NEW YORK, December 20 - In a lengthy essay, entitled "Tibet Facing Imperialism of Two Kinds: An Analysis of the Woeser Incident", Wang Lixiong, one of Mainland China's foremost researchers on Tibet, argues that the persecution of Woser, a Tibetan writer, for her devotion to the Dalai Lama and Tibetan religion is but a reflection of the imperialistic nature of Chinese rule in Tibet. The following is excerpted from Wang's essay:
Woeser is a Tibetan author writing in Chinese. Born in Lhasa in 1966, she grew up in the Tibetan region of Sichuan Province. She graduated from the Department of Chinese Language and Literature at the Southwest Minorities College in 1988. After working as a reporter for Ganzi
in Tibetan) Daily
, in 1990 she was transferred to Lhasa to work as an editor with Tibetan Literature (Xizang Wenxue)
, an official journal of the Literature Association of the Tibet Autonomous Region (Xizang Wenlian
). She has so far published Tibet Above (Xizang Supreme
), Map of Burgundy Red (Xianghongsede Ditu)
, and Notes on Tibet (Xizang Biji)
. It is Notes on Tibet
that has caused her troubles. Notes on Tibet
is an anthology of Woeser's prose writing, which was first published in 2003 by Huacheng Publishing House in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province. While the book was popular, and soon went into a second printrun, it also attracted the attention of the censors. At first, the United Front Department of the Chinese Communist Party considered the book to have made "serious political mistakes." This accusation was followed by the demand from those in charge of ideological work in Tibet to examine the book. At the same time, its sale in TAR was banned. Finally, the Bureau of Journalism and Publication, Guangdong Province, was ordered to completely ban the book. The TAR Literature Association, the working unit to which Woeser used to belong, concluded its comments on Notes on Tibet
It exaggerates and beautifies the positive function of religion in social life. Individual essays convey the author's faith in and reverence for the Dalai. Certain contents reveal a rigid thinking on nationalism and opinions that are harmful to the unification and solidarity of our nation. Some of its contents render the great achievements of Tibet Reform in the past decades invisible; meanwhile, it indulges in nostalgia for the old Tibet without tangible examples. The book appears to have made false value judgments and divorced itself from the correct political principles; the author has abandoned the social responsibility that a contemporary writer ought to have and lost her political commitment towards the progressive civilization movement.
Shi Jifeng, Deputy Director of the General Bureau of Journalism and Publication in China, outlined the official charges against Notes on Tibet
in a business meeting:
The book praises the XIV Dalai Lama and the XVII Karmapa, and it encourages reverence to, and belief in, religion. These are serious mistakes in the author's political stance and her point of view. Some of the chapters have, to a certain degree, stepped into the wrong political terrain. For instance, in "Nyima Tsering," the author depicts the confusion that the famous religious figure Nyima Tsering had when he encountered the supporters of the Dalai in an international conference. It reflects that the author is not clear about the essence of the Dalai's splittism and promotion of Tibet independence. Also, chapters such as "Tenzin and His Son" reveal her misunderstanding of the history of the Sino-Tibet conflict in the 1950s. (Publication Newsletter 22; posted on www.intelnet.com at 02/23/2004)
The charges cited here come from a totally imperialistic attitude, which denies the Tibetan nation's consciousness of self. It is unthinkable in any society to define "reverence to, and belief in, religion" as serious mistakes in a writer's political stance and viewpoint. Woeser herself is a believer in Tibetan Buddhism. It is natural for her to praise her religious leaders like the Dalai Lama and Karmapa. Only a colonizer who has the need to suppress the minority nationality would think that such an attitude towards religion is a crime. Does it not sound like a violent domination and an imperialistic manipulation to accuse a publication of having "made false value judgments and divorced itself from the correct political principles," and its author of having "abandoned the social responsibility that a contemporary writer ought to have and lost her political commitment towards the progressive civilization movement," only because she does not sing the praises of "the great achievements of the past decades," but "indulges in a nostalgia for the old Tibet without tangible examples?"
To a certain degree, the publication of Notes on Tibet
under Chinese censorship is itself a miracle. Perhaps it is due to the fact that Guangdong Province currently has the most commercial environment in China, with a relatively relaxed political atmosphere, that the book had a chance to reach the public. A chapter such as "Nyima Tsering," that was singled out for criticism by the General Bureau of Journalism and Publication, has articulated in depth the repression and lack of choice that the suppressed nationalities are facing. We can see the sympathetic response the story received from a Uyghur reader's email to Woeser -- in not very good Chinese:
I am reading your book. Nyima Tsering in Norway after the little girl talked to him, I feel very sad. I could not control myself and naturally allowed myself a good cry. I read several more times. Who knows why when reading the paragraph on Nyima Tsering's answer to the girl, I could no longer control myself. I cried loudly. I was alone crying for a long time, feeling something pushed into my heart badly. It is unbearable to my weak heart. I want to shout loudly, but I don't have the courage. I have much more pity than Nyima Tsering's. (See the translator's note at the end of this article.)
Woeser happened to be in Beijing attending an advanced seminar on journal editing at Luxun Literature Institute when the ban was imposed on Notes on Tibet
. Prior to the incident, the TAR Literature Association was considering promoting her to vice editor-in-chief of Tibetan Literature
. However, as soon as the book got into trouble, her study was immediately suspended. She was summoned back to Lhasa. A "Helping and Teaching Group (Bangjiao Xiaozu
)" was organized for her "education in thinking (sixiang jiaoyu
)." She was asked to "examine (jiantao
)" and "jump the hurdle (guoguan
These phrases that I have put in parentheses are the special terminology of the Chinese Communist Party. They form a set of methods of mental control that are vividly described as the tools for "fixing people (zhengjen
)." The essence of them is to make individuals bend their knees in front of dominant authority and surrender their independence and dignity. He or she is repeatedly interrogated and forced to confess, while the authorities have already compiled their own record on the person anyway. Only after the Party is satisfied is the subject granted the chance to "make him/herself a new person (chongxin zuojen
)." Presumably, he or she would not dare to transgress again and would sincerely bow before the Party's mercy. The Party has operated such a mechanism for decades, which permeates every level of the system; it is automatically utilized as soon as the need arises. When getting into trouble, the majority of the Chinese population might just surrender to this system in order to sidestep the problem. This has been the practice in China for years; people have long gotten used to it and do not experience any shame.
While Woeser had no more chance of promotion, and was even facing the threat of re-education in the countryside, she may have at least been paid her monthly salary, which is seen as so essential in Tibet when the space that allows individuals to survive and develop outside the system is so narrow. There is a Tibetan saying that "Having a salary is just like keeping a cow; it guarantees one's daily milk supply." However, Woeser was unable to overcome this setback, because at first she could not repudiate her own faith.
Since she had been accused of "praising" the XIV Dalai Lama, the only way to redeem herself was to attack him, or at least to repeat the utterances of Li Ruihuan, an ex-member of the Party's Politburo in charge of the affairs of minority nationalities, that "the Dalai is the head of the splittist gang for Tibetan independence, is the loyal instrument of the international campaign against China, is the fundamental root and origin that inspires social unrest in Tibet, and is the biggest obstacle to Tibetan Buddhism establishing a normal order."
How could Woeser repeat such a criticism of her own religious leader? Would it not be topsy-turvy to say the Dalai Lama has created social unrest in Tibet and blocked the establishment of Tibetan Buddhism's normal order? No matter whether it is because of her religious belief or her conscience, Woeser could not utter charges of this kind. According to Buddhism, attacking one's guru creates serious negative karma. And after all, who chased away the Dalai Lama, killed hundreds of thousands of Tibetans, and destroyed nearly all of the monasteries in Tibet? They are indeed the leading criminals in creating social disorder in Tibet and interrupting the establishment of Tibetan Buddhism's normal order!
During his "reorganize monasteries (zhengdun simiao
)" campaign, Chen Kuiyuan, the previous Party Secretary of the TAR, ordered all Tibetan monks and nuns to copy by hand Li Ruihuan's charges against the Dalai Lama. Whoever resisted the order would be kicked out from their monastery. However, the difference between "is" and "is not" in written Tibetan is just a dot. Many monks added a barely visible light touch on top of "is," to complete the task without attacking their guru. Yet Woeser could not do so. She writes in Chinese, and in this language "is not" is not merely an extra dot but involves an extra character. She could not pass the test so easily.
Various officials took turns to "do the thinking work (zuo sixiang gongzuo
)" with her and her family. (In substance, it is to torture and damage one's morale.) The constant harassment by the authorities was stressful and became an unbearable burden for Woeser. Meanwhile, since she had always taken a critical stance on the issue of the Amdo-Tibet Railway, she was ordered to "receive education (jieshou jiaoyu
)" at the construction site of the railway. Knowing that she did not have the strength to directly or indirectly fight against the system, she chose to go away, to leave Tibet.
Upon her departure, she left a letter for the TAR Literature Association's highest decision-making circle, the Party group. The letter is entitled "I am forever a Tibetan writer believing in Buddhism." Following is the letter in its entirety:
Wenlian Party Group:
The charges against Notes on Tibet have mainly centered around my points of view on religion and Tibet's reality. Asking me to "jump the hurdle" is to demand that I state that my believing in Buddhism is false, that I should not have used my own eyes to observe Tibet's reality, and that in my future writing I must renounce religion and keep in tune with official directives to describe Tibet... Regarding all of these demands, I can only say that I am unable, and also unwilling, to jump this kind of "hurdle." From my perspective, to cooperate is to violate the calling and conscience of a writer. Under the current circumstances, staying in Lhasa to receive the re-education that I am not going to accept would not create any positive result; and it would add too much unnecessary trouble to everyone and make it difficult for the Association to close the case. Therefore, I think the best choice is to have me temporarily leave Lhasa and wait somewhere else for the final outcome to be announced by the concerned offices. I am willing to face any result of my own decision.
Until now, Woeser has been punished: 1. In the name of voluntary resignation, she was removed from her post in the TAR Literature Association and deprived of her income. 2. The housing assigned to her has been confiscated; she now stays temporarily with her mother. 3. By the suspension of her medical and retirement insurance she is left with no social security. 4. She is restricted from applying for a passport to leave the country. So, in spite of not being thrown into prison, she has been deprived of everything that can be taken away from her.
For people living in free societies or in today's inland China, the significance of this kind of punishment to Tibetans might not be clearly understood. Society within inland China has now diversified into different options. There are enough opportunities beyond the official system to allow many people to survive and prosper without dependence on the system. In contrast, the modernizing of Tibet and its society has been structured to completely rely financially on Beijing. There is no real social stratification there. With the monastic sector as the sole exception, nearly all other kinds of cultural workers and intellectuals have been entirely recruited into the system. In other words, only when inducted as a part of the system can one have a chance to become a professional working in the fields of culture; otherwise, there is even no guarantee of basic survival.
I had been puzzled that while dissenting intellectuals were active in the public sphere in the previous Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, and are now in inland China, this has not been the case in Tibet, despite the suffering Tibetan people have experienced, the international support they have received, and the fact that they have the spiritual leadership (of the Dalai Lama – trans.). Why have we so far only heard about the quiet resistance from the monastics or at a very grassroots level? I think one important reason for this is Tibetan intellectuals' lack of space to survive outside the system. The system therefore retains the power of deciding an individual's life and death. The system that feeds all of the cultural professionals is also the system that disciplines all of them. When one is scared by the system, there is no chance to be against it. The current suppression of Tibetan culture is carried out through this kind of control from within the system. To punish Woeser is to send out an alarm to the rest.