Category Archives: ethnic conflict

“On The Train to Lhasa”

RFA is stealing High Peak’s thunder today by translating another good Woeser post:

A train attendant from Hubei asks me anxiously: “What is the security situation like in Lhasa?” “Very safe for you [Han Chinese],” I say, pointedly emphasizing the “you.” Some young people sitting nearby with real Beijing accents overhear this, and ask me about it. “There are army, police and plainclothes officers lining the streets,” I tell them.

The train attendant is pretty bright, and asks: “Do Tibetans feel very constricted?” Another young person chips in: “Does this have anything to do with those Tibetans who have self-immolated?”

I am very conscious of the language barrier, even though we are all speaking Chinese. I reflect that self-immolation is hardly a rare tragedy these days, but that while another culture might understand why a person would self-immolate on their own behalf, they can’t see why someone would do that on behalf of a whole ethnic group. But I’d like to say a bit more about that, and tell them about the last words uttered by some of the Tibetans who have self-immolated.

When our train, packed full of so many living things, arrives at Lhasa station, the majority of non-Tibetan passengers breeze easily through, so very excited to be heading off to various parts of Lhasa, and looking quite perky; even those who are immediately hit by altitude sickness.

The dozen or so Tibetan passengers, on the other hand, are stopped by armed police and their identity cards checked with a device similar to those used to swipe credit cards. When I hand my card over, I am stopped with the words, “Woeser, stay behind!”

Two young Tibetans from the southern part of Qinghai province are to be sent back home the next day, because they didn’t have a “permit to enter Tibet.” The police dealing with Tibetans pay scant heed to their pleas, repeatedly telling them that a “permit to enter Tibet” must be issued by county level police departments or above. The really funny thing is, one of the young women, who did look a bit Chinese, tells the police that she is actually a fake Tibetan, which surprises them, and they ask her why. She says she changed her nationality from Han to Tibetan in order to take advantage of positive discrimination offered to ethnic minorities in the university admissions process. “This is now a huge pain for me,” she says, admitting that she deeply regrets it.

Those Tibetans who do hold a “permit to enter Tibet” have their ID cards photocopied, and are asked to fill out the address where they will be staying in Lhasa, the reason for their trip, and their identity, as well as signing their names and adding their fingerprints in blood-red ink.

When I and the two young people from [Qinghai] are finally allowed to leave the police station and enter Lhasa, they say to each other, amid sobs: “Who’d have thought it would be so hard for Tibetans to get into Lhasa?”

I might be a reactionary imperialist running dog, but this looks a lot like apartheid to me.

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“Suicide Attack on National Day”

In Xinjiang, where Chinese National Day can seem like something of a cruel joke, RFA is reporting on a suicide attack on a Chinese border post:

The motorcycle crash caused an explosion at the People’s Armed Police facility in a rural area of Kargilik (in Chinese, Yecheng) county in Kashgar prefecture on Oct. 1, sources said, though the exact number of casualties was unknown

“When we were informed about this it was around noon and we were on our way to the flag-raising ceremony for National Day.”

“We were told that some people died and some were injured. But because it happened on the base, we were not given the details,” he told RFA’s Uyghur service.

One resident in Chasamechit village speaking on condition of anonymity said a total of 20 people had died or been injured in the incident, but police have not confirmed the figure.

Police have arrest warrants and are searching for two Uyghur men around age 21 or 22, Abdurahman Abdusattar said.

“From what we can see from their pictures they are modern-looking Uyghur boys with unshaved heads and without beards,” he said.

A local official in a nearby village, speaking on condition of anonymity, said news of the incident had been kept out of the media in order to quell fears among the Han Chinese living in Kargilik, where 20 people were killed in a stabbing incident in February.

Last week’s attack could have been a reaction to the shooting in December of a group of Uyghurs in Guma county last December, the official said.

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“Plea to Stop Burnings Ignored”

As exile Tibetans gather in Dharamsala, another Tibetan has self-immolated in Kham:

Dressed in full Tibetan traditional attire, the man set himself ablaze and shouted slogans against Chinese rule in Dzatoe (Zaduo, in Chinese) county in the Yushul (Yushu) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture before he was taken away by Chinese security forces, the sources said.

The man, whose identity and other personal details were not immediately available, was severely burnt when he was taken away, the sources quoted eyewitnesses as saying.

“While burning, he shouted various slogans—calling for the independence of Tibet, inviting the Dalai Lama and Karmapa (another senior Tibetan Buddhist figure) to Tibet, asking for long life for the Dalai Lama and addressing Lobsang Sangay (the head of the Tibetan government in exile) as the King of Tibet,” one source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“He walked past several Tibetan shops in Dzatoe county’s shopping complex with his body on fire. The shopkeepers threw water on his burning body but his whole body was engulfed in fire.”

Sources said the latest self-immolation could be linked to recent local Tibetan protests against the shooting of a film by authorities wanting to portray that Tibetans were happy under Chinese rule.

“Few days back, the Chinese authorities coerced the local Tibetans to participate in a shooting of a movie themed on ‘happiness in Tibet,’” a source was quoted as saying by India’s Tibet Express.

“The Tibetans resented it and expressed their unwillingness to participate. This incident had led to protest against the Chinese policy,” the source said.

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“Updates on Labrang Jigme”

High Peaks Pure Earth has translated an oral account given by Labrang Jigme’s brother, Sonam Tsering, after briefly seeing him:

Three police officers took me to a hotel to meet Lama Jigme. After entering the room I asked my brother about his health, he said that he was not in a good state. Subsequently, Lama Jigme asked the police officers a few questions: Why did you bring me here? Isn’t it just to get some food? What are you (pointing at the policemen) planning to do? And so on.

One police officer replied that the reason why they had brought him here “was just to receive food”.

Lama Jigme said: “Well, leave the food here and take my brother back.”

The police officer replied: “You should talk to your brother.”

Lama Jigme said: “I have nothing to say. If this is really just to bring me some food, then just put the food down and take him back. But if he came to visit me, why do you need to film and take photos of a private meeting? Yesterday, I said that I was not feeling well, so you invited a doctor to see me. You videotaped and photographed the whole examination process. But in the end, I did not even receive a single drop of medicine at all.”

Lama Jigme continued: “Today, my older brother is coming to see me and you are playing an old trick. You want to publicise this visual material and then claim that Jigme is in a good state, that he is well taken care of and even allowed to meet his relatives, don’t you? I am telling you, I don’t need anyone bringing me food, I don’t need my brother to visit me, I also don’t want to live in a hotel. If you think that I am a criminal, send me to court for a trial. If I really committed a crime, well then I will gladly accept my sentence, even if it is the death sentence.”

“If you still want me to talk to my brother, well then I want to tell my brother to help me to appeal”. Lama Jigme turned his head towards me and said, “Go lodge an appeal for me… Find me a good lawyer and sue these policemen! When the police from Gansu Province came here, I already very clearly raised the same points. I am a victim. But you don’t need to suffer from the same persecution (as I have).”

“The police told me that I was not allowed to meet foreigners, so I never met any. The police told me that I was not allowed to meet with the well-known writers Woeser and Wang Lixiong who live in Beijing, so I never met them. I followed the orders that the police had given me, I never went to any place that was on your list of places that I should not go to, I never met anyone who you did not want me to meet. Why are you spending so much money on me? Why do you spend so much money to let me live in a hotel and have 4 to 5 people watching me 24 hours a day, 7 days a week? Why are you wasting this money on me?”

As I stood next to and heard my younger brother saying these things, I felt like crying but had no tears. Every single time that I had gone to the Security Bureau I had told the police my opinion and asked them to tell me what crimes my brother had committed. They never gave a me an explicit response. My brother is innocent, I told the police to let him go immediately. I said that I would bring this case to the county level, prefectural level, provincial level, yes even to the attention of the central government. You can’t just imprison a person for no reason for over 70 days. My brother has already been arrested 4 times. Every time, he would disappear without a word or trace and then after a while he would be let go without any charges.

Hopefully some day Labrang Jigme, Ai Weiwei, Liu Xiaobo, and Dhondup Wangchen will all be able to kick back together and reminisce about the fall of the single-party state in China over a good cup of chang. Until then, keeping these prisoners of conscience in the spotlight and publicizing their cases seems to be the only thing we can, while foreign governments remain relatively uninvolved.

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Filed under enforced disappearance, ethnic conflict, Tibet

“The Body Count”

Elliot Sperling has a pretty chilling post about the mass killings that took place in Tibet during the two decades immediately following the Chinese invasion. The recent discovery of mass graves has brought this topic back into the light, although it’s still completely denied by the Chinese government:

In May, just a few months ago, preparations were made for the start of a building project in Nang-chen county in the modern Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Qinghai Province, part of what was once the old kingdom of Nang-chen in Upper Kham. This is also the site of some of the instances of self-immolation, the act of protest that has been repeated again and again across Tibet and in exile over the last several years. As the ground was turned to start the construction of a house, something horrid—unexpected and uninvited—suddenly materialized. Human bones began emerging from below the soil. Lots of them, it was said.

The images are clear, the local explanations were whispered: it was where monks and laypeople had been massacred in 1958, a bloody, terrible year in Eastern Tibet.

Elsewhere in Yushu, in the grasslands near Dpal-thang, the commencement of another construction project for houses brought more of the same: three mass burial pits filled with human remains. But not everything had decomposed, it was said. There were remnants of the clothes that the victims were wearing when they were thrown in: both lay clothing and monastic robes. The long hair of some of the dead was also still there. According to elders these pits were from 1958 too, with bodies added as a result of later famine deaths around 1960. Several trucks were needed to take the remains away.

In place of intense criticism or condemnation of the Chinese authorities, who have for decades refused to open up records relating to what took place in Tibet (let alone of those whom the records would likely implicate in the savagery), there is a sort of indulgence that one might call the Chinese dispensation: the actions of China are to be seen as something akin to natural phenomena for which little or no moral judgment or critique is imaginable. It is the other actors who should be judged. This can involve the selective use of available (and problematic) Chinese statistics as well as the ascription of much, if not most, of the population loss in Tibet to migration and exile. And there is also the common, droning refrain that accounts from Tibetan exiles are exaggerated and can’t be trusted. Instead of seeking to work through exaggerations to find underlying truths, this rhetorical device is deployed to dismiss, tout court, testimony from those who have fled Tibet. Hence this sentence (from the pen of Barry Sautman): “The [1.2 million] figure is not based on eyewitness accounts or access to state statistics, and refugee reports have often been skewed to please exile authorities.” Well, at least it implies the existence of Chinese records on the subject. Still, if passed over too quickly a reader might not fully take in that the criticism contained in it is directed not at China for preventing access to those records but at Tibetans for not using them: records to which neither they nor any serious researchers are allowed access! And then there’s the schizophrenia of: a) removing from consideration any accounts (including those by eyewitnesses) reported in exile because they are ‘skewed’ and then, having done so; b) saying Tibetans don’t have “eyewitness” accounts… Of course, the utter unreliability of the 1.2 million figure is not an issue of real contention among serious observers: Human Rights Watch already in 1988 termed it unverifiable. But this is not the same as dismissing (as Sautman does) the fact of mass killings in Tibet in the first decades of rule by the PRC.

Do read the rest, although be warned: the topic itself is grim enough, and there are pictures from one of the mass graves found recently.

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“Lhasa: A New Area of Racial Segregation”

If you’ve read this blog more than once or twice you’ve probably noticed that I post things from Woeser, translated by High Peaks Pure Earth, pretty much constantly. She occupies a unique space in China, and her blog Invisible Tibet is a clearinghouse of information about what’s happening in Tibet, coming more or less straight from Tibetans themselves. Recently she’s been writing about Lhasa and the way restrictions there are coming to constitute apartheid. These are really serious claims she’s making, but it should be obvious that they aren’t being made lightly. If Tibet isn’t quite the same as South Africa or, as she says in this article, Jews under the Third Reich, it’s certainly gotten far too close for comfort.

As she says:

Apart from setting up security checkpoints around Potala Palace, in the old town of Lhasa and in monasteries, defences have been established on various levels including at airports, train stations and motorways; non-Lhasa residents who do not have all kinds of paperwork and certificates, “cannot enter Lhasa, unless they have wings”, as expressed by a Han Chinese tourist.

However, if one is not Tibetan, one can come by plane, by train, by car, by bike or one can even walk into Lhasa without problems. Of course, any people from countries other than China have already been indirectly refused entry into Tibet. If one searches for “Lhasa” on Weibo, one’s senses are assaulted with Chinese people from various places happily going to Lhasa to enjoy themselves. A little dog who has been referred to as “Xiao Sa” is most popular because it joined some Chinese cyclist halfway to Lhasa and followed them all the way into the city. This is why some Tibetans pungently wrote on Weibo : “Lhasa welcomes you, but it does not welcome Tibetans.”

Some Tibetans have described the bitter experiences of their families on Weibo: “My 19-year-old Tibetan nephew arranged to cycle along the Qinghai-Tibet route with three of his Chinese classmates but when they reached Lhasa’s Umatang Township in Damzhung County, his classmates could pass whereas he was stopped because he was Tibetan. Only with a certificate from a county-level or above unit would he be allowed to enter Lhasa. I made some phone calls to inquire and found out that as a non-Lhasa Tibetan if one wants to job, do business or visit relatives in Lhasa one needs all kinds of certificates and guarantees. Otherwise after passing a certain deadline, one is directly sent back to one’s native place. Anti-terrorism measures that divide ethnicities are easily implemented when there are only a few people, but what if there are many?”

This reminds people of the Second World War when the Nazis implemented policies of “anti-semitism” against Jews. In fact, Tibetans have already started sarcastically calling Lhasa a “Jewish district under Nazi rule”. The “elimination of Jews” back then and the “elimination of Tibetans” today has led many young Tibetans to spread the following sentence on Weibo about history repeating itself: “just like the Jews said who had to wear the Yellow Badge on their chests: we are unarmed and defenseless, but in the big world out there, no one is brave enough to step forward to help us.”

For the past many years, non-Lhasa residence, regardless of their cultural, economic or religious backgrounds, have always been relatively important parts of Lhasa’s societal structure. Business people from Amdo, Kham, Changthang, from different areas across the the whole of Tibet have operated businesses in Lhasa, monks have made pilgrimages to Lhasa and according to traditional customs, stayed in one of Lhasa’s three main monasteries to study. Traditionally, Lhasa has always been considered the centre, it has always been the holy land that all Tibetans yearn for; but today, it has turned into a place that “eliminates Tibetans”.

Referring to nomad resettlement camps as ghettos has become pretty uncontroversial as the scope of government resettlement projects and the grimness of the camps has become more apparent, but Lhasa itself as a ghetto… The way the Tibet issue has been evolving since 2008 has gotten more and more disturbing, and it’s hard to see what could break this impasse. If massive demonstrations in 2008 and now more than 50 self-immolations over two years have failed to spur some kind of positive change, what can?

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“Police Detain Tibetan Singer”

I see these stories come up on a news feed and I almost ignore them, assuming that they’re just repostings of an old story. Nope, according to RFA yet another Tibetan singer has been detained:

He is the latest target of Chinese authorities who have been rounding up Tibetan performing artists known to be effective in mobilizing support for political change in Tibetan-populated areas.

“He had been hiding in the hills to escape the police for about two to three months,” the source said.

“Three monks from the Golog region who wrote the lyrics to some of Phuljung’s songs have also been hiding in the hills for over a month and are now facing acute shortages of food,” he added.

Among the 13 songs released in May on Phuljung’s fifth DVD, titled “Our Heavy Responsibility,” are songs praising the Dalai Lama and Tibet’s exile prime minister Lobsang Sangay, an exile-based friend of the singer said, speaking in an earlier interview.

The Dalai Lama sits “on a golden throne,” and Lobsang Sangay, “a leader of Tibetans,” sits “on a silver throne,” the songs say.

In another song, Phuljung describes the Tibetan people as a “kind and just race” and urges them to resist China’s domination by speaking “only pure Tibetan” and by “uniting and working together.”

This is cultural genocide. It’s as if China heard the accusations and decided to do everything they could to prove them right.

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Filed under enforced disappearance, ethnic conflict, Tibet