High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a blogpost by Woeser, originally written for the Mandarin service of Radio Free Asia and published on her blog on September 24, 2017.
This is the first essay in a long series of posts about the Cultural Revolution in Tibet. The subsequent posts will be published in the coming weeks. See the original 2016 New York Times piece in English that sparked this post here: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/04/world/asia/tibet-china-cultural-revolution-photographs.html
“The Cultural Revolution Has By No Means Ended” By Woeser
An Interview That Made Me Continue to Think About the Cultural Revolution in Tibet – Part One
In August 2016, during the 50th anniversary of the Cultural Revolution, the New York Times Chinese edition published an interview with me that was divided into a three-part series: “The Cultural Revolution in Tibet: A Photographic Record, Part 1: Following my Father’s Traces,” Part 2: “Red Guards and the Female Rinpoche,” Part 3: “A Legacy of Fear and Shame.” A month later, the New York Times published a condensed version of the three pieces in English simply titled “The Cultural Revolution in Tibet: A Photographic Record.” Both the English and the Chinese interviews included the photos that my father had taken during the Cultural Revolution in Tibet. Also, it was the first time that pictures of my father as a PLA soldier were made public in the media.
The interview was of immense significance, as someone commented online, basically because through my father’s photographic evidence and through my written records, one can come to really understand the severe disaster that Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution inflicted upon Tibet, thus indeed filling an important gap in the research on related issues in Tibet. As it is explained in the introductory section, my books “Forbidden Memory: Tibet During the Cultural Revolution,” and “Tibet Remembered” published in 2006 by Locus in Taiwan represent an assortment of nearly 300 photos that my father, Tsering Dorje, took during the Cultural Revolution (mainly during the time between 1966 and 1970 and also some after the Cultural Revolution) as well as my interviews with over 70 people since 1999 in Lhasa, Beijing and other places, over six years of research and over 100,000 words of text based on these photographs. The books have been referred to as “vast photographic evidence of the ruin that the Tibetan areas experienced during the Cultural Revolution” (“Tibetan areas” should actually be written as “Tibet”). Between 2012 and 2014, I revisited the places my father had photographed and used his camera to capture them again. Subsequently, I selected 22 photos and wrote an additional 10,000 words that were included in the latest edition of “Forbidden Memory: Tibet During the Cultural Revolution” that was published in May 2016 with Locus in Taiwan.
Until now, “Forbidden Memory: Tibet During the Cultural Revolution” has already been translated into Tibetan and Japanese and “Tibet Remembered” into French. An English version of “Forbidden Memory: Tibet During the Cultural Revolution” is due to be published in the US soon. The translator spent ten years working tirelessly and with great attention to the most delicate details on the translation of the book. The editor is an international Tibetologist who has profound knowledge of Tibetan history and contemporary Tibet. In our countless back and forth discussions, we not only corrected several mistakes in the original manuscript, but even noticed and added some content that was missing from the original. We also found new elements in many photos. For instance, one photo showing a struggle session against “counterrevolutionary monsters and demons” at the old Jokhang Temple’s prayer square used for the teachings of the Buddhist doctrine, we discovered two previously neglected, but very important details: in the middle of the stage, there is a portrait of Mao Zedong and a horizontal banner; on either side of Mao, there are banners reading in Chinese and Tibetan: “Long Live our Great Leader Mao Zedong,” “Long Live the Great Chinese Communist Party.” On the horizontal banner, it says: “Struggle Session;” on either side and below the banner we see many Mao Zedong portraits. On the stage, the four “counterrevolutionary monsters and demons” that are being criticised and denounced are aristocratic officials from the old days, each one of them is being pushed down by two Red Guards. There are two things that should be specifically noted about this photograph: firstly, in front of each of the four Tibetans being denounced we see at least two people with cameras, one taking photos, the other one filming. Secondly and most importantly, on the upper left corner of the photo, on the second floor corner of the temple building that connects with the sutra reciting square, we see at least three men standing there wearing hats (I am not sure if they are PLA hats) and uniforms (PLA uniforms?), attentively watching the struggle session. One of them stands with his hands behind his back, assuming the typical posture of a powerful CCP official. Accordingly, rather than saying that these three men are watching the struggle session, it would be more accurate to say that they are conducting, controlling and monitoring the struggle session.
And it is also for this reason that the newest English version of “Forbidden Memory: Tibet During the Cultural Revolution” is the most complete of all currently existing versions.
The person who interviewed me through email, Skype and other means was the freelance writer Luo Siling who went to the US to study and has already settled there. Her interview outlines were of a standard that required me to spend quite a significant amount of time to reply, including questions about the content of photos taken during the Cultural Revolution and those taken more recently, but also including questions about the relationship between a father and a daughter who lived in such completely different environments, about the conflicts and commonalities between the two of us and most importantly about the changes that I underwent as I spent researching and writing about the Cultural Revolution. In fact, I would like to express my deepest thanks to this interviewer who I have never met in person. Her questions made me once more review the destructive force of the Cultural Revolution in Tibet that has had such vast and far-reaching consequences even until the present day. Last but not least, I once again came to the profound realisation, as I was taking these photos again, that the Cultural Revolution has by no means ended; what we observe today in Lhasa is a kind of post-Tibetan Cultural Revolution.
I have to stress that this very insightful interview gave me an opportunity to continue to think about the Cultural Revolution in Tibet.
This post is also available in: English