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Woeser: Banning Tibet

August 1, 2008

Woeser on how China closed a country
The New Statesman
July 31, 2008

A great cry, a noise that can be produced only by those who live in
the grasslands, sounded from the Tibetan lands in March 2008,
shocking the world. The Chinese media called it "the wolf howling".

When the Olympic torch passed through Lhasa, Tibetans were not
allowed to leave their homes unless they had special passes. My
friends in Lhasa wondered: "If Chinese citizens can watch the torch
when it passes through other cities, why can't we? Are we not
citizens of this country?"

Many monks have disappeared. Where are the thousands who were in the
three major monasteries in Lhasa? Where are my two young monk
friends? Last year I saw pictures of the Dalai Lama in their quiet
dormitory, filled with scents of monastery incense. Some say that
more than a thousand monks are locked up as "terrorists" in the Gobi
Desert in Golmud, Qinghai - the Guantanamo of China - and will not be
released until after the Olympics.

Buddhist ceremonies have been cancelled because the authorities fear
gatherings of monks and devotees. Many annual folk festivals have
been called off, too. When the Torch reached Qinghai, Tibetans around
Qinghai Lake were banned from worshipping mountain gods and racing
horses. The traditional layi song festival of the farming communities
of Amdo, originally scheduled for the end of July, was banned. The
Kampa Litang Horse Festival is not exempt either.

"I suppose the Olympic Games are just like our horse festival," said
a tall Kampa man, when I was visiting the area. "But we won't have a
horse festival this year."

More troops have been deployed to the Tibetan areas in Gansu and
Sichuan provinces. Roadblocks and military police are seen
everywhere. In Ganzi County alone, there are more than 70,000
soldiers - far more than the troops sent to suppress the Tibetan
rebellion in 1959. More than 10,000 soldiers have set up camp in Maqu
County, the same number as the local population. In Lhasa, everyone
must pass a loyalty test in the campaign to clean up in the aftermath
of the unrest in March. The Olympics are meaningless to Tibetans there.

Then there are the thousands of Tibetans in Beijing. Tibetan college
students have been told to go home this summer, while students at
Tibetan schools are not allowed to leave the school premises. The
Tibetan Studies Centre has given its staff a rare long holiday: even
those we call "Tibetans hired by the imperial court", meaning those
on the government payroll, are not trusted. A Tibetan tour guide who
I know was detained for a month, with no explanation whatsoever from
the police.

A Tibetan artist friend was interrogated for a day because Buddhist
scripture in Tibetan was found in his painting. My good friend Dechen
Pemba, an ethnic Tibetan who was born in London and has been studying
and working in Beijing, was deported back to the UK for reasons that
were never fully explained.

As for me, if I stay in Beijing during the Olympics, I expect to be
put under house arrest. So, should I go back to Lhasa? Friends and
relatives there tell me: "You'd better wait until after the Olympics."

Translated from the Chinese by Bessie Du.

Woeser is a Tibetan writer based in Beijing. Her blog The Middle Way
is frequently blocked and her books are banned in China
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