“‘An Unbroken Blank’: A Commemorative Book” By Woeser

The cover of “An Unbroken Blank”

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 March 14, 2018.

In this post, Woeser introduces her most recent non-fiction book “An Unbroken Blank” which was published in Taiwan last month. March 2018 marked ten years since the protests in Tibet which started in Lhasa on March 10, 2008. It is the events of 2008 which Woeser commemorates in her new publication and she refers to her book “The Snow-Lion Roaring in the Year of the Mouse: A Chronicle of the Events in Tibet of 2008”, the preface for which can be read here: http://highpeakspureearth.com/2009/preface-to-the-snow-lion-roaring-in-the-year-of-the-mouse-by-woeser/

The excerpt below of the poem “Traces of the Tibetan Year of the Rat” uses the translation by Ragged Banner.

“‘An Unbroken Blank’: A Commemorative Book”
By Woeser

 
My new non-fiction book, “An Unbroken Blank,” was published by Snowland Publishers in Taiwan in February this year. It is already on the shelves and in online stores in Taiwan.

On the title page I wrote:

This book is dedicated to all those whose voices appear inside: The voices of 17 Tibetans, four Chinese, one Uyghur and one Mongolian. The facts that these voices bring to the surface are like “an unbroken blank.”

These voices carry the following identities: ordinary monks, senior Lamas, female farmers, young entrepreneurs, young artists, tour guides, young jobbers, cartoon artists, former members of special police squats, retired cadres, farmers, environmentalists, translators, a Rinpoche, University professors, artists etc. Considering the unpredictability of the current times, for the sake of protecting the people behind these voices, I have given them pseudonyms or kept them completely anonymous.

I follow the Belarusian author Svetlana Alexandrovna Alexievich’s reflections on her non-fiction writings: “The witness must speak” and “I work with missing history.” “I was writing history through the stories of its unnoticed witnesses and participants.”

The “unbroken” in the book titled “An Unbroken Blank” refers to Avichi, one of the eight great hells. It appears in many Buddhist texts, like “the Nirvana Sutra,” which states: The Avichi Hell is the most terrible of the eight hells and also referred to as “interminable” due to the idea that those beings that have been sent there languish there eternally. The “Abhidharmakośakārikā” gives a second explanation, namely:

1. There is not, in this hell, any interruption (vichi) of suffering and

2. There is no agreeable (vichi) state there. That is why the hell is named Avichi. The “Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva Pūrvapraṇidhāna Sūtra,” on the other hand, describes it more in detail, enumerating several punishments and stating: “Anyone cast into Avichi Hell will continue to suffer from kalpas (aeons) to kalpas with no means of escape.”

And there is another reason, one that I already expressed in my poem “Fragments: Fire of the Revolution”

……

I already don’t recall how the raging inferno ignited by the hurricane burnt so orderly
I also don’t remember the earlier fire of the revolution
The fire was not in one place, it was everywhere
Through the cracks of the blazing fire, like an unbroken blank
I saw Norbulingka on March 17, 1959
I saw the Potala Palace on March 10, 1959
I saw many tears
Shed by those mourning over relatives and compatriots who were killed
Distressed because His Holiness suddenly left on that one night
Deeply grieved because of daily losses and the powerlessness to make them return

……

Moreover, in the last paragraph of his famous book “Invisible Cities”,  the great Italian author Italo Calvino wrote something that is related to my book: “The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.”

The book “An Unbroken Blank” is made up of almost 140,000 characters, over 60 images and is divided into eight chapters. Many of them concern the protests that erupted across Tibet in March 2008 and which I wrote about in my book “The Snow-Lion Roaring in the Year of the Mouse: A Chronicle of the Events in Tibet of 2008”. In fact, in the epigraph of the book, I included this poem: “Traces of the Tibetan Year of the Rat”.

This is how it begins:

“Each year since, on this day of memories, it looked as if nothing had happened;
But that year, the crisis flared: he rushed out, she kept screaming,
And many nameless ones long hid in shadow
Threw off their lifelike masks of satisfaction.
A moment turned eternal: blotted out, they became secrets of state.”

The poem further reads:

“Is it possible all the wounds have been healed on command?
Can every imprint have been carefully rubbed smooth?
In this disquiet can we live the way we used to, as if nothing were wrong?”

And this is why we can say that “An Unbroken Blank” is a book commemorating March 2008.

March 2018, Beijing

This post is also available in: Chinese (Simplified)