“How was Shideling Destroyed?” By Woeser

High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a blogpost by Woeser written on November 7, 2012, for the Tibetan service of Radio Free Asia and published on her blog on March 2, 2013.

This blogpost is a follow up to Woeser’s previous post “Rewriting the History of the 5th Reting Rinpoche and Shideling” and  proceeds to tell the story of how Shideling, the place that Reting Rinpoche would go to to practice Buddhism, was destroyed, starting from 1959.

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The photo above shows Shideling in the 1940s, the photo below taken on November 28, 2012 shows Shideling in ruins

“How was Shideling Destroyed?”
By Woeser

As Edward Said said, narratives are of great importance. Said dedicated his whole life to speaking and fighting for the basic rights of his ethnic group: “The power to narrate, or to block other narratives from forming and emerging, is very important to culture and imperialism…”

The black writer Frantz Fanon, however, says: “The settler makes history and is conscious of making it. And because he constantly refers to the history of his mother country, he clearly indicates that he himself is the extension of that mother country. Thus the history which he writes is not the history of the country which he plunders but the history of his own nation in regard to all that she skims off, all that she violates and starves…”

I quote these two short snippets because when the Hong Kong based magazine “Asia Weekly” gave an account of the “Reting Incidents” that can be regarded as a turning-point in recent history, it simply replicated the story about Reting Rinpoche and Shideling that had been manufactured by CCP intellectuals.

I have never met the 5th Reting Rinpoche but I have been to Shideling, the place that used to be a Buddhist monastery and was turned into ruins, innumerable times. Therefore I can only sneer at the claim that the other simultaneously reigning Rinpoche, Taktra, sent people to destroy Shideling.

So who did really destroy Shideling? Many years ago, when I was still working for the Tibet Autonomous Region Federation of Literary and Art Circles, I interviewed several elderly people, all of whom witnessed and experienced the great changes and great loss that gradually happened after the 1950s. Their version of the story is totally different from the accounts given by “Asia Weekly”.

The retired cadre Wangchuk La, who was sent to Tsemonling Monastery by his mother to become a monk, told me the following: Shideling Monastery was heavily damaged in March 1959. In the name of “putting down a rebellion”, the army of the CCP turned the city of Lhasa into a place of massacre. Monks that were captured at different monasteries were partially locked up at Shideling, including himself. He had witnessed himself how the floor of the Buddhist temple was full of injured bodies, Buddhist statues were also ruined, bent and incomplete.

But what really destroyed Shideling was the Cultural Revolution. Back then, there were the “Red Guards from the far-away capital” that started the revolution, the so-called “serf emancipation” vagrants, the Henan Opera Troupes, the local red guards, the pro-Tibetan rebel faction and the working class brothers. They installed a massive tweeter on the highest point of Shideling, turning it into the “main rebel” broadcasting station.

I interviewed one of the people who was a student Red Guard back at that time and who is a well-known ethnologist today. He said that the broadcasting station was an immensely important propaganda point for the rebel faction. Thereupon Shideling became a battlefield where the different factions attacked and fought with each other. One hand grenade was countered with innumerous machine gun bullets. Once the smoke and fire had vanished, the once 5-storey-high Buddhist Palace was reduced to three storeys. The monks had been running away, were arrested or murdered just in time for the empty rooms to be taken over by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), subsequently occupying it for many years. Shideling became a barrack, in the same way that Jokhang Temple became the PLA’s pigsty.

In reality, Shideling’s downfall was completed within half a century, but a thought-provoking fact is that this downfall is now contested or even being kept secret. Some CCP intellectuals that specially revise history do not want to mention the many proofs left behind by this “human calamity”; they simply say that already before Tibet had been peacefully liberated, the once reigning “Reting Living Buddha” had become a “patriot”, and after he was persecuted to death by the “Taktra Living Buddha” under the guidance of the British Imperialists, Shide Dratsang was burnt down. This is really utter nonsense.

Turning a monastery into a battlefield, a military barrack, a stronghold is more shocking than turning it into a hotel or a storehouse. One can really say that in the history of Tibet, none of the previous religious disputes have ever produced such massive ruins. These ruins are all pieces of evidence of the massive changes that occurred in recent history.

Until the present day, on the inner wall of the three-storey high Shideling, we can still clearly recognise the Chairman Mao quote: “Be United, Alert, Earnest and Lively” as well as many other messy but historically tainted scribblings.

November 7, 2012

The photos below were taken in October 2010 and November 2012 in Lhasa:

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This post is also available in: Chinese (Simplified), Tibetan

3 Comments

  • Who destroyed Gyantse Tsong? and many more questions are to be answered before the last remaining witnesses pass away.

  • Woeser la; I wonder, if you know of Dragoo Gompa in Samada in Gyangze.Dragoo Gompa was if not the oldest in and arround Samada, it was certainly one of the oldest and holiest place in that vicinity ; which was totally raised to the ground beyond recognition.I, once remember hearing about Swiss Samadawa-Tibetans were planing collect donations to reconstruct the monastery but the trace of the Gompa’s site was next to impossible to locate.I wonder; if any one tell us something , any thing about what happened to the project or if there was one at all to begin with.Just curious to know.
    Little away from Samada, a small town called Gyanay, was another very old and very, very holy Gompa by the name “Gyanay_Lhakhang” which housed one of the holiest statues namely “Gyanay- Tsepagh mi” a ” Kumche to Lhasa’s Jho-Rinpo-Che”. Around the arrival of the dark clouds from the east, this statue was believed to have shed tears for real according to the locals.We used to go there every Tsesang Dhusang (every good date and good time) with our mother to make offerings so dad returns home safe and successful with his business.
    Miss those clear skies ,snow capped high mountains on which a promise filled sun rays rested to assure the people down in the village it’s going to be yet another beautiful peace filled day , where, you only heard children play with joy,birds sing, cow bells chime, shepherd boys and girls and (mothers as they churn milk) sing as they went on their separate day’s chores and routines.Those were the few of the most beautiful memories robed off of me, I may forgive; may be ,but may never forget the destroyers of my sanity, peace and happiness in my life.

  • No one see Tibet is destroyed only monasteries. I see on the roof of this monastery has protection of Mongol which Buddhist called Thug (ཐུགས།) means consciousness. It might belong to school of yellow hat Buddhist. It is the symbol of Mongol since Jhankis-Khan who unified Mongol tribes. It is still kept in Ulan Bator the capital of Mongol. But in 17th century last Khan called Gadhen Khan who wants to reunify the Mongols since the death of Kublai Khan was betray by his brother-in-law who is thirsty for power by collaborating with Chinese emperor Kangzi during his expedition in the land of the Mongol territories against Russian Tsar on Geo-politic. Gadhen Khan was protected by Tibet particularly by the 5th Dalai Lama.