Monday, April 26, 2010

Earthquake in Tibet, Leading Tibetan Intellectual "Shogdung" Detained in Xining

High Peaks Pure Earth has translated two blogposts from the Xining-based Tibetan website The first blogpost reports the arrest of a prominent Tibetan writer and intellectual called Shogdung (ཞོགས་དུང་ Zhogs Dung, his pen name meaning "morning conch") on April 23, 2010 and was posted online on April 25, 2010. The second blogpost is an open letter to victims of the earthquake in Kham.

Shogdung's real name is Tagyal (bkra rgyal) and he was a member of staff at the Nationalities Publishing House in Xining. He is the author of several books including the recent publication gnam sa go 'byed (The Line Between Sky and Earth) about the events in Tibet of 2008. In 1999, to mark the centenary of Lu Xun's death, Qinghai Tibetan News (mtsho sngon bod yig gsar ’gyur) carried two articles by Shogdung, which ignited huge debate amongst the Tibetan intellectuals in Amdo. Shogdung argued that Tibetans could only overcome their colonised condition through wholesale modernisation. He argued that Tibetans should embrace modernisation and disassociate from traditional Buddhism learning as a means of overcoming their present condition. In fact, Shogdung's hyper critical attack on traditional Tibetan cultural practices was seen by many Tibetans as remnant of the Cultural Revolution and the fact that his article was published through an official channel, it was seen as resembling the view of the CCP.

From the blogpost it would appear that Shogdung's detention is related to the earthquake in Kham of April 14. Just three days after the earthquake, on April 17, a group of prominent Tibetan intellectuals based in Qinghai's Xining province had written an open letter of condolence to the victims of the disaster. Shogdung was one of the signatories of this open letter (in his real name Tagyal) and it was published on his blog. 

The open letter expresses condolences and at the same time is critical of the Chinese government in their handling of the earthquake relief efforts. Other signatories of this open letter include well known Tibetan writer and singer Jamyang Kyi and other members of the group known as the New School of Thought. The New School is a group of progressive writers who are critical of the past and argue for the need for internal reform and change in Tibetan tradition. They are highly critical of the negative aspects of Tibetan Buddhism. The Tibetan version of the open letter carries the pen names of the signatories but the Chinese version gives their full names, and also includes short descriptions of the people, and this is the version that appears below in translation.

Read more about Shogdung in this essay "Inventing Modernity in A mdo: Views on the Role of Traditional Tibetan Culture in a Developing Society" by Lauran Hartley.

***Update April 26, 2010, 2pm GMT: The website is currently inaccessible.

A Brief Account of the Detention of Friend Shogdung

Several days ago, thousands perished in the massive earthquake in Yushu and it caused suffering for tens of thousands of people. People who are from different countries and languages came together to mourn the tragedy and donated to the people in both direct and indirect ways. However, at this time, to everyone's surprise, while we are mourning for our brother and sisters, our friend Shogdung was arrested by the national security offices.

At 5pm on April 23, apparently five or six police officers from Xining Police Station came to the Qinghai Nationalities Publishing House and took Shogdung to his house and then they searched his library and house. After taking some pictures, they took him away. In the evening at 10pm, several police officers came to his house again and took his two personal computers, saying that the police behavior was not so rough. Again at 3am in the morning, according to his wife Lhatso, the police came again to his home and handed them the arrest warrant and asked for some bedding for him. Taking the arrest warrant, in the early morning, two of his daughters and others went to see him at the local police station but they were not able to meet him and his whereabouts are still unknown.  

Three days after the earthquake, he had wanted to go to Yushu but he did not get the permit to go there. So he stayed in Xining. Until the day of his arrest, he was busying himself with helping the relief efforts and counseling for injuries. Needless to say, at this time the arrest brought additional sad news for his family and friends. However, we think about our brothers and sisters who died in the earthquake, we should not be that sad. Since the day of his arrest, friends and others constantly called us and asked his condition and all expressed bemusement and surprise. However, if we think about this carefully, we should not be surprised at all. Just one month ago, isn't it that Kirti Kyab from Zoege county  and other teachers were arrested and not yet released? After that isn't it that Therang (Tashi Rabten) and Shokjang (Druklo) from North West Nationalities University were also arrested? Who knows what will happen to every one of us? This is for now and we are worrying about how this is going to develop in the future.

 To the People in the Affected Area as Well as Those Who Are Concerned About the Disaster

Early morning on April 14, 2010 at 7:49, an earthquake of 7.1 magnitude struck Kham Yushu County. According to the media, ten thousand are injured but under close scrutiny, the real number could exceed the announced number. At the same time, this earthquake severely affected Pelyul, Derge and Dzachukha counties in Kardze prefecture.

In fact, we peace-loving and in an inferior position (Tibetans) are not only shrouded by a great might, military force and brutality. This time a natural disaster has struck. Only by forcing oneself to endure, we should follow the teachings of our ancestors that heroes would not shed tears when crying bitterly and should stand up. Bearing in mind the teachings of our ancestors that everything is impermanent, we should wipe away the tears that have fallen on the cheek. We should also remember well the rule that the family members have to live on though the dead will not return any more.   

No matter how far the fall, we have common flesh and blood that is joined and shared and can not be torn apart, nor can the character of our nationality be bought off, therefore, we who live in Xining, Qinghai province, several writers, express our condolences and sympathy with the Yushu brothers and sisters affected by the disaster, offer our condolences to the dead and are pooling funds and furthermore are preparing to visit the affected areas personally as soon as possible. However, as the news from the mouthpiece for the Party organisations can not be believed, we dare not believe in the Party organisations. The Party organisation ordered to temporarily suspend sending people to the disaster area for political purposes. For this reason, we in faraway Xining out of concern for you and your suffering send you this letter, apart from this, there is nothing else we can do. This is also heartfelt and sincere!

In summary, we have a reminder or statement, hope all scholars and cadres empathise with the people of disaster areas to offer food, clothing and medicine! However, do not send your donations to the accounts of a certain organisation or a certain group as if you were paying taxes. The best thing to do is to send somebody one can fully trust to send one’s contributions. Because, who can say that there is no corruption or the bad habit of arrogating to oneself.

Carrying the pain and feeling helpless residents of Xining:

Jamyang Kyi (Well known singer, social commentator)

Tagyal (Well known Tibetan scholar, leader of the New School of Thought)

Lhamo Kyab (Well known bilingual scholar, one of the leaders of the New School of Thought) 

Tabo (University Professor, one of the leaders of the New School of Thought)

Sangdhor (Well known young Tibetan scholar and core member of the New School of Thought)

Sangay Dhondup (Well known young Tibetan scholar)

Menla Kyab (Well known artist)

Mayche (Well known young scholar)

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

"Who is Really Safeguarding Lhasa?" By Woeser

High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a blogpost by Woeser that was originally written for Radio Free Asia on March 23, 2010 in Lhasa and posted on her blog on April 3, 2010.  

This article continues a series of blogposts written by Woeser from Lhasa and focuses on a type of person, commonly Chinese, called a 藏漂 (zang piao), a "Tibet Drifter. This term also describes a social phenomenon that started in the 1980s typically of disaffected youth eager to break out of their own society. These "Tibet Drifters" often travel to Tibet and, taken in by the beauty and the "otherness" of the environment, find themselves unable to leave. 

The term "Tibet Drifter" does not seem to have a negative connotation in Chinese, these people clearly see themselves as versions of Jack Kerouac's "Dharma Bums". However, Woeser's disdain for this type of person is evident as described in the article, as is her unwillingness to be associated with them.

Woeser begins by referring to a blogpost she read about "Tibet Drifters" on The original blogpost, as she says, refers to several "Tibet Drifters", including herself. The others mentioned in the original blogpost are various writers and artists including Ma Yuan, Jiang Bao, Lan Bing, Er Mao, Dhondup, Ugyen Tsering, Zhang Zhizhong and Sebo.

New work by Tibetan artist Tsering Nyendak 
(Photo taken in the Gedun Choephel Art Gallery)
“Who is Really Safeguarding Lhasa?
By Woeser

On the blog of the founder of the website TibetCul, Wangchuk Tseten, I saw an article titled “Who is Really Safeguarding Lhasa?!” I was surprised that it praised the “group of ‘Tibet Drifters” those “faithfully safeguarding Tibet”, even as the “patron saints” of Lhasa. Although “the group of ‘Tibet Drifters’” in the article is somewhat different from the “Tibet Drifters” as they are commonly referred to today – it is made up of different people, it does not only include “all kinds of people from other countries and places who live in Lhasa”, it also “embraces Tibetans from other areas of Tibet”. Yet, every single one of these grand sounding words such as “faithfully guard”, “safeguard” or “patron saints”, which the author uses to refer to these people is really rather preposterous.

I was also mentioned and portrayed as one of “safeguarders” but I really cannot agree with this. First of all, I am not at all involved with the “Tibet Drifters”. For me, since I was born in Lhasa and then as a child left the city with my parents; since I insisted on returning during my youth and felt indebted to the 10 years of compassion which Lhasa had given to me; since I was once more forced to leave the city and live away from home forever longing for Lhasa, I have always felt that I was a girl from Lhasa. It is true, I am just one out of many who possesses the intimate bloodline and who possesses the generational karma, my devotion to Lhasa is like the fundamental devotion to a guru, I long for Lhasa like one longs for one’s own mother. I do not dare to falsely declare that I am Lhasa’s “patron saint”.

Who is really safeguarding Lhasa? This is an interesting question in the first place and its answer varies with each individual. For example, that dictator who in the past, turned Lhasa’s temples into ruins and today, turns Lhasa’s houses into department stores, uses guns giving an answer that is voiceless but intimidating. However, those who genuinely guard Lhasa are by no means those invaders relying on their weapons, money and the populace. It is also not those slavishly dependent eulogists, those self-indulgent well-off literati or the subservient office workers. It is even less the gold diggers circulating hooliganism, the frustrated searching for the last straw or all kinds of people who treat Tibet as gold which they vigorously apply to their faces so as to prettify themselves.

Lhasa is a place, which in its own memory possesses all that life has to offer with all changes. How can a person who does not know anything about Lhasa’s memory and whose sheer survival depends on Lhasa like a parasite, have any reason or face to indulge in empty words like “faithfully guard” or “safeguard”? Do you know the nature of the escape that happened one night about 51 years ago at the Dalai Lama’s summer residence, Norbulingka? Do you know how the Kaling Kushu stupa on Barkhor North Street was smashed on a summer’s day 43 years ago? Do you know why on a sun-drenched day 39 years ago, the Buddhist nun Trinley Chodon was on public trial and executed by shooting? Do you know the feelings, which 10 or 20 young nuns in Drachi prison sung about in prison? Do you know how many nuns have been expelled, how many Tibetans went missing two years ago, in the year of the rat? Do you know in the old town, how many soldiers are patrolling in the alleyways, on the streets and on Tibetan people’s roofs at this very moment?

Despite Lhasa being bruised and broken, for centuries there still exist countless Bodhisattvas, countless outstanding sons and daughters deeply hidden in the centre of Lhasa just like the scriptures and mini-statues put into the stupas or statues relentlessly continuing to bestow upon us the blessing filled with tears. Lhasa people, who have lived there for generations, are still passing on the spirit of Lhasa in their own humble and unexaggerated way. With respect, I have encountered many elderly and middle-aged people who are hidden in the gracious and pleasant sounding Lhasa dialect. One old man has spared no pains to again and again take me through today’s Lhasa, searching for past stories. This made me understand how much we have already lost, how much we are currently losing and what we should cherish. There are also young people from Lhasa who start to take action. For example, a video has been circulated on the Internet; the narration in the background is the poem titled “Let Us All Speak Pure Tibetan”, recited with deep expressions using the Lhasa dialect.

As for the currently quite popular “Tibet Drifters” and those middle-class inland people who call Tibet a “spiritual home”, it is just like someone commented: those people are in fact quite unfamiliar with the suffering Tibetans endure; perhaps they are even totally oblivious to suffering. Some “Tibet Drifters” have said to me that “Tibet Drifters” do not specifically have anything to do with Tibet, no matter in which place they “drift”, they are always the same. But I have encountered those “Tibet Drifters” sitting at the main entrance of Jokhang Temple laughing, giggling and snuggling up to each other. Cigarettes dangle from their lips; they drink beer and sunbathe while watching Tibetans prostrating. They gaze and stare and while laughing and giggling, they also go and prostrate a few times as if it was just some kind of game, just some type of popular amusement.

Lhasa, March 23, 2010
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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Earthquake in Tibet, A Tibetan Blogger Asks...

High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a blogpost originally written in Chinese by a Tibetan blogger calling themselves "The Lost Curse" and is a sharp piece on the earthquake in Tibet. The blogpost was published on April 16, 2010, just two days after the earthquake struck.

"The Lost Curse" imagines what questions they would ask in an official press conference on the earthquake. Last year, High Peaks Pure Earth translated another blogpost by "The Lost Curse" that was a biting satirical commentary piece about China forcing Tibetans to celebrate the Chinese Dragon Boat Festival instead of the traditional Tibetan festival of Saga Dawa.

This blogpost on the earthquake is in a similar ironic style that is cutting and thought-provoking and also displays impressive knowledge about Chinese history and traditions. For example, "The Lost Curse" refers to the Han Dynasty's Zhang Heng. As the China blog "Jottings from the Granite Studio" tells us: 
Zhang Heng (78-139) was quite the Han dynasty renaissance man. Despite his fame as a poet of considerable talents, a celebrated scholar of the classics, and an official serving at court, Zhang’s greatest and best-known contributions actually came in the field of science and engineering. [...] Zhang Heng is perhaps most famous for inventing the world’s first seismometer, the 候风地动仪 houfeng didongyi.

"The Lost Curse" poses a series of questions about official reactions to the earthquake and the relief efforts, along the way mocking the Chinese bureaucracy, drawing parallels with the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, quoting Mao, referring to the belief that animal reactions supposedly should forewarn impending earthquakes and sharply critiquing the Han-Chinese fad for Tibetan mastiffs that the affected earthquake area Jyekundo in Kham is famous for.

High Peaks Pure Earth has been monitoring online reactions to the earthquake by Tibetan netizens, this is our third post. The first post can be read here:

and the second post can be read here:

*** Update April 23, 2010: The original blogpost appears to have been "harmonised". ***

Tentative Questions for the Earthquake Press Conference
by "The Lost Curse"

  1. There is something to make one angry and disappointed and confused - How was the Qinghai Seismological Bureau not able to anticipate the earthquake? Especially, how is it that no one has come out to talk about the events? Is there no Seismological Bureau in Qinghai? If there is such a Bureau what is the Qinghai Seismological Bureau doing? It is such a big department that has a lot of expenditures - are the people who work there useless? If they are of no use, then it is time to close the office or to change the staff. (I suggest: replacing the office with more sensible staff who have no political motivations, the team should be composed of snakes, rats, frogs  and 2 crows, the snake would be the Party Secretary, the frog would be the Bureau Director, the rats would be the engineers, one crow would be working as the office manager and one crow would be the press officer, this team would take over the Seismological Bureau, as soon as they start working, although they are not Party Members, I can guarantee with my own integrity that these five comrades will be more capable of predicting earthquakes than the current staff). Additionally, certain netizens, no matter how many 50 cents you get, don't tell me that earthquakes can't be predicted, be careful that the Dong Han dynasty's Zhang Heng might come out and slap you saying that you are humiliating your ancestors. If you look at Tibetan astrology, then two or three people in a small office have been able to predict many earthquakes. It is clear that the Qinghai Tibetans’ way of predicting earthquakes is backward. If you accept that it is not possible to predict earthquakes or if you consider earthquakes to fall under the rubric of metaphysics, then why establish this office and fill it with staff and spend so much money on this department? Was it to have ordinary people give their lives, homes and wealth to you? Was is so that people would be born peacefully and then not even know how they died? Was it to maintain stability before the earthquake and then to deny the "rumours", or was it to be seen as promoting knowledge about earthquakes afterwards and to count the frequency of earthquakes in the world?

  2. If it is because of lack of intelligence or resources that you failed to predict the earthquake, then at 5.39 am when the 4.7 earthquake happened what were you doing? Logically speaking, when the earthquake happened, the National Monitoring Centre should have known at that time- and the prefecture and county Seismological Bureaus should also have known. At the very least there should be someone on duty 24 hours. (Even hiring an illiterate person who could just sit and watch and shriek in the monitoring office at 5.39 am would be enough) Heaven sent a clear signal; why wasn’t a warning sent early, why wasn’t a notice released? Was it to preserve harmony or to maintain stability? Was this why a warning was suppressed? Was it to show that Chinese and Tibetans are one family and that the people and the army are inseparable like fish and water? Was it for the Shanghai World Expo? Or are there other unknown reasons? Out of generosity, I am making these conjectures: if it wasn't that they knew but didn't warn, had doubts but didn't warn, it can only be that they weren't able to issue a warning because they are retarded or they are careless and failed in their duty, right, my bureau leaders? Please answer, how come no one is replying? Is it because they all died in the earthquake?

  3. In the past there were several earthquakes in the 1990s and there was an earthquake two years ago. Why was it not possible to take bitter lessons from those disasters and establish an early warning mechanism in the Yushu prefecture? Is there a satellite warning system? At 5.39am when the first earthquake struck, were all the Jiegu leaders asleep? After the earthquake struck, what happened that there was such a lack of medicine and relief materials and it turned into an emergency? Weren't there any emergency relief supplies? Even in the Mao era, it was said that preparation of war and preparation for natural disaster was for the people!!!

  4. After many school dormitories collapsed during the Sichuan earthquake, how come the Yushu prefecture didn’t take any notice? Don’t you know that Yushu is on the seismic belt? The school dormitories were not renovated-isn’t it possible to reconstruct? Apart from natural disasters, where is the responsibility of the related persons? What lessons can we learn from this experience? How is it that in the Prefecture headquarters area all the people’s houses are of such poor quality that they have broken like eggs? If these houses that could not withstand earthquakes are built privately, then shouldn’t the government issue some advice or policy regarding this? Likewise, in Yushu, why is it that in the aftermath of the earthquake, there is such a big difference to be seen between the people’s houses and government offices? Why is it that during a 7.1 Richter scale earthquake, the first was shown to be so poor and the second was so strong? I saw an electricity pole that had fallen at a 45 degree angle and behind that I saw people’s houses that had totally collapsed. This was almost satirical. If people say that these people’s houses had been built a long time ago, then how do you explain the new houses that farmers and nomads have moved into which are now in ruins? This is something to turn your stomach.

  5. Right after the earthquake, the distance was very far and transportation was blocked- so to arrive there on the spot was very difficult.  The current conditions are better than the conditions in Wenchuan- why is it not possible to airdrop food and rescue workers from planes?

  6. Were there no animals in Jyeku at that time? Didn’t they have any abnormal reactions (to predict the quake)? Have our people sold off all their Tibetan mastiffs?

There are many questions. But for today I will stop here. I will continue to monitor the relief effort. At the same time, I thank the nation’s people for their support. I thank the brothers and sisters who are participating in the relief effort without regard for altitude sickness.
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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Earthquake in Tibet, Tibetan Netizens Express Grief and Solidarity

Following on from our blogpost from yesterday, High Peaks Pure Earth has continued to monitor online reactions to the earthquake in Tibet by Tibetan netizens.

Many expressions of grief and solidarity have appeared online on blogs and social networking sites in the forms of photos, poetry and statements. The photo below has appeared on several Tibetan blogs such as this blog here and also on Tibetan writer Woeser's blog.

Om Mani Padme Hum Om Mani Padme Hum
For our Yushu brethren

Many Tibetans are also organising themselves to provide aid on the ground or to raise funds. The Tweet below by Woeser written on April 14, 2010 states:

Serthar Buddhist Institute at Larung Gar have set up a Yushu earthquake rescue team, 1000 monks will set off for the disaster area on 15th!
Tibetan students in Beijing have also launched a fundraising campaign mobilising Tibetan students on various university campuses throughout the capital. The students are fundraising for two local NGOs, "I Love Green Lhasa" and "Children of the Snow-Covered Plateau".

Strikingly, High Peaks Pure Earth has observed many statements and expressions of solidarity amongst Tibetan netizens. Although this phenomenon was noted earlier in the year with Tibetan netizen online activity, the earthquake seems to have strengthened these feelings such as in the statement below:

My dear compatriots, a catastrophe once again descended on the children of the snowland, mercilessly robbing the lives of our vivacious brethren

In times of great difficulty, every one of us Tibetans must join hands in solidarity and go through the crisis together

Offer prayers to those compatriots who left us due to the disaster

May the three precious jewels of the Buddha, Sangha and Dharma lead their souls to the most pure and holy rebirth

Offer our greatest regards to our compatriots in the disaster area

All of us Tibetans will be forever with you

The same Tibetan blogger also posted a poem written earlier today, April 15, 2010, that mourns for victims of the earthquake and at the same time calls for solidarity:

Song of Sorrow

Days without love
Dawn brought the darkest pain
Home has faded away
Soul has been orphaned
Grouted metal and rubble filled Yushu
Yushu wet with tears
Fellow brethren
Those in the ruins can not be kept waiting
Stand together
With strength we will bring peace to the dead
Go forward together
With our belief we will subdue heaven and earth
Fight the elements
Turn the tide
Establish our everlasting existence
Build up our bright future home

April 15, 2010
The poem prompted this exchange in the comments section:

  • We can not change the fact that the disaster has struck, let us unite to help our fellow compatriots and loved ones to build up their homes! We shouldn't be left with only feelings of regret, I hope that this unfortunate incident will make us more united!
  • [Reply] Only united can we Tibetans stand among the nations in the world
Strangely, the main Tibetan language blog-hosting sites are down. One Tibetan language site that is accessible carries photos from the earthquake area and has provoked the following two comments by Tibetan netizens:

I mourn all the lives of my fellow Tibetan countrymen lost in this earthquake. We must share both happiness and suffering together. With one heart we must face this natural calamity.

I deeply mourn the lost lives of people in Yushu in the earthquake. We should consider yesterday's calamity as a natural disaster and work hard on tomorrow's victory and happiness. With all our strength we must continue to survive.

High Peaks Pure Earth will continue to monitor Tibetan netizen reactions and post them here.
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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Earthquake in Tibet, Initial Reactions from Tibetan Netizens

It has been reported both by Chinese state media and Western media that a 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck in Tibet early this morning, April 14, 2010. Whilst Chinese media refers to the affected area as the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Yushu (玉树) in Qinghai province, Western media has been calling it Western or North Western China inhabited by "ethnic Tibetans" or part of the "Tibetan plateau".

In fact, the area known in Tibetan as Kyegundo (སྐྱེ་རྒུ་མདོ། skye rgu mdo) is considered by Tibetans to traditionally be part of Kham, eastern Tibet. Although spelt Kyegundo, when spoken it sounds more like Jyekundo. This Google map shows the position of Kyegundo in relation both to Lhasa and also to the provincial capitals of Qinghai and Gansu, Xining and Lanzhou, to the north east.  Here is the link to the map on the website of Tibetan and Himalayan Library, an excellent resource site.

Whilst media reports on the technical details of the natural disaster and the ongoing aid efforts, High Peaks Pure Earth has been looking at the online responses by Tibetans as expressed on blogs and social networking sites.

Just hours after the earthquake, Tibetan netizens were expressing their grief and anxiety. These Tibetans wrote the following status updates on a Chinese language social networking site for Tibetans and seem to be mostly Tibetan students based in Chinese urban centres:

The status updates read:
  • May the Buddhas protect our brethren!
  • Om Mani Padme Hum, Om Mani Padme Hum, Om Mani Padme Hum
  • I want to go to Yushu, I'll go there soon!
  • Fortunately, due of economic underdevelopment in Yushu and the remote location, most housing would only be buildings for officials, so compared to earthquakes of the same level in other areas, the number of casualties would be relatively small.
  • I don't want to pray, I want to do something!
One netizen anxiously writes:

All of my relatives are in Yushu, I can't get through to them, so anxious! hope they are ok

This netizen then wrote a short poem about her feelings:

My Loved Ones

Dears, my only relatives
You are my everything, in this world, my everything
It's only because of you that I live
It's only because of you that I can feel joy, sorrow
Before I get there, you mustn't leave me
Before I rescue the lost lambs
You mustn't abandon me
You are all my guardian spirits -- my everything
I will always serve and revere you
Promise me, you won't leave me so soon
Promise me, you won't leave me alone
Promise me, that I will still be able to see your bright smiles in my dreams
Promise me, your hands will stay warm like the sun's rays
I will always pray for you, my brethren, my loved ones.
You all must stay alive.
Today, the most popular Tibetan blog portal TibetCul has a black and white banner on its website to commemorate the earthquake:

High Peaks Pure Earth will continue to monitor Tibetan netizen reactions and post them here.
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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

“Happiness Under Gunpoint” By Woeser

High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a blogpost by Woeser that was originally written for Radio Free Asia on March 17, 2010 in Lhasa and posted on her blog on March 25, 2010

It is another in a series of blogposts written and posted from Lhasa and the second to address the theme of "happiness", read her previous blogpost "What Is Happiness" here

Referenced in the article are two prominent Tibetans who are well-known for their allegiance to the Chinese government, the first reference is to the singer Tseten Dolma and the second to the new Chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region, Padma Choling. 

Woeser has mentioned Tseten Dolma before in her essay about "reactionary songs" that was translated here on High Peaks Pure Earth last year.Tseten Dolma has also been written about by Tibetan bloggers and criticised both as a person as well as for her music.

Readers should note that Woeser does not refer to Padma Choling by name, only to the nickname given to him by Lhasa residents. Interestingly, his name is actually Pema Trinley (པད་མ་འཕྲིན་ལས་,pad ma 'phrin las) and although the first name Padma adheres to the Tibetan spelling, Choling is a spelling invented entirely by Chinese state media and now also being used by Western media! Read a recent interview with Padma "Choling" published by Newsweek here.

“Happiness Under Gunpoint”
By Woeser

In an article titled “China's Continued Crackdown in Tibet” published in the British magazine “The Economist”, it says: “In Tibet, March is the cruellest month, and it is also the traditional season for doomed protests against Chinese rule. This year the authorities are unusually edgy. They have mounted a pre-emptive clampdown of a severity rarely seen in recent years […] Helmeted troops bearing rifles patrol Lhasa, the Tibetan capital. Snipers lurk on rooftops near the Jokhang temple, Tibet’s holiest shrine and often a focus for protests.”

This passage just as much applies to March this year, which is closely associated with the penetrating clamour of the authorities’ propaganda. Since March 10, 2010, apart from armoured vehicles and armed patrol cars as well as those brand new military and police cars whose names we don’t know, there have also been propaganda cars decked with coloured banners and Five-Starred Red Flags passing through the Lingkhor road and main roads of Lhasa. Deafening loudspeakers repeatedly play songs by the "government sponsored" singer Tseten Dolma such as: “Bitterness has Turned to Sweetness after the Communist Party Came ” and the “Song of Emancipated Serfs”. Those revolutionary songs, which have been popular for many political movements, makes the whole of Lhasa once more be flooded with the gruesome and evil spectre of the Cultural Revolution. Moreover, banners hang on the cars reading: “The army-civilian relationship is just like that of fish and water, Han Chinese and Tibetans are one family”. It is so offensive to the eyes that it has a strong sense of irony.

The mindset of the authorities is really strange; on the one hand they feel the urge to terrorise Tibetans, spreading fear but on the other hand they want to create a harmonious, joyful and happy family atmosphere. So the problem is who really believes them? Perhaps the passing tourists? Or the journalists who have been invited to watch a meticulously prepared stage play? This place is nothing but an absurd drama turning the lives of those living in it into abnormality. On the surface, we only see Tibet with blue sky, with white clouds and the magnificent sunlight as well as the always smiling and seemingly honest and simple Tibetan people, perfectly in line with the image the outside world has of Tibet. Furthermore, in order to give their rule the appearance of legality, the authorities spare no pains to reconstruct the story of two entirely different societies, an old one and a new one. But in fact, this story is only an imitation of those fabricated excuses, which the  colonisers made up in order to invade other people’s land and plunder other people’s resources. History is nothing but repeating itself with the only differences being time, place and people.

But all the protests that spread from Lhasa to Amdo and Kham in March 2008 encompassed almost all levels of Tibetan society, proving that resentment among Tibetans is extremely strong. But of course, the suppression from the authorities is also very harsh. At the same time, the authorities launched a propaganda machine loudly propagating “to be grateful”, this being forcing Tibetan people under gunpoint to be grateful to them. A few people who sold their souls were given rewards in forms of high positions with handsome salaries; it is only that those shining peacock tail feathers, determining a person’s status, contaminate the blood of the Tibetan people. As for now, there is that new Chairman, who is scathingly denounced by people from Lhasa as “Pang-khu” (meaning beggar in Tibetan).  He opens his round red butcher eyes suddenly spitting out dreadful curses aimed at His Holiness, which even the colonists would be hesitant to utter. When people are shameless to such a despicable degree, a different power, such as God’s will or Karma, will certainly appear to punish them.  

However, the strongest catchphrase is of course “happiness”, asking everybody to unanimously praise a previously never experienced life of happiness. Yet, if people are really happy, their backs wouldn’t have to continuously be pressed against guns held by that imperceptible hand, Lhasa wouldn’t be turned into a militarized city guarded by guns day and night. When I asked a retired cadre who used to hold a post in a provincial government department and who now enjoys a comfortable life if he was really happy, he first turned off his mobile phone, took out the battery and only then answered “How can one live in happiness when one is guarded by a gun every day? People living in prison, are they happy? We live in a place which is just like a giant prison. We cannot even speak a sentence of truth without having to be afraid of being bugged; only the apathetic might feel happiness.” And the government employee from a work unit anxiously says: “we work on shifts in turn, all night long, how can you bear that? First I thought it would be over by March 14 but then those authorities concocted another one of those Serf Liberation days, this is just misery, I will be on duty until the end of the month, how can we speak of happiness?”

Lhasa, March 17, 2010
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