The Loneliness of the Long Distance Blogger

The Tibetan writer Woeser, under house arrest in Beijing since March 10th, has been constantly writing and updating the world about the recent events in Tibet. She has posted five reports titled Tibet Update 1, Tibet Update 2 , Tibet Update 3, Tibet Update 4, and just yesterday, Tibet Update (May 1-2, 2008). They are all on and provide valuable insight to gaining a deeper understanding of events in Tibet since March 10th this year. Woeser

Woeser was born in 1966 in Lhasa, at the outset of the Cultural Revolution. Her father was a soldier in the People’s Liberation Army and she appears to have been educated entirely in Chinese and never learned to read or write Tibetan. Ironically it could be this shortcoming that has enabled her to be such an influential voice, since her writing is appreciated not only by Tibetans au fait with Chinese but also by a wider Chinese readership. She is said to be the first Tibetan to have played the role of a public intellectual in China, especially at a time when whatever free expression there is in China survives largely on the internet.

I have been told she is half-Chinese, but I haven’t seen any reference to this in biographical notes or descriptions of her. She has written a poem “Of Mixed Race” so there is probably no need for us to be overly sensitive about the fact. As a child of mixed marriage she can claim a place in a fraternity of Tibetans of half Indian, Canadian, Japanese, Swiss, German, French, African, American, English and Irish descent who call themselves “T-Plus”, many of whom are proud and committed activists for the cause. Like the X-Men they bring a little something special to our struggle against evil.

Woeser started off as a journalist in Sichuan and then became editor of the Chinese language magazine Tibetan Literature (xizang wenxue) in Lhasa. In 2004 she she was accused of “political errors” in her writings and removed from her position in the Tibet Cultural Association and expelled from her work unit in Lhasa. This meant having all health, retirement and other benefits terminated and being evicted from her home.. Her book Notes on Tibet (xizang biji), a collection of essays relating to Tibet’s history, personalities and way of life, was officially banned. To make things easier on her family in Tibet, she moved to Beijing to live with friends. I can imagine her staring out of a grimy apartment window at the agent-orange sky of this mega-dystopian city, as she wrote this line of a poem in November 2004:

“Far from home, amidst foreigners, eternal strangers”.

She started her first blog in 2005, setting new standards for frank discussions on issues as AIDS in Tibet, the Tibet railway, The Cultural Revolution in Tibet, and the March 10th Uprising, which are not only highly sensitive but dangerous to think about aloud. Last year two of her blogs Maroon Map (visited largely by Tibetan readers) and Oser’s Blog (visited by Chinese readers) were shut down. They were closed by the websites that hosted them –, a Tibetan cultural portal, and, a local blog platform – presumably on government orders amid a continuing wave of online censorship in China. Her website was recently hacked. In the overwrought atmosphere of nationalist fervor in China she probably gets a lot of hate-mail.

The woman is fearless. She gave an interview on the Channel 4 documentary Preparing Tibet For the Olympics and described China’s rule in Tibet as colonialism – which I thought was smart. The word “colonialism” does have the negative connotation of a foreign power conquering and exploiting a separate and distinct country or people, but probably does not raise red flags at the Ministry of Truth in Beijing because of its regular usage in Communist propaganda against Japan and Western nations.

Last year she was awarded the Freedom of Expression Prize 2007, by the Norwegian Authors Union. But she could not travel to Oslo to collect her prize. She has been prohibited from applying for a passport to leave the country.

Woeser’s Tibet Updates provide invaluable detailed information on all that has happened and is happening in Tibet now. Her writing provides a stark immediacy to events and brings them up-close and personal as no report by foreign journalists or “experts” can, not even the scribblings of exile writers like myself. The excerpt below is from Tibet Update 3:

“The human rights situation in Tibetan areas, including Lhasa, is very poor, in Lhasa alone, over 150 Tibetans were killed during March 14 Incident. It is learned that up to now since March 14, when some Tibetans in Lhasa passed away, and their relatives took the corpse of the dead to the Sky Burial site (i.e. the Drigungthil sky burial platform), the wrapped corpses would be open and checked by the military police who set up checkpoints on the way. They were checking to see whether they were victims shot during March 14 Incident. This is the greatest disrespect and an act of profanity toward the deceased.”

In her latest Tibet Update (May 1-2, 2008) Woeser puts forward the “viewpoint of Tibetans in China” regarding the the talks in Beijing with the Dalai Lama’s envoys: “The CCP wants to use the Dalai Lama to quiet down the Tibet issue, the various domestic problems and the threat to Beijing Olympics posed by the international society … The Sino-Tibetan talk at present is completely tendentious. It is an effort to satisfy the pressure from the western society and to brag about itself. The Dalai Lama hopes to discuss and explain protests in Tibet since March, but the Chinese Communist Party already proclaimed their verdict to the world, thus, it is not likely to have any result from the talk.”

The following observations on the trial of the 30 Tibetan protesters is from Tibet Update 4:

“The trial process was simple. There were no lawyers to defend the defendants; neither were any statements allowed to be made by the defendants. The normal procedure was reduced. Due to the fact that the judge’s speech in Chinese needed to be translated into Tibetan, and many mistakes were made in the translation, those attending the court hearing frequently broke into laughter. It is said that judging from the laughter, it seemed that people were venting their resentment. Otherwise, how could people laugh at such an occasion. But the defendants could only put up with this in silence.”

I liked the observation about the laughter in the courthouse. In her poem “Lhasa Nights” or was it “Secret of Tibet”, Woeser, drinking with her friends “in small bars along the Lingkhor” makes a note of “Lhasawa humour” and the subtle political satire the citizens of the Tibetan capital are capable of. I guess there isn’t much to laugh about in Beijing right now. Even with cellphones and the internet, it must be God awful lonely to be a Tibetan in that ocean of inhumanity.


15 Replies to “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Blogger”

  1. Thank you Jamyang la for writing about Woeser and her updates. For me they have been a source of inspiration much like the woman herself. I still think Tibetans dont appreciate her enough.

  2. Yes, it is important for us to remind and remember people like Woeser, her bravenes, sacrifice and inspiration will ripple around the world, while Tibetan freedom ring is still thundering across the oceans and valleys of five continents….. Let the freedom ring and thunder raor for a Free and an independent Tibet.

    Bho Rangzen

  3. Jamyang la
    I have simply heard about the Woser as bold and writer with consistancy with own your update about Woser has enlighten me to view woser as a great writer, without fear for driving -out the truth from the fact.
    we must have to feel the pain of writer, when his pen is forcibly stop.
    We must have to upheld the hope of her writing through every possible ways
    We feel proud of her immediacy report about the recent protest in Tibet.

    Great great great great.

  4. Tashi Delek,

    I believe Jamyang la had introduced us the world greatest weapon to fight against China’s regime. Yes I am talking about woeser who is as strong as she appears and as dangerous as nuclear weapon.
    Jamyang la thank you for bringing one of our fearless writers in front us.

  5. Jamyang la, thank you for writing about Woesar la who is source of inspiration for all the Tibetan esp those young generation who are grown under red chinese flag…..It would be really good if you introduce her husband Wanglee Shung.
    Jamyang la thank you so much for what ever you have done for our Tibet cost and you are one source of inspiration for our young Tibetan generation.
    Tashi Delek.

  6. It is interesting to note how she can remain in relative “safety” when other Tibetan writers such as Dolma Kyab are shipped off to prison.
    I wonder how she manages to do that.

  7. I would like to bow down my head to pay the homage to courageous writer, Woeser la.

    Well done and good luck..

    Free Tibet.

  8. Woser’s relative safety reportedly comes from her father being something of a Chinese hero in the Cultural Revolution, and Chinese unwillingness to harm the families of their heroes. I’m told that much of her inside information and photographs she published in her book came from him. Perhaps someone can find sources backing this up; all I know about her is general lore told among Tibetan friends.

    Of course being based in Beijing also makes a big difference for her safety.

    As Dakney said, Wang Lixiong is also an interesting character in his own right. I met him once in Taiwan and while he definitely had a self-image of being someone sympathetic to and supportive of Tibet, his interest in China’s future was definitely much more important to him. He was recommending the democratization of China as the preferred path for helping Tibet. Seeing this as “sacrificing Tibet for China”, I confronted him on the matter of his motivation, and much to his credit, he admitted that it might very well be a selfish motivation, and that whether it was really the best option from a purely Tibetan perspective was very questionable.

    Overall, I’m hard-pressed to say what I think of Wang Lixiong. He definitely has a very Chinese way of thinking about Tibet. I haven’t read his book (to which this is a reply), but Tsering Shakya’s article on it is particularly telling:

    I believe his way of thinking has developed somewhat since, but I don’t know by how much. The difference between the attitudes he and Woser project in their respective writings is so great that I often wonder what their conversations with one another must be like…

  9. I have to make a correction here. Woeser is definitely not half-Chinese, many people think she is. Both her parents are from Bathang. Her great great grandfather was a Chinese settled in Bathang. Sorry Woeser la. Gongdak Thuten!

    Like Rich I’m ambivalent about Wang. His reasoning on the Tibet issue appears to be that Tibet must remain a part of China and to ensure that it does so Beijing must treat the Dalai Lama with more respect and give the Tibetans some leeway as regards freedom of religion.

    Wang’s idea’s on democracy are as uninformed, rudimentary and condescending to Tibetans as those of nearly every Chinese from the PRC that I have met. Read his “Successive Level Electoral System” and other thoughts on the issue in UNLOCKING TIBET.


  10. Let us keep all these forbidden truths in writing,images or whatever is possible because the Chinese people will one day, want to look back to see these barbaric historical acts done on their name.
    Few of my friends were telling me, that we Tibetans need to play their games,although we know it is non-sense, but to the non-sense, we need to communicate in non-sensible ways, may be only then we can take then we can let them see the Reality…….

    Norbu lak,
    We deeply appreciate every single day for your invaluable freindship and guidance, for the ohnesty and openess, truth that you represent in all of us. Thanks you for bringing Woeser, whose hearts touched mine and millions to come….
    Tibetans will live strong and prosper because our ‘Hearts are Together”

  11. I read few of Woeser’s writings and was very impressed. A friend told me that the translation into English, as happens often, is not very accurate and the flow of her writing is lost.

    It will help many of us if you can provide us with information or link to her blog in English (translation)or in Tibetan.

    Thank you for bringing and introducing Woeser to your readers.

  12. Woser’s original writing is in Chinese, not Tibetan. From what I’ve heard she speaks Tibetan but cannot read and write, or at least not well enough to use the language for blogging.

  13. JamYang And woeser

    Both writers( Jamyang and Woeser) could not understand Tibetan Language well, that why they never considered a Tibetan writer writing in own language., as well as Tibetan who use other language instead of Tibetan Lang, also chinese government want all Tibetans become people who cannot use their own mother tongue, like Woeser,and Jamyang Norbu…

  14. Woesser did not become fluent in Tibetan till well into her adult life. Before that, she was basically a cultural Han. I don’t think she could stand marrying a male chauvinistic Tibetan. Having said that, her husband, Wang Lixiong, is much more accomplished than her from a writer standpoint.

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