Fire Extinguishers and “Apartheid” By Woeser

High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a blogpost by Woeser written on June 13, 2012 for the Tibetan service of Radio Free Asia and posted on her blog on June 24, 2012.
Woeser describes the situation in Lhasa immediately following the self-immolation of two Tibetans there on May 27, 2012. The picture that Woeser describes directly counters CCTV’s “Happiness” survey that declared Lhasa to be the happiest city in China, for the fifth consecutive year.

The photos above are from Sina Weibo, taken by tourists; they show the old town of Lhasa. Picture 3 shows a red fire extinguisher covered with a black cloth, it can only vaguely be made out.

Fire Extinguishers and “Apartheid”
By Woeser

Quite peculiar scenes have been occurring in the old town of Lhasa, all military police patrolling the streets have been carrying fire extinguishers on their backs. This is related to May 27 when two Tibetans self-immolated between Jokhang Temple and the Police Station in the Barkhor. In fact, already back in 2009 after Tapey, the monk from Ngaba, self-immolated, military police stationed in Tibet were equipped with fire extinguishers. Along with the number of self-immolation cases rising to 39, nowadays, at least two people out of each military police group consisting of five people, carry a fire extinguisher.
Doesn’t this show that the authorities are empathetic, preparing fire extinguishers readily available to rescue people? Exactly the opposite is the case, this has, in fact, become the greatest irony. If the truth in the Tibetan region is really as they say, that there is “never seen before happiness”, how is it possible that Tibetans continue to dauntlessly bathe their bodies in flames? Hence, the scene of fire extinguishers flooding into Tibet is not one that the authorities are happy to present to the people. Quite obviously, this scene conveys the following message: on the one hand, they mercilessly start a fire, on the other hand, they assume the pose of extinguishing the fire, to the extent that they appear to start a fire while shouldering a fire extinguisher.
The case of the two people from Amdo self-immolating in Lhasa has been viewed as a big matter and gave the local authorities more reasons to deport any non-Lhasa residents. In March 2008, monks from Amdo and Kham who had been studying at Lhasa’s three main monasteries were deported; subsequently, many ordinary people were deported in the same way. Some Tibetans said on Twitter: “regardless of how long Tibetans from Amdo have been residing in Lhasa, no matter whether they have a temporary residence permit or whether they do business, it is impossible for them to stay there. The only exception is if they have a guarantor’s letter issued by the local security bureau and the regional county government (which is extremely difficult to obtain). Every day, the police are checking residential areas and many people have already been driven out.”
Chinese people who are travelling through Lhasa wrote on Twitter: “at all of the entrances of roads leading to or crossing the Barkhor, safety checks have been set up, at least eight in total.” “On a blackboard in one neighbourhood it said, people from all four Tibetan regions have to possess an identity card, a temporary residence permit, a certificate of the county security bureau, a job contract, the permission to look for employment, a guarantor’s letter (if not, security has to be given by the local government or official agency) or else people will be sent back to their birthplace without exceptions.” “Overall, the land is divided into prisons, it is divided and dominated. The tiny old town of Lhasa has already taken on the characteristics of a ‘Jewish Quarter’.”
Rather than saying, however, that the situation in Lhasa resembles that of “Jewish Ghettos” set up by the Nazis, it may be more appropriate to say that the situation is similar to the “Racial Quarters” installed during Apartheid in South Africa in the 20th century. A Tibetan wrote on Sina Weibo: “in the city of Lhasa, the many Amdo Tibetans that do not have temporary residence permit all have to leave, they are not allowed to remain in Lhasa; but Han Chinese and other ethnicities who don’t have any temporary residence permit are allowed to stay, what kind of policy is that?”
Another Tibetan wrote on Sina Weibo: “These days, all Tibetans have to notify the local police station when they want to check in at a hotel, the police officers have to register names and carry out inquiries on the spot; five-star hotels are no exception, I am waiting for the police to arrive right now. For Tibetans, Tibet is really the most inconvenient place. How ironic!”
A Chinese tourist recounted on Twitter: “Today I went to Jokhang Temple and when I passed the security check, Tibetans had to register their names while Han Chinese could go right through; as I was about to pass through, I was grabbed by a police officer who insisted that I register my name! I said that I was a Han Chinese but he absolutely refused to believe me and kept insisting on seeing my ID card.”
From these stories and personal experiences it becomes clear that the aim of the security checks is to see who is Tibetan and who is Chinese. As long as one is Tibetan, life in Lhasa presents itself as quite inconvenient, but as long as one is Chinese, Lhasa turns into a fun theme park. This differentiation between Tibetans and “Han” can also be observed in the relationship with the military police; while Tibetans try everything to avoid them and are full of loathing, Han Chinese regard them as a symbol of security, they have even been invited by police officers to take a ride on the back of a armoured vehicle to get some fresh air.
Back in the 1970s, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution in view of the harsh situation in South Africa, which stated that policies of apartheid are “crimes against the conscience and dignity of mankind.” However, facing the situation in the entire Tibetan region, facing the situation of Tibet’s capital city – Lhasa – hasn’t the world forgotten about the boycotts that it imposed in the past upon countries and governments that implemented and practiced apartheid?
The authorities use the methods of racial segregation to check upon and clean up Tibetan people, but can they really put an end to the self-immolations in this way? In fact, the monk, Chime Palden, who self-immolated in Ngaba Prefecture, Barkham County on March 30 this year, had been arrested for over one month when he was on a pilgrimage in Lhasa last year because he had saved a picture of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, in his mobile phone.
June 13, 2012


  1. Unbelievable policy to differentiate the Tibetan people from it’s own land ,as those who does’n have so called the ‘legal permit’ (the Chinese government imposed to the Tibetans living in the capital city lhasa) can roam freely and exercise in the morning without a little bit of checking by the police. A real kind of Nazism is taking place in Tibet Under the invasion of china.

  2. Chinese artist and dissident Ai Wei Wei says he “would feel ashamed to go” to Lhasa. The city seems to be in a state of near-lockdown. Have you been there in the last few months? Please tell us about it.

  3. A few years ago as an author I wrote a story in German, “Mein Weg in den Norden über die früh gealterten Himalayas — die Schneeberge” (My way into the North over the early aged Himalayas – the snow mountains). This is a description on my fictitious wandering throuh Tibet in the future, thousand years ahead. This story I wrote in the deep hope that the Tibetan culture and spirituality will survive and help mankind to gain a true humanity – after all atrocities and cultural destructions from the side of Chinese authorities have ended – with a deep regret from the Chinese side. – To be seen here: , from this site you may come to the very story by klicking on the mentioned URLs. And a few informations here: .
    My story has grown through my western eyes and lacks some personal asian excperiences.

  4. Pingback: Lhasa: A New “Area of Racial Segregation” By Woeser

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