High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a blogpost by Woeser that was originally written for Radio Free Asia on 29th January 2009 and posted on her blog on 4th February 2009. As already documented by High Peaks Pure Earth, Tibetans not celebrating Chinese New Year (Spring Festival) or Tibetan New Year (Losar) this year has been the subject of much debate in the Tibetan blogosphere.
Woeser was an early observer of this phenomenon and was calling the No Losar movement an act of civil disobedience before Time Magazine or the McClatchy Group. The New York Times is calling the movement a boycott and quotes Woeser as saying “It’s deeply connected with Tibetan culture, the idea that after such a horrible year filled with death, how can we celebrate? […] Instead, it should be a memorial.” Regular readers will remember that these were her sentiments as noted in previous blogposts ‘Remember and Memorialise Louder Than The Gunfire!’ and ‘Let Us Make Lamp Offerings and Light Candles to Commemorate the Souls of the Deceased’.
“A Great ‘Civil Disobedience’ Spreading Throughout All of Tibet”
In recent days on my blog there have been a lot of opinions left about the Spring Festival and Losar. Han netizens have said, “You celebrate your Losar, we’ll celebrate our Spring Festival − there’s no connection between the two. It’s nothing to do with us whether you choose to celebrate Losar or not.” No mistake, every nationality has its own festivals and shouldn’t demand another nationality observe another nationality’s festivals. It started in 1913 when Yuan Shikai was president of the Republic of China that the first day of the first month in the lunar calendar was set as the Spring Festival and the entire country had a holiday. Because the “Republic of Five Races” was advocated at the time, the main Han festivals, such as the Dragon Boat Festival and the Mid-Autumn Festival were not made national festivals. It seems China’s current leadership doesn’t have the breadth of mind of even Warlord Yuan Shikai had. With the prevalence of the notion of “the peoples of China”, the hack writers of China are calling for a unified “Chinese expression”.
Since “Chinese expression” is wanted, “expressions” from other nationalities are deleted or substituted. But in order to evince the largesse and magnanimity of the Party’s nationality policies, the Party often needs “expressions” by other nationalities as embellishment. Therefore, nationality festivals such as Losar are indispensable. It has not only been made into a holiday, but evening television events like those for Spring Festival are put on for the Tibetan New Year too. In some Tibetan areas in Amdo and Kham, Losar has been replaced by Spring Festival for many years now, and even though the Chinese new year is celebrated in basically the same way as the Tibetan new year; Han customs are being adopted more and more such as pasting couplets of poetry on doorways, hanging lanterns and letting off fireworks. These days, even when calls to abandon Spring Festival are growing, it’d be difficult to remove in such a short time these habits that have already become customary. Even though Losar has also been celebrated these past few years, compared to the Spring Festival it is less lively.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with celebrating Spring Festival. Some Han nietzens have said “If some Tibetans want to celebrate Han festivals or if some Han want to celebrate Tibetan Losar, they are free to do so. No one has any right or any reason to criticize them just because they are the same nationality as themselves”. Such opinions as this sound rather reasonable, and I also agree with it. But the problem is, the reason why so many Tibetans are conflicted about this year’s Spring Festival and Losar is less to do with both new year celebrations belonging to different cultural systems, and more to do with the levels of toleration in ones conscience and a religious sentiment full of compassion.
No matter whether it is Spring Festival or Losar, people who experienced what happened in Tibetan areas in 2008 do not want to celebrate as they had in previous years. As with last year’s earthquake in Sichuan, when thousands and thousands of ordinary people died, their surviving families do not want to forget them in the new year even as their corpses are not yet cold. A volunteer who spent the new year in the disaster area said: “No one can stipulate that the atmosphere at Spring Festival has to be lively; it must be peaceful. True emotions, whether joyous or sad, all come from the bottom of one’s heart.” By the same reason, with events in Tibet that started last new year and still haven’t stopped, there are countless ordinary Tibetans who died under the barrels of the PAP’s guns, and countless ordinary Tibetans who are still behind bars, so how can their friends and families be in a happy mood to celebrate the New Year when their grief is still there?
The absurdity is that the authorities do not see this. They hope that the people will forget the hardships they created, thus, they have resorted to all manner of tricks that leave you not knowing whether to laugh or cry. For example, in Rebkong, the local government has gone house to house with documents requiring Tibetans to sign their name or leave their thumbprint on the documents which say: “I will ensure that there will be absolutely no demonstrations this year as there were last year, I will ensure I am obedient to the Party and government, and I will ensure that I will celebrate the new year.” In the Tibetan areas of Labrang and Ngaba, the local government has given firecrackers to government workers and cadres, telling them to set the firecrackers off at new year. And in Lhasa, Tibetans who put the word out not to mark the new year are even being detained. Some Tibetan commenters have left such sarcastic remarks about this on my blog as: “The great Party is really close [to the people], it pays close attention to [whether people are] happy or not happy, and [whether they are] celebrating or not celebrating the new year”, “when it wants you to be happy, you’re not happy. And that’s a problem with your thinking, and it can even be contrived into making you a member of some ‘clique’ or other”.
As citizens, Tibetans do not even have the most basic right to mark −or not− the new year. Tibetans with their indomitable spirit who persist on their right not to mark the new year are becoming a completely new kind of contention, the significance of which is a great “civil disobedience” spreading throughout all of Tibet.
January 29th 2009, Beijing
This post is also available in: English