From High Peaks Pure Earth
Published in TPR with permission
March 3, 2012
High Peaks Pure Earth is posting the English translation of a blogpost by Woeser written and posted on her blog on the second day of Tibetan New Year, February 23, 2012. The post was translated into English by Elliot Sperling and has also been posted on Woeser’s blog earlier today.
In this blogpost, Woeser focuses on those elderly Tibetans who travelled to India to receive Kalachakra teachings from the Dalai Lama and then returned to Tibet. The detention of returning Tibetans was covered by human rights organisations and in turn also the media. However, in this post, Woeser brings out personal stories via Tibetans on Weibo, the microblogging platform from Sina.
Today (February 23) is the second day of Losar (Tibetan New Year) in the Tibetan rab-byung year 2139, the Water-Dragon Year. I’d like to say “Losar Tashi Delek” (“An Auspicious and Satisfying Tibetan New Year!”) to the up to 10,000 Tibetans, in particular the elderly among them, who’ve been made criminals for the act of going on a Buddhist pilgrimage. However, as was said best by one Tibetan: “Now when we greet each other we shouldn’t say ‘Losar Tashi Delek’ again: we have no ‘tashi’ (‘auspiciousness’) and no ‘delek’ (‘satisfaction’). We care for each other with a gzeb-gzeb-byos (‘be very careful’).”
This year, from January 1-10, at the Indian Buddhist holy site of Bodhgaya, the sacred place of Vajrasana where Buddha attained enlightenment, His Holiness the Dalai Lama presided over the 32nd Kalachakra Initiation. Approximately 500,000 Buddhists from all over the world participated, among them upwards of 10,000 Tibetan believers from all of the regions within Tibet as well as upwards of 1,000 Chinese and other believers from all over China.
It’s always been very difficult to apply for a passport in Tibetan areas and in 2008, due to the protests that enveloped all of the Tibetan regions, it got to the point where a halt was imposed on the processing of passports. Over the last two years the authorities, as happened in Lhasa, have shown some kindness to the elderly and agreed to process passports for applicants 60 years of age or older. Thus, among those from inside Tibet who travelled to Bodhgaya to attend the initiation there were a lot of elderly people, all of them yearning for a glimpse of their root guru’s face in their remaining years; for darshan of their root guru. And their root guru is none other than His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who has been in exile for 53 years.
When the initiation was concluded the faithful from inside Tibet dispersed and set out on the return journey to their homes there. They had worn themselves out just to get passports and their route had been plagued with hardship, until finally they obtained the nourishing nectar of the buddha dharma at the holy site. They had a brief moment of happiness, never imagining that there would be a later “settling of scores;” that this would set in motion an experience of mental and physical torment.
First, when they returned via Nepal, whether they arrived at one of several airports or at the border crossing point of Dram, they were all interrogated and searched by Chinese military and police. Buddhist ritual objects, such as scriptures, etc., that they were carrying with them as well as presents that they’d bought, such as Tibetan medicines, etc., were all indiscriminately confiscated.
It is understood that many of the faithful whose homes were in Amdo and Kham were taken as a group to Lhasa and sent together via the Qinghai-Tibet Railway to their individual regions. Afterwards each individual had to be vouched for by two cadres in their home areas. Only then could they return to their own families. In addition, the faithful from Amdo and Kham who have returned most recently from India and Nepal were placed under uniform supervision and sent to Shigatse to receive 7 days of “education.” Afterwards they were sent back home together.
And Lhasa: any Tibetans who attended the initiation encountered even bigger troubles. Of these, the overwhelming majority was elderly: retired cadres as well as urban residents and farmers from the outskirts of the city. And there were also middle-aged and young people. First they were summoned by their local neighbourhood committees or work units jointly with the relevant police station. Every person was interrogated by staff people from the neighbourhood committees or work units together with Public Security Bureau police. The important questions included: Whom did you see at the Kalacakra Inititation? What did the Dalai Lama, Samdhong Rinpoche and the newly-elected Kalon Tripa say exactly? Which people from here did you run into at the inititation? How much money did you give in offerings for the inititation, to the Dalai Lama and other Rinpoches? Etc., etc.
At the beginning they were summoned individually and the time involved was not considered particularly long. It’s said that some of the people sent to talk to them by neighbourhood committees and work units had OK attitudes, while some had poor ones and directly scolded them: “You people! You eat our food, but you lay your heads down on the other side! What’s the idea behind that?”
It’s understood that those who returned from the Buddhist pilgrimage in India and were “invited to have tea” — i.e., summoned — have all had their passports confiscated.
Many people thought that with the passports confiscated, the torment might come to an end. But they didn’t imagine the larger nightmare lying in wait for them. From about the beginning of February a large majority of the Tibetans in Lhasa who had attended the initiation were all sought out by police who came to their doors and took them away, claiming that they were being sent to “study groups” or “to receive education.” Even old people over 80 years of age were taken away. Moreover, they were taken away continuously, one after another, it being said that their names were coming up “in confessions.” This brought about panic and anxiety. No one knew what methods the “study groups” were using; how did they get people to “confess”?
Tibetans whose elderly family members had been taken away discussed the affair on Weibo but the discussion was quickly taken down. Luckily, a friend saved the deleted Weibo posts, such as these:
Based on the Weibo posts above and based on reliable information, at least seven or eight of these “study groups” have been set up in Lhasa alone. Some have been set up in military barracks, such as the barracks for the border defence instructional team in the western suburbs of Lhasa. Some have been set up at work units, such as the Chengguan District Teacher Training Centre below Drepung Monastery in Lhasa’s western suburbs. Some have been set up in hotels, such as those on Sera Road and Jiangsu Road. Some have even been set up in Chushul County and Toelung Dechen County, where political prisoners are confined. It’s reported that there may be up to a thousand Tibetans who attended the initiation now shut up in “study groups.” This exerts tremendous pressure upon the emotions of their families and their neighbours as well as causing them deep fears. And this is the situation in Lhasa alone. The situation in other parts of the TAR is still unclear. And the situation in the Tibetan areas spread over the provinces of Gansu, Qinghai, Sichuan and Yunnan is also still unclear.
In addition, the word on the “study” periods is not uniform. Some say it’s 20 days; some say it will last until late March or early April; and some say it’s two to three months. Might the need for such a long study period be linked to Tibet’s most sensitive time—March? But if this is what’s happening, is it meant to avoid the sensitive period of March, or is it actually meant to precipitate something happening in March? It’s exactly as an online Tibetan friend put it: “Preserving stability in this way can only produce an opposite result.”
It’s been reported that this “study” is being done in isolation. At first, family visits were forbidden. Sending in clothing or food was not permitted, nor was the carrying of mobile phones. Before long, perhaps because of exposure by outside media and the attendant attention, the authorities began agreeing to clothing and food being sent in. Some “study groups” allowed for meetings between family members, while some “study groups” didn’t. Treatment within each “study group” differed. Some “study groups” had more than ten elderly people per room, on upper and lower bunks.
It’s been reported that the “study” component of the “study groups” includes “patriotic education,” “education about the laws,” state religious policy, etc. It has even reached the point where the 1960s propaganda film “Serf”, along with many other films that make one recall past bitterness and think of present happiness, was screened in order to expose the darkness of “Old Tibet” and extol the happiness of “New Tibet,” etc. At the same time people have had to meet certain benchmarks: they’ve had to publicly report what they themselves have gained from “study,” expounding on how their thinking has been affected by it, comparing the old and the new, “recalling past bitterness and thinking of present happiness,” and showing gratitude for the kindness of the party. Most importantly they undergo continuous questioning. This is how they “study.” And it’s rendered many of the elderly, who experienced the “Cultural Revolution” and other political movements unable to bear up under it, to the point of falling ill. Because the number of elderly succumbing to illness has gradually grown, perhaps, fearing something unforeseen happening, those among the elderly who have fallen ill have been allowed hospitalization and treatment. But they are only allowed to be treated in the Tibet Military District General Hospital or the Public Security Bureau Hospital, where plainclothes personnel keep watch outside the wards. However, visits from friends and relatives are permitted and family members are allowed to stay over. I have heard that one seriously ill elderly person has already died as a result of being reduced to a depressed mental state.
One ill and hospitalized elderly person quietly told a family member “When they were interrogating us in ‘study group’ I even pleaded with them that we were old people who were going to die soon; that there was no need to subject us to ‘brainwashing’ education.” This person’s tears fell like rain while speaking.
At this point I consulted a prominent lawyer. I asked if we could consider this sort of “study” as arrest and detention. The lawyer replied “All of this constitutes illegal detention; it shows complete disregard for any laws.” I asked what could be done. The lawyer sighed, “Looked at from the best angle, taking into custody these elderly people who present no danger is senseless. I hope that they’ll be released quickly and at the earliest opportunity.” He added “The Communist Party has smart and brave words, it should reconcile with the people and forget hatred; but it needs to give the people a guarantee, that it will respect the very constitution that it drew up itself.”
The latest news is that in view of the impending “Losar,” the Tibetan New Year, the elderly who were among the up to 1,000 people in Lhasa sent to “study groups” finally have an opportunity to “thank the Party for its kindness.” Any old person over 65 years of age is allowed a 7-day vacation, permitting him or her to leave the “study group” temporarily, return home and celebrate the New Year with relatives. But this is only allowed for those who aren’t Party members; all Communist Party members must remain in the study groups. This sudden burst of “benevolence” can only be meant to create a false front of Tibetans “happily celebrating the Tibetan New Year,” so as to answer calls from Tibetans inside Tibet and abroad to forego New Year celebrations in memory of the 23 Tibetans who have committed self-immolation.
But is this sort of “benevolence” practical? On “vacation” day an online Tibetan friend wrote on Twitter “This time the authorities didn’t just provoke the anger of ordinary people; there are also many of those whom the authorities ordinarily trust who have also been affected. Today I saw a lot of people who looked like cadres also coming to pick up their relatives. Except for the military and police on the scene, who remained very serious, the staff personnel inside seemed exceedingly happy.” From photos that were surreptitiously taken at the scene one can see the military and police keeping watch outside the gate of a “study group.” Inside the compound is a red banner on which is written, in both Tibetan and Chinese, “strengthen study, enhance knowledge,” and “without the Chinese Communist Party…” Because the “benevolence” has been distributed on the basis of age there are couples in which husband and wife have both been sent to “study groups” but the husband has been given a “vacation” to return home while the wife is held in the “study group,” in some cases because she’s a Communist Party member too.
On the first day of the Tibetan New Year a post on Sina Weibo read “Amala, who has returned from pilgrimage to Bodhgaya, got 7 days of vacation from the 2-3 month study program to return home and celebrate the Tibetan New Year, and for that we should really thank the government of the Tibet Autonomous Region for its enlightened attitude. I hope this measure of enlightenment and goodwill may be directed at all the multitudes under heaven; that this Tibetan New Year may be a turning point. I hope that one and all will be able to leave misery behind and attain happiness; that they’ll attain everlasting health and abundance; that they’ll find everlasting happiness and joy.” Reading the words about “thank… for its enlightened attitude” I feel the mockery and bitterness under the surface.
February 23, 2012, the 2nd day of the Tibetan New Year
This post is also available in: Chinese (Simplified), Tibetan