“The Faces of ‘Emancipated Serfs’ in China Pictorial” By Woeser

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China Pictorial April 1959 issue

High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a blogpost by Woeser written in September 2015 for the Mandarin service of Radio Free Asia and published on her blog on September 21, 2015.

In this post, Woeser digs through the archive of China’s state media publication called “China Pictorial” to look at depictions of Tibet and Tibetans through the years. Scroll to the bottom of the text to see over 20 cover photos of the magazine.

 

“The Faces of ‘Emancipated Serfs’ in China Pictorial”
By Woeser

 

Over the past few days I was searching for information for an essay and went to consult the Party’s most forceful voice: “China Pictorial” (it calls itself “the face of the country, the memory of the people”). I was interested in how many different faces the magazine has given “liberated” Tibetans over the years. I did not expect it to be this many. A post on the nationalist Chinese internet platform bbs.tiexue.net titled “Precious Historical Memory: The changing covers of China Pictorial over the past 60 years” (http://bbs.tiexue.net/post_3858308_1.html) included almost 700 pictures from 1950 until 2009 (the past six years were omitted). About 20 of them showed Tibetan faces, mostly beautiful young female faces, but also many sweet and happy children wearing red scarves. The message is very clear: All “emancipated serfs” are extremely grateful (even offering a khata to the former President Jiang Zemin), the “emancipated serfs” are always happily and joyfully dancing, but images of local customs or natural scenery were very few in number. There is only one piece about a man, namely about Rinchen Phuntsok who climbed Mt. Everest in 1988. The image very much resembles that of Wangdu, the bitter and hate-filled “emancipated serf” acting in the famous brainwashing movie “Serf”. A photographer friend of mine commented: “ These photos are so fake!”

Two artwork images are particularly amusing: One is “feeding geese” from 1962. It shows a woman, in the style of a porcelain figure, feeding geese, but looking like she is feeding chicken. The problem is that I do not recall Tibetan families ever keeping geese at all. They had swans and Tibetan cranes, but not geese. A friend from Kham told me that some aristocratic families would sometimes keep geese as pets. But these were small in number and were called “Cha Hangpa”. Today, there are some families living in the lower Tibetan areas who keep geese, so-called “geese to support Tibet” imported from Chinese areas. But they are not kept as pets, but served as food. The other picture is from 2006, showing “auspicious khata fluttering in the wind on the Plateau, commemorating the opening of the Qinghai-Tibet railway”. Northern Tibetan herds people, men and women, offer khata, shed tears of thankfulness, while kneeling on the railway tracks; there is no photo that conveys the sense of the colonisers and the sense of being colonised more than this one.

China Pictorial also presents the faces of a few other minority group: Uyghurs (also women), Mongolians (also women, including the “grassland heroine” of the Cultural Revolution), as well as Miao, Yi and Bai women. It appears that out of the 55 “ethnic minorities”, Tibetans have received the most intense love, as if the Party wants to say over and over again: “you belong to us, you belong to us, you have always belonged to us…”

Some people wondered mockingly whether this behaviour actually displays the Party’s confidence. Or does it, in fact, show a lack of confidence, a lack of stamina?

Finally, the key historical event in recent Tibetan history, namely the uprising in March 1959 (the Party calls it an “armed rebellion” and the subsequent military oppression the “pacification of a rebellion”), was not given a “face” at all. It was only portrayed on photos on the third page of the April 1959 issue, stating in scarlet red letters: “A new page of Tibetan history has been opened”.

 

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This post is also available in: Chinese (Simplified)