Monday, 21 July 2014

Under the Crimson Sky

My review (written in 2010) of Nagtsang Nulo's book appeared in Yak Horns, after Dharamsala-based Khawa Karpo Tibetan Culture Centre published the Indian edition of Nulo's book in Tibetan. Following is the first three paras and the full review can be read in my book:

The day before the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) marched into his village in Northeastern Tibet, Nagtsang Nuden Lobsang – popularly known as Nulo – had a terrifying dream. Thousands of heavily-armed men on horseback galloped amidst dark clouds and dust, shooting everyone in their way. People were felled like willow trees cut by chainsaws. The eight-year-old Nulo had nowhere to hide and tried running after his father whose face was covered with blood. At this moment he cried out, ‘Father!’ Then Nulo’s cousin, sleeping alongside him, punched him in the belly to wake him up.
In January 1956, Beijing dispatched an additional 150,00 troops into Eastern Tibet. Over the next two years, the PLA imposed a campaign of repression and terror. Monasteries were destroyed and monks were tortured, sometimes burned alive and often forced to have intercourse with nuns right in front of the troops. Arrested Tibetan guerrilla fighters were crucified, dismembered, decapitated or sent to hard labour camps. Entire rebelling villages were decimated. News of these Chinese atrocities had already been trickling into the village where Nulo lived with his nomad family.

For a few days the villagers had been watching PLA troops gathering at a makeshift camp on the other side the river. Then, on the morning of Nulo’s dream premonition, monks at the local Tashi Choeling Monastery decided to stage a grand reception for the Chinese military in the hope that their monastery would be saved from impending destruction. The monks lined up on the sides of the approach road in their finest robes playing religious music usually reserved for high spiritual leaders, and holding white scarves in greeting. The Chinese troops marched in the middle of the road in their shabby uniforms, beating their drums and holding red flags aloft. They took up residence in the monastery and installed their radio and wireless radar equipment on the rooftops where prayer flags fluttered....
READ the full review from YAK HORNS available here:

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

News from the Hellish Realm

Note: This is one of the five poems in the first section of Written in Blood. Theurang wrote this particular poem on 15 December 2008, when Beijing's propaganda machinery was spewing out 'burning, looting, smashing' lies to describe an overwhelmingly peaceful protests that spread across the Tibetan Plateau. 

As you can see, this translation has none of the pun, edge and cutting sarcasm of the original Tibetan. Nevertheless, I hope that you will get some sense of Theurang's pulse.

News from the Hellish Realm
By Theurang (Tashi Rapten)
Translated from Tibetan by Bhuchung D. Sonam

Cold wind blows in this hellish realm
Causing an imbalance of hot and cold elements in people
There are many here who suffer from a contagious flu.

But the news about this realm is always fine and bright.

The news from this hellish realm is a document
A document that has lost the word ‘people’
A document with a lock and secret numbers

In this uncertain weather in the hellish realm
Newspaper is like a medical prescription for the sick
A prescription that they have to pay for but fetches no medicine
A prescription like the one stamped with the ‘Constitution’

The news from this realm is a contagious disease
A disease that transmits through people’s mouths and ears
Those who have the disease are servants in this realm

If this hellish realm is like an infirm dragging his shits in his pants
Isn't the newspaper but a paper to wipe one’s bottom?
Isn’t it?

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Pain Without Trace

Gepey, a young Tibetan musician from Ngaba, Amdo in northeastern Tibet, was arrested on 24 May 2014 by the Chinese security personnel from Barkham soon after a concert organized by a group of Tibetans in the area.

Here is my rather rough translation of one of the ten songs from his album released in 2012.

Pain Without Trace

On top of the Potala Palace
Five-starred red flag is hoisted
The heart of my faraway brother
Is drowned in tears of sorrow,
Trishor Gyalmo, the sacred lake
Is frozen in the three winter months
Swans of the lake's north side
Have flown away into the realm of peace,
The greedy and scheming enemy
Has taken over the Tibetan land
Causing fresh wounds in the
Hearts of all our people,
The shameless robbers have
Stolen our fathers' inheritance
Turning the hearts of a powerless people
Colder than waters of the great rivers ...

Like most of the arrested Tibetan artistes, Gepey is accused having political contents in his music. His whereabouts is unknown.

Friday, 16 May 2014


before arrest and torture
Goshul Lobsang was born to a nomadic family in Gyutsa Village in Machu, northeastern Tibet. 
In 1992, he came to India to study in a Tibetan refugee school. After his return to Tibet, the local Chinese authorities constantly harassed him. To avoid further persecution, he went to Lhasa and other areas and later returned home to teach English to fellow nomads and children from neighbourhood.
Chinese Public Security Bureau (PSB) officers of Machu county arrested Lobsang on 29 June 2010. And for about 5 months he was subjected to severe torture, including pain-inducing injections, and sleep deprivation. According to Tibetan Centre for Human Rights & Democracy, the police also used sharp-pointed objects to pierce his finger nails and cuticles which made his hands immobile and useless.
On 26 November 2010, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison by the Kanlho (Ch: Gannan) Intermediate People’s Court and imprisoned at Ding Xi in Gansu Province.
after his release from prison
By November 2013, his health deteriorated and the prison officials, fearing that he would die in prison, released him on 29 November.
In September 2012, while in prisoner in China’s Gansu Province, he wrote a note titled Prisoner of Clear Conscience, which he shared with a group of friends on 1 March 2014.
On 19 March, he died survived by his mother, wife and two teenaged children.

Prisoner of Clear Conscience
Translated from Tibetan by the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights & Democracy

I have a family. I have siblings. I have a wife and children. For them, I have sincere love and affection, and for the sake of this love and affection, I am determined to sacrifice my life. But for the sake of our own people, even if I lose this love and affection, I will have no regrets. I am an ordinary nomad who loves his people, so I am willing to do anything for my people. I might lose this bony and haggard body that has suffered brutal pain and torture inflicted out of sheer hatred, I still will not have any regrets. I have the desire to follow in the footsteps of martyrs who expressed everything through flaming fire, but I lack courage [to do such a thing].
However, I don’t have the desire to bow my head in surrender to an environment, which denies freedom to speak out against lies and to struggle for equality. [Therefore], I fell into such a situation [of torture and suffering], for which I, an ordinary nomad, have no regrets. What I desire is a free world wherein people can enjoy a life of harmony – I don’t want an atmosphere of darkness, a society wherein life is subjected to oppression.
I have no regrets, although all of a sudden, I may be compelled to separate from the path of life that [I have been treading along] with my beloved mother, siblings, wife and children. I may have to depart with [feelings] of cold, heavy sadness, but I have no sense of guilt in my heart.
My clear conscience is my only asset in this world. I don’t possess anything other than this, and I don’t need anything other than this.
[But] my only regret that weighs heavily on my heart is the lack of profound sense of solidarity among our people, because of which we are unable to achieve a strong unified stand.
Fellow countrymen, we must have a far-sighted [political] vision and strong unity. We must have a strong sense of faith in our culture and tradition, and a sense of gratitude to those who have contributed so much to our nation.
Fellow countrymen of the Land of Snows, we must all uphold unity. May this unity be sustained for tens of thousands of years!

Goshul Lobsang
28 September 2012

Ding Xi, Gansu Province, China

Monday, 5 May 2014

Mishra Recommends

During the discussion last Saturday with Pankaj Mishra – who Pico Iyer calls 'a rare writer who is at ease as a historian, philosopher, traveler, and memoirist' – organized by Tibet Policy Institute in Dharamsala, I asked if he could recommend three books that every Tibetan should read on China. 

Here are Mishra's recommendations in the same order he mentioned:

1. China in Ten Words by Yu Hua, the author of To Live, Chronicle of a Blood Merchant and many more.

"Framed by ten phrases common in the Chinese vernacular, China in Ten Words uses personal stories and astute analysis to reveal as never before the world’s most populous yet oft-misunderstood nation. In "Disparity," for example, Yu Hua illustrates the expanding gaps that separate citizens of the country. In "Copycat," he depicts the escalating trend of piracy and imitation as a creative new form of revolutionary action. And in "Bamboozle," he describes the increasingly brazen practices of trickery, fraud, and chicanery that are, he suggests, becoming a way of life at every level of society. Witty, insightful, and courageous, this is a refreshingly candid vision of the "Chinese miracle" and all of its consequences.''

2. Red Dust by Ma Jian, the author of Noodle Maker, Stick Out Your Tongue and many others

"In 1983, at the age of thirty, dissident artist Ma Jian finds himself divorced by his wife, separated from his daughter, betrayed by his girlfriend, facing arrest for “Spiritual Pollution,” and severely disillusioned with the confines of life in Beijing. So with little more than a change of clothes and two bars of soap, Ma takes off to immerse himself in the remotest parts of China. His journey would last three years and take him through smog-choked cities and mountain villages, from scenes of barbarity to havens of tranquility. Remarkably written and subtly moving, the result is an insight into the teeming contradictions of China that only a man who was both insider and outsider in his own country could have written. "

3. Socialism is Great by Lijia Zhang, a writer, journalist and public speaker.

With a great charm and spirit, “Socialism Is Great!” recounts Lijia Zhang's rebellious journey from disillusioned factory worker to organizer in support of the Tiananmen Square demonstrators, to eventually become the writer and journalist she always determined to be. Her memoir is like a brilliant miniature illuminating the sweeping historical forces at work in China after the Cultural Revolution as the country moved from one of stark repression to a vibrant, capitalist economy.


I am adding one more to the list, which is Mishra's own A Great Clamour: Encounters with China and its Neighbours.

''Journeying to Tibet on the newly built express from Beijing, to Mongolia on the Trans-Siberian Railway, and then through Indonesia, Malaysia, and Taiwan, he draws, too, an vivid portrait of China's neighbours, and the shadow the restless giant casts over its stage.''

Enjoy Reading.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Baba Phunwang and his Letters to Hu Jintao

Baba Phuntsok Wangal, popularly called Phunwang, was a life-long Tibetan communist, who had unfailing faith in the goodness of socialism. He was also a controversial figure, who guided the Eighteenth Army of the Chinese People's Liberation Army into Tibet, which ultimately helped complete China's occupation of Tibet and the flight of His Holiness the Dalai Lama into exile.

However, at the age of thirty-eight, the Communist Party of China put him behind bars and when released, he was an old man of fifty-six. Baba's enduring legacy may be his writings, which have profound historical values and provide great insights into China's Tibet policy and its failures. 

Following is the second of the five letters that Baba Phuntsok Wangyal wrote to Hu Jintao, the then Chinese president. These letters were translated by Tenzin Losel, Bhuchung D. Sonam, Jane Perkins and Tenzin Tsundue, and published in a book titled Witness to Tibet's History


Respected General-Secretary Hu Jintao
My greetings!

Published by Paljor Publications, 2007
 On October 29 last year I presented a long letter to you and the leaders of the NPC Standing   below:

Committee. On February 26 this year __ according to comrade Sheng Huaren from the NPA Party Group who presided over the forum attended by Wang Yunlong, Secretary of the Party Group of the NPC Department of Administration, Zhuwei Qun, Deputy-Director of the United Front Department and Sithar, Director of the Tibet Bureau __ entrusted by the Central Government and on behalf of the Party Group my letter was discussed, emphasising the need for consistency with the Central Government on the “Tibetan issue inherited from the past”. And I was told to think the matters over carefully to voice my opinions. Since this happened to be the time of “two meetings” (the National People’s Conference and the National People’s Consultative Meeting), this was delayed until April 4. With regard to that letter, I made some statements and requested the NPC Standing Committee to report my opinions to the Central Government. I am now presenting a summary of those statements

1           The letter I presented to General-Secretary Hu Jintao and to the NPC Standing Committee is in line with the spirit of the Central Government’s initiatives to build a harmonious and stable socialist society, which can be proven by the entire contents of that letter, and so it is needless to restate this.
2       The key concern in the overall question is: Whether or not it is good for the religious leaders of  Tibetan Buddhism __ with the Dalai Lama as the core __ and the exile Tibetan Government, including around 10,000 Tibetan compatriots, to return to the nation or remain abroad. Strategically this is a question which needs to be carefully considered and deliberately decided. It is necessary to understand that those Western anti-China elements are trying to ensure that they [the Dalai Lama and his exile Tibetan Government] remain abroad, so as to keep on playing the “Tibet card” for the sake of their own interests. Therefore, keeping them abroad is politically short-sighted and irresponsible in terms of  history __ creating endless troubles in the future. On the contrary, striving for the Dalai Lama’s return to the nation will transform passivity to activity, antagonism to harmony. The continuation and furtherance of foreign and domestic policy __ namely the policy towards overseas Tibetan compatriots __ should lay stress on the Central Government’s advocacy of “harmony and stability”.  For over a thousand years intangibility has exceeded tangibility in the spiritual sphere of the day-to-day life of devoted Tibetan Buddhists; whether or not the hearts of the people are peaceful and stable cannot be ignored and underestimated, especially the general wishes of the people __ the most important factor which can play a decisive role at a very critical moment. Therefore, [we] must channel our actions according to the situation and avoid being at a disadvantage.
3       Forgive my being straightforward. The comments made by the leaders of the United Front Department __ let’s not talk about other things __ merely concerning the basic spirit of the Central Government’s initiatives to build a “harmonious and stable” socialist society, they are not in conformity with this. The Central Government emphasises the importance of “friendship” as the national policy. We can take an example from the policy towards Taiwan __ under the premise of One China _  which never censures past mistakes. Nevertheless, the United Front Department, in line with the “leftist struggle”, has stressed too much on the “Tibet issue”, with “peace” on one side and “struggle” on the other. It even adopts “delaying tactics” to play for time with the Dalai Lama, waiting until his death. This is apparently a continuation of the wrong-thinking “leftist” line over nationality and religious work __ especially on the “Tibet issue”. Everybody is aware that this wrong line of “leftism” has brought disastrous consequences to the Party, the nation and the people. That is why it has been negated by Party decision-making. 
4           Unquestionably, I myself and many others who understand the facts are extremely dissatisfied with this wrong-thinking line of “leftism” and the mistakes made by it. Let’s just forget other things, merely as far as the above-mentioned matters are concerned, people make various comments, such as: Ignoring good advice, they landed themselves in the trouble of “two Panchens” today; the two great Buddhist leaders whom the Central Government used to care about, and who attract world attention __ the Seventeenth Karmapa and Agya Rinpoche, the abbot of Kumbum Monastery __ were also forced to flee overseas; playing for time, and intending to produce “two Dalais”,  will create greater trouble in the future at home and abroad. However, the question of the Dalai Lama’s health, and how long he will live, will not be decided according to the timetable of others. And regarding such questions, people have further comments, such as: The Karmapa is likely to be the successor to the Dalai Lama after his passing, in case of a period of vacuum of leadership. Although all the heads of Tibetan Buddhism, from the Gelug, Nyingma, Sakya, Kagyud and Bonpo, have fled abroad one after another, they are still the inheritors of the Buddhist doctrines and are playing an important role, directly and indirectly. Of course, those mistakes are not related to the leaders from the United Front Department. The question is related to the [Party] Line, not to the individuals. Therefore, in order to improve and intensify the friendly relations between brotherly nationalities such as the Han and Tibetans __ and for the prosperity and stability of the nation and the people __ this residual “leftist” line should not be continued; it is time to bring it to an end.
Baba Phunwang (standing right) when Tibetan delegates
signed the '17-point Agreement' under duress.
Baba was the Chinese official translator.

5           The letter I presented to the Central Government is concerned with the entire Tibetan nationality and peace and stability across the Tibetan regions in the Land of Snow, which occupies a quarter of the total area of the nation,  and is related to a far-sighted, longterm strategic policy that needs to be sensibly considered and carefully decided, rather than being a question of seeking advice on current policy and concrete matters. Some people who are responsible for the relevant departments, who ignore the actual situation and don’t care about the wishes of the masses, will not think deeply about their attitudes and words; they will not even undergo self-censure. Therefore, I sincerely request the NPC Party Group to report this to the Central Government __ headed by General-Secretary Hu Jintao __ to be handed over to the Central Institute of Political Research with a written instruction. And with an attitude of Seeking Truth From Facts, objectively and without prejudice, make practical suggestions. All the decisions are up the Central Government.
        With regard to the comments made by the United Front Department, besides the general tone that they adopted, [they] strayed from the point when mentioning my “talk” with Li Weihan in 1982, and criticised me for adhering to the so-called “consistently incorrect point of view”, my view on “the greater Tibetan regions”. But that was actually a plot attributed to Old Li by some specific leaders who had me sent to prison for 18 years and have never admitted their mistakes. Old Li, aged 86, is now in hospital; those people have not even seen his articles, so what is the value of their comments? I wrote a letter of 20,000 characters to the leaders of the Central Government, and particularly wrote a letter to comrade Deng Xiaoping and General-Secretary Hu Yaobang appealing to the Central Government to form a study team to clarify the arguments on the theoretical principles of nationality. Fortunately, after the Central Government looked into this their summing up was that “according to the regulations of the Party it is permitted to hold different points of view”, and the case was held over indefinitely, with some statements made by comrade Zhong Xun. Therefore, after 23 years, referring to the talk with Old Li is unnecessary and of no significance.

Published by Khawa Karpo Tibetan
Culture Centre, Dharamsala, 2013
6           As early as the 1940s I was the main person responsible for all kinds of revolutionary activities of the nationality democratic movements, and in 1951 I was the only Tibetan among the members of the Party Committee for the PLA’s Lhasa advance troop and of the CCP Tibet Work Committee during the ‘50s. For the sake of the Party, the people and history, and following the principle of being a communist who must be open and above-board, and must not hide any opinions, I present this letter to the leaders of the Central Party, and send it to some Tibetan comrades for reference. [I] believe that this letter has fully reflected the expectations and wishes of ordinary Tibetans on the restoration of relations between the Central Government and the Dalai Lama. Many Tibetan comrades have directly or indirectly expressed their agreement to my views. “Bitter medicine is good for ailments, good advice is unpleasant to the ears”. My letter cannot be supposed to be good medicine, but having a clear conscience __ and from the bottom of my heart __ I sincerely stated the views that people feel uncomfortable to talk about, dare not talk about to protect themselves, and the questions that are sensitive to some people. Whether or not the views will be adopted is entirely up to the Central Government’s decision-making.  As an individual I am powerless. But time will prove all and history will make a fair evaluation.
Comrade Hu Jintao, I completely understand that the leaders of the CCP Standing Committee, headed by you, are deeply occupied with affairs of state. Nevertheless, the question of the Tibet issue of today is the most important of all our nation’s nationality works. Though I am in sound health, clear-minded, and able to write and give lectures, time does not spare people. I am now 83-years-old and have no ambition for fame and repute. I have spoken the truth from facts, and this is all purely in the interests of the state and nationalities. Looking forward to understanding if there is anything inappropriate herein.

With regards
Phuntsok Wangyal (Phunwang)
April 12, 2005