Join our Mailing List

"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Trial delayed for Tibetan writer imprisoned for critique of Chinese policies, expression of Tibetan identity

August 13, 2010

ICT Report
August 12, 2010

Tibetan writer and editor Tragyal, best known by
his pen name, Shogdung (meaning "Morning Conch")
is facing trial on the charge of inciting
splittism after writing a book critical of
Chinese policies in Tibet. According to new
reports, the authorities may be delaying
Tragyal's prosecution, although it is not clear
whether this means the authorities are seeking
evidence for further charges against him, or
querying the basis for the prosecution.

Tragyal was detained on April 23, 2010 from his
home in Xining following the publication of his
now-banned book, 'The Line between Sky and
Earth.' The book is a strong indictment of
Chinese policies in Tibet and a discussion of
events since March, 2008, in which he describes
Tibet becoming "a place of terror" and gives a
detailed analysis of the 2008 spring protests as
a re-awakening of Tibetan national consciousness
and solidarity. Tragyal's arrest is one of the
most significant in the context of a broadening
crackdown on Tibetan writers, artists and
educators since protests against the Chinese state began in March, 2008.

According to ICT sources, Tragyal has been
described as achieving the status of a "hero"
among Tibetans  and his book is selling widely
underground. Tragyal is being detained in Xining
No. 1 Detention Center according to various
sources but is family have not been allowed to
see him yet, not even to take food. Tragyal
suffers from various chronic ailments, such as
kidney stones and stomach problems, but the
delivery of his medication to him has not been
permitted. The family's popular bookshop, 1+1 in
Xining was closed on April 15 and copies of Tragyal's book seized.

In a report yesterday, Tragyal's daughter Yeshi
Tsomo said that the trial appeared to be delayed,
and was quoted by Radio Free Asia as saying: "The
police told us that his case is quite special
because it has to do with different
ethnicities."  (Radio Free Asia, August 11).

A Western scholar who has read the book in
Tibetan and who asked not to be named described
it as the most daring and wide-ranging critique
of China's policies in Tibet since the 10th
Panchen Lama's famous '70,000-character petition'
addressed to Mao Zedong in 1962. Shogdung openly
reflects in his book on the risk he is taking by
writing it: "I have written of four fears, the
fear of contemplating the cruelty of the régime,
fear of the danger of government and individuals
falling into extreme nationalism, fear for one's
own life and wellbeing, and fear for the future,
and at this point, I have one more fear. I am
naturally terrified at the thought that once this
essay has been made public, I will eventually
have to endure the hot hells and cold hells on
earth. I may 'lose my head because of my mouth,'
but this is the path I have chosen, so the responsibility is mine."

Tragyal's detention is particularly significant
because he is a well-established editor and an
'official intellectual' whose views have been
seen by many Tibetans as close to the Party and
the Chinese state. This was since he wrote an
article in 1999 denouncing Buddhism and Tibetan
people's profound religiosity as an impediment to development.

In a letter written in Chinese to his employer
clarifying why he wrote his new book and dated
April 15, Tragyal explains: "This book represents
the view of an intellectual about the 'March 14,
2008' events. The first part mainly contains my
feelings regarding the tragedy of March
14.  After the tragedy occurred, the life of the
people and their goods have suffered great
damage, and I have expressed my sadness at that.
Nationality matters are very serious ones. If
they cannot be solved in a proper way, then
violence and violent incidents may arise. From
the bottom of my heart, I am very preoccupied by this and very frightened too.

"I believe that the problem of the Tibetan
nationality is complicated and urgent. If it is
not solved in accordance with the people's
thoughts, things difficult to fathom may occur.
This is why, based on Article 35 of the [Chinese]
Constitution that states that the society enjoys
the right of free speech and of publishing, I put
this right into practice and I expressed my
ideas. My hope is that the Tibet issue can be
resolved in the best way, by the core principles
of kind heart, tolerance, freedom, equality, human rights and human values."

In 'The Line between Sky and Earth' (Tibetan:
gnam sa go 'byed), Tragyal apologizes for his
previous writings and for his failure to speak
out in the months following the protests that
swept across Tibet from March, 2008, saying,
"When at leisure to do so, I have stated that
'Freedom is a hundred and a thousand times more
valuable than my own life, and I will fight for
it,' with as much bravado as you please, yet this
year, when Tibetans were staging a peaceful
revolution for the sake of freedom, I shrivelled
up, saying and doing nothing, and acting
unconcerned. This was not out of stupidity,
perversity or cunning, neither was it an outward
display of integrity or discretion. It was
because, one, I was quite unprepared, two, I was
scared for myself, three, I was worried about
what I stood to lose: ultimately, I was in fear for my own personal wellbeing."

Tragyal is one of a group of intellectuals who
have contributed to the translation and
publication, into Tibetan, of such works of
Western literature as Rousseau's "The
Confessions," Montaigne's "Essays," and other
writings. He and other Tibetan intellectuals in
the area particularly relate to the works of
Czech writers Vaclav Havel and Milan Kundera,
whose works were banned by the Communist
( regimes
of Czechoslovakia until the downfall of the
regime in the Velvet Revolution
( in 1989.

The Western scholar who has read the book in
Tibetan explained why Tragyal's book is so
important: "It draws from some historical written
sources that have appeared recently, to expose
the deafening silence of contemporary China's
historiography and ignorance of the sufferings
experienced by scores of Tibetans during the
decade that followed the entry of the Chinese
People's Liberation Army on Tibetan territory, in
the 1950s. It summarises the deep frustration
felt by most Tibetans at their feeling of
powerlessness in a theoretically multi-national
state, which in reality plays scant attention and
shows little respect for cultural values of its 'minorities.'"

Tragyal's daughter, Yeshi Tsomo, 25, was quoted
by the New York Times today as saying: "I've read
the book again and again, but I don't see
anything that breaks the law. I fear the
government won't care because they probably don't
like the idea behind the book." (New York Times,
August 11,

The book, which is based on a thorough knowledge
of the Western world's intellectual history, ends
with an explanation of the concept of 'civil
disobedience' and its rightful applicability to
Tibetans in China today. Tragyal also makes a
passionate appeal for peace and for Tibetans to
follow a path of non-violence. He gives a vivid
account of his fears for the future, including of
the outcome of extreme Chinese nationalism, as
well as a more personal and existential terror of
his own imprisonment, writing: "It scares me to
think how my basically unwell body would cope
just with deprivation of food and sleep, never
mind the sufferings of the hottest and coldest
hells. At that time, when your life depends on
what story you can tell, there is a good chance
that you might disgrace yourself, weep and wail,
and while pleading for leniency and forgiveness,
mention a few names. It is terrifying to think
that there is no certainty that one's
determination never to become a lackey of the
régime would not be shaken from the foundations.
So it is that just thinking about a single aspect
of the dictators' torture methods brings terrible
and unending fear. Whether this is because of my
cowardice, or thinking I know all about what I
have never experienced is uncertain, but fear is
fear, and there may not even be an explanation for it."

In his book, Tragyal pays tribute to the heroism
of Tibetans from all walks of life since March,
2008, writing: "Last year's large-scale
revolution was something I had never even dreamed
of and that came without warning. [...] When the
Tibetan people came out of nowhere on an active
quest for freedom, rights and democracy, it left
me astounded. We are always going on about
awareness, about courage, but for it to manifest
visibly and tangibly in a short time was unimaginable."

Tragyal is the most high-profile of some 31
writers, bloggers, intellectuals and others now
in prison after reporting or expressing views,
writing poetry or prose, or simply sharing
information about Chinese government policies and
their impact in Tibet today. (ICT report:

Press contact:
Kate Saunders
Director of Communications, ICT
Tel: +44 7947 138612
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
Developed by plank