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Manoa 12.2 (2000) 144-149
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I met Meizhuo (me sgron), a Tibetan writer and poet, in summer 1999 while I was working on a research project in Amdo (formerly in northeast Tibet and now incorporated into Qinghai and Gansu Provinces). Since she works from her home, we agreed to meet at her small, two-bedroom flat in Xining, the capital of Qinghai Province. For some reason, I had imagined her to be a physically strong woman, and so I was surprised to discover she is petite and elegant. Meizhuo's flat was small but immaculate, and awards for her writings were arranged neatly on a cupboard against the wall. After drinking some cups of tea, she lit a cigarette with her delicate hands and began to tell me about her life.
Tibetan writers who express themselves in Chinese have received little attention outside of China in recent years; because they write in Chinese, they are considered by many exiled Tibetans to be collaborators or sympathizers with the PRC government. But some Tibetans in China, such as Tashi Dawa, are seen as exceptions. His skillful fiction manages to be creative and imaginative despite his use of Chinese and the conditions this imposes on his work. Less well known but also noteworthy among this new breed of Tibetan writers is Meizhuo.
Born in 1966 in Taktsang, Amdo, Meizhuo lived in various places in the northeast provinces before her parents, both government employees, were stationed in Xining. After graduating from Xining Teachers' College (qinghai shifan daxue), Meizhuo was assigned to work at Xining Film Institute (xining dianying gongsi); later she was employed at the Literature and Art Association (Wenlian). At the Film Institute, she had, for the first time, many Tibetan colleagues and explored her interest in Tibetan culture. In 1987 she published her first short story and, since then, has written in many genres, including poetry. Because she was the daughter of a high-ranking cadre, her stories received much attention when they were published and she felt great pressure from many quarters. Her breakthrough as a writer came in 1997, when her novel The Clan of the Sun (taiyang buluo) won the national award for minority writers. [End Page 144]
Like many of her generation, Meizhuo was educated in a Chinese university and therefore can express herself more fluently and accurately in Chinese than Tibetan. When I asked her if she speaks Tibetan, I could sense her unease. Since her childhood, she told me, she had spoken to her parents in Chinese and they had replied in Tibetan. Glancing sideways at me, Meizhuo said that she had tried to learn Tibetan from a teacher, but for various reasons had not continued the lessons. She was relieved and consoled by my comment that many young Tibetans in Switzerland are in the same position.
Because of her father's senior position in the government, Meizhuo had access to historical documents that enabled her to expand her knowledge of Tibet and its history. The Clan of the Sun is set in the republican or warlord period (1911-1949). During the last years of this period, from 1938 to 1949, Amdo was controlled by the Chinese Muslim general Ma Bufeng. As we discussed the Muslim-Tibetan war of the thirties and forties, Meizhuo became very agitated. The conflict still has deep resonance for Tibetans living in Amdo today.
A saga of two clans, Meizhuo's novel depicts the ambiguous relationship between Chinese civil servants and Tibetans. Suobai, the chief of the Yida clan, realizes that none of the Tibetans is represented in the government. Consequently, he attempts to establish a school in the village, believing that Tibetans might eventually gain better employment and equal treatment by the Chinese through better education. The resulting conflicts illustrate how traditionally minded Tibetans resist the outside world and how modernity inevitably intrudes in their lives.
As with many Tibetan writers, Meizhuo feels that her culture is misrepresented or distorted in contemporary Chinese fiction. Hence, she feels an obligation to portray Tibetan culture and customs from a more authentic viewpoint...