"How Did My Mother Participate in the Revolution?" By Woeser

This is a translation from Chinese to English by High Peaks Pure Earth. The original article was published on Woeser’s blog on 26th January 2007 and can be viewed here. This is the first time that it has been translated into English. In addition to being a fine poet, Woeser writes moving prose and is an accomplished essayist.

Year: 2005
Place: Beijing
People: My mother and I. Below are my mother’s words.
The first time I saw Chinese people was maybe in 1952. They were Chinese people who were preparing to build the roads, carrying banners, whistling and holding various instruments. The adults all called them “Gyami Serbo”, meaning they were yellow Chinese as the clothes they wore were a yellow army uniform. Before that time we had heard about Chinese people, that they ate babies and were devils. So when the Chinese arrived at the village, children in the village were both frightened and excited and went fearfully and secretly to look at them. The interpreter was a Tibetan. He grabbed a young boy and asked him a question, the young boy was frightened and spluttered some nonsense that made all the Chinese laugh. The children were all surprised and whispered in each other’s ears: look, look, the laughter of Chinese people is the same as ours.
Our village is now Wu Yu Township’s Tashi Gang village which at the time belonged to our family Kangga. Kangga is the name of my father’s original family, and after my father lived apart from his family and established a new family, the new one was named Dejang. I was born into Kangga family in Wu Yu Township in 1943. Below Tashi Gang there was some wasteland where barley can not be grown, and it was all rock and sand. Later, during the period “Agriculture learns from Dazhai” a lot of energy would be exerted to reverse it from this state but barley still wasn’t to grow there. At that time, a great many tents of the construction teams were tidily pitched there, which gave us the feeling that they would be there forever.
The arrival of the construction teams was perhaps in 1953. At first they were all Chinese and later they enlisted some local Tibetans. The highway was built from Lhasa to Shigatse, but this is not the same road as the present new highway. The old highway being built at that time is on the whole not used anymore but can be used from time to time. In the past there had been an army depot near the village which was now abandoned.
The Han Chinese road workers wore blue so everyone called then “Gyami Ngonbo” meaning “Blue Chinese”. At that time, our Dejiang family had started to build a new house which later became Wu Yu Township’s village government, now it’s already been torn down. My father was the owner of Numa manor and would often receive dinner invitations from the road teams. Maybe because I had a nice appearance, my parents always took me along to attend these banquets. It was at these occasions that I ate fried peanuts for the first time. They were so fragrant and tasty that I could not help stopping eating. An official of the road team placed a bowl of fried peanuts in front of me, I was very happy and put the fried peanuts into the front pocket of my chuba. As a result, the chest part of my chuba was stained with oil. At that time I had just turned 10 years old.
Han Chinese people from the road teams often came to our home, and their translators were always Tibetans. My older sister fell in love with one of the translators called Gonpo Tseten, an Amdo Tibetan. He was tall and wore a peaked cap and a Mao jacket. The first time he came to our home, my sister fell under his spell. However our parents had already promised her to an ugly, dark skinned, big-nosed man from an aristocratic family in Shigatse. When he and his father visited our home, I had a good look at him whilst pretending to pour tea and then rushed to describe his appearance to my sister, who could not appear before them. My sister absolutely did not want to marry him.
The road team’s cook liked our family’s barley beer, so I would often take a servant and go and deliver barley beer to him. I was just at the age of being very curious and liked to look at strange things. On seeing them eat white rice with black peas it looked far worse than our food at home. The cook often repaid us with a bowl of Sichuan spicy bean sauce which doesn’t taste the same as Indian peppers and tastes very good. The bowl was white with red Chinese characters written on it, later when I fell in love with your father I saw that he also had this kind of bowl.
The road teams stayed at my home village for over a year, they had headquarters and a hospital. They even built a stage and a basketball court. The road teams would sometimes show films. The first time I saw a film my eyes opened very wide in amazement but I have forgotten what film it was that they showed, also I didn’t understand a word of Chinese. Propaganda teams would often come and perform carrying various coloured goose feather fans in their hands during their dances. I cherished these performances and after returning home would make these fans out of wool and learn their dances.
In 1953, my older brother came back from Lhasa. He had been sent to Lhasa very young and went to study in a private school run by Nyarongsha doctor. My brother is 6 years older than me, and at that time he was already very revolutionary in character. At home whilst 20 or 30 servants were eating he sat among them and said that he wanted to divide the land and animals amongst them. The servants all lowered their heads and smiled stealthily and must have all thought that the young Dejiang master was mad. My parents were very angry and later scolded my brother; they told him that if a flood flooded the whole village, it would not leave a dry rock but seeing as that situation had not yet occurred what nonsense had he been spouting?
At that time, my brother had already cut his hair into the revolutionary cropped hairstyle. He took a pair of scissors and to cut everyone’s hair. He cut the maid’s plait and he also cut mine. I didn’t agree to it and as soon as my brother cut my plait off with his scissors I could only cry and accept my fate. I was so shy, my family members called me “Gyami Go” meaning “Chinese head” and from then on I always wrapped my head in a scarf.
On the second day after the haircut, Han Chinese men from the road team came to our home to buy tsampa. The highest ranking official with a camera wanted to take a photo of me as soon as he saw me. So my photo was taken on the roof of the house. I was wearing everyday clothes and was leaning against the ladeng (Shigatse dialect, in Lhasa dialect it is called lazu and it’s a long narrow pole to insert a tree branch with prayer flags on the roof during Tibetan new year). Later, my mother saw the photo and was not happy, she said that I could lean anywhere but not against the ladeng.
The official who took the photo only had one eye. He always wore sunglasses with deep dark lenses so you could not see his eyes. The village children all wanted to see him without his dark glasses, one time they really saw him and in his blind eye’s place was something that looked like a crystal ball which frightened them all. Thinking about it, at that time among the Han Chinese it was he who looked like a devil so when he wanted to photograph me, I didn’t dare to refuse but when he took the photo I wasn’t even smiling a little bit.
At that time, the translator that came with them was not the Amdo one that my sister liked, it was a Dartsedo Tibetan called Palnor who later served as the Director of the district’s traffic department and is now retired. Sometimes we would bump into him on mahjong playing occasions. A few days later, he brought over the developed photo to give to us, he had developed a few copies.
Soon after, I was taken to Lhasa by my brother to go to school. We lived in our Uncle’s home which was around near Meru Temple. My Uncle had been the governor of Pali County. When the PLA advanced into Tibet. he was Chamdo governor Ngapo’s bodyguard. After the Chamdo battle was over, he was also held captive by the PLA. I started to attend the newly established Lhasa Primary School but I missed home very much. When I received my Chinese woollen suit I cried out to go home but my brother did not agree to that and simply forced me to study almost one term. Then it happened that my father came to Lhasa for some work. I went back home with my father and gave the Chinese woollen suit to the servant’s son.
The happy days at home didn’t last long, my brother came back again after which he took me back to Lhasa again to continue studying at Lhasa Primary School. My brother was becoming more and more revolutionary and joined the Lhasa Youth Federation which was a very fashionable group at the time similar to a group of performers. Many young aristocratic boys and girls were part of their activities but I was still young and not interested in those kinds of things. I just wanted to go home. In 1955, my brother went to Beijing to study at the Central Institute for Nationalities. As soon as he left I returned to Wu Yu Township on horseback.
In 1956, my father was poisoned and killed. The next year my sister and I went to Lhasa and it would be many years before returning to Wu Yu. My sister was escaping marriage and I did not like the new stepfather. The two of us started to attend the Tibetan Cadre School which was a school for training Tibetan Cadres. It was at this point that I started to participate in the revolution.

One Comment

  1. This is so true to my own experience when I was a little girl in Lhasa. Such a sad time when Chinese were entering into Lhasa and at the same time for a little girl exciting and strange feeling to see so many completely different to us. I hope one day Woeser-la will write more about her mother.

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