Monday, June 28, 2010

"Remembering the First Time I Met Karma Samdrup" by Woeser

High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a blogpost by Woeser that was originally written for Radio Free Asia on June 17, 2010 in Beijing and posted on her blog on June 21, 2010.

In this blogpost, Woeser writes an account of her first encounters with Karma Samdrup, the Tibetan businessman, philanthropist and environmentalist who was sentenced to 15 years in prison on June 24, 2010 in Xinjiang. Read a report about Karma Samdrup by Human Rights Watch here, a report which is also cited by Woeser in her blogpost.

High Peaks Pure Earth has also translated two blogposts by Karma Samdrup's wife Dolkar Tso, read the first one "Praying" here and the second one, in which she thanks Karma Samdrup's lawyers, here.

"Remembering the First Time I met Karma Samdrup"
By Woeser

A number of days ago, Human Rights Watch submitted a report to the Chinese government requesting to rescind the accusations against the philanthropist and environmentalist of the Tibetan people, Karma Samdrup and his brothers. It states: “these people embody the characteristics the government says it wants in modern Tibetans – economically successful, lending support to only approved cultural and environmental pursuits, and apolitical – yet they, too, are being treated as criminals.” This made me remember when I first met Karma Samdrup. It was one day in May 1998; I had travelled from Lhasa to Chengdu for business and at the entrance of the Chenghua District Government, to my surprise, I saw a group of Tibetans quietly sitting on newspapers, bamboo or plastic mats, they looked exhausted and their clothes were tatty but one glance was sufficient to see their anger and grievance. I went over to speak to them; I wanted to know why they were there. Right at this moment, Karma appeared carrying two large boxes of bottled mineral water.    

Originally, those Tibetans were trading with Chinese caterpillar fungus, most of them were Khampas from eastern Tibet but some also came from the Ngaba grasslands of Amdo. After the caterpillar fungus season the year before, they had brought more than 5000 kilos of caterpillar fungus to sell, which had been collected by over 7000 families to Chengdu. All of their merchandise was collected by some Pharmaceutical Company belonging to the Chenghua District Government. It had been agreed that payment would be made on a certain day. But when it came to that day, the boss of the Pharmaceutical Company had vanished into thin air and the 5000 kilos of caterpillar fungus had also disappeared without a trace. When the traders saw the altogether almost 40 million RMB coming to naught, they were burning with impatience because they had taken the fungus from the local villagers merely on the basis of goodwill and promise, as it is traditionally done. So the hard working villagers looked forward to promptly receiving the money to take back home. Some of them had to settle many urgent payments. For those traders who don’t do big business, their entire belongings are at stake. In addition, 15 million RMB was loaned from the bank and another 5 million RMB was taken from the poverty alleviation funds. Thus, they had no alternative but to stay in Tibetan places around the Chengdu Office, demanding payment
every day. But after countless months had passed without any results, they could do nothing but carry out a quiet sit-down protest. It was said that the number of traders participating in the sit-down protest reached 60. Yet, can a sit-down protest solve the problem? Who can make up for a loss of 40 million RMB? I heard that a trader named Dorgey from Ngaba was in such extreme despair that he committed suicide. 

So, was Karma also one of the people who had been tricked? No, he wasn’t. At the time, he was a little over 30; he was trading in "dzi" (heavenly beads) and had also just arrived in Chengdu and randomly run into this group of Tibetans carrying out a sit-down protest. Without any hesitation he put aside his business and took the initiative to help them. He firstly brought them water, medicine and food and secondly, he used his network to find an important person to speak for them. For example, after much effort, Karma found Phuntsog Wangyal who was living in Beijing. Although Phuntsog Wangyal had retired from his position as the Deputy Director of the State Ethnic Affairs Commission many years ago, he was still influential. Moreover, he was the very first Tibetan revolutionary, an eminent patriot. Of course he would lend a helping hand when the lives of so many common Tibetans were affected. He explained this situation to the then Premier of the State Council, Zhu Rongji. Thereupon, as I came to know much later, after a period of three years, provincial departments on all levels in Tibet, Sichuan and Qinghai provinces, as well as Chengdu, renumerated those Tibetans who had been cheated. 

At the time, the noble Karma and I had both been in a rush, I had not been able to help him. It wasn’t until summer 2002 at a banquet in Lhasa that I met Karma again. I was astonished by his brilliant words saying that when one carries out environmental protection work in Tibet one should also consider the benefits of local Tibetans, otherwise one might as well not do it. It is said that Karma established the very first environmental non-government organisation in Tibet – “Three Rivers Environmental Protection Group”, which he also sponsors himself. After interviewing him a few times I wrote an article titled “Karma, ‘King of Heavenly Beads’”, which was published in 2006 in the “Southern Weekend” newspaper. I remember how in the very beginning he said to me: “I have never been to hell, I don’t know how terrifying hell really is but I have suffered a lot; I have never been to heaven, I don’t know how magnificent heaven really is but I often feel happy.” What really is a shame is that today, Karma is commonly portrayed in the light of the first half of this sentence, which really is very unjust.

Beijing, June 17, 2010

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