“My Response on Twitter to the ‘People’s Daily’ Concerning the Situation of Lhasa’s Old Town” By Woeser

High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a blogpost by Woeser that was written and posted on her blog on May 18, 2013. The post can be seen as a follow up to Woeser’s earlier blogpost titled “Our Lhasa is on the Verge of Destruction! Please, Save Lhasa!” that attracted worldwide attention and concern and also prompted international action for Lhasa’s preservation, including this online petition to UNESCO that has amassed over 96,000 signatures.

Following Woeser’s original Weibo post and subsequent lengthier blogpost, Chinese state media started to publish counter-reports, an example of which can be seen in English here: http://eng.tibet.cn/2012sy/xw/201306/t20130623_1901276.html A particular article published in People’s Daily from May 13, 2013 titled “Lhasa’s Old Town’s ‘Great Demolition and Great Reconstruction’ Is Not True” is what Woeser is replying to in this blogpost, made up of a compilation of her tweets.

2013 06 24 My Response to Peoples Daily 1

The article published by People’s Daily on May 13, 2013: “Lhasa’s Old Town’s ‘Great Demolition and Great Reconstruction’ Is Not True (Seeking the facts – finding the truth behind all the clamour)

“My Response on Twitter to the ‘People’s Daily’ Concerning the Situation of Lhasa’s Old Town”
By Woeser

Explanation: the text below is the simple response that I posted on Twitter on May 13 regarding the criticism that the “People’s Daily” directed towards my long Weibo post titled “Our Lhasa is on the verge of destruction! Please, Save Lhasa!”. (When I put it up on my blog, I made some changes)

The “People’s Daily” published an article on May 13, “Lhasa’s Old Town’s ‘Great Demolition and Great Reconstruction’ Is Not True (Seeking the facts – finding the truth behind all the clamour)”; the first sentence reads: “On May 4th, a Weibo post titled “Our Lhasa is on the verge of destruction! Please, Save Lhasa!” criticised the excessive commercialisation of Lhasa’s old town and included some photos showing scenes of ‘great demolition and great reconstruction’…” haha, People’s Daily, that was my Weibo post, please mention my name.

My long Weibo post that was blocked

My long Weibo post that was blocked

My Weibo post “Our Lhasa is on the verge of destruction! Please, Save Lhasa!” was posted on May 5 at 1:09 am and was blocked on May 5 at 11:45 am; during this time it was read 523,000 times, forwarded 2243 times and received 309 comments. Later on, more netizens kept forwarding my post, but they were also deleted. Since Lhasa is not being destroyed but “protected”, why then have all posts about Lhasa’s old town been deleted?

The People’s Daily has the nerve to call into question that Lhasa’s old constructions are being demolished, has the nerve to call into question that Lhasa’s water resources are being damaged, has the nerve to call into question that Lhasa is being excessively commercialised. All of the old houses in Lhasa’s old town that are subject to so-called “protection” are actually being turned into restaurants for “Tibet drifters”. On the upper reaches of the Lhasa river, because of many years of mining activities, the water has been heavily polluted and now the river has been cut into half to “create” various artificial scenic spots. So has Lhasa not been commercialised enough? Well, go to Lhasa and you will find out.

However, I still welcome the People’s Daily to stress that the projects in Lhasa’s old town are about “protection and renovation”. Perhaps this can serve as a warning or restriction for some of the officials and businessmen, maybe they will be afraid that they have to recover the original sites after the completion of this “protection work”.

Hehe, I also realised that the People’s Daily spread some rumours. In my original Weibo and blogposts I never wrote that the “Barkhor Shopping Mall” would be built in the Barkhor; I also never wrote that the “Barkhor would be demolished”. What I wrote was: “the ‘Barkhor Shopping Mall’ (originally the site of the Chengguan District Government Headquarters; located in the northeast section of the Barkhor, the circumambulation route around the Jokhang, and located very close to what is generally called the Barkhor, also within the Old City of Lhasa)”.

Did the People’s Daily see this or not? Let’s show it to them – what we can say about the present situation is that Lhasa’s old town transformation divides into several large parts:

the heart of the Old City, the circumambulation path around the Jokhang Temple is to be thoroughly cleared. All the street peddlers are to be moved inside the newly-built “Barkhor Shopping Mall.” All of the residents originally living along the street are to be moved to Toelung Dechen County in the western suburb of Lhasa; those households that move quickly can get a subsidy of between 20,000 and 30,000 RMB. Not moving will be a political problem. As for the empty homes and courtyards, they’ll be used to draw investment bids. Stores, restaurants, bars, art galleries and the like are to be established here. And on other streets and alleys in the Old City, such as the space in front of the Ramoche temple, big public squares are to be opened up. The surrounding households will similarly be moved to the suburbs. In the northeast corner of the Old City, the site of the former Chengguan District Government Headquarters, the Barkhor Shopping Mall has already been erected (it occupies an area of 150,000 sqm, there will alone be 1117 underground parking spots).

The People’s Daily also used the Potala Palace as an example to prove that Lhasa is not being excessively commercialised, stating that “the Potala Palace has the capacity to receive about 2600 visitors per day”. Yet, already in 2003, the Potala Palace management office admitted that the number of visitors must not exceed 850 per day, otherwise it will cause damage to the wooden and stone structures of the palace. In reality, however, the figure of 2600 people visiting Potala Palace per day is also simply not true. Last year Lhasa broke the 10 million mark of tourists coming into the city; let’s calculate, it is unlikely that only one million of them actually went to visit the Potala Palace.

The city is constantly in the process of being built. The city is constantly in the process of transforming. The residents of this city are used to truck-mounted cranes and all sorts of machinery, they are used to roads being dug open, to dust being raised, to the booming sounds of detonations. It looks as if this city is flourishing because it is constantly being revamped. Yet, the real meaning of this is: the city is constantly losing something. In the process of ceaseless surgery, it has already lost its true colours and features.

10 pedestrian bridges will be built in Lhasa (5 have already been built on the Lingkor circumambulation). 4 dams will be built on Lhasa River, the holy Lake Lhamo Lhatso that is very significant in Tibetan culture will be opened for tourists and equipped with a large entrance, walkways for tourists and water features and the sacred Mount Kailash in the far away Ngari prefecture will become a scenic spot, charging 960 RMB for an entrance ticket; finally, the ruins of Guge Palace have also been opened up for development. Companies and local governments in the whole of Tibet are madly bidding for land, ready to fish for a big buck, and this is not called excessive?

Lake Lhamo Lhatso has a very special spiritual meaning in Tibetan culture, it is believed to be the spiritual lake of the protector of the Buddhist teachings, Palden Lhamo, and it is the lake where generations of Dalai Lamas reincarnated. Traditionally, Tibetans have always highly respected Lake Lhamo Lhatso, which included not making noise when going there on a pilgrimage and not moving a single stone or grass; yet, today they want to build a big main entrance, a ticket office, pathways, water features, an observation platform, a car park, public toilets etc. Attracting countless tourists will not damage anything?

Building pedestrian bridges on the Lingkor circuit is the most inhumane plan; one needs to know that many of the pilgrims coming to the circumambulation are elderly people whose legs may be weak or injured, as well as those who come prostrating from far away, how can the elderly walk up and down the stairs of these pedestrian bridges? And on those so-called inclined paths, how are the people prostrating supposed to fulfil their Buddhist duties? If the government was really committed to “serving the people”, why don’t they ban cars from driving on the circumambulation and give it to the people?

From May 5, the 5th month according to the Tibetan calendar started, which is also “Saga Dawa” according to the Buddhist calendar. In this month all devout Buddhists in the city of Lhasa have to enter the prayer path and do their prayers; on the biggest circumambulation in Lhasa, in less than a year, five pedestrian bridges were built; and the local authorities were extremely mean, deliberately blocking the streets below the bridges, thus forcing people to walk up and down those bridges, making many elderly with bad legs suffer a lot. These are things that currently happen in Lhasa on a daily basis.

What is being included in the name of development has already reached the level of insanity. In the name of economic development, Tibetan mines have been exploited, hydraulic power plants have been built on Tibet’s rivers, Tibet’s sacred mountains and rivers have been developed for tourism; all businesses and governments in the entire Tibetan region are seizing territory and water areas to make money. I must say one sentence: “resist their development. This kind of development is inhumane.”

Soon, all old houses around the Barkhor will be demolished, and those that may be left will one after the other be turned into restaurants, becoming the backyards of all these “Tibet drifters” that come from all corners of China to enjoy life in Tibet. Tibet’s old town will be very similar to that of Kashgar. My good friend, the Uyghur intellectual Ilham Tohti, once said to me: Tibet will very soon become like Xinjiang. And this is exactly what is happening now.

In Autumn 2003, we went to Kashgar. In Chinese, the city is simply called Kashi but all Uyghurs call it Kashgar. We spent a long time in the old town, experienced Uyghur culture and everyday life. At the time I was always reminded of Lhasa’s Barkhor, I felt that both places were essentially very similar. Back then Kashgar’s old town was being demolished, transformed into a so-called “modernised” new city, and I was distressed because I felt that I was actually witnessing the fate of Lhasa’s old town.

The People’s Daily has the nerve to mention the Potala Palace. One needs to know that the damage inflicted upon it has never stopped. 54 years ago, in front of Potala Palace was a verdant and flush area; because it was home to the Dharma Seat for the Dalai Lama to take a rest. Yet, after His Holiness was forced into exile, all the trees were cut down and on the empty space, they built the power centre of the occupants, namely the TAR Party Committee and government complex, surrounded by red walls, very much resembling Zhongnanhai.

China’s power holders always like to imitate that area in the very centre of Beijing, because the highest instructions issued from there can change the fate of a billion people. Hence, simply erecting a red wall is far from being enough. For example, since the “Workers Cultural Palace” was built in front of Tiananmen, many places in China imitated this, in front of the Potala Palace they also built a “Workers Cultural Palace”, it was the first “pro-Tibet” building built in the 1960s.

In 1994, UNESCO placed the Potala Palace on the World Heritage List. But then, in 1996, the village of Shol, which had stood for 1100 years at the foot of the Potala Palace was moved and relocated. At the same time, the Potala Palace, now deprived of Shol, was fatally disfigured with a public square: a replica of all those identical squares found throughout China, that are meant to display and project supreme power and authority. In 1997, the “Workers Cultural Palace” on the western side of the Potala Palace Square was turned into a nightclub.

In 2000 and 2001, UNESCO listed the Jokhang and the Norbulingka on the World Heritage List as extensions of the Potala, making Lhasa, already a sacred place in terms of its value for religion, history and the humanities, a part of the world’s cultural heritage. Nominally then, it ought to receive protection simply as a matter of course. But in 2002 Tibetans received a deep wound to their hearts.

In 2005, when the Potala Palace Square was extended, the club called “Workers Cultural Palace” was demolished and the Potala Palace Square turned into a second Tiananmen. Apart from a pedestal to fly the five-starred red flag, a “monument for the peaceful liberation of Tibet” that very much resembles a cannonball was also built. Also, on either side there are now underground passageways for pedestrians. Just like the author, Ivan Klima from the former socialist country, Czech Republic, commented on the square of his own country: “numerous times, celebrations to pay respect and show loyalty to the current ruler have been held here, no matter whether he is loved or met with opposition (the latter is more common), there are always enough people that come to express their loyalty, regardless of whether it is for their own advantage or whether they have been driven there out of fear.”

Once on July 1, after the flag-raising ceremony hosted by a group of officials who all looked and behaved exactly the same, I saw a thin old Buddhist nun slowly walk over and face the Potala Palace to pray in silence. She did not worry at all about the fact that next to her stood many military police officers swearing an oath with their fists clenched, facing the flag of the CCP. Instead she clasped her hands in devotion and held them high up towards her forehead, she swore an oath of alliance, her hands expressed a pledge to Buddha, to His Holiness, to all living beings.

The Potala Palace Square has been extended all the way to the feet of the actual Palace itself. The authorities at the time forced all local residents out, intentionally only leaving behind organisations that used to belong to the Tibetan government, like the Shol Offices, Shol Prison, the Shol Mint as well as a few aristocratic courtyard houses, and they called this area “Shol City”, making it “an important place for patriotic education”. And under every single exhibit in the newly built “Treasure Palace”, it is written that “Tibet has been an inseparable part of the mighty ancestral land since ancient times”.

Potala Palace is not Tiananmen; but they turned it into Tiananmen, forcing upon it a monument, a flag pedestal and underground walkways; this reveals that their intention is to turn the spiritual Potala Palace into a political entity that carries strong colonial features and in the name of modernisation, they recklessly neglect the spiritual needs of the Tibetan people that have lived here for many generations. This is much worse than the simple destruction of culture.

Further information:
China News Video: The Lhasa Old Town Protection Project will be completed in June, it will not change the original appearance and will not resettle residents: http://www.chinanews.com/shipin/cnstv/2013/05-09/news213679.shtml

This post is also available in: Chinese (Simplified)

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