High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a blogpost by Woeser that was originally written for broadcast on Radio Free Asia on January 23, 2011 and posted on her blog on February 5, 2011.
In this blogpost, Woeser returns to themes that she explored earlier in a blogpost titled “Happiness Under Gunpoint” and also “What is Happiness”. This is also a timely blogpost as Tibetan New Year and March 10 are both approaching and security is usually tightened in Lhasa at around this time, see our blogpost from a few days ago titled “Fear and Discrimination in Lhasa”.
For readers curious about the CCTV 2010 Happiness Survery, see this analysis on the website Beijing Review.
“CCTV Says Lhasa People Are ‘Happiest'”
It all started with a telephone interview with foreign media during which I was asked my opinion on Lhasa being rated the “city with the happiest people”. Receiving this unanticipated “gift” right in the beginning of the New Year represented the epitome of irony and I tried hard to imagine the reaction of many Lhasa people when confronted with this. I laughed and asked back, living under gunpoint day and night, being followed by snipers even when going to the temple to pray, how can there be any sense of happiness?
A few days later, this absolutely absurd news was released: CCTV’s financial channel, ‘CCTV Economic Life Survey’ announced the results of a happiness measuring survey in which Lhasa won the first prize and was awarded the “2010 City With the Happiest People”. I remembered that it was not the first time that Lhasa was considered the “happiest”. I did a quick search on the internet and found that this was a survey carried out by China’s largest media corporation and had been running for the fifth year in a row; Lhasa had been called the “happiest” for the fourth time in a row, it had always been the first out of a hundred Chinese cities. The only one time when Lhasa did not come in first, it was still rated third and wasn’t this one time in 2008? As everyone knows, in March 2008 the protests that erupted and spread over the whole of Tibet started in Lhasa, so if Lhasa people were all this “happy”, why would they protest?
In 2008, Lhasa people may not have been the “happiest” in 2009 and 2010, however, they were the “happiest” again, this is really rather peculiar. The Han Chinese have a saying to criticise those who forget the lessons learned from history, to “forget the pain once the wound is healed”. Is it possible that after such a short time, Lhasa people left behind the gory terror of 2008 and their faces were wreathed in smiles again? Also, in 2008, Lhasa people may not have been the “happiest”, yet, in the last two years, they were the “happiest”. Since they are happier than so many other people from many other Chinese cities, why do they still take to the streets?
Last year I spent over three months in Lhasa and I witnessed first hand that Lhasa was a city under military control. One day, in a residential area in the eastern part of the city, I first saw a propaganda vehicle equipped with big loudspeakers and decorated with red banners slowly passing by; from the speakers came a song by Tseten Dolma, a singer hired by the authorities: “No matter how bitter Tibetan people’s lives were, no matter how bitter, bitterness had an end, the bitterness has turned to sweetness after the Communist Party came, the bitterness has turned to sweetness after the Communist Party came…” and what followed were over ten vehicles slowly driving past: a police van; then five armoured cars inscribed with the letters XZ and the numbers 001-005 drove passed, each had four snipers standing on top pointing their machine guns at the road ahead of them; then five minibuses filled with masked soldiers carrying guns followed; and finally, two armoured cars inscribed with the numbers 006 and 007 passed by.
A Tibetan intellectual, and also a retired cadre, said to me: “Over the past two years, Lhasa has more or less turned into ‘Baghdad’, with the Han Chinese in the western suburbs of course being the ‘settlers’. There are armed soldiers everywhere; even on the roofs around the Jokhang Temple we find snipers day and night. Do they point their guns at protesters? They obviously point them at an entire nationality. It can be said that Tibetans really have a strong aversion to this government; they only refrain from speaking out because of fear. Support from the people cannot be gained anymore, the unity between Tibetans and Han Chinese will never be achieved.”
I also heard of two Tibetans committing suicide. One of them was a young doctor from a hospital in Lhundrup County in Lhasa. He had felt deeply upset and depressed because in March 2008, during the protests, many monks and lay people had been arrested, so last year during the Tibetan New Year, he hanged himself in a hotel room in Lhasa. The other one was an over thirty-year-old Buddhist monk of Lhasa’s Gyudmed Tantric School. He felt great pain because he was forced to undergo “patriotic education” on a daily basis. He requested to go into retreat in the mountains, when this was not granted by his work team, in August last year he plunged into the river and drowned.
Perhaps these two examples are not sufficient to show that Lhasa people are not “happy”. I still remember the journalist from Phoenix TV, Hong Kong, who was standing in the streets of Lhasa on the fifth day after March 14, boasting that life in the city had already returned to normal; yet the so-called Lhasa people she interviewed were in fact all Han Chinese, thus leaving the impression that Lhasa had already turned into a harmonious Han city. This journalist was obviously being very selective. She did not take notice of Tibetans living in Lhasa; instead she portrayed the Han Chinese she interviewed as indigenous Lhasa people. This is why I think that perhaps those “Lhasa people” who are the “happiest” according to the CCTV survey are not actually Tibetans.
Beijing, January 23, 2011