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The Book of the Week is “Voices From Tibet, Selected Essays and Reportage” by Tsering Woeser and Wang Lixiong, edited and translated by Violet S. Law, published in 2014.
In 1910, Great Britain mandated that Tibet become part of China. The territory consisted of yak and sheep herders and barley farmers. Fighting in Tibet ensued until October 1950, when China got its way. Mao Tse-Tung directed his People’s Liberation Army to take it over, except for the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). That bit of land was led by a Buddhist leader called the Dalai Lama. In 1959, he was forced to assume a government-in-exile in India.
More recently, Tibet, with a population of approximately six million, is a mountainous region that is twelve thousand feet above sea level and three and a half times the size of the state of Texas. It has seen decades of violence from protesters agitating for independence. In July 1994, the Chinese government launched a smear campaign against the Dalai Lama. Dissidents who had any connections to Buddhism, even tenuous ones, were imprisoned or killed.
Two political dissidents– a married couple– whom the Chinese government has oppressed due to their stance on freedoms in Tibet include: Tsering Woeser (a Chinese army officer’s daughter, a poet, born in 1966) and Wang Lixiong (a novelist born in 1953).
In 1998, Wang’s writings didn’t advocate subversion, but rather, sought to educate people to effect political change, proposing a gradual approach toward Tibetan democracy. In 2001, he resigned his membership in the Chinese Writers’ Association because its actions offended his sensibilities. The Chinese government expelled him from Friends of Nature, an environmental organization he co-founded.
In 2003, Tsering was fired from a job with a publisher because she praised the Dalai Lama, the Karmapa (a Buddhist leader), and encouraged belief in religion. She moved from Tibet to Beijing and became an unofficial spokesperson for Tibetan dissidents in China. Beijing allowed a little more free speech than Tibet. She posted writings on a foreign website rather than through print-media so it was harder for the Chinese government to harass her.
In 2008, more kinds of people agitated against China’s control of Tibet. Nuns, monks, local vendors, students, farmers and nomads demanded that the Dalai Lama be allowed to return to Tibet. In 2011, almost two dozen of the religious ones set themselves on fire in protest. In 2012, about eighty of them did.
In 2006, China opened the Qinghai-Tibet rail line.”What is unfolding in Tibet is pseudo-modernization, essentially a kind of invasion, a sugar-coated act of violence.” That sounds like colonialism, but in 2008, in the Tibetan city of Lhasa, the political environment was like that of Nazism. Chinese law enforcement officers detained and rounded up about seven hundred monks from monasteries, and took them to the last rail-line stop in Tibet.
The train cars smacked of Holocaust cattle-cars. The monks ended up in either political re-education camps or prison. Armed Chinese soldiers in the streets harassed monks and youths.
Tibet caught capitalistic fever from China. There was a “gold rush” in minerals and caterpillar fungi. Strangely, “The Buddha teaches us that all living beings are equal.” But the Buddhist monasteries in Tibet became hypocrites– were persuaded by an enterprising Chinese tour company to provide Mandarin and English-language translators to fill an (extremely lucrative) niche in the tourism industry. The Chinese controlled the business, which involved swindling tourists in various ways.
Anyway, read the book to learn much more biographical info on the two aforementioned dissidents, and the many additional ways that Tibetans are losing their culture (hint: by the turn of the twenty-first century, Tibet was becoming a regular Dubai) at the hands of the Chinese.