Thursday, January 29, 2009

What kinds of songs are “reactionary songs”? by Woeser

High Peaks Pure Earth is posting a translation of a post from Woeser’s blog that was posted on 13th January 2009 titled “What kinds of songs are 'reactionary songs'?”.

It is through sheer coincidence that whilst reading Woeser's post and thinking about what she wrote, High Peaks Pure Earth received news that the well-known Amdo singer Tenzin, who owns a music shop in Lhasa had been detained by the police and accused of downloading "illegal music”.

Tenzin, musician from Amdo

We are not sure of the exact date of his detention. Our source says he was detained on 22nd January. It is unlikely a person would be detained for selling pirated music, in such a case, authorities would only impose fines. Therefore this is not an anti-piracy campaign; here “illegal music” refers to songs that are mentioned in Woeser's article below.

High Peaks Pure Earth readers can view a youtube video here of Tenzin singing with Dr Anna Morcom, enthonomusicologist from Royal Holloway College, University of London. If readers are interested, Dr Morcom wrote an article on the Tibetan music industry for the Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies.

Woeser's articles highlights the fine line artists in Tibet have to tread for their creativity and artistic expression. Woeser's article mentions Tibetan folk singer Dolma Kyi who was detained last year and also another singer from Amdo, Lhundrup. For more information about this group of artists who were all arrested last year, read an article here that was published in the LA Times on 8th June 2008.

During the winter of 2006, in Lhasa, the most popular song was “Ama Jetsun Pema”…The first photo is a photo of His Holiness the Dalai Lama with his younger sister Jetsun Pema. The second photo is of Ama Jetsun Pema with the children of the Tibetan Children’s Village.

What kinds of songs are “reactionary songs”? by Woeser

“What kinds of songs are 'reactionary songs'?”, this was a question that a journalist from The Times asked me a few days ago.

Her question was related to the following –
Not so long ago, Lhasa’s deputy police chief had announced in a press conference that they had just detained 59 rumour-mongers who had been “inciting ethnic feelings”. Their method of rumour-mongering: “illegal downloading of reactionary songs from the internet in CD, MP3, MP4 and other electronic formats, for sale to the public.”

For a moment I didn’t know what to reply. I remembered an incident that had occurred in Lhasa at the beginning of 2006 that was related to a song. If I told her that this song was a banned “reactionary song”, wouldn't this sound incredulous to a Western person from a “rangwang lungba” (Tibetan for “free country”)? The song that I was thinking of has two names, one name is “Ama Jetsun Pema” and the other is “Amala” (mother). Many Tibetans will immediately know what kind of song this song is after hearing my explanation.

I was in Lhasa at that time. One day around noon, a friend excitedly took me to a stall in front of the cinema that was selling pirate versions of various CDs. He let me stand there and look at the poor quality VCD players and the dust covered TV screens on the open shelves playing a song:

“Even the orphans who are in exile in an alien land,
still have Ama Jetsun Pema [care for them] who is as compassionate as the Buddhas.
She cherishes us and warms [our hearts] just like our mothers,
She is the mother of the world, to whom our debt of gratitude is as heavy as a mountain.
The children of the Land of Snows have been taken care of by you throughout their entire life,
You have endured all sorts of hardship for the sake of the children of the Land Snows.
How can we forget you, whose kindness to us is as deep as the deepest sea.
All the children of the Land of Snow pay tribute to you, Ama Jetsun Pema.”

“It is our Karmic fortune, people of the Land of Snows, that you arrived in the Land of Snows,
You use all your energy to benefit the children of the Land of Snows, regardless of days and nights.
She is the mother of the world, to whom our debt of gratitude is as heavy as a mountain.
The children of the Land of Snows have been taken care by you throughout their entire life.
In order to realise your wishes and your expectations,
We, the children of the Land of Snows, will remember forever.
We pray for your longevity, the mother of the Land of Snows, Ama Jetsun Pema...”

The picture on the outdoor TV set was clear. The singer was a young person singing in Lhasa dialect, he was standing on what looked like a stage in a school and was introducing himself as someone who had escaped into exile from Lhasa to Dharamsala. His singing was very heartfelt, as though he was missing his own mother and exerting all his feelings onto a woman who had nurtured countless children in exile who were seeking an education and whom everyone referred to as “Amala”, moving people to tears. The mother who appeared in the song was a compassionate looking woman, wearing a chuba (Tibetan for Tibetan dress), grey hair at the temples, she is the younger sister of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Jetsun Pema.

The winter sun shining down on Lhasa was very warming. Shoulder to shoulder, the stalls were closely laid out one after another, each one reverberating with the sounds of popular songs, Tibetan songs, Chinese songs, English songs, Hindi songs, the bustling crowds all blended together and gave the impression of a very lively place. To see the image of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s sister smiling and rushing around in broad daylight, how dangerous this was. It should be known that for over a decade (not counting the period from 1959 and the Cultural Revolution) that in Lhasa, the Dalai Lama was the very symbol of a ‘separatist’, his photo could not be possessed, his recordings could not be possessed and everything else that had anything to do with him, unless it was something insulting and critical. Along with the Tibetans all around me, we were all glued to the screen with tacit understanding. All kinds of feelings were stirring up inside us as we listened to the song. It’s quite strange that so many Tibetans all know who Ama Jetsun Pema is, how come all the uniformed and non-uniformed officials on the street don’t know? I listened to the song again at least three times before buying several CDs from the Chinese Muslim vendor, still wanting to listen to the CD more.

In Lhasa, the open sale of pirated CDs takes place mainly in the old town, sun island (Taiyang dao) and the Tianhai night market in western suburbs. The vendors are mostly Chinese Muslims and the customers are mostly Tibetans, so basically most of the CDs and films on sale are in Tibetan. All are pirated discs and the prices are low, one disc costs between RMB 3-5. In the past, I have bought “Tom & Jerry” and “Journey to the West” from them in Tibetan, and the quality of these discs are not that bad. Over the years, the Chinese Muslim vendors have learned extremely well what kinds of songs Tibetans like. Thus, they cater to the Tibetans’ likes and provide discs for sale in a steady stream. For instance, the discs of the song Ama Jetsun Pema sold very well. How well? They almost sold out at once. Consequently, the Chinese Muslim vendors would burn more copies, then sell them again. Even if you just look toward their stalls a couple of glimpses when you were passing by their stall, they would come to you and say in a low voice: at my stall we have Ama Jetsun Pema.

Take me, for example, in the past, even though I knew the names of His Holiness’ siblings, I’m afraid to say that I knew the most about the oldest brother of His Holiness, Taktser Rinpoche and the second oldest brother Gyalo Dhondup. This was because I had read Taktser Rinpoche’s book and I had heard that Gyalo Dhondup had held talks with Deng Xiaoping. However, when it came to Jetsun Pema la, ---- honestly, after listening to that song, I had the feeling that it was hard for me to call her Jetsun Pema. I would rather call her Ama Jetsun Pema as sung in that song. It is indeed easy to call her Ama Jetsun Pema, and I feel it is respectful to call her this way.
I can safely say it is the common felling shared by many Tibetans. I knew very little about her before, but I know now that “Ama Jetsun Pema” has been working for decades in schools established by the exiled Tibetan communities in India and in the Tibetan Children’s Village, with her heart and soul. Her painstaking efforts are more than enough to leave a lasting reputation in the world.

Once, I went to a Tibetan restaurant and was waiting for friends when I saw that song being played on the TV. I’m not saying that that song was being broadcast on TV, that would be too strange. It was the Tibetan staff member who was playing the song on the VCD player and little by little was learning how to sing the song. It was not yet dinner time and two uniformed policemen were sitting around the stove drinking tea. I looked at them surprised and was worried that they might hear what was being played but they were sitting as though they hadn’t heard anything. They were both Tibetan, they were chatting to each other in Tibetan, how could they not have noticed that the song was in praise of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s sister?

However, after a while, I heard that that song had been ‘exposed’, labeled as a ‘reactionary song’ that had to be dealt with, it was said that some old retired cadres had ‘uncovered’ the song and that several Chinese Muslims had been arrested, it was also said that a Chinese Muslim had confessed that a Tibetan had given them money to make copies, it is said…. For a while, Lhasa was bristling with talk about this in the sweet tea houses, on the street and in homes. But that song had already been popular in Lhasa for three or four months, whatever impression that it had to make had already been made and most Tibetan homes had already seen a copy of the Ama Jetsun Pema CD.

I also know that the melody of the song comes from the song by a Hong Kong pop singer but it was not an original song by this Hong Kong singer, rather the tune originally came from a Japanese singer. In other words, it appears that the sad melody was imported from Japan to Hong Kong, then imported from Hong Kong to mainland China and then imported from mainland China to Lhasa, and then imported from Lhasa to Dharamsala, from Dharamsala again back to Lhasa… it may sound very complicated but in fact this had been a very quick process and the lyrics had emerged in three languages: Japanese, Chinese, and Tibetan. If that original composer only knew, that the song that he wrote simply about a man’s love for a woman transformed into a song about homesickness and the longing and pain of exile, creating a song with a totally different meaning and it ultimately became a banned ‘reactionary song’ – how would he feel about that? In the autumn of 2007, I was on a train leaving Lhasa and the familiar melody of the song suddenly came on, the singer was of course the one from Hong Kong, and I sang along with it but the words I was singing were,

“Even the orphans who are in exile in an alien land,
still have Ama Jetsun Pema [care for them] who is as compassionate as the Buddhas…”

In fact, it is impossible to ban this song. Or put it in another way, it is common that “reactionary songs” which are prohibited by all means can not be banned, and the songs which are not reactionary will not impress as deeply upon everyone’s mind as those “reactionary songs” do. Even if those songs are sung on TV, on radios, in the squares, on the trains, and even if they are printed on the songsheets in Karaoke bars, or they are included in the ringtones for mobile phones, they are quite awful and they are purely for self-consolation. One such typical song is the song which portrays the Qinghai-Tibet railway as “the celestial road to heaven”.

Which songs are included in the list of “reactionary songs”? I can not even count them. When I think this over, it seems that there are quite a lot of “reactionary songs” we have either listened to or know how to sing. For example, in 1987 the song about Tibetan compatriots was rather popular. It’s lyrics are as follows: “We Tibetan compatriots are ones who are of the same descent. Tibetans from Amdo, U-tsang and Kham and Tibetans of the five religious schools. Let’s unite together, we go back to Tibet together. Tibetan compatriots from Amdo, U-tsang and Kham, let’s unite together. Though the religious schools are different, yet the goal is the same. Let’s unite together, and let’s go back to Tibet together…” It is said when Tibetans who were arrested during the riots at that time were paraded through streets in trucks, Tibetan men and women defiantly sung this song with spirit, holding their heads high. In 1989 the lyrics of another popular song are “ Lhasa was not sold, and India was not bought. It is not that the Dalai Lama, the Wish Fulfilling Jewel, does not have a home, there is his dharma throne in the high Potala Palace…”,it is said that at a gathering of the TAR Academy of Social Sciences, Tibetan cadres were drunk and were singing this song, choking back their sobs. At the beginning of the 1990s, the popular song was Chorten Karpo, whose lyrics are “no matter when the sky is filled with dark clouds, your pure white figure illuminates the devoted hearts…”; what was popular at the end of 1990s was “Younger Brother with Deep Feeling”, the lyrics are “who dispelled your sheep flock, and left you to guard the last home…”. I heard the popular song last year was “Sadness” (which is also translated as “Moved”): “ In Amdo and Kham the Lama’s teachings spread continuously. I who lie alone can not listen to your teachings. I am sad because I can not see my Lama. Oh, my Lama, how sad I am for not being able to see you…”

Furthermore, the special collection of songs entitled “Return of the Tsangpo”, produced by Tibetans in Amdo and Kham, were labeled as “reactionary songs” and were seized and destroyed. The song writer and composer were arrested because of this and some of them are still in prison. Dolma Kyi, a Golok Tibetan, was arrested at the end of March in 2008 because she herself sang songs longing for the Dalai Lama in the Nangma singing hall and had allowed other singers to sing such songs. Lhundrup, another singer who was arrested together with Dolma Kyi, sang the following lyrics on the record he produced: “The sun and the moon are not here any more, our hope has gone afar. Is this the karma of we Tibetans?” The “sun” and the “Moon” are concealed analogies for the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama. Apart from the song entitled “Going back to Tibet” in 1987, the rest of them were songs written in Tibet.

Yes, the songs written outside of Tibet have bigger impact, but it is also easier for them to be banned. My favorite song is Chak Sum Tsal (Three Prostrations) and it might be on the blacklist as well. The lyrics of the second section of the song are as follows: “Tibet, my hometown; Tibetans, my compatriots. Before my life ends, I won’t leave until I have prayed three times. If I return to the world again, I wish I would be born in my hometown Tibet again. Oh, take off my fox-skin hat, and prostrate to you three times!” This has also been the most popular song in Lhasa for the past two years, and what is interesting is that the retired cadres are singing the song while playing mahjong. They are all fans of Phurbu Namgyal, the Tibetan singer in the U.S.

When I consider the situation carefully, I find out that for many years every years quite a lot of “reactionary songs” on average have emerged, then they will be banned by all means. We are all too accustomed to consider this as strange. But this time they arrested 59 people at one time, and I heard most of them were students. All of them were labeled as “rumour mongers” on a large scale. What is the motive for doing so? Are the authorities really mad at Tibetans for loving “reactionary songs” so much that they have to arrest a group of people, otherwise, it would not have the effect of punishing them as a warning to others? Or is it the case that they can not find “Tibetan separatists” any more and downloading songs which miss His Holiness and miss one’s hometown has become the felony? Or is it the case that the hungry ghosts in the six realms, who are making a living on “anti-splittist” activities, are creating some enemies to the great party with new tricks.

I have to tell you another story related to a song. The story is about the well-known song entitled “Beautiful Rigzin Wangmo” which has been mistaken as a Tibetan folk song. That is a song which can be performed on TV and can be sung outside of one’s home, and one can sing it without too many worries. Furthermore, the song has already become the signature song for the well-known “government sponsored” singer Tseten Dolma. Among all the singers who are as numerous as yak hairs, Tseten Dolma is the only one who transformed herself from “a liberated serf” to an official with the rank of a deputy provincial governor through singing songs and it seems that she really likes the song entitled “Beautiful Rigzin Wangmo”. In almost all the special collections distributed officially, this song has always been included. But does she really know that this song, in fact, is not a Tibetan folk song? Does she really know who the songwriter and composer of this song is? Though the lyrics were written by the Sixth Dalai Lama Tsangyang Gyatso, the greatest poet in Tibetan history, and many of his poems are sung among the people and belong to ancient Tibetan folk songs. But this song is different because the composer is not an anonymous artist of the past, instead he is a Tibetan in exile named Thubten Samdub, who was in Dharamsala some years ago and now is living in Canada. He has been working hard for the Tibetan cause. In accordance with the Party’s standards, he should be one of the “splittists”. It is rather preposterous that the song loved by Tseten Dolma, the representative of the party in Tibet, who has sung the song many times, turned out to be composed by a reactionary Tibetan in exile.

Furthermore, in the 1970s, the talented Thubten Samdub was still a young man. Though he experienced numerous hardships as somebody in exile, he was also at his prime of life. The beautiful maid named Rigzin Wangmo who appeared in Tsangyang Gyatso’s poem became the symbol of love, thus, the song came into being, and its melodies are extremely beautiful.

It is probably not long after the end of the Cultural Revolution that the song sung and played by Thupten Samdub spread to Lhasa where people just began to respite from the great catastrophe. The situation of the time was that it was the first time that Tibetans in Tibet and abroad were allowed to have some formal exchanges. Whilst some went to visit their relatives in India, others came back to Lhasa to visit their relatives. In the process of getting in touch with each other, the traditional culture preserved by Tibetans in exile and the modern multi-cultures with styles of the alien land created by Tibetans in exile has deeply fascinated Tibetans in Tibet. For Tibetans in Tibet who have been tortured by the revolutionary songs such as “Liberated Serfs Singing Songs”, the songs created by Tibetans in exile are original, novel, cordial and moving. Thus, the degree to which these songs are welcomed and the speed they have been spread is just like how the “decadent music” by the Taiwan singer Deng Lijun was received by the Chinese in the beginning of the period when China opened to the outside world: just like Deng’s music has the effect of thunders over the Chinese people and appeals to them greatly.

Soon “Beautiful Rigzin Wangmo” became popular in Lhasa. What is interesting is that Tseten Dolma, who had sung “Bitterness has Turned to Sweetness after the Communist Party Came” her whole life, liked the song and started to sing it. I do not know whether it was a deliberate act or if it was out of sheer ignorance that nobody has ever mentioned that the composer was a Tibetan in exile, on the contrary, they packaged it as a “Tibetan folk song”. As a result, after a long passage of time, the truth has been buried, who is Thubten Samdub? Up to now, the rock band called “Namchag” formed by young Tibetans in Lhasa also sang the old song which is very much a folk song, furthermore, they reinterpreted Rigzin Wangmo by means of rap music. In their song, the beautiful Rigzin Wangmo changed and she became like many Tibetan girls on the streets of Lhasa who are vain and who can only be satisfied with material goods and money.

In fact, the history, the evolution and the vicissitudes of these songs, which have the imprints of the various historical periods, happen to be the epitome of today’s Tibet which has gone through earth-shaking transformations. If we need to record in detail and research carefully, it would be a project of one or several books. It is obvious that my article might list one and omit thousands, and only portrays through stories the “reactionary songs” I have encountered and understood in my own past.

Recently, I learned from the internet that another “reactionary song” related to Tibet has been exposed again. But the origin and development of the song greatly surprised me, because this song is not a Tibetan song, and the singer is not Tibetan either. Instead, the singer is the Taiwanese singer Tao Zhe who has thousands and thousands of fans in China. To tell the truth, though I know of him, I have never listened to his songs before. It is only because I saw the news that I especially searched for his “Tibetan independence” song on google and baidu search engines. It is rather difficult to search for it, and most of them have already been deleted. This greatly aroused by curiosity and I felt that I had to find the “Tibetan independence song” named “Not The Same”. It took me quite a long time to finally find it, and I can not only listen to the song, but also read the lyrics as well. It turned out that the “Tibetan independence song”, which is portrayed to be so frightening, in fact, is because of one sentence, and it is hard to find it as it is hidden in many sentences. The sentence is “ the Dalai Lama is uniquely great, and he is the hero of the mankind” In front of the Dalai Lama, there are many names such as Gandhi, Disney, Laozi, Brando, Freud, Confucius, Chaplin, Picasso, Einstein and others, but, consequently, they were all branded too much trouble and became the allies of “Tibetan splittists.”

It is actually an honour for Tibetan singers or composers if their songs are labeled as “reactionary songs”. But for Tao Zhe, who is living in the democratic society of Taiwan, when it was learned that because the name of the Dalai Lama appeared in his old song sung in 1999, his song was judged to be related to “Tibetan independence”. His discs had to be taken off from the shelves, his songs were removed from the ringtones, and all his songs might even have been completely banned. What does he think of this incident? I learned from the news on the internet that his record company disappointedly denied that they deliberately spread the “Tibetan independence song’, claiming it was because of carelessness that the baneful influence was spread.

As far as His Holiness the Dalai Lama is concerned, many times he has earnestly reiterated that what he seeks is not independence, but a high degree of true autonomy. In addition, he has honestly pointed out many times though the Chinese government is not sincere, yet he still has faith in the Chinese people. However, in today’s China, his name is equivalent to “separation”, then it is equal to being guilty of the most heinous crimes. Besides being reprimanded by the shrewd and astute Chinese officials as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”, he is also reviled without any respect by countless young Chinese. Oh, His Holiness is the reincarnation of the Lord of Compassion (Avalokiteshvara), who is compassionate and who will not mind this. But Tibetans will mind this, at least, Tibetans will lose their confidence in the Chinese people because of the bone-piercing pain.

What I would like to point out here is that I once wrote some lyrics as well, and they are being translated into Tibetan. Later they will become songs. I will not mention who the singer of my songs will be for the time being. I need to clarify the lyrics of one song as follows, and based on the lyrics will this song be considered to be another “reactionary song” soon? I would like to explain that in the lyrics “Yeshe Norbu” means “wish-fulfilling jewel”, “Kundun” literally means “appear in front of one’s eyes as soon as one evokes him”, “Gongsa chog” (gong sa mchog) means “His Holiness”, and “Gyalwa Rinpoche" (rgyal ba rin po che) refers to “the Dharma King”. All these appellations are honorific titles for His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Tibetan.

On the road,
Oh, on the road,
I am moved to tears.
Holding in my arms the most beautiful flower in the world
Before it is withered,
Rush quickly
Only to present it to an old man in maroon

He is our Yeshe Norbu
Our Kundun
Our Gongsa chog
Our Gyalwa Rinpoche

On the road,
Oh, on the road,
I am moved to tears.
Holding in my arms the most beautiful flower in the world
Present it to him, present it to him.
A wisp of a smile
These bind the generation tight.

Beijing, January 1, 2009

(Note: I would like to thank Dolkar la and Dawa Tsering La for translating the meaning of the lyrics of a few Tibetan songs)

This article was first published on “Democratic China” (

These two photos were taken in front of the Tibetan Hospital in Lhasa three years ago.

This is a record by Lhundrup, who was arrested in April, 2008. His current situation is unknown.

This is the Taiwanese Singer Tao Zhe, who was found to have sung the so-called “Tibetan independence” song.
Read Full Post>>>

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Going Minzu

It’s quite common nowadays for words with Chinese origin to be incorporated into our daily English speaking lives – we think nothing of talking about feng shui, doing qi gong, eating tofu or cultivating our yin and yang properties. We need these words to describe things, or concepts, such as losing face, that are lacking in English language and culture. Now there’s one more word to add to the list, if the Chinese government were to have their way that is.

An email that High Peaks Pure Earth received on 10th December 2008 read innocently enough: “Dear Partners and Friends, We take it an honor to inform you that, the English name of our university has been changed from "the Central University of Nationalities" to "Minzu University of China" (MUC) since November 20th, 2008”.

English website of the newly re-named Minzu University of China.
Note the announcement of the namechange on the page.

To non-Chinese speakers, it sounds, frankly, quite horrible. Minzu. MUC, that's pronounced muck!!! What just happened?! And what on earth is a Minzu? According to British Google, Minzu is a “Chinese buffet restaurant and bar in Birmingham offering superb Chinese cuisine” Splendid! So a little introduction may be required here to enlighten us on this bizarre development.

High Peaks Pure Earth readers may be interested to know that this is the university’s third name change since its founding in 1941! What started in October 1941 as the Yan'an Institute of Nationalities, moved to Beijing in 1951 with the birth of the ‘new China’ and in 1993 was re-named the Central University for Nationalities. And now it’s called the Minzu University of China. In Chinese it has only ever had 2 names, 中央民族学院 (Zhongyang Minzu Xueyuan) and 中央民族大学 (Zhongyang Minzu Daxue). Very quickly, Zhongyang means Central, Minzu we will deal with later, Xueyuan means Institute or Academy and Daxue means University. In Tibetan, it has always been known as མི་རིགས་སློབ་གྲྭ་ (mi rigs slob grwa), mi rigs means people and slob grwa means any kind of school. Later, when it became a university, the word ཆེན་པོ་ (Chen mo), meaning big, was added.

Taken from the website of the Minzu University of China -
note the happy Minzu in Tibetan dress in the bottom photo

The Minzu University of China in Beijing describes itself on its website as having "a high-quality, top-level faculty representing many ethnic backgrounds. 70% of its 15,000 full-time students is ethnic minorities. In a sense, CUN is a microcosm of the big family of Chinese ethnic groups, and it is the only university in China where all of China’s 56 ethnic groups are represented in its faculty and student body. The multiple cultures of the 56 ethnic groups harmoniously mix together here." They also accept foreign students who want to learn Chinese, to be convinced to go and study there, readers can watch this riveting promotional video.

The university is also home to 600+ Tibetan students, the largest concentration of Tibetans in China’s capital, who are mostly studying Tibetology. In the past, some of the finest scholars have taught at the MUC such as ་དུང་དཀར་བློ་བཟང་འཕྲིན་ལས་ (Dungkar Lobsang Trinley), ཚེ་བརྟན་ཞབས་དྲུང་ (Tseten Shabdrung), དམུ་དགེ་བསམ་གཏན་ (Muge Samten) and མཁྱན་རབ་འོད་ཟེར (Kyenrab Woeser). Today, two of the best-known Tibetan scholars are ཚེ་རིང་ཐར་་ (Tsering Thar) from Amdo and ཐུབ་བསྟན་ཕུན་ཚོགས་ (Thupten Phuntsog) from Kham, who are both much loved by students. Notable Tibetan alumni include writer and poet དོན་གྲུབ་རྒྱལ་ (Dhondup Gyal) as well as most of the staff of Radio Free Asia and Voice of America in DC! Also some of the foremost Chinese scholars on Tibet such as Yang Enhong and Chen Qingying have studied there.

So how come the word Minzu in the university’s name doesn’t get translated anymore? The main universities in Beijing, China’s Ivy League if you will, have names that are translated directly into English, albeit slightly odd varying from the very quaint sounding Peking University for 北京大学 (Beijing Daxue) to the downright absurd-sounding Beijing Normal University for 北京师范大学 (Beijing Shifan Daxue). The others are mostly bog-standard names such as University of Science and Technology Beijing, Beijing Foreign Studies University or China Central Academy of Fine Arts.

Although no official reason has been given for the recent name change – it stands to reason that it’s due to this rather troublesome and seemingly untranslatable Chinese word Minzu. Their solution in the end seems to be a stern resolve not to translate it at all and thus avoid all the problems this word causes. How is the word Minzu problematic? Firstly, one look at the dictionary tells us that Minzu means Nationality. Doesn’t appear that hard to translate actually.

But for the Chinese government, their own unique concept of ‘nationality’ has been very difficult to communicate to the wider world. The historical background behind Minzu, as it’s used today in China, starts in the 1950s with the Minzu Shibie – a survey carried out by the central government to determine the various ethnic groups in China. That was the starting point for today’s one big happy family of the Han Chinese and the 55 minzu groups which were all identified and formalized as a result of that survey. The minzu groups are also referred to as 少数民族 (shaoshu minzu), which translates as ethnic minority.

The word minority already has enough politically incorrect connotations in English so the Chinese government has been wise to stay away from that word in recent years. They probably thought that the word nationality was less controversial but they miscalculated grossly. Outside of China, very few people understand the Chinese concept of nationality – it’s a word associated with nation, nationhood and nationalism. Mostly it’s associated with passports. Not so in China. For a Tibetan born in Lhasa, their nationality is Tibetan but they are Chinese. For an Uyghur born in Urumqi their nationality is Uyghur but they are Chinese. For a Mongolian born in Hohhot, their nationality is Mongolian but they are Chinese. This nationality word is indeed confusing.

Confusing and on top of that, politically loaded. For the Han Chinese – and let’s not forget that they account for 92% of the population, the government actively fans the flames of their nationalism in a twisted, negative way usually aimed at outside forces. Think of the crazy scenes in 1999 after the Chinese embassy in Belgrade was mistakenly bombed by NATO, think of the anti-French scenes last year in China, poor Carrefour supermarket! Even crazier maybe the whole textbook debacle with Japan a few years back. And in a country with no concept of dual citizenship, woe betide any celebrity who changes their nationality, step forward top enemies of the state Jet Li (now American), Gong Li (now Singaporean) and a kind of in-betweener Beijing born Zhang Ziyi (holds a Hong Kong residency card).

However, for the nationalities of the People’s Republic of China, nationalism is a strictly no go area. In 2008, the Chinese government simultaneously dealt with cracking down on Tibetan expressions of nationalistic feelings – suddenly even Han Chinese people knew what the Tibetan national flag looked like (even though state media calling it the ‘snow lion flag’ was lame) whilst having the Olympics reinforce their own sense of national identity and pride. So if the Han Chinese are allowed to assert their own feelings of nationalism then why not the nationalities? If only the answer to this question were as simple as thrusting the word Minzu onto the unsuspecting rest of world.

China is no stranger to forcing new words into languages for political purposes. A prime example is in Tibetan due to the fact that Tibetan has one word for Tibet, བོད་ (Bod), one word for China་རྒྱ་ནག་ (Gyanak) and no word that means a China that includes Tibetan territory. So the Chinese government officially uses the word ཀྲུང་གོ་ (krung go) which is simply a Tibetan transliteration of the Chinese word for China 中国 (Zhong guo). So whereas this concept didn’t exist before, it exists now. Interestingly, Tibetan bloggers who blog in Chinese are refusing to use the Chinese word for Tibet 西藏 (Xizang) as Xizang only refers to the Tibet Autonomous Region. Bloggers are using the word 图博 (Tubo) or sometimes simply the Chinese character 博 (bo), which sounds like the Tibetan word Bod. Bloggers are also snubbing the Chinese way of saying Tibetan 藏族 (zang zu) as the Chinese words are implicitly talking about an ethnic group (the word zu 族, the same zu as in 民族 minzu) and are using the characters 博巴 (Bo ba) which is Tibetan for a Tibetan person.

Sometimes there are words or concepts that simply have to be expressed in the original language, think ‘shoah’, ‘apartheid’ or ‘Satyagraha’. However, Minzu does not have the weight of those concepts - it is simply a word that transports the Chinese government’s entire ideology and concept of their multi-ethnic happy family, in the way that they see and present it at least. The changing of a university name may not seem like the end of the world but it is a calculated move to gain acceptance and legitimacy superficially on a linguistic level at first but that's how it starts.

So what other changes could we expect in the near future in Beijing? We already have the Minzu Hotel but the Cultural Palace of the Minorities next door could turn into the Minzu Cultural Palace. The Nationalities Park might be re-named Minzu Park and so on. Be prepared to go Minzu on your next trip to China, you have been warned!
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Sunday, January 25, 2009

More from Tibetan bloggers about Tibetan New Year

Tibetan netizens are really having heated debates about Losar, Tibetan New Year celebrations. The Tibetan language internet forums and blogs are full of posts diccussing the issue. Most of the posts are opposed to the celebration of Losar this year.

There are two points about Losar, the first issue is whether Tibetans should celebrate Chinese New Year or not and the second issue about whether it is appropriate or not to celebrate in light of last year's events. Some of the posters argue that particularly in Amdo, that Chinese New Year has always been celebrated and this year is no exception. However, some netizens argue that all the Tibetans should institute a common Tibetan New Year and adopt the date celebrated in Lhasa.

The posts are too numerous to translate, here High Peaks Pure Earth has translated two posts written in Tibetan entirely in verse. The first post (photo of the blog above) by a blogger named Cham med sha (khyams me zhags) is titled 'This year, No Losar for us' (nga tsho la lo sar med).

The second post is on a blog called Kyi! Kyi! My Tibet (Kyi! Kyi! Nga yi bod). This is also written in verse, in a sarcastic style and the blogger writes “This is written on behalf of the people of Dechen", (bDe chen pa’i tshab tu brigs). The title of the verse is “We are not Tibetan” (Nga tsho Bod pa min). High Peaks Pure Earth readers will remember that Dechen, in today's Yunnan province, is now formally named Shangri-la by the Chinese and has become one of the major tourist destinations in the area. Now, Tibetans have modified the name and added an adjective Khu sim meaning “silent” to the name. Khu sim Dechen (Silent Dechen) is used on account of the fact that last year, Dechen was one area where there were no protests. Hence the satirical tone of the verse.

This year, No Losar

Last year was washed by blood,
In Lhasa, countless compatriots
Were fallen under a piercing arrow,
This year, no Losar for us,
In Sichuan, countless people
Buried under the earth,
This year, no Losar for us,

There is only the word “no” on your lips.
We are speechless,
You are filled with anger
We have no bitterness

For the sake of the deceased valiant heroes
Let us offer our regrets.
For the deceased people,
Let us make offerings

Therefore, This year
How can Losar be celebrated?
Unequivocally! No.
To celebrate is like a mindless beast,

An aeroplane crashed against a cliff,
This year, no Losar for us,
A train crashed,
This year, no Losar for us,

Even more, it’s endless,
Snowstorms covered the high lands,
This year, no Losar for us,
Drought in the low lands,
This year, no Losar for us,

Smile covered countenance,
A deceitful expression,
A sign of a defeat
It is a smile of fear
Adorned with a smile of happiness,
Actually, this is a false smile
Covering dishonesty,

You are thoughtless of the people,
You pay no heed to the world,
Have you looked at the world?
You have not tread the modern path,

Mind is filled with sadness
And suffering,
Therefore, because of our anguish,
Let's not partake in Losar this year.

We Are Not Tibetan

Written on behalf of the Tibetan people of Dechen

Didn’t hear what happened in Lhasa last year
No idea what is happening there today,
Shortly, it will be Chinese New Year,
Preparing to celebrate,

Don’t know if Tibet is stable or not
Cannot see Chinese trickery,
Anycase, in a day or two it will be Chinese New Year,
Will joyfully celebrate,

In a few days time it will be Chinese New Year,
Will decorate the altar with meat and beer,
Will sing and dance
Celebrating joyfully,

In a few days time it will be Chinese New Year,
Welcome Losar with songs,
After singing the songs,
Cast them out from the Tibetan race.


These people are really as fickle as butterflies.

Friend thank you for visiting,
Thanking of your advice,
However, the news from Dechen, Yunnan,
Is the people of Dechen will not be celebrating Losar,
This is the honest truth,
This is written in the style of a song,
Friend don’t be offended.

Living without seeing and hearing,
Dancing and singing songs like this,
It's pointless to say these things,
I have one thing to say to you,
Compatriots who lost their lives
Remember them in the heart,
Throw away this year’s Losar,
Don’t cast them from the Tibetan race,
Flesh and blood cannot be changed,
The people can be transformed
Can you hear, my heartfelt friend?
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Friday, January 23, 2009

Tibetan bloggers discuss Tibetan New Year

High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a Tibetan blogpost on the subject of Tibetan festivals and celebratory days. On January 16th 2009, the TAR Regional Government announced that March 28 of every year will be observed as "Serfs Emancipation Day". The institution of a new celebratory day in Tibet is clearly an attempt to alter Tibet's historical memory and enforce greater obedience and linkage to China.

A blog by Lamlak (lam lags) reports that the County government is forcing Ngaba Monastery to change the dates of new year and winter religious ceremonies to coincide with the Chinese New Year - this year, the two new years are a month apart. On Tibetan blogs, there has been much discussion about this year's Tibetan New Year, Losar (lo gsar). A blogger called A thub (a thub) confirms what Lamlak has written. A thub says that everyone is being forced to celebrate Chinese New Year, not just in the monastery but the ordinary villagers in Ngaba are also being told the same.

Another blogger named Mangbu Rukam (Mang bu rus skam)
noted on his blog that there had been much discussion on the internet about whether Losar should be celebrated this year or not. Rukam also discusses if Tibetans should institute the same date for Losar amongst the Tibetans, as traditionally Losar is celebrated on different dates in different parts of Tibet.

As evidence of this ongoing debate about whether to
commemorate or to celebrate, a text message is being circulated amongst Tibetans in Tibet and around China. High Peaks Pure Earth has the following blurred photo of the text message in Chinese:

The text message reads: To mourn the lives of more than 2000 Tibetan heroes and compatriots who died in 2008, for this sorrowful year for Tibetans whose blood was shed, in the Tibetan Community all over the world, new year and all festivals won't be celebrated, holding the palms of the hands together in prayer, forward [this message] to Tibetans.

Finally, for a poem by Woeser about Tibetan festivals,
please go to this translation by Ragged Banner.

Blog by Lamlak (lam lags)

News from Kirti Monastery in Amdo Region

A few days ago, the People’s Government of Ngaba County declared that Kirti Monastery should celebrate the upcoming Chinese New Year and all winter rituals which actually take place during the Great Prayer Festival must be performed one month earlier than its actual date. The reason is because the people of Tibet are to celebrate Chinese New Year as Tibetan New Year. All the monks in the monastery are planning to return to their homes.

As a matter of fact, this is just taking control of freedom of religion. The celebration of May 1st (Labour Day) and October 1st (the celebration of the founding of the PRC) have come about by Chinese government order.

Religious belief is something in the mind of the people. How can it be proper to force people to celebrate their religious festival that is in no accordance with the religious calendar. Now, it is really difficult for the Tibetan people to predict whether the Great Prayer Festival will take place or not this year. We are not sure whether all these notices come directly from the State Council or not. There are many people coming to Ngaba Dzong, who have no idea about Tibetan customs and are promoting activities that have no relevance to our culture.


Friend, thanks for the news. This is really astonishing! If Tibet is being developed as planned by the government of China, then Tibet will disappear one day. Therefore, for the sake of our nationality, the only thing we can is to be more alert of our situation and take greater responsibility.

Corruption is prevailing in every corner of society and the intellectuals and politicians are becoming tools of politics, then who will taking care of the wellbeing of the ordinary people?

After reading this kind of news, what we can do?

The Red Government of China is truly a bloodsucking, brutal regime.
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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

'Remember and Memorialise Louder Than The Gunfire!' by Woeser

High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a blogpost by Woeser that was written on the first day of 2009 for Radio Free Asia and posted on her blog on 8th January 2009.

In the blogpost, Woeser reflects on the turbulence of the many events of 2008 that have deeply affected all Tibetans. As evidence of the ongoing distressing situation in Tibet, Woeser mentions the 59 Tibetans who were detained in Lhasa for 'spreading rumours', something that was
reported by the BBC on Christmas Day 2008.

Perhaps in response to the turmoil of 2008, Woeser emphasises remembrance and reflection in her blogpost - themes she was to continue a week later in her blogpost
'Let Us Make Lamp Offerings and Light Candles to Commemorate the Souls of the Deceased'.

'Remember and Memorialise Louder Than The Gunfire!' by Woeser

Because we're still all so deeply bogged down by what just happened in 2008, it seems that 2009 has crashed into us without warning. I'm reminded once more of what a friend in Lhasa says only when drunk: we just don't greet each other with 'Tashi Delek' (good fortune and fulfillment of wishes) anymore, good fortune doesn’t exist and neither does fulfillment, what we should be saying to each other is "zap zap jé!" (be careful).

Terror still hangs like a black cloud over the heads of Tibetans. A week ago, the Deputy Director of the Lhasa Municipality Public Security Bureau declared at a press conference the detention of 59 'rumour mongers' who had 'incited ethnic feelings'. The so-called rumours referred to 'illegally downloading reactionary songs from the internet'… A journalist from the foreign media asked me: "What kinds of songs are 'reactionary'?" For a moment, I really didn't know how to answer. If I said that any songs of yearning and praise for the Dalai Lama, no matter how implicit the messages are, would still be banned as 'reactionary songs', then surely this would sound incredulous to a westerner who had never experienced extreme repression.

Not only was there March, April and May when 'wanted' notices were publicly announced every night; not only was there June, July and August when armed police forces were patrolling the streets; and not only was there September, October and November when even more surveillance cameras were installed; there was also yesterday when my friends in Tibet tell me that every night they suddenly hear dogs in the vicinity barking furiously and you can't help being terrified; terrified that your door will be kicked down by state security, terrified that you will be locked away in some dark prison for some unknown crime, terrified that your loved ones or you yourself will vanish into thin air… Whenever I hear these whispering voices telling me again and again, it saddens me so deeply.

What consequences will this terror bring? Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung Sang Suu Kyi has said: “Within a system which denies basic human rights, fear tends to be the order of the day. Fear of imprisonment, fear of torture, fear of death, fear of losing friends, family, property or means of livelihood, fear of poverty, fear of isolation, fear of failure. A most insidious form of fear is that which masquerades as common sense or even common wisdom, condemning as foolish, reckless, insignificant or futile the small, daily acts of courage which help to preserve man’s self-respect and inherent human dignity.”

To compare this with Lhasa today, Tibetans who are unwilling to speak their minds instead spill their hearts in their blogs: "Lhasa is simply a 'stupid' city with the 'stupid' Party and government offices; politicians from home and abroad are 'stupid' and Tibetans are themselves competing for stupidity, and it seems they're getting 'stupid' ever faster." To put it another way, people are playing dumb. It is only if they play dumb that they can conceal their inner terror and escape their internal agonies. Those killed are already gone, and wounds have scabbed over. How are we supposed to live with the promises and threats of carrot and stick?

I do not blindly praise people in western society. But an American President once said some of the most incisive words in the history of humanity. He said a democratic society cannot be arbitrarily deprived of four freedoms: freedom of expression, freedom of belief, freedom from want and freedom from fear. As mortals, as ordinary people, we should be able to share in these most basic freedoms. But regrettably, these most basic freedoms are more unattainable than the stars in heaven. It is not actually much that we want; what we want is simply the right to live a meaningful existence and hope for the future, is this really too much to demand?

On the eve of 2009, I received many text messages wishing me a prosperous and happy New Year and good fortune for the New Year. At this moment I knew that people from all over the world were heaping best wishes and blessings upon each other – a wonderful creation of human nature. But I would also add: in the New Year, I hope you will be free from want. In fact, to that I would even add, I hope that everyone will be free from fear! At this point we say farewell and forget the year 2008, but we should not be reconsidering the way we live our lives, instead we should remember and memorialise louder than the gunfire!

1st January 2009, Beijing
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Monday, January 19, 2009

An Address from the Tibetan "Obama"

High Peaks Pure Earth has discovered that a Tibetan has started a blog under the name of “Obama” and writes blogposts addressed to Tibetan readers (photo of the blog below). The blog is hosted on, founded in 2003 by brothers Wangchuk Tseten (dBang phyug tshe brtan) and Tsewang Norbu (Tshe dbang nor bu) from Lanzhou, in Gansu Province. The website is one of the most popular Chinese language sites for Tibetans and gets nearly 300, 000 hits every month.

So, just in time for the inaugural celebrations, High Peaks Pure Earth hereby presents...

An Address from the Tibetan "Obama"

Dear friends of the “Tibet Network”,

How are you? Tashi Delek! I am very glad that today “my” blog is registered on your network, and in the future we can exchange opinions through our blogs. As for me, I am going to move into the White House soon and in the next few years “I” will be the new host of the White House. Tibetan friends should feel free to tell me if you have anything to discuss. In fact, what I really want to tell you today are the following remarks. If any friends are interested in learning more, you can read them. Tibetan friends, it is high time to remind you why you like to place all your hopes entirely on a certain country or a certain individual. Look, under the present repressive circumstances, there are still many Tibetan friends who are in the mood to visit Nangma performance clubs, bars, brothels and casinos, where they ruined their youth, wasted their money, their virtue and conscience. I can not understand why they are doing so! I can not understand at all! If you continue to do so, then there is no hope for your glorious Tibetan nationality.

Tibetans, please wake up. You should not place your hope on other but put the hope of changing one’s fate into one’s own hands. One should gossip less and do more actual things. During my tenure as the President, what “I” can do is to present an award to your spiritual leader, and use the “Tibet Issue” as a “bargaining chip” when we have some clashes with China.

I am not telling you all this because I am drunk but I am telling you whole-heartedly that this is the reality and there is no way out. Do not be fast asleep any more but make more efforts to learn the history of black people in the United States. “My” ancestors once also lived worse than beasts of burden under the oppression of the white American government, but it is because generations and generations of the black predecessors were not afraid of hardships, struggled for their welfare many times, worked very hard again and again, and had their children study hard over and over again. Thus, all these efforts have created a black President in the present-day American political circle, scholars, professors and scientists in the literary, scientific and technological circles as well as numerous stars in the sports and entertainment circles. Black people dominate nearly half of the present-day American high society. By the way, what I want to mention here is that once the treatment of the Han Chinese in the West was, more or less, similar to that of dogs. One would find warning signs everywhere on which the phrase “dogs and Chinese are not allowed to enter” was written. But the Chinese are also slowly entering into the high societies of the West. Why? Because the Chinese have been studying hard and are capable, so the high societies in the West have no choice but to welcome them!

I appeal to the Tibetans not to find excuses again but to go into action and start to do real things. In particular, the elders should try their best to create the best learning environment and opportunities for their children. They should do all they can to let the descendants of Tibet enter into high society in China impressively, and even welcome them to enter into high societies in the world. Unless miracles occur in China, it’s certainly impossible for any Tibetans to enter the high society of the political circle. Some Tibetans are able to enter high society but they will be nothing but avaricious officials, cowards and puppets. So we should try to enter other walks of life through our own capabilities. I am sure you’ll be great by then as it won’t be easy for them to suppress or strike against you.

Seriously perform real deeds. I sincerely hope to see a few more Tibetans and hear the voices of a few more Tibetans in various international activities of the high societies of the world in the future, not just one person alone.

I am going to stop here today. “I” still need to prepare my inauguration speech. I welcome all of you to visit my blog in the future.

Peace, take care and work hard,

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Letter to Chakmo-la by Jamyang Kyi

Jamyang Kyi posted on her blog a letter addressed to her friend Chakmo (lCags mo). She notes that the letter was written in October 2008 but was only posted on her blog on 31 December 2008.

High Peaks Pure Earth has been monitoring Jamyang Kyi’s blog and when she didn't post for several months over the summer of 2008, we were all anxious about her safety. The letter makes it clear that during that period she was visiting her family in Jadoru (Bya dmo ru).

Although the letter is personal, High Peaks Pure Earth has posted this translation as it would be of interest to readers concerned about Jamyang Kyi’s current well being.

Dear Friend Chakmo la (lCags mo),

How are you? It has been more than half a year since we last saw each other, but I never forget the moments that we were together. Although I had thought for months of writing you a short letter, I was not able to do that. Honestly, life is not predictable and it is just like a stream forever flowing.

Today, I woke up at nearly seven o’clock as usual. I spent two hours reading and had a chance to glance at the autobiography Freedom in Exile, (bTsan byol pa’i bag phebs) and with sadness I got up from bed. After breakfast, I went to the office. It takes half an hour from my house to where I work. When I arrived in Xining, after staying half a month in my hometown Jadoru (Bya mdo ru), I had gained four to five kilos in weight, so it forces me to walk to the office everyday now.

It has been raining almost everyday the past several days and the weather is unpredictable. Today, I walked to my office in the rain. I realized when the chilly wind brushed against my face that it is already close to the end of autumn.

The yellow leaves of the trees falling in front of my steps and ta ta sounds of the leaves crushing under my feet brought feelings of sadness inside me. When my mind became clearer, the thought of my beloved compatriots living abroad and the autobiography Freedom in Exile, rushed into my mind. At that moment I suddenly had an urge to write a short letter to you.

First of all, I would like to say congratulations to your translation of learned Tsering Woeser’s book ‘Poetry Named Tibet’. Some days ago you interviewed Paldan Gyal on his experiences in his homeland. I་ thought your frank and honest conversation was good.

Dear friend, I am sure you and your family are well as usual. Are you busy these days? Although I am completely occupied by the endless housework as well as occupied by a massive amount of office work, I am well and my family and relatives are also doing well. Do you remember once I told you that the happiness given to parents by their children is immeasurable? Naturally, this happiness comes with difficulties and suffering. When I was writing down my thoughts from the other day, my daughter was pushing and pulling from the back of my chair and trying to talk to me with nonsense words, and sometimes she held my hand so that I could not write properly. In the meantime I had to answer her questions constantly so I could hardly get a moment in which I could concentrate my mind on what I was doing. I clearly know that my child is wasting a lot of my time, but she is the only source of happiness of mine, so as a mother I cannot complain about her. I think a mother’s love to a child is why a mother risks her life to save her child and the final hope of a mother is her children. Countless mothers break their won dream for their children's well being. This is hard to avoid.

Yes, since I was deeply overwhelmed by the past memories of our meetings, as I walked half an hour to my office, even the Chinese street became more silence and I arrived in front of my office without hearing the noise from the street. I locked the door of my thoughts then and put the key in my pocket. My mind and body was completely seized by a lonely wind.
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Friday, January 16, 2009

'Let Us Make Lamp Offerings and Light Candles to Commemorate the Souls of the Deceased' by Woeser

High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a blogpost by Woeser originally written for Radio Free Asia on 8th January 2009 and posted on her blog on 14th January 2009.

'Let Us Make Lamp Offerings and Light Candles to Commemorate the Souls of the Deceased' by Woeser

At the beginning of the New Year, the various festivals with best wishes have arrived one after another. These festivals include those of the East, the West, Tibet and China etc. If it is really a peaceful and flourishing age, a true reunion of the entire family, and if it is indeed a period in which the old can grow old, people in the prime of their life can put their talents to use and the young can grow up and mature peacefully, then we will naturally have our own unique customs to celebrate these festivals which have lasted for centuries.

However, this year’s celebration will be different. This year’s differences are due to the fact that so many people have been plunged into the abyss of misery. In the land of Tibet, in the villages, pastures and towns of Amdo, central Tibet and Kham, many white-haired grandparents and parents had to endure the suffering of attending the funeral of young blacked-hair people. What is even more tragic is that some of these white-haired ones have not been able to attend the funeral services since the black-haired ones have disappeared without their corpses being able to be found. The family members do not know the day they died, thus, it is not even possible to hold the religious ceremony to release the soul of the deceased from purgatory suffering. The monasteries have already been closed, and monks expelled. There are countless vultures circling around over the desolate sky burial grounds.

Then, let us light butter lamps to make offerings in memory of the deceased, whose exact number we still do not know, in the corners where the video surveillance can not reach. Furthermore, those of us who live in alien lands and do not have butter lamps to offer, let us light candles for those deceased whose exact number we still do not know. Like March 16 last year, several hundred Tibetan students from the Northwestern University for Nationalities in Lanzhou spread out banners with the slogan “share weal and woe with Tibetans” on the ground, and staged a sit-in under candlelight throughout the night. On March 17, over a hundred Tibetan students from the Central University for Nationalities in Beijing also lit candles and staged a sit-in on the campus, thus, the fire of protests extended to the capital of the “empire”.

In our culture and tradition, we attach great importance to the commemoration of the deceased. Many rites are the ones to offer sacrifices, and all the sacrifices have to make offerings to deities for the souls of resentful relatives and creditors. The forty-nine days, from the first week to the seventh week, are the forty-nine phases the soul of the deceased has to pass through the intermediate stage between death and rebirth, so the family not only need to invite the monks to perform Buddhist rites to release the soul of the deceased from purgatory suffering, but also have to give alms on a large scale to the poor. The coming year is similarly important, in fact the entire coming year should be the year to make sacrifices! At such a moment, we should pay tribute to the monks who are qualified to be called lamas. It is because only the practice of the monks can help the souls of the deceased to head for the truth, the light and a good rebirth. This is not superstition, on the contrary, it is the cherished memory of the deceased, which is the deepest and most beautiful feeling of mankind. Even Lenin said that “forgetting the past means betrayal”. For those of us who believe in religion, forgetting about the deceased means betrayal and signifies that we walk around without any feelings. If one does not commemorate one’s deceased relatives, then one is worse than a beast. If members of an ethnic group do not commemorate their deceased compatriots, then they are also worse than beasts.

Cherishing the memory of the deceased is not a virtue unique to any ethnic group. Similarly, the Han Chinese also deeply cherish the memory of their compatriots who have died. I read an article written by a Chinese who suffered in the “Incident of June 4” in 1989. After having been silent for as long as twenty years, he made a series of short films entitled “1989: The Calling of Memory”. He wrote, “ …the gun shots smashed all our dreams, how is it possible what’s smashed are just dreams of individuals? Our entire ethnic group has a common pain, but because of fear, we even dare not think about the pain, or dare not touch the pain. In this way, this pain has been buried in the heart of each one of us for year after year…When all our world desires have been satisfied, we ourselves are feeling more and more lost. We have material wealth, but we have lost our soul.”

To respect life is to respect oneself, and to cherish the memory of the deceased is to rescue and redeem oneself. The brutality and valiance of a materialist lies in the fact that he believes in guns and money. However, they also acknowledge the law of birth, death, illness and death as well as the law of rise and fall. Even Mao Zedong, who claimed that he himself was an outstanding person compared with others in history, was not able to avoid death. What is absurd is that after Mao’s death, a memorial hall was built for his corpse. Is this different from the countless terracotta warriors buried underground by the First Emperor of Qin? Certainly, if materialists also have the right to cherish the memory of the deceased, Tibetans who have religious belief should also have the right to cherish the memory of the deceased!

Therefore, 2009 is the year for us to cherish the memory of the deceased. And we have our own way to do so: make lamp offerings and light candles to commemorate the souls of the deceased, and recite the mantra of Avalokiteshvara: Om mani padme hum!

8th January 2009, Beijing
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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Very Last Note from Tsawa Danyuk

High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a note from Tsawa Danyuk that Jamyang Kyi posted on her blog on 2nd January 2009 (photo of the blogpost below). It appears that this writer is either missing or has fled abroad. We are not certain if Tsawa Danyuk is another blogger or whether the note was sent to Jamyang Kyi. It is apparent from the note that he had been accused of unknown crimes for writing or saying some words.

What is interesting is that since March 2008, a number of Tibetan writers and bloggers have been accused of political crimes by the authorities and have disappeared or gone underground. Another point to note is the growing admiration for Jamyang Kyi amongst her readers and followers. The comments on her blog are filled with words of admiration and affection to her.

The Very Last Note from Tsawa Danyuk (Tsha ba mda’ smyug)
By a tormented soul

Because of a few words I had said three years ago, I had to leave my beloved parents, teachers and friends. I even had to depart the land, where my umbilical cord is buried and be tossed away like sacrificial cake (gtor ma) from my native land.

Now I endure pain and suffering beyond worldly imagination inflicted by an army equipped with modern technology. What do I have to sacrifice? Where do I escape? Am I not allowed to remain on this earth? What crime have I committed? I begin to the think that even the gods are not being fair. I cannot comprehend! I am confused! I am laughing!

Notice: The above short note was written by Tsawa Danyuk on 29th April 2008


Are you the writer of this blog?

Compatriot. Indeed, yes, I am the writer of this blog whose name begins with Jam. Thank you from the depth of my heart for visiting my blog all the time.

Whether the first six Tibetan primordial beings are monkeys or not is not our topic of debate.
Whether Nyatri Tsanpo descended from sky or not is not our (debate) to be won and lost.
Whether Songtsen lived into his eighties or not is not about victory or defeat.
Whether we are living up to the legacy of Tibetan kings is the question for the six million Tibetans.

Embrace the courage of our ancestors to our hearts and hold our hands together.
The agile horse running east and west, yet what is the use of a single horse?
Like the elegant saying, that united hands are gold, this is the path we should stride.

This was written in the Wood Bird Year, on the 23rd of the 1st Tibetan month. Tsawa Danyuk wrote this in Rebkong. I offer this to Jamyang Kyi.

The descendants of red-faced Tibetans call out the name of Tsawa Danyuk.

You are the flower of my life
You are my heart’s choice,
Forever my affection and love to you.

In the past I only thought of you as a singer. Yet, this year when the tide of time turned against us, I have scaled the strength of all the known Tibetans. And you are one of the most courageous Tibetans in the face of this difficult time and undeniably you have become a historical person. For being the voice of many educated Tibetans and raising the voice of truth through your writings, I would like to thank you from the depth of my heart.

Because of this oppression, I wouldn’t be able to close my eyes even if I were dying.

Tsawa Danyuk, Tsawa Danyuk!
Where are you? Have you been blown away by the storm?
A symbol of intelligent mind and brave heart
Forever present in (our) conversation,
Will never be forgotten.

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

‘Ethnic cleansing’ in Lhasa by Woeser

High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a blogpost by Woeser originally written for Radio Free Asia on 17th November 2008 and posted on her blog on 17th December 2008. The rise in discrimination towards Tibetans within the PRC has been documented before on High Peaks Pure Earth but in this post Woeser goes into the minutiae of the bureaucracy behind daily life in Lhasa. It's in the details that we can build up a picture of the state apparatus at work.

Zhu Weiqun's comments that Woeser refers to can be read in this Guardian article of 11th November 2008.

Photos of Lhasa last winter…

‘Ethnic cleansing’ in Lhasa by Woeser

Not so long ago, Zhu Weiqun, a vice-minister of the Chinese Communist Party's United Front Work Department, declared: " The Dalai Lama wants to drive away millions of people of the various ethnic groups who are living in this land, and this reveals a message: If one day, [the Dalai Lama] really seizes power, he will without any compunction or sympathy carry out ethnic discrimination, apartheid and ethnic cleansing."

However, it is very regrettable that Lhasa is currently experiencing ethnic discrimination, apartheid and ethnic cleansing. And those who are responsible are not outsiders but the Communist Tibetan authorities themselves. The complaints of the Tibetans in Lhasa have already been heard everywhere. The reason I have to emphasize the complaints of Tibetans is that this only affects Tibetans and it does not involve any people from Han, Hui or other ethnic groups. Among all Tibetans, all those who do not hold a household registration certificate in Lhasa, or do not hold a temporary residence permit, particularly Tibetans from Amdo and Kham (which have been separated into parts of Sichuan, Qinghai, Gansu and Yunnan provinces as well as the Chamdo prefecture in the Tibet Autonomous Region), whether they have come to worship at the temple or to do business in Lhasa, they are without exception detained and then expelled from the city.

It all started at the beginning of April when authorities at Lhasa’s three main monasteries – Drepung, Sera, Ganden – arrested up to a thousand monks from Amdo and Kham who had come to Lhasa to study Buddhism. They used the train link between Tibet and Qinghai to send them to a military prison in Golmud. The monks remained in detention there for three or four months, depending on the situation, before being sent back by various officials or policemen to their native region. This is a form of apartheid and ethnic cleansing towards monks coming from outside Lhasa to study. Later, such operations have been carried out on a larger scale.

Since April 23, the various offices and the neighborhood committees under the local government of Lhasa city proper started to carry out checks on people under their jurisdiction. All the people holding a household registration had to be checked, and had to photocopy their ID and household registration certificate as well as hand in their photograph. Outsiders who did not hold a Lhasa household registration had to register. During this registration process, both the landlord and the tenant had to produce the relevant certificate, ID and temporary residence permit. Besides, the landlord must vouch for his tenant with the "Three Knows": that he knows the tenant's full name, that he knows the tenant's birthplace and that he knows the tenant’s profession. Stricter checks were carried out on people who did not hold the three crucial certificates - ID, temporary residence permit and birth certificate. It was reported in Tibet Business Daily that at least two hours were needed to obtain a temporary residence permit, but in reality it is very difficult for Tibetans from outside Lhasa to secure this certificate, which is very simple for Han and Hui people who have come to Lhasa to work temporarily to obtain. And even for Tibetan people who do hold a temporary residence permit, there still is a possibility that they will be expelled.

Every work unit in Lhasa also required all their employees to produce a copy of their ID and household registration as well as a photograph. All people listed on household registration of each employee also had to produce copies of ID and a one-inch photograph for each person – including infants. Each police station also repeatedly sent policemen to carry out checks at workplaces.

After the authorities had gathered information about all Tibetans, they started to implement in Lhasa what was described by Tibetans as a ‘major ethnic cleansing’. If we think about the history of the old city of Lhasa, Lhasa has always been a holy place where Tibetans from all regions head to and has been the homeland with traditional culture built by Tibetans from all regions for a thousand years. And the ‘major ethnic cleansing’ carried out by the authorities, which is much greater than that occurred in the “Cultural Revolution”, demonstrates that the Communist regime has damaged and even destroyed the Tibetan people’s way of life and traditional culture. Another aspect is that this ‘major ethnic cleansing’, which only targeted at Tibetans, is being carried out as a result of the Chinese authority’s effort to prevent any future outburst of Tibetan protests in Lhasa. However, the result is that in the future Lhasa will only be inhabited by a few remaining Tibetans from Lhasa; the rest of the people living in Lhasa will be people from other ethnic groups such as Hans or Huis who evolved from playing the role of guests to the role of owners. And in the course of this large-scale assimilation by ethnic groups from outside, Lhasa will completely lose its identity.

To put it in a nutshell, Lhasa is currently being silenced and experiencing ethnic discrimination, ethnic segregation and ethnic cleansing. And under such a tight control, the outside world experiences difficulties in getting to know the terrible truth of human rights violations. May the outside world support the ideals of justice and fairness and more people understand the intricacies of these events, and speak out for Tibetan people living in fear!

17th November, 2008
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