Migmar: “That Was When I saw that Half the Place was Filled with Messily Piled Up Buddhist Statues” By Woeser

August 24, 1966, the “Destroy the Four Olds” campaign started to ravage Lhasa; Tibet’s most important Buddhist Temple–the Jokhang–filled with Buddhist statues smashed by Red Guards and the masses of the Cultural Revolution. (Photo by Tsering Dorjee)

High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a blogpost by Woeser, originally written for the Mandarin service of Radio Free Asia and published on her blog on May 21, 2017.

The testimony of a direct participant of the Cultural Revolution in Tibet is valuable historical material. As Woeser reminds us in her introductory note, 2016 marked the 50th anniversary of the Cultural Revolution and 10 years since her two books on the Cultural Revolution in Tibet were published in Taiwan.

See also a previous essays titled Zha Yuan: “When the Red Guard Teachers and Students of our Schools Went to the Imperial Academy to Arrest Panchen Rinpoche” and “Dawa, a Red Guard from Lhasa: ‘That Day, The Jokhang Temple was Only Destroyed on the Surface, The Real Destruction Happened Later’”.

 

Migmar: “That Was When I saw that Half the Place was Filled with Messily Piled Up Buddhist Statues” By Woeser

 

Note by Woeser: in 2006, the Taiwanese publisher “Locus” published my two books “Forbidden Memory” and “Tibet Remembered”. “Forbidden Memory” is a commentary on the photos that my father took during the Cultural Revolution as well as my own research. “Tibet Remembered” is an oral history of people affected by the Cultural Revolution in Tibet. I have introduced them many times. When I was writing “Forbidden Memory,” I encountered a total of over 70 interviewees; 23 of them and their stories make up the book. 20 of them are Tibetan, two are Chinese and one is Hui. They include Red Guards from Lhasa and the founder of the Rebel Faction, many Red Guards and enthusiasts, but also members of the aristocracy who were criticised at the time, lamas, medical doctors, Cultural Revolution journalists, PLA officers etc. Last year marked the 50th anniversary of the Cultural Revolution, so from August last year, I started to publish the important interviews in “Tibet Remembered” on my Radio Free Asia blog.

 

Migmar (pseudonym): male, Tibetan; at the time of the Cultural Revolution he was a student at the Central Minorities Institute where he stayed to become a teacher; he returned to Lhasa in 1970 and now works for a cultural department in the Tibet Autonomous Region. (2017 note: Has already retired).

Interview time: May 8, 2002.

 

During the Cultural Revolution, I was in Beijing, studying at the Department for Fine Arts at the Central Minorities Institute. Because of my inadequate social status, I was not allowed to participate in the Red Guards movement. So, together with some other classmates whose social status was also not up to standard, we established the “Red Art Guards” Literature and Arts Propaganda Team, wearing our “Red Art Guards” armbands that we had designed ourselves. There were more than 30 of us.

We also engaged in some revolutionary networking, so we returned to Lhasa in 1968. We arrived comparatively late. I remember that when we got to Liuyuan, the Central Government had just given the official order to stop the “revolutionary networking”. But since we had already managed to get this far, we wanted to find a way to enter Lhasa. It was the time when the struggle between different groups was at its height and the Rebel Faction had suffered a great defeat by the “Joint Command Faction”. Since we belonged to the “Rebels”, we quickly made our way back to Beijing. This was before the “June 7 Jokhang Temple Incident”.

At the time, there were many Red Guards from China in Lhasa, mainly from Beijing: from the Central Minorities Institute, from Qinghua University, from Beijing Normal University, from the Beijing Institute for Geology, from the Beijing Aeronautical and Astronautical Institute etc. They were basically all part of the “Red Rebel Faction”. The majority were Tibetans. I would say that all Tibetans that had been studying in Beijing basically went back to Lhasa. Yeshe Tenzin used to be a head of the “Red Rebel Faction”. But when the “rebels” went into decline, he simply turned his weapons around and became part of the “Joint Command Faction”.

Local Red Guards were mainly students from Lhasa Middle School and Normal School as well as young people from Residents Committees. The whole of Lhasa was wearing armbands, saying they belonged to this or that rebel faction. They were everywhere.

The two incidents that left the deepest impression on me during the Cultural Revolution were for one, the criticism of Panchen Rinpoche and second, the plundering of Buddhist statues that were then taken to China.

When Panchen Rinpoche was criticised in Beijing, the higher authorities ordered that he was not to be paraded through the streets or made to wear the “tall cap”. When he was criticised at the Beijing Gymnasium, we were all present. He was wearing a Tibetan-style yellow silk garment, looking quite elegant. The Chinese around us expressed their surprise about how impressive Tibetans dress. He was criticised alone. Afterwards he was kept in a small apartment at the Central College where he stayed for about a week. He and his family each occupied one room. The doors were open, but there was a string stretched across the entrance, so no one could enter. But people were allowed to visit and take a look, which many people did. He was, after all, a very high up Rinpoche, whom one normally wouldn’t get to meet, so it was strange.

Many Buddhist statues were taken from Lhasa into China. Many were kept in a massive outdoor storage in Liuyuan. It was a metal depot. Later, I once returned from Beijing to Lhasa and hadn’t been able to get a plane ticket. So I took the train to Liuyuan and then climbed in a truck to get to Lhasa. At the time, many drivers were willing to take along iron and steel parts from buildings, because they were big and not easy to lose on the road. So me and the truck driver went to that depot to load his truck. That was when I saw that half the place was filled with messily piled up Buddhist statues. There were so many. They had all been taken from Tibet and were randomly dumped here in this outdoor storage place. No one cared. I heard that they wanted to melt them and turn them into steel parts or something like that. Perhaps some were left there, but I have no idea where they were later taken. Ah, so many Buddhist statues, I will never ever forget this sight.