“The ‘Martyrs Graveyard’ in the Western Suburbs of Lhasa” By Woeser

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High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a blogpost by Woeser written on August 10, 2013 for the Tibetan services of Radio Free Asia and published on her blog on September 14, 2013.
This post by Woeser continues last year’s series of blogposts from Lhasa, all about the sweeping changes taking place in Lhasa, writing about topics such as fake Potalas, the changing face of Tromsikhang and the radical overhaul of the old city.
Woeser has written about the rise in China of “red tourism” and that it is being promoted heavily in Tibet by the authorities, as evidenced here with the “Martyrs Graveyard”. The book that Woeser wrote about the Cultural Revolution featuring photos by her late father Tsering Dorje is also mentioned in the piece below. The Tibetan version of the book “Forbidden Memory” is freely available for download and is highly recommended.
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“The ‘Martyrs Graveyard’ in the Western Suburbs of Lhasa”
By Woeser

On the first day of July, we went to the “Martyrs Graveyard”, which is not too far away from Drepung Monastery. In its vicinity there are quite a few large military barracks, which belong to the Tibetan air force and other military troops directly subordinate to the Chengdu Military Area. Many years ago, this place used to be verdant and lush gardens, it perhaps belonged to Drepung Monastery or the nearby Nechung Monastery. Today, apart from military barracks, many high-rises have been erected; the question is, why would an urban developer establish a residential area next to a graveyard?
Of course, this has not always been a graveyard, it could only have appeared within the last few decades. I found the following related information on the internet: “It was built in 1955 and repaired in 1991”; “buried here are over 800 martyrs who bravely sacrificed their lives for the peaceful liberation of Tibet, for the building of the Sichuan-Tibetan Highway, for putting down rebellions, for fighting in the Sino-Indian counterattack in self-defense, for helping solving the Lhasa riots and for developing and building up Tibet; the place is referred to as the Autonomous Region’s national defense education base and the Ministry of Civil Affairs patriotic education base”; “in order to enhance the patriotic spirit, the martyrs graveyard is being turned into a red scenic spot of Lhasa”; “it has already been added to the national level of red scenic spots and has received investments of 16.41 million Yuan”.
As a high military official of the PLA, my father, who has been dead for many years, is also buried here. But actually, according to traditional Tibetan burial customs, people are not buried in the ground but in the sky. The last grand minister of the Qing government stationed in Tibet, Zhao Erfeng, who is known for slaughtering Tibetans, worked towards the abolishment of the Tusi system and the establishment of direct control of the central government, which mainly brought about the transformation of established social customs, including the Tibetan burial habits. Zhao Erfeng considered sky burial to be backwards and outdated; earth burial, on the other hand, he thought of as modern and advanced, so he heavily promoted it in eastern Kham, the region he occupied. As a result, in the Kham region today, sky burials and earth burials co-exist.
The reason why we went to the “martyrs graveyard” was not to carry out research into the changing burial habits of Tibetans. Of course, I wanted to pay my respects to my deceased father who, according to my world view, has long been reincarnated. Back then, according to his personal astronomy calculated by masters at Mentseekhang (Tibetan Medical and Astro Institute, he would be reincarnated as a monk and this comforted me. But that is also why I get a surreal feeling whenever I see his tomb made from stone and clay resembling that of a Chinese tombstone.
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They are currently carrying out large-scale constructions inside the “Martyrs Graveyard”. The “red scenic spot” project was contracted out to Jinhui Construction Engineering Co. Ltd. from Jiangxi Province; the sign with the project summary hanging on the outside wall tells us that the project is expected to be completed at the end of October; among the 11 representatives of the construction department, design department, supervision department, logistics department, building department etc, I only saw one single Tibetan name, all others were Chinese.
According to the introduction to the “Martyrs Graveyard”, over 2000 graves would be divided into 4 areas: martyrs graveyard; cadres graveyard; common people’s graveyard; and “Cultural Revolution” graveyard. “The ‘Cultural Revolution’ graveyard is situated in the northwestern corner of the martyrs memorial pavilion. It includes 74 graves mainly occupied by people who died during the violent struggle inside the Jokhang Temple.” These words really surprised me. I have been to this “Cultural Revolution” graveyard many times before, I have researched and written about the Cultural Revolution in Tibet and as far as I know, there are only 12 graves of people who died in the Jokhang during the Cultural Revolution and those 12 people were all Red Guards and all of them were young Tibetans.
Of course, it was by no means only 12 or 74 people who died during the Cultural Revolution in Lhasa; and these people were not only Tibetans or students. During the Cultural Revolution, Chinese and Tibetans and other ethnic groups stood together in never-seen-before unity, changing the saying “intimacy is decided by class” into “intimacy is decided by faction”, ethnic problems were of course insignificant. Just as it was the case with those 12 Red Guards, their ages ranged from 17 to 36, 3 of them were female, 9 male, all of them were killed by PLA bullets inside or outside the Jokhang; and this was not for ethnic reasons, it was part of the mass killings during the Cultural Revolution.
The “Cultural Revolution” graveyard is overgrown with weeds, every single tomb looks dilapidated and the letters and words engraved in the tombstones are hard to decipher. I once more took photos of all of them and remembered when I was here 13 years ago, it was then that I made the decision to carry out research and write essays based on my father’s photos taken during the Cultural Revolution in Tibet. At this moment I could not help but worry: once this area has been turned into a “red scenic spot”, would the tombs of these Red Guards be wiped out or maintained?
August 10, 2013

One Comment

  1. Very interesting…just a note: I think it’s been reported that in China during those times, Red Guards were killed by the PLA when Mao got tired of their antics and had no further use for them once they helped to consolidate his position.
    It would be very interesting indeed to know the circumstances behind these particular kids’ deaths!

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