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"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."

The Fear in Lhasa as Felt in Beijing (Part 1)

July 22, 2008

by Tsering Woeser
Shadow of Tibet
July 16, 2008

It was one day in April. When I met DZ, he was standing on the street
with the lights just turned on near Saite Shopping centre, dully
watching the never-ending flow of cars and people. Earlier, I had
heard from JM that there was a Tibetan like this who had come from
Lhasa and seldom went out of the house. He also hadn't gone to
parties held by fellow Tibetans. The reason is that his very typical
Tibetan looks caught everyone's attention in present-day Beijing.
This is not an exaggeration. Even when Mr. Phuntsok Wangyal, the
earliest Tibetan communist in Tibet, went out for a walk, he would be
pointed at by a few young Beijing people who would exclaim, "Look at
him, if he is not a Tibetan separatist, then he is a Xinjiang separatist!"

I was very surprised to see that DZ was greatly frightened when he
heard his name. JM did not expect to run into DZ, then he invited him
to join us to go to a café. However, the reason I had gone to meet JM
is because I heard that he would go back to Tibet within the next few
days. Originally he had been working on temporary jobs in Beijing for
a few years, and the reason he was fired was due to his national
identity. JM told me that there were altogether eight Tibetans who
had been dismissed, but it was not the boss's fault. This is all
because the pressure put on the boss by the local police stations was
too great. JM thought it was not a big deal to go back. March twenty
years ago was like March twenty years later, there were also many
Tibetans who rose in revolt in Lhasa. JM, in his early teens, burned
the gate of a shop and, as a result, was imprisoned for four years.
It is probably because of such experience that JM could not care less
about what happened to him.

It seems that DZ dared not speak Tibetan unscrupulously like JM did,
and I could also see he was hesitant about the unexpected invitation,
but why didn't he decline the invitation? I was observing him
quietly. It is perhaps because at this moment this Tibetan man, who
wears his hair long like herdsman and whose loneliness could not be
hidden though dressing in black clothes, needed to get together with
a few fellow Tibetans.

There were no other people in the café who could understand Tibetan,
but I still dared not hastily ask DZ about what happened in Lhasa. DZ
had the disposition of an aristocrat in old days, therefore, I teased
him saying, "you look more Tibetan than us. If you wore Tibetan
clothes, you would look like a Tibetan in Chi-itsog Nying-pa" (spyi
tshog rning pa, old society). But, while laughing, JM said that he
himself who was light in colour and thin, definitely could fake his
way into the crowd. Thus, DZ suddenly said, "Now I often dream that
there are soldiers holding their guns all over Lhasa; while walking
on the streets in Beijing, when I see armed police and policemen, I
am, for no reason, angry and afraid too. When DZ looked out of the
window and said these words in a moderate tone, I knew that he was
willing to tell us some things.

"It happened to be March 14 when I fetched the foreign tourists from
Dzam to Gyantse. On my way I received a phone call saying that an
incident had happened in Lhasa, and Tibetans from Ramoche area had
revolted. Originally it was decided that we would not go back to
Lhasa, and would temporarily stay in Gyantse, but later I received
another phone call urging us to go back. As soon as we arrived in
Lhasa, I quickly escorted the foreign guests to their hotel. This was
in the afternoon. On the streets near the east there were shops and
cars being smashed or burned. I ran to the area near the Post and
Telecommunications Building, where there were many people standing on
the streetside watching how Tibetans protested. We can say that, for
a few hours, Tibet seemed to be independent. Not long after, I saw
quite a few armoured cars drive over there, shooting tear-gas with
the noise thum-thum-thum. The crowd dispersed right away. Those who
had experience were cleaning their eyes with the water in shops. I
only felt that my throat hurt greatly, and I could not hold back my tears…"

"Did you see firing at the crowd?" I asked.

"I didn't, but my friend saw that a man was killed in the area near
Lhasa Middle School, and he was a Tibetan." DZ gesticulated his
forehead, then continued to say,

"I quickly ran back to my place. I was tired and frightened, so I
fell asleep as soon as I lied down. But the next day I had to go to
take care of those foreign tourists. As soon as I stepped out of my
house, I became stunned. In front of me there were soldiers
everywhere, some holding sticks and clubs and others holding guns in
their hands. I wanted to go back, but the soldiers called out loud to
me "Come over!" I had to force myself to go over there. Two soldiers
told me to hold up my two hands just like when one surrendered
himself, then they searched my body. I was terribly frightened. I had
my amulets in the pocket of my jacket," DZ took out his amulets and
showed us very quickly. I noticed that in addition to Sung-dud (srung
mdud, a sacred cord) he also had Ten sung (rten srung, amulate). The
latter is a sacred object especially blessed by the Dalai Lama and it
symbolizes removing ill-fortune and avoiding calamities. It is very
precious for Tibetans. "I also had a badge of Kundun (one of the
honourific titles for the Dalai Lama). If the badge had been found by
the soldiers, then I would definitely have died. I was quietly
praying to Kundun. Indeed Kundun was protecting me. Thought that
soldier held my pocket between his fingers several times, he did not
find it, then he howled at me, "Beat it!" I denoted a sense of
gratitude in DZ's expression of rejoicing at his good fortune. Of
course, this was his gratitude toward the Dalai Lama. He prayed, then
his prayers were answered.

"I heard that those soldiers also checked Tibetan's necks, if they
found a badge of Kundun hanging on the "Sung dud", they would pull it
off and threw on the ground. Is that so?" I asked.

"Yes, after throwing it on the ground, they also had Tibetans step on
it. If anyone refused to trample it, he would be arrested and taken
away. Some young people wore rosaries on their wrists, but when they
were found by the soldiers, they were also arrested and taken away."
DZ pointed at the rosary on his left wrist.

"Is that the case that only men, men like you would be searched by
raising your hands high as if you were surrendering?" I asked.

DZ looked into my eyes, and said slowly, "no, not just men. As long
as you are Tibetan, no matter whether you are a man or a woman, old
or young, just like me, you would be searched by raising your hands
like you were surrendering. Do you know that I had never experienced
such an insult before? I saw we Tibetans raising our hands as if we
were surrendering and being searched by soldiers with guns in their
hands. Even the old people were not spared, neither were girls. I
remembered the movies I had watched. Those movies about Japanese
'devils' invading China or about the nationalists fighting against
the communists were just like what were happening in front of my
eyes." I also looked into DZ's eyes, and saw that his eyes were full
of humiliation."

I could not help telling him my maternal Uncle's story. It was nine
years ago when Tibetans revolted like today in Lhasa, but later they
were suppressed by soldier, led by a steel helmet clad Hu Jintao. In
addition, martial law was also imposed in Lhasa. One day, when my
Uncle went to work, he forgot to take his pass with him.
Consequently, he was searched by the soldiers and he was also ordered
to hold his two hands high as if he were surrendering. This greatly
irritated my Uncle and later whenever he talked about this
experience, he would be so angry as to be choked with sobs. He had
followed the Chinese Communist Party as early as since the beginning
of 1950s, and he was an old party member and a scholar employed by
the government, but since then he understood that as a Tibetan, he
would never be trusted.

It was probably because I was a little bit excited, my tone was
comparatively high. DZ was a little nervous and looked around. After
a little while he continued his account."The house I rented was also
searched. Fortunately, I had already moved to stay with the guests in
the hotel. I had a Thangkha in my house which is a portrait of the
Dalai Lama but painted like a traditional Thangka. Later my
neighbours told me that the house had been searched twice. One time
it was searched by armed police, and the other time it was by cadres
from the Neighbourhood Committee. Those armed police probably did not
recognize that image on the Thangka as the Dalai Lama who is
portrayed like Manjushri, so they did not touch it. Cadres from the
Neighbourhood Committee were certainly able to tell and I am sure
they must have taken pictures and kept a copy for the record. I have
a small chest in which I put Tibetan coins I had collected and
currencies of various countries given by tourists when I served as
their tour guide. This small chest was taken away. I do not know
whether it was taken by the armed police or by cadres from the
Neighbourhood Committee. They were just like thieves"

"I thought that I could not stay in Lhasa any more and I had to
leave, otherwise I would probably be arrested. I heard there were
tour guides who had been arrested, at least five of them. I know a
few reporters from CCTV in the hotel and they were willing to help me
by taking me with them when they left Lhasa. Because of my looks, it
would be very difficult for me to pass through many checkpoints
guarded by the soldiers, so these reporters told the soldiers that I
was a member of the video and photography team. In this way, we went
to the railway station together. At the railway station, I saw that a
young man with very short hair was arrested and I think he was
probably a monk."

"The train stopped for a little while at Tuotuo River. Outside the
window I saw many military trucks and soldiers. The reporters from
CCTV probably thought it was fun, so he began to videotape them, as a
result, a few solders were very tough, they not only deleted
everything in the video camera but also made a record. If a Tibetan
had been videotaping, he would definitely have been arrested and
taken away. When we arrived in Xining, hotels did not allow Tibetans
to stay. Thanks to the reporters from CCTV, at last two molas (old
women) and I had a room where we could sleep.

During the first few days in Beijing, when I walked on the street
people asked me where I was from, I truthfully told them that I was
from Tibet but immediately those people's expressions became very
unsightly. It was as if I were a terrorist. Once I was even
interrogated and examined by the armed police. Therefore, if I do not
have any errands or business to attend to, then I will not go out,
but I feel very bored. Then I watch TV. On TV there were only
programmes showing Tibetans beating, smashing, looting or burning but
there were never any programmes about how Lhasa and other Tibetan
areas are under the control of soldiers. It never mentioned how many
Tibetans were killed or arrested. All those officials are lying,
claiming that the troops had never fired on people and saying that
the troops went on the street to clean the streets. It is right that
they came to clean the streets, and what they wiped out were us
Tibetans, because we are garbage in their eyes."

DZ laughed softly. But I perceived the anger and despair in his
laughter. For a short while we were all silent. A few westerners
passed by outside the window and we saw that a sense of carefree
diffuse from their mien and even every pore of theirs. That is a
sense of light heartedness without any fear, and that is a kind of a
lighthearted attitude of people who do not have to be afraid any
more. It was for this freedom that DZ fled to Beijing and was
enduring every fearful day in Beijing, patiently waiting for the
permit of a certain embassy.

I remembered it was late at night when we left the café. The lights
were brighter and the Chinese were still rushing about like tidal
water. Suddenly DZ, who looks more Tibetan than any of us, opened up
his fist and said in a very low voice, "I worry that they would
recognize me as a Tibetan, so I dare not wear it any more." And in
the palm of his hand was a small turquoise earring.
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