On the Subject of Silence and Speaking Out About Tibet
These last few months, I have the constant sound of a voice in my ears, this is not only the voice of my Tibetan compatriots in their unhappy plight, it is also a voice which questions my innermost feelings. That I hear this voice is because I acknowledge it, it is a voice which comes originally from someone I idolized in my youth, and whose memory then gradually faded, an Italian woman called Oriana Fallaci, who, working as a reporter and a writer, said after the events of 9-11: “In these times, if we maintain our silence, it will be wrong: it is nothing less than our duty to speak out.”
Since 10 March this year, most worrying news has been reaching us from Lhasa and even from every corner of Tibet. I have heard these voices, but I have lapsed into silence. That I have remained silent, have kept this silence for so many days, is not for any other reason – it is not attributable, for instance, to the sense of imminent danger, which suddenly manifested itself one day at noon, in the shape of a policeman, informing me in the friendliest manner in his Beijing accent that I could not leave my house. Nor is it in any way provoked by fear for him, for his unit, or for the State: no, there too many, far too many feelings of all sorts welling up within me, choking me, crowding my mind and stiffening the hands with which I am now trying to strike these keys. As I said to a friend visiting from far away in response to his anxious question: “These days . . . our suffering is great, and there is also a sense of disillusionment . . . I am unable to speak . . . I feel like a singer who has suddenly lost his voice . . . I don’t know where I should begin . . . An overwhelming sense of grief and indignation, a sense of struggling . . .” That I feel like a singer who has suddenly lost his voice, is precisely because of this innermost feeling of disillusion and struggle. A disillusionment that comes from the country in which we live, a disillusionment that comes, even more, from the vast majority of people with whom we must live side-by-side. But disillusionment is not the same thing as misanthropy, nor is it the same thing as the courage manifested in resistance to this situation; accordingly, the struggle rages on within us, in our innermost selves.
In the deep of night, a young friend in far-away Lhasa said to me in a low voice: “In point of fact we are very cowardly; we are always uttering such phrases as ‘our nationality’, ‘Tibet’, but when a major calamity befalls us, all too often it is the ordinary people, from the lowest rung of society, who come to the fore, regardless of all danger, incomparably braver than us.” Yes, when so many people give voice to grievances that have been building up within them for many years, so many more hide away and keep silent. I too kept silent, but I now know that I cannot remain silent, because it is my duty to speak out. Where my writing is concerned, in writing about Tibet I must from this point on use my Tibetan identity: if I were to remain silent at such a time, that would be not only a mistake, but a deplorable disgrace! I hear reports of many people being arrested, including friends of mine; I hear reports of temples being besieged, and there are friends of mine inside; I am even more worried about those many friends of mine who are now scattered far and wide about the Kham region, currently no news of them is reaching me, I am consumed with worry about them. In fact, in their wretched plight, all these people are friends of mine, they are my kith and kin: how can I not be consumed with worry about them?!
When all across Tibet, people rose up in protest, Beijing claimed that the uprising had been orchestrated by the Dalai Lama together with the Tibetans in exile, with the goal of casting a shadow over the Beijing Olympic Games. In point of fact, these claims are patently absurd. For how many years now, under the brutal control of the external authorities, has the situation in Tibet been hidden behind a veil of pretty lies, dressed up in worn-out clichés – thus, as Chinese Communist Party officials in Tibet so frequently declare: “The present time is the best in Tibet’s history”. If this is the best time in its history, why are the Tibetan people manifesting their discontent and putting up resistance to the point of risking their lives? If this is the best time in its history, how can they have been roused to action by a tiny number of exiles living so far away? Speaking recently to the international media, Hu Jintao (maybe just at an international level, in an international forum?) denied that the question of Tibet is an ethnic issue, a religious issue or a human rights issue; the truth, however, is that the question of Tibet is a quintessentially ethnic, religious and human rights issue. For years on end the problems have been piling up, until finally, in the year of the Beijing Olympics, they erupted. But it is not true that the Tibetans deliberately chose this special occasion in order to attract the eyes of the world to their cause: no, to use a Buddhist turn of phrase, it was simply that the yinyuan – the principal and secondary causes – had themselves become ripe.
This is an uprising against tyranny. Some Tibetans have only been throwing stones. Others wield knives and set things on fire. But during the protests in many parts of Tibet, the Tibetan people did not even throw stones, brandish knives or use fire: all they did was to raise their arms, shout slogans and hand out leaflets to all and sundry, with the result that they were savagely beaten and taken into detention. Thus in Kham traditional Tibetan areas in Gansu county in the Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, on a single day, 18 June, there were six separate protests in the course of which some 10 Tibetans were arrested; on 22 June there were three protests, one after the other, in which some 14 Tibetans were detained. It is true that, on 10 March, after peaceful demonstrations by the Tibetans were suppressed, the resistance gradually became violent, and while this violence was short in duration and very limited in its scope, it was massively inflated by the Chinese propaganda machine, which placed Tibetans on a par with terrorists – accusations that were completely outrageous.
What is still sadder is that, when the Beijing Olympics finally go ahead as scheduled, the uprising which took place in Tibet in March will have been forgotten by the general public. Chinese Communist Party officials in Tibet are relentlessly continuing their campaign against the so-called “Dalai clique”, against whom, they declare, they must fight to the death; the mass-scale and relentless immigration of Han Chinese to Lhasa and all parts of Tibet is continuing apace, in a mad scramble for economic gain; the overwhelming majority of Tibetans remain marginalized, and in the process of being brutally assimilated to Han Chinese culture are gradually losing their own ethnic characteristics; all the temples of Tibet are continuing to roll out their so-called “patriotic education campaign”, monks are being forced to recant their beliefs and to abuse and insult the Dalai Lama . . . Nothing has changed: the immense sacrifice made by tens of thousands of Tibetan will be obliterated by the glitz and razzamatazz of the Beijing Olympics.
But in times such as these, speaking as a writer, I have to speak out. Over time I have gradually come to the following perception of the writer’s craft, to which I now firmly adhere: writing is a form of prayer; writing is a voyage of discovery; writing is to bear witness. At this juncture, writing – more than ever before – must take on the mission of bearing witness. At this juncture – and let me be the first to place this on record – this is also one way of breaking the silence and speaking out, so, for this reason, these last few months, since 10 March, I have been keeping a journal on my blog, a daily record of the blood and tears spilt in this snow-bound land, in an effort to record everything that happens as fully as possible. Yet this is still far from sufficient, this is still not true speaking out. Because to this very day the suffering of Tibet is continuing; to this day, for the sake of its self-preservation, to secure greater advantages for itself, humankind throughout the ages over the course of its history has engaged in acts of betrayal and selling out its fellow man, as are now being played out in Lhasa, in other parts of Tibet and everywhere in China where there are Tibetan populations. And it is precisely for this reason, for the true story to be told, that many, many people have to speak out. Only when they do, will history tell the true story.
I thank you for according me this precious opportunity to speak out and to convey the heartfelt aspirations of the Tibetan people.
My deepest gratitude to you!