Recklessly singing along that road
That microbe in the air
The brilliant writer I adore is sick, he’s dying

The woven basket in my hand, even if filled with pure water
Still could not cradle this last seed of love
Better to pick up my little hoe
But the healing herb, now extinct,
How can it shoot up again?
The fruit, still waiting, rejects the base scoundrels
Here all’s wrapped in miasma
Ah! But it’s only the imaginary garden
Once September’s past, will all be well?

Translated from Chinese by A.E.Clark and published originally by China Rights Forum Magazine, 2006.
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"Lhasa Nights" by Woeser

O Lhasa, dreamlike nights!
A certain lotus may have never bloomed,
Sometimes a wineglass shatters at a tap;
Yet there are people,just a few—who blessed
Them with such spirit?—to whom this roaming feast
Seems Paradise for banishment self-chosen.
And if (invisibly) they weep,it’s only
For a kinsman whom they couldn’t keep.

O Lhasa, nights of woe!
A certain bluebird may have never chirped,
And sometimes garments get begrimed with dust;
Yet there are people,just a few—who spread
This plague?—who see bright fleeting Time as but
A pool wherein the posturing ego sinks.
Illusions countless,ever so seductive,
Can’t lure a reincarnate kinsman back.

O Lhasa, nights like nowhere else!
A love there is that never came to pass,
And certain bloodlines gradually mixed;
Yet there’s a man,perhaps just one—what kind
Of lightning bolt?—who makes a stifling fate
Serve as the hinge of reconciliation.
Upon the endless wheel of birth and death
I wish you would forever be my kin!

Translated from Chinese by A.E.Clark
and published originally by China Rights Forum Magazine, 2006.
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