Woeser Continues to Travel

High Peaks has been translating a series of blog posts by Woeser describing her travels around Tibet this summer- most recently, to quake-stricken Yushu and then on to Lhasa:

With regards to the recent developments in Yushu, all of my Tibetan friends from Yushu told me that there exist several taboo topics that must not be spread to the outside: firstly, anything regarding land and property; secondly, anything regarding schools and pupils; thirdly, anything regarding religious assemblies and other Buddhist activities.

So what does Yushu look like today, or let’s say on July 26?

However, when stopping in Gyana Mani, I left the car in spite of it all and walked around Gyana Mani that had recently been restored by numerous devotees, which took me over one hour. Many Tibetans were silently turning prayer wheels, along the sides of the road one could see the sky blue tents erected for the disaster victims. I asked one of the people turning the prayer wheel who told me that they may have to live there for another two or maybe three years, “we don’t know”, he said in a voice full of anxiety. I also saw groups of primary school pupils in their blue and white school uniforms, they told me that Yushu only has primary schools, when they get older they have to move to Han areas to continue school.

At the fall of dusk, we arrived in Yushu that had still existed in our memories but that now appeared alien and had changed beyond recognition; Yushu had already been turned into a dusty and noisy construction site, this was the feeling that was most prominent when we arrived. There were many different construction companies, all sorts of construction machinery and many different people from different places whirling around, “it seems that all of China’s construction contractors have come to Yushu”, I sighed. But, one year and three months after the earthquake, Yushu still resembled a battlefield that had just been bombed, broken walls were everywhere.

From Lhasa:

During the era of China’s reform and opening up, Lhasa was generally where the Tibetan elites wanted to be. I met many young Tibetans who could have stayed in big cities like Beijing and Shanghai after graduation but they preferred to go and live and work in Lhasa, which at the time was very far from any hustle and bustle. In the Spring of 1990, I returned from Kham to my birthplace Lhasa, where I had colleagues from Amdo at the Tibet Autonomous Region Literature Association.

Lhasa at the time drew Tibetans from all over like a magnet. Businessmen from Kham and Amdo flooded into Lhasa to do business and monks came to Lhasa’s holy sites and, in accordance with tradition, to study at the Three Great Monasteries. Lhasa, as before, continued to be regarded by Tibetans as a centre where people want to buy a house and to where people want to transfer their hukou (household registration).

It is not the same now. A Khampa mother and father came to see their daughter who had married a Lhasan and were extremely sad about their daughter when they left because she would be living in a city under the muzzle of a gun. The streets are lined with soldiers and Buddhist monks are being desecrated; Lhasa has changed from being a holy city to a fallen place of dirt and danger.

Monks from outside Lhasa must have documents and permits to go to Lhasa otherwise there is no way they can get past all the checkpoints along the roads. Rinpoches from elsewhere avoid Lhasa and transfer instead to Han areas. Monks from Lhasa itself are cautious and wary and wear plain clothes as much as possible when they are out, and in the old city with the Jokhang Temple at its centre, one often sees police arbitrarily stopping monks in robes or youths in Tibetan dress, checking and registering them. Rinpoches in Lhasa go out as little as possible, as though they live behind closed doors.

Ever since 2008, many successful Tibetans have been sentenced to imprisonment and there is a general sense of fear among businessmen and entrepreneurs in Tibetan areas. No one knows what tomorrow will bring and no one can say that the wealth people have accrued over the decades will not disappear overnight under trumped-up charges. One businessman used the Buddhist concept of impermanence to describe the situation: like ants, people bit by bit transport and accumulate but the wealth they build with such difficulty can be destroyed in an instant by a bear’s paw; and never mind one’s personal wealth – the wealth that we as a people have accumulated over hundreds and thousands of years, all of it amounted to nothing when the Chinese Communist Party came!

The centripetal forces drawing Tibetans to Lhasa seems to be weakening because the hardships there in all aspects of life are so much worse than elsewhere. Getting a passport, for example, has simply become a fantasy for the majority of Tibetans. Even getting a border travel permit to go on pilgrimage to Mount Kailash is hard.


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Filed under ethnic conflict, Tibet

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