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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

A Cry for Help from Tibet

October 28, 2008

Alexandra Khan
October 27, 2008

Following is an article from Alexandra Khan, an American
environmentalist who was in Tibet soon after the March unrest. Few
Westerners were allowed in Tibet after the unrest, which was
violently suppressed by Chinese police and military troops. Shouse's
article is a rare account of how the events affected ordinary
Tibetans at the time. The names have been removed to protect those
who might suffer recriminations as a result of this story's publication.

A Cry for Help from High in the Mountains

A colorless sky laid heavy over the magnificent landscape, the
atmosphere threatened. Black uniformed police, soldiers in green
military uniforms with guns, and plainclothes officers promised
silence. Edicts had been issued, the monks had been warned that those
who had taken art in the peaceful demonstrations were to turn
themselves in or else. The else was creating a state of terror
wherever we turned. Now everyone waited, in Tongren the police were
expected by evening.

The terror of the young monk swallowed us. He told us that he was
willing to die if only this oppression, this utter lack of freedom
could be lifted. Standing beside the altar in the great hall we
talked, behind us a large photo of the Dalai Lama. There is no one on
the Tibetan Plateau who does not know the heavy cost of possessing
such a photo, but there it stood, the monk's silent protest. We were
seeing an indication of the tremendous courage of the monks, of their
utter desperation after forty-nine years of being told by the Chinese
Government what they could study, when they could study, and if they
could study at all, and whether or not their teachers were allowed to
teach. Forty-nine years watching Han Chinese flood in, overrunning
Tibetan villages, turning them into high-rise Chinese cities and
their grasslands into Chinese tended fields. Now the monks here are
refusing their own fear.

On the veranda outside the great hall a woman continued her
prostrations without pause; young monks bounced a ball on the street,
older monks wandered into one small shop after the next. Messages so
thick in the air one gasped for breath. Young green uniformed
soldiers stood guard, black guns with thick barrels at the ready,
before a military transport parked in front of the Prosecutors
Office. The repercussions were underway. Terror is not threatened, it
is reality.

Monastery after monastery, town after town we traveled, driving
hundreds of miles down unpaved roads; the same story, the same choked silence.

Arriving in Labrang the golden roofs of the monastery were brilliant
under even the dull sky, but so few monks and everyone
uncharacteristically distant. Missing was the usual bright welcome,
the cheering gait, the gentle reaching-out, the shared cups of tea.
Out on the street we were met with downcast eyes and when met they
were eyes filled with anguish. Once inside, away from the ever
present police and plainclothes officers, the monks and shopkeepers
could not repress their horror with their helplessness, their
exasperation with the continued brutal repression. A young shopkeeper
burst into silent pantomime of violent kicking, beating, shooting as
a phalanx of young Chinese soldiers marched, two abreast, down the
main street in stiff green uniforms. 'THAT is what they do!' She
quietly shouted while her husband ceremoniously attended to tidying
already tidy shelves, gently urging her to quiet. In the shadow of
the shop I reached out to embrace her shaking, barely restrained
valor, her horror with her inability to protect the monks and other
peaceful protestors.

After a guided tour of the monastery I returned to the temple where a
friend of mine was once caretaker and asked after him. The young monk
knew exactly who I meant and led us to his room. My friends were left
in the outside room while I was directed through two more doors.
Inside Ghen-lah sat at his desk concentrated on writing on a small
piece of paper. I waited, my delight at seeing him alive and well
escaping into a torrent of greetings, asking if he remembered me. The
little monk sitting there wrapping strings around blessings explained
that Ghen was in retreat, that he was mumbling because he could not
speak until after his retreat. Writing completed, Ghen-lah turned to
me handing me the carefully written note: Come this evening at eight
or tomorrow at noon, then he could speak. I clasped his hands placing
them on my head, took his note and reluctantly left. Eighteen years
had passed since our last meeting, in answer to my question of
whether he remembered me, he had written my name on another carefully
torn piece of paper. Eighteen years vanished, but the doors closed again.

In the anteroom we talked with the young monk. He told of the police
taking away his thirty-one year old brother, yet another to be added
to the list of missing and anxiously awaited. He told of seven monks
being taken from the monastery by police days ago, no news of their
whereabouts. He told of four young men who had demonstrated in a
neighboring village. When the police came after them they plunged
their knives into their own hearts to avoid certain torture and death
at the hands of the police. Shaken by the potential price of our
visit and fearing for the monks I suggested we leave. First let the
journalist ask his questions, the monk replied. I asked about coming
tomorrow to visit with Ghen-lah as he had directed in the note. Is
that not dangerous? I asked. 'Very seriously dangerous.' He replied,
'You decide. We are here.' There is nothing nonchalant in their
courageous tossing off the heavy cloak of terror.

The next morning walking alone to the old residential part of town, I
was confronted by two police cars. I turned to walk in the opposite
direction but was followed and later stopped. They asked for my
passport, which they scanned on the spot. Not speaking English, they
then handed me their cell phone to speak with Nicholas, who said he
would like to meet me later. He then inquired of my traveling
companions, not wanting to implicate them I remained silent, then
handed back the telephone.

Dazed by this encounter with the black uniformed PSB and plainclothes
officers I sat down to ponder my own fate and watch as people walked
the korwah saying prayers. Into my little nook hands reached out in
greeting and urged me to join them in their walk. An elegant old man
paused, looking me in the eyes. "Tugeechay," said he, THANK YOU.

Returning to our hotel we quickly packed and loaded baggage into our
waiting car but an hour outside of town we were met with a police
road block just outside of LuQu, our passports taken away. We waited
along side the road for two hours under guard, when they finally
returned they forced us into a police van along with five
plainclothes officers from "the travel bureau," or least so we were
told. I noticed that the officer who claimed to speak no English
listened attentively to our conversation and later spoke to us in English.

Sitting in the van, fully expecting hours of interrogation and likely
worse, I relaxed for only the second time on this trip; the first was
on meeting my travel companion-the China Bureau Chief for one of the
world's largest newspapers. The tension generated by the background
of violence, by the overwhelming number of police and armed military
and silently watching undercover officers evaporated. The only gap in
that quiet was when my quietly courageous companion noted, "Ahh, they
are taking us to a very secluded place." Then came the calming
thought: we are truly with the people now, the government has kindly
included us. Oh, if only our inclusion could help shift the balance
that would finally move the military OFF the Plateau, if only the
people's voices could be heard and the drowning immigration stopped
before it is too late, if only this rich culture could be given a
chance to breathe, not survive as a tourist attraction but to truly
live. As our van drove off the highway down narrow dusty country
lanes we saw ahead of us at the end of the road what appeared to be a
gated government building but then the driver made a ninety degree
turn and continued on. Only a shortcut.

Three hours later the van drove into a big hotel in Linxia and
stopped. They helped us out telling us we were to stay there for the
night for tomorrow they would accompany us on down to Lanzhou. We
firmly explained that we had no wish whatsoever to stay the night
that we would continue to Lanzhou; and we did so, at once. Half of
our journey cancelled, we were once again blocked from seeing or
hearing of the true cost of maintaining China's face and stability,
after a perilous journey in the dark over boulder strewn washed out
roads we arrived late at the point where we had begun.

Next morning after a full Chinese breakfast we were back on the road
to PingAn County (birthplace of the present Dalai Lama), Tongren and
Ledu. Tongren-in Huangnan, Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture-was of
particular concern for on the 21st of February, even before the
protests began in Lhasa, monks had clashed with police. And when we
arrived in April, it was clear that trouble was once again near, the
atmosphere was thick with fear, soldiers and police were everywhere.
The terrified monks were expecting the military to appear in the
evening. That their deaths might lead toward freedom was the best
hope they had.

Now, another horror behind us, our four-wheel drive vehicle was put
to full use driving to the Dalai Lama's family home in Takster. There
are no signs, so at every juncture we must stop and ask directions
from Hui villagers. They offered directions without hesitation,
assuring us that we would 'easily find it as everyone knows this
place.' After driving what seemed hours, down narrow, unpaved and
torn up roads we finally started climbing steeply, but slowly
upwards. Finally, the road ended in a narrow walkway. Local standing
nearby said it was a very short walk up the hill, we would see it.
And sure enough, the first and only sign that we had entered a
Tibetan village was the great red pair of doors with hundreds of
khatas tied to the shiny brass handles; but the doors were firmly
locked. On each side of the gates were nailed notices from the
provincial judicial authorities dated the 2nd of April 2008, one in
Tibetan one in Chinese, stating that the authorities prohibited all
'destructive anti-governmental behavior' and the reproduction or
distribution of the Dalai Lama's image in any form. Further the
notice said that anyone providing information about such activities
would be rewarded.

We went around the house and knocked, a middle aged woman cracked the
door saying she would ask her husband. When he appeared his weary
frightened eyes told their story. He said, 'We cannot help you at the
moment, and we would like you to leave immediately.'

According to neighbors, we had just missed the police. Apparently the
road to the house has been blocked during the day since the protests
began. That was The News from Takster.

After a good night's rest in Xining we drove on to Kumbum Monastery.
We were surprised to find the road to the monastery completely open.
On arriving, there were barricades, but a young Chinese woman
introduced herself as we paused for directions saying, that as our
guide she could get us inside, so guide she was. She jumped in and
directed us to the parking lot. She showed us to the ticket counter,
then walked us around talking loudly nonstop, telling us she was half
Han half Tibetan but really Han. And truly there was nothing about
her manner that would indicate otherwise. We saw many beautiful
temples but few monks, and it was clear that we were not to speak to
those we met. As we neared the last temple I asked if we could speak
to a monk; this was a monastery after all. So she took us off to buy
khatas and presented us to one who could only be called 'the
Government's demonstration lama' telling us he would bless things if
we wished. Despite being such a distinguished monastery, it all felt
grossly set up, put down your money and get your whatknots blessed,
offer a scarf and get a chanting lama, but do NOT ask any questions
because the monk is under full surveillance. As the lama explained on
my way out the door, he can say NOTHING.

This entire well-repaired monastery had the feeling of a museum.
Indeed, the reinstitution of political re-education had set the tone
in line with the banners praising stability.

On the way out, a visiting monk who had walked along with us on our
tour jumped into our car for a ride back to Xining. As we drove, he
told us that though there were no troubles at his monastery a few
hours distant ­ at Qinghai Lake ­ political re-education classes had
begun and severe restrictions placed on the monks.

Traveling from Xining before ReKong we noticed on the side of the
highway a check post set up with a table at Jianzhan to Lama Dechen
Gonpa ­ people had not only to show identification, but sign that
they have entered.

Clearly, the cost of maintaining stability in China is very high.
Since mid-March the CCTV television screens have played and replayed
the same few images. The country has been subjected to twenty-four
hour propaganda disparaging Tibetans for their ungratefulness to the
state, and characterized Tibetans' protest against the Government's
unbearable repression as "ethnic conflict." On my return while
sitting at the airport in Detroit, I heard highly educated visiting
overseas Chinese repeat these charges. There is a possibility that
the hatred constructed by such propaganda could get out of hand.

For Tibetans this use of brutal force to create "stability" or at
least silence has created a life drenched in terror and loss; loss of
family members, loss of land, loss of culture, loss of vital monastic
establishments, loss of environmental integrity, indeed loss of
freedom in any sense. And, it is clear that Tibetans for the most
part have already lost their larger towns and cities to the
overwhelming influx of Han Chinese. Even small Tibetan towns one
after another are now splattered with high-rise apartment buildings
and important Tibetan institutions are inevitably surrounded by a
thick belt of newly built Han housing-for stability since no one can
enter or leave without passing through this Han belt.

We need to go to Tibet to witness, not in times of peace but in these
times of courageous unrest, we must go where the trouble is, where
restriction is heaviest. And importantly, we must leave indications
that we have witnessed with the Chinese.

During this trip I was reminded again and again how we-with all of
our freedoms--are nonchalantly allowing our own governments to
resemble more and more this totalitarian regime. Perhaps it is time
we seriously consider the direction in which we travel and join
China's courageous dissidents in rejecting and exposing this in our
own countries.

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