High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a blogpost by Woeser written in August and September 2013 for the Mandarin and Tibetan services of Radio Free Asia and published on her blog on October 1, 2013.
In this blogpost, Woeser revisits the policy of the “9 Haves” that she previously wrote about last summer in relation to the situation in Chamdo. As she writes below, the very first of the “9 Haves” is “to have portraits of the four leaders” and this is the focus of her piece. The rest of the “9 Haves” are “to have a national flag, to have roads, to have water, to have electricity, to have a TV set, to have films, to have a library and to have newspapers”.
Why are Monasteries and Homes Given
“Portraits of the Great Leaders”?
At the end of 2012, the authorities in Tibet started to implement the policy of the “9 Haves” in villages and monasteries; the first of these “haves” was “to have the four portraits of leaders”, including that of Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao. This “have” instigated quite some resonance on the internet, mainly of course questions and criticism. Most ordinary people thought that this was highly damaging to local religious beliefs and represented a return to the North Korean path. Researchers believed that this was just going to stretch Tibetan people’s patience and that it was creating an even larger breeding ground for protests and friction.
Many Chinese who have experienced political movements such as the Cultural Revolution will feel disgusted by “portraits of the great leaders” being forced upon them. There do admittedly still exist a lot of Mao fans in China, but at the same time many people also hate him, calling him “vermin” or “preserved meat”. It is not that the officials in Tibet are not aware of this situation, it is not that they do not understand the 21st century, so forcing people to hang up “portraits of the great leaders” in Buddhist temples and monks’ quarters is really ridiculous. But it is not just a question of brainwashing. It is not about fooling the outside world into believing that Tibetan people love the Party. It is not that simple; and it should not be simplified and reduced to that level. If one investigates a bit further one will realise that behind this lies a more valiant intention and more long-term conspiracies that reveal a deeply rooted and continuing arrogance.
The Party’s propaganda people or the Party’s think-tanks researching “the Tibetan question” are by no means idiots; many of them probably learnt from and experienced Mao’s spiritual atomic bomb and think that keeping to using this spiritual atomic bomb may be very effective again in the Tibetan case today. Of course, the bullet of this kind of weapon is not wrapped in candyfloss but has the power to kill, it can create the worst bloodshed. Mao’s spiritual atomic bomb had two functions: deterrence and confusion. This is exactly how Mao’s successors deal with Tibetans today.
“Portraits of the great leaders” can be regarded as one of these bullets. The valiant intention behind this project is to replace Tibetan people’s tradition of paying respect to a statue of Buddha by forcing them to put up “portraits of the great leaders”; true belief is replaced by fake belief. They think that permanently replacing one thing by another will be very effective. This shows that the executioners are by no means acting recklessly or foolishly, they are very well aware of what they are trying to achieve. It is simply that it comes across as an act of foolishness.
A thought-provoking question is, however, why they are so sure that they can really achieve their goals? Is it because Mao succeeded for a time? It becomes obvious that these people have not changed or improved at all over the years, they are today as they were back then. What I want to say is that in fact, they have always and still do regard Tibetans as a different kind of species, one that is of much lower quality than they are, a not yet civilised species. According to them, whether Tibetans believe in real religion or in fake religion is all the same, it is all superstition. So if they replace the real religion with a fake one, Tibetans will not object, but follow or even like it, and the Party has won the battle. It is dull, they always just look down on Tibetans and approach them with ignorance.
In other words, the reason why they persistently enforce “portraits of the great leaders” upon Tibetans and not upon people in Beijing, Shanghai, Henan or Sichuan provinces is because they know that the majority of Han Chinese do not believe in any religion anyway and can only be attracted by money and material goods. And can one buy things to eat and to drink with “portraits of the great leaders”? People would throw them away unless a number of a lottery ticket was engraved in them.
“Portraits of the great leaders” are without doubt an attempt to offer a fake alternative to true religion. From when the PLA first entered Tibet and forced people to hang up portraits of Mao Zedong and Zhu De until today’s “portraits of the four great leaders” – soon to be “five great leaders” – they have always carried the following implicit message: you have been liberated by us, we gave you new life, so in your words and deeds you have to show deep gratitude towards us and assume a loyal and obedient posture.
Forcing these portraits upon people, forcing them to squeeze out a fake smile and spit out words of gratitude when reluctantly accepting these “presents” just proves the power of the authorities; it shows that even the interior decoration of people’s homes has been put under the management of the Party. The portraits do not only have to be placed in the middle of the room, constituting “a shrine for the four great leaders”, Party officials are even regularly calling upon people for inspection. If someone turns out to have failed to hang up the portraits or to have them up hanging in the wrong way, then this is taken as a sign of dissatisfaction.
These portraits hang high above and look down upon people in monasteries, monk residences and homes, they are like a gigantic shadow engulfing people’s lives. You look up or turn around and you will always see their faces, appearing like Supermen. If you pretend to not take notice of them, you will still not be able to free yourself from this feeling: “big brother is watching you”. With four or now five “big brothers” you feel that as the number of people increases, the control is doubling. How can the Tibetan monks and laymen keep breathing?
Finally, on top of the government building in Lhasa hangs an extremely large “portrait of the great leaders”, at night it is brightly lit, as if the great Supermen who pledge allegiance to the Party are also able to exercise control in the middle of the darkest night.
August – September 2013
This post is also available in: English