“Happiness Under Gunpoint” By Woeser

High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a blogpost by Woeser that was originally written for Radio Free Asia on March 17, 2010 in Lhasa and posted on her blog on March 25, 2010

It is another in a series of blogposts written and posted from Lhasa and the second to address the theme of “happiness”, read her previous blogpost “What Is Happiness” here

Referenced in the article are two prominent Tibetans who are well-known for their allegiance to the Chinese government, the first reference is to the singer Tseten Dolma and the second to the new Chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region, Padma Choling. 

Woeser has mentioned Tseten Dolma before in her essay about “reactionary songs” that was translated here on High Peaks Pure Earth last year.Tseten Dolma has also been written about by Tibetan bloggers and criticised both as a person as well as for her music.

Readers should note that Woeser does not refer to Padma Choling by name, only to the nickname given to him by Lhasa residents. Interestingly, his name is actually Pema Trinley (པད་མ་འཕྲིན་ལས་, pad ma ‘phrin las) and although the first name Padma adheres to the Tibetan spelling, Choling is a spelling invented entirely by Chinese state media and now also being used by Western media! Read a recent interview with Padma “Choling” published by Newsweek here.

“Happiness Under Gunpoint”
By Woeser

In an article titled “China’s Continued Crackdown in Tibet” published in the British magazine “The Economist”, it says: “In Tibet, March is the cruellest month, and it is also the traditional season for doomed protests against Chinese rule. This year the authorities are unusually edgy. They have mounted a pre-emptive clampdown of a severity rarely seen in recent years […] Helmeted troops bearing rifles patrol Lhasa, the Tibetan capital. Snipers lurk on rooftops near the Jokhang temple, Tibet’s holiest shrine and often a focus for protests.”

This passage just as much applies to March this year, which is closely associated with the penetrating clamour of the authorities’ propaganda. Since March 10, 2010, apart from armoured vehicles and armed patrol cars as well as those brand new military and police cars whose names we don’t know, there have also been propaganda cars decked with coloured banners and Five-Starred Red Flags passing through the Lingkhor road and main roads of Lhasa. Deafening loudspeakers repeatedly play songs by the “government sponsored” singer Tseten Dolma such as: “Bitterness has Turned to Sweetness after the Communist Party Came” and the “Song of Emancipated Serfs”. Those revolutionary songs, which have been popular for many political movements, makes the whole of Lhasa once more be flooded with the gruesome and evil spectre of the Cultural Revolution. Moreover, banners hang on the cars reading: “The army-civilian relationship is just like that of fish and water, Han Chinese and Tibetans are one family”. It is so offensive to the eyes that it has a strong sense of irony.

The mindset of the authorities is really strange; on the one hand they feel the urge to terrorise Tibetans, spreading fear but on the other hand they want to create a harmonious, joyful and happy family atmosphere. So the problem is who really believes them? Perhaps the passing tourists? Or the journalists who have been invited to watch a meticulously prepared stage play? This place is nothing but an absurd drama turning the lives of those living in it into abnormality. On the surface, we only see Tibet with blue sky, with white clouds and the magnificent sunlight as well as the always smiling and seemingly honest and simple Tibetan people, perfectly in line with the image the outside world has of Tibet. Furthermore, in order to give their rule the appearance of legality, the authorities spare no pains to reconstruct the story of two entirely different societies, an old one and a new one. But in fact, this story is only an imitation of those fabricated excuses, which the  colonisers made up in order to invade other people’s land and plunder other people’s resources. History is nothing but repeating itself with the only differences being time, place and people.

But all the protests that spread from Lhasa to Amdo and Kham in March 2008 encompassed almost all levels of Tibetan society, proving that resentment among Tibetans is extremely strong. But of course, the suppression from the authorities is also very harsh. At the same time, the authorities launched a propaganda machine loudly propagating “to be grateful”, this being forcing Tibetan people under gunpoint to be grateful to them. A few people who sold their souls were given rewards in forms of high positions with handsome salaries; it is only that those shining peacock tail feathers, determining a person’s status, contaminate the blood of the Tibetan people. As for now, there is that new Chairman, who is scathingly denounced by people from Lhasa as “Pang-khu” (meaning beggar in Tibetan).  He opens his round red butcher eyes suddenly spitting out dreadful curses aimed at His Holiness, which even the colonists would be hesitant to utter. When people are shameless to such a despicable degree, a different power, such as God’s will or Karma, will certainly appear to punish them.

However, the strongest catchphrase is of course “happiness”, asking everybody to unanimously praise a previously never experienced life of happiness. Yet, if people are really happy, their backs wouldn’t have to continuously be pressed against guns held by that imperceptible hand, Lhasa wouldn’t be turned into a militarized city guarded by guns day and night. When I asked a retired cadre who used to hold a post in a provincial government department and who now enjoys a comfortable life if he was really happy, he first turned off his mobile phone, took out the battery and only then answered “How can one live in happiness when one is guarded by a gun every day? People living in prison, are they happy? We live in a place which is just like a giant prison. We cannot even speak a sentence of truth without having to be afraid of being bugged; only the apathetic might feel happiness.” And the government employee from a work unit anxiously says: “we work on shifts in turn, all night long, how can you bear that? First I thought it would be over by March 14 but then those authorities concocted another one of those Serf Liberation days, this is just misery, I will be on duty until the end of the month, how can we speak of happiness?”

Lhasa, March 17, 2010

This post is also available in: Chinese (Simplified)