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Manoa 18.1 (2006) 97-103

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Nyima Tsering's Tears

Translation by Jampa, Bhuchung D. Sonam, Tenzin Tsundue, and Jane Perkins

Woeser was born in 1966 in Lhasa and grew up in Derge, Kham, Sichuan Province. She graduated in 1988 from the department of Chinese language and literature of the Southwest Minorities Institute in Chengdu. In 1990 she began working in Lhasa as an editor at the Chinese-language journal Tibetan Literature. In 2003, her collection of essays, Notes on Tibet, was published by the Huacheng Publishing House in Guangzhou. The book was so popular that it was quickly reprinted; however, it soon caught the attention of Chinese censors. Less than a year later, it was banned for having opinions "harmful to the unification and solidarity" of China. The official indictment accuses Woeser of "stepping into the wrong political terrain," "praising the Dalai Lama and the Karmapa, encouraging belief in religion," and "having the wrong political stance."

Because of the ban on her book, and her refusal to renounce her religious beliefs, Woeser was removed from her post and deprived of her income. She was ordered to undergo "re-education" at a railway construction site, and the housing assigned to her was confiscated. She has chosen to be exiled from the Tibetan region but is also unable to apply for a passport to leave the country. The following is a chapter from Notes on Tibet.

It was one of those hot summer days in 1999. As usual, the Tsuglakhang was packed with pilgrims and tourists. And as usual, Nyima Tsering was at the entrance selling tickets and ready to give tours in English or Chinese to visitors from far away. Unlike other lamas, he is what's called in the press or on TV "tour-guide lama." Yet he's not only a tour guide, but also the holder of many titles, the most special being Member of the Standing Committee of the People's Assembly in Lhasa. So, in the news on Xizang TV and Lhasa TV we often see a young monk in his maroon robes sitting amidst taciturn-looking officials in their laymen's clothes. He always looks calm, sensible, and self-assured.

On that day, someone instructed Nyima Tsering to submit two photographs to the concerned department for his passport application. He was [End Page 97]

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informed that he was to fly to Beijing a few days later to join other officials from various government departments. They would all be attending an international human-rights convention in Norway. Norway? Wasn't that the country where the Dalai Lama received his Nobel Peace Prize in 1989? Nyima Tsering felt excited and slightly uneasy. When he went to submit his photographs, someone there noticed his strange expression and said, "Relax, the people you will be travelling with are all high ranking. They won't be like the Lhasa officers, who know nothing."

Soon Nyima Tsering boarded an aeroplane alone to Beijing. Of course, there were people at each end of the flight who looked after him. He couldn't quite remember whom he met or what he said. Two days later he was on board again, this time with ten to twenty member delegates heading to Norway; still, he would barely remember anything that happened on the way. This was Nyima Tsering's first overseas trip. He should have been very clear about his experiences. However, compared with the phrase "human rights," other matters were just not that important to him. What else but the convention could have concerned him so much? After all, he was the lone Tibetan coming from Tibet and the only lama in monastic robes.

But these people were indeed different. They were older than he was, and unlike the Lhasa officials, they looked well educated, had good manners, and were not loud or bossy. To this day, Nyima Tsering still remembers an embarrassing moment when he couldn't bear to hold back his tears, and the official assigned to him from the Committee for Minorities and Religion quietly...