High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a blogpost by Woeser written on July 1, 2015 for the Mandarin service of Radio Free Asia and published on her blog on the same day.
This post tells the story of several photos Woeser took on the square in front of the Potala Palace in Lhasa on July 1, 2001.
“Remembering ‘July 1’ on Potala Palace Square”
On July 1, 2001, early in the morning, the head of my work-unit informed me to go to the square in front of the Potala Palace and attend the “flag raising and national anthem ceremony for the 80th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party”. At the time, I was still working within the system, as an editor of “Tibetan Literature” of the China Federation of Literature and Arts Circles (CFLAC).
I brought along my digital camera, something that was not often seen and quite fashionable at the time, and stood with all the other people from various work-units that had been called out to gather on Potala Palace; I photographed the Tibetan and Chinese officials standing in a long row across from us, on the other side; I also took photos of the soldiers with their rifles (the bayonets were shining brightly in the sunlight), banging their drums, and blowing their brass instruments in an agitating way; I also snapped the soldiers raising the five-starred red flag. It may have been my slanting and sarcastic remarks that caught the attention of a few plain clothes. They came over and asked me to identify myself. My official ID eventually caused them to leave me alone, merely warning me “not to randomly take photos”.
Take their clothes, their faces or their posture, the officials shown on my photos all look strikingly similar; this is the conduct of the Party. The soldiers are all ferocious-looking young guys. I also took photos of the Tibetans who silently circled the Potala Palace, fulfilling their religious duties; it is one of Lhasa’s most famous circumambulation paths: Phodrang Zhakor (pho brang zhag skor), also known as tsekhor (rtse skor). Some elderly men stopped and faced towards the gigantic scaffolding and busy workmen (I remember that they were building a memorial rostrum in commemoration of some government official); they started praying under the cover of the Potala Palace, prostrating three times. I also photographed groups of primary and middle school students who were ordered by their teachers to gather and assume obedient postures for group photos with the Potala serving as the background.
But the best shot was one that I took by accident. As a number of armed police began clenching their fists, making a vow to the blood-red flag of the CCP, an elderly Tibetan Buddhist nun silently walked over, stood still, hung her bag and brown sun shade on a pole used to fly red banners and assumed a solemn posture, facing the Potala; she put her palms together and held her hands above her head, moved them to her lips, and to her heart. She moved on to face in all four directions, solemnly expressing her devotion. Finally, she once more faced the Potala Palace – in fact, all Tibetans will know that she was praying to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The nun had even brought along a small white-furred dog who was meekly lying on the stone ground. Behind this nun, we see another group of people also vowing loyalty and devotion, but they are armed police noisily vowing loyalty to the red flag of the Chinese Communist Party.
In the evening, I sent these photos to several different news websites, of course using a pseudonym. At the time, internet censorship did not yet exist, there was no need to “jump the wall”, and the news website operators posted the photos without changing them; back then different voices and opinions were still allowed.
July 1, 2015
The photos below were taken on July 1, 2001.