Following Jyekundo Quake, China Arrests Leading Tibetan Intellectual

High Peaks Pure Earth has translated reports from the Tibetan blogosphere that Shogdung, a leading Tibetan writer and intellectual, has been arrested by the Chinese government shortly following the Jyekundo earthquake. Shogdung was taken from his home in the middle of the night, standard practice for totalitarian regimes worldwide, and his family has been unable to see or visit him in jail since. As to the reason for his detention, High Peaks Pure Earth reports:

Just three days after the earthquake, on April 17, a group of prominent Tibetan intellectuals based in Qinghai’s Xining province had written an open letter of condolence to the victims of the disaster. Shogdung was one of the signatories of this open letter (in his real name Tagyal) and it was published on his blog.

The open letter expresses condolences and at the same time is critical of the Chinese government in their handling of the earthquake relief efforts. Other signatories of this open letter include well known Tibetan writer and singer Jamyang Kyi and other members of the group known as the New School of Thought. The New School is a group of progressive writers who are critical of the past and argue for the need for internal reform and change in Tibetan tradition. They are highly critical of the negative aspects of Tibetan Buddhism.

There is a great deal of attention paid by those of us in the Tibetan independence movement to the various policies that the Chinese government has used and continues to use to crush the Tibetan culture. From forcibly moving nomads into shoddily-built concrete homes (which caused still untold death in Jyekundo), to moving Han Chinese settlers into Tibet on a scale such as to make Tibetans a minority in their home land, to not offering high school education in Tibetan language, the Chinese government has put forward a series of policies that amount to cultural genocide. But the crackdown over the last few years, including the arrest and detention of a number of prominent Tibetan writers, intellectuals and film makers is another front the Chinese government is waging in their ongoing colonization and repression of Tibet.

A Tibetan friend writes in an email:

While Shogdung’s uniqueness is indeed noteworthy, it is important to also see his arrest in the context of a larger trend of arrests of prominent Tibetan writers, artists and educators. As mentioned in the news story, Shogdung’s arrest should not be surprising because other Tibetan intellectuals from Northwest Nationalities University like Therang (Tashi Rabten) and Shokjang (Druklo) were also arrested. And these arrests seem to fit into a still larger trend of arresting prominent Tibetan artists, musicians and writers. Considering the fact that it will not take much effort for the Chinese government to identify, arrest and silence the handful of these note-worthy Tibetans, it is really grave (excuse the pun) to imagine how devastating it will be for Tibetan society.

It is generally rare for our society to produce independent thinkers who reflect critically issues of identity, history, culture and larger power-politics. It took years (decades) of Chinese occupation and “education” to produce the “first generation of Tibetan writer-intellectuals” like the late Palden Gyal and Dhondrup Gyal who wrote between 1979-1989. Shogdung and his compatriots who became popular with their writings published between 1989-2000 are highly regarded as “the second generation of writer-intellectuals” by the present (third) generation of writers. All these intellectuals are popular among Tibetan high school and college students. For those of us who care for the future of Tibet, the value of the continuity of this secular Tibetan intellectual heritage cannot be underestimated.

Secular leadership is a huge component in the evolution of Tibetan identity towards resistance to colonization. Clearly the Chinese government does not want Tibetan intellectualism, especially when it is influential towards the thinking of Tibetans inside of Tibet, to exist. The continued crackdown on dissidents and intellectuals can only be seen in the frame of a desire to stop the Tibetan culture and society from continuing to exist as distinct from Han-colonized Tibet.

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