"The Military Bunkers Across Lhasa in 1959" By Woeser

High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a blogpost by Woeser written on October 17, 2012 for the Tibetan service of Radio Free Asia and published on her blog on March 16, 2013.
The blogpost is about two subjects close to Woeser’s heart, Lhasa and the Cultural Revolution period. As she mentions in the post, her father documented the Cultural Revolution in Tibet through his photographs which she later published in book form. For information on the Tibetan edition of the book and how to download the e-book, visit this earlier posting.
To read more about the shooting incident in Lhasa that Woeser refers to that took place in September 2012, see this article from Radio Free Asia.
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A street scene in Lhasa during the Cultural Revolution, Red Guards and enthusiasts – “upper layer patriots” – are parading. In the upper right-hand corner of the image is a square-shaped house, one of the military bunkers built by the PLA.

“The Military Bunkers Across Lhasa in 1959”
By Woeser

When the Cultural Revolution engulfed the city of Lhasa, my father was a military officer of the Tibetan military district. He loved photography and over the course of several decades, he took a large number of photos, especially those taken during the Cultural Revolution are of immense value. I previously carried out some research based on these photos and published a book containing images and commentaries of the Cultural Revolution in Tibet, which was published 6 years ago in Taiwan: “Forbidden Memory: Tibet during the Cultural Revolution”.
It included a series of images showing the “forces of evil”, student Red Guards and resident Red Guards, parading through the streets. Some images show a few people parading that were among the earliest to cooperate with the CCP – referred to as “patriots” – they were the aristocrat Tsogo Dhondup Tsering and the businessman Pangda Dorje and his son, they were wearing paper hats and Buddhist robes that were originally worn by deities protecting Buddhism, pulling a wooden vehicle filled with “stolen goods” of the exploiting class. The parading troops moved through the entire city and when passing by Changseb Shar (the official residence of the 14th Dalai Lama’s family and today’s Beijing East Road), in the upper right-hand corner of the image appeared a square-shaped house, two to three storeys high with four small windows on the site of the wall that were decorated in non-Tibetan style; nothing could be recognised on the other three walls. All the people from the older generation that I interviewed told me that this house was a Tibetan military bunker, it had been built in the 1950s and was roughly situated opposite today’s Saikang Shopping Mall.

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The building in the upper right-hand corner shows a military bunker.

Back then, my main interests were focusing on the experiences of different people and not so much on this house. Only very recently, did I hear a retired gentleman’s memories of the most bloody events in March 1959 that were directly related to this bunker. He said: “Back then the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had already occupied many monasteries in Lhasa. I was a monk from Tsemönling Monastery, just about 11 years old. My teacher and other monks had been arrested without firing a single shot. But because I was young, the PLA let me go. When I came out from Shide Dratsang, crossed the road to walk to the diagonally across Tengyal Ling, I saw a family walking along, the man was carrying a baby wrapped in the Tibetan robes he was wearing, he was swinging a branch with a white khata attached to it; the woman was holding her small child in one hand and also a white khata in the other. They were both carrying the kind of luggage that pilgrims carry on their backs, it seemed that they were Tibetans from Kham who had come to Lhasa on a pilgrimage. Everyone knows that waving a white khata is a sign of surrender or begging for one’s life. Nevertheless, from that military bunker, the PLA opened fire. A burst of gunfire killed this family right on the street. I was almost hit by a bullet, too but a wall protected me; the family, including the two children, died on the spot. I witnessed this in person and will never ever forget it.”
I scribbled all of this down, my handwriting looked like I was in a state of shock. I asked: “How many such military bunkers existed in Lhasa back then?” “Many.” The old man remembered, “at the entrance of Seshin School (Lhasa’s first primary school) there were two bunkers, the bunkers towards the main entrance of Yuthuok Bridge were extreme, they were surrounded with electric barbed wire, cows and donkeys all died when touching it. Near Changseb Shar there were four bunkers. Around the Tibetan military base were even more, I don’t remember the exact number. Where today’s Lhasa Evening Newspaper is based there still exists a bunker and in some other places as well.”
“These bunkers all belonged to the PLA?” I asked.
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Sonam Dorje who was killed by a “police service station” on September 6, 2012

“More or less” he replied: “some were built by work units themselves. But the Liberation Army’s bunkers were all quite big and tall round or square-shaped stone houses with rectangular glass windows in the walls. So one could not see inside. After they had just been built, most people in Lhasa did not know what they were for. But shortly after, in March 1959, when the so-called “armed rebellion” happened, the PLA smashed the windows and revealed machine guns; these stone houses turned into military bunkers from where many Tibetan people were shot dead.”
At the end, the old man added one more sentence: “These military bunkers spread across Lhasa are actually the same as those police service stations found in the whole of Lhasa today. Back then they were called military bunkers, now they are called police service stations.”
I suddenly remembered that on the 6th of last month, when a 40-year-old monk from Ganden Monastery, Sonam Dorje, was passing the police service station in Chengguan District of Lhasa, he was shot at by special police forces and died. Some say that the guns went off accidentally but others also say that the special police forces deliberately pulled the trigger. But isn’t it so similar to the scenes that happened in 1959!?
October 17, 2012
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One of the 136 “police service stations” in Lhasa.

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The “police service station” situated at the south gate of Jokhang Temple, on the floor we see fire extinguishers, steel forks and weapons used to “deal with” self-immolators.

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On January 19, a picture was uploaded onto Weibo by one of Lhasa’s police service stations; I don’t know if it is directed at the old man turning the prayer wheel or at the monk dressed in purple-red robes. @Lhasa Hongqi West Road police service station said: “Idiot, I let you mess around… when the police comes, you go back home”. Because this post was commented on and forwarded too many times, it was deleted.


  1. There is a new joke about these police service station security recruits.
    One day a Xinhua Journalist visited a Lhasa residents, asking about the new economic policy and how it is benefiting the local people in Lhasa. One elderly man replied, “This is great. The new policy requiring arrest all of the thieves and muggers in Lhasa area, putting them on blue uniforms and making them guard the Barkhor police stations, we feel so safe at home now. So I go to Bakhor and making sure that they are there everyday”.

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