The International Campaign for Tibet has released a long report on the recent crackdown by the Chinese government on Tibet writers, bloggers, intellectuals, and dissidents, leading to thirty-one high-profile individuals being jailed for thought crimes. The report looks at the recent explosion of Tibetan writing and cultural growth (something that Tenzin Dorjee of Students for a Free Tibet recently wrote about) and how the Chinese government has responded to it. Here is an excerpt of the report on the dissent rising in the face of the crackdown:
Despite and because of the severity of Beijing’s response, dissent continues to be openly expressed, particularly through the written word. Since March, 2008, there have been a large number of unofficial writings about the protests, usually expressing grief or sadness at the killings and detentions. These have been published in blogs, articles in one-off or unauthorized literary magazines, in books published and distributed privately, and also in the lyrics of songs sung in public places, uploaded onto Youtube or as cellphone ring-tones. (See ICT report, ‘Like Gold that Fears no Fire: New Writing from Tibet’ http://www.savetibet.org/media-center/ict-news-reports/gold-fears-no-fire-new-writing-tibet).
At the forefront of this resurgence of Tibetan cultural identity is a new bicultural, bilingual generation of educated Tibetans familiar with digital technology, with Chinese writings and official policies, and often too with unofficial accounts of Tibetan history that are banned in China. A common theme of their writings is the solidarity of Tibetans across the plateau and a pride in their unique cultural and religious identity. An awareness of the historic upheavals in Tibet from the 1950s and a new sense of urgency for political change infuses their work. The writings are often poetic in style, such as the articles included in “Eastern Snow Mountain” (Shar Dungri), a literary journal which was banned as soon as it was published in eastern Tibetan area of Amdo in 2008. The writers of “Eastern Snow Mountain,” who are from the Ngaba (Chinese: Aba) area of Sichuan, show extensive knowledge of Chinese and Tibetan law and policy, and discuss the sufferings of ordinary Chinese people as well as their own struggles against the state. (English translations of some of the essays are in: http://www.savetibet.org/media-center/ict-press-releases/a-great-mountain-burned-fire-chinas-crackdown-tibet). Shogdung’s book also includes Tibetan people’s struggle for freedom within China as an overall aim for all citizens of the Chinese state.
The report also looks extensively at the case of Shogdung, the Tibetan writer who was jailed following a letter he published supporting the victims of the Yushu earthquake. ICT publishes some translation of his most recent book, “The Line between Sky and Earth,” which includes powerful critiques of the Chinese occupation:
“If one is a Tibetan, one is not allowed to stay at a hotel, one is ‘welcomed’ with the request to take off one’s hat and shoes at airports, one does not get a ticket. One is not hired for jobs. Because of the deceptive propaganda, Tibetans are looked at with an air of mixed fear and terror. They are targets of suspicion. To sum up, Tibetans are considered like terrorists, they are treated like mindless children who are put under great pressure.
“Actually, it is not the first time this has happened. Ever since we have been conquered by dictators, in a series of campaigns, we have been beaten, struggled against, seized, arrested, condemned, sentenced, massacred. They have made us unable or afraid to move, to speak, to think. Everything and everyone has become inert because of fear. These inhuman methods have been going on for more than 50 years.”
Is it any wonder the the Chinese government would want to throw Shogdung in jail? ICT points out that there is often a delay in cracking down on dissident Tibetan writers, as their books have to be translated from Tibetan into Chinese before authorities can react.
ICT’s report goes on to look at the Chinese government crackdown on communication within Tibet, as well as the growing frequency of disappearing Tibetans. The list of the disappeared is longer than what is known here in the West, but it does include notable authors, artists, and musicians (eg, singer Tashi Dhondup is in jail for releasing a CD last year which included a number of Tibetan resistance songs and a lyric “There is no freedom in Tibet”).
The explosion of proud Tibetan art and culture is a threat in itself to the Chinese government. But when Tibetan writers, artists and intellectuals are going so far as to state the plain truth about China’s occupation, the crackdowns, the jailings, and the more than half century of murder and repression, the cultural explosion has the potential to be the spark that ignites a revolution. If you read the ICT report – and I hope you do – you’ll see that all of these dissidents advocate change through peaceful means. “Shogdung emphasises the importance of non-violence, saying that if Tibetans dare to launch a revolution through peaceful means, the impact would be profound.” Yet even the promotion of a peaceful change is something that strikes fear into the heart of the Chinese government. And so they respond in the only way they know how: with violence, torture, imprisonment and injustice.
I don’t think the pace of cultural resistance is going to slow inside Tibet. Nor do I expect the content of Tibetans’ writings or songs to stop outwardly expressing calls for Tibetan independence or the Dalai Lama’s return. Now, as over the last decades, Tibetans fully know the consequences for uttering these words. And yet they continue to do them in the face of unimaginable oppression. This simple fact above all others is what makes me confident in my belief that one day, Tibet will be free.