The Fear in Lhasa (A poem by Woeser)


A hurried farewell to Lhasa,
Now a city of fear.

A hurried farewell to Lhasa,
Where the fear is greater than all the fear after ’59, ’69, and ’89 put together.

A hurried farewell to Lhasa,
Where the fear is in your breathing, in the beating of your heart,
In the silence when you want to speak but don’t,
In the catch in your throat.

A hurried farewell to Lhasa,
Where constant fear has been wrought by legions with their guns,
By countless police with their guns,
By plainclothesmen beyond counting,
And still more by the colossal machinery of the State that stands behind them night and day;
But you mustn’t point a camera at them or you’ll get a gun pointed at you,
maybe hauled off into some corner and no one will know.

A hurried farewell to Lhasa,
Where the fear starts at the Potala and strengthens as you go east, through the Tibetans’ quarter.
Dreadful footsteps reverberate all round, but in daylight you won’t glimpse even their shadow;
They are like demons invisible by day, but the horror is worse, it could drive you mad.
A few times I have passed them and the cold weapons in their hands.

A hurried farewell to Lhasa,
Where the fear is now minutely scanned by the cameras that stud avenues and alleys and offices,
and every monastery and temple hall;
All those cameras,
Taking it all in,
Swiveling from the outer world to peer inside your mind.
“Zab zab chi! º They’re watching us” — among Tibetans this has become a byword, furtively whispered.

A hurried farewell to Lhasa:
The fear in Lhasa breaks my heart. Got to write it down.

August 23, 2008
On the road out of Lhasa

Translation by . Check out this great website for other poems by Woeser and for Tibet’s True Heart, the book.


º Zab zab chi (Tibetan): “I beg you, be careful.”  These days, a very common expression among Tibetans.

[I was in Lhasa from August 17 to August 23, my shortest stay ever, and I had no choice about leaving . . . these words were to remember it by.

And there’s something I want to say:  You have the guns. I have a pen.]


17 Replies to “The Fear in Lhasa (A poem by Woeser)”

  1. “maybe hauled off into some corner and no one will know.” This poem is intense and i could connect to it. Woeser lak if u are reading this.. have faith in urself! bhoe gyal lo

  2. as i read her poem the tears are coming out from eyes without control. she is really great tibetan girl. i love her.
    Woeser lak, if you look this message, i am saying that all of us are behind you and stand for you and truth. one world one dream FREE TIBET

  3. Weserla, little sister
    keep your clear light shining brightly
    pierce through the lies of the tormentors
    in these dark times
    when doubts blur our thoughts
    you shine brightly uncompromising
    clear our head and heart
    our future is bright
    see you next year in the land of the gods

  4. dear Acha lak!!

    thanks for everything done for tibet and its people. i was sad and proud of you after seeing your poem called the fear in Lhasa. as we know, Lhasa is tibetan word for heaven, right??? if even there has a fear then where we find a place for peace and harmony.!!
    i love you a lot. i traslated your poem in tibetan and i must apology for not asking any permission from you as i dont know your id. however, i hope and pray that TIBET will be free in near future and see all our brothers and sisters who are in tibet now. BOD GYALO!!!! BOD GYALO BOD GYALO!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. Woser,

    Thank for being so great in the time of need, your reflective poem always bring much changes in the heart of Tibertan in everywhere.

    We are looking for more,

    Thank you again
    love and respect

  6. Woser la,

    You are an example of true Tibetan race, a race that can give up luxury but not its roots!

    50 years of Chinese rule????? Rule for another 200 years and there will still be thousands of Wosers taking pride in being Tibetan, carrying Tibetan flag and calling Tibet’s independence! But China just doesn’t get it. Like its ten of millions of citizens, who with periodic dose of greatness of “motherland” forget the evils of their leaders and envy them, the regime naively believes Tibetans will also forget their origin and join their ‘bigger family’, with time, improvement of lives and investment in Tibet. Pathetic mindset of people who pride themselves of having ‘5000’ year old history! Even circus animals don’t dance no matter how tempting song you sing if the singer is not their trainer. Hello, we are human beings with our own history, culture and identity. How can PRC expect us to dance to their alien songs?????????

    While growing up in diverse society in exile in India, our elders always said to us “You are Tibetan”, to instill in us the sense of belonging to distinct ethnic heritage. Today, despite living in a country that’s sometime referred to as ‘Melting Pot’, I feel proud of being Tibetan, proud of my distinct identity, and desire to fulfill my ethnic responsibility – to fight for Tibet’s independence – never so strong. Woser la, thank you representing us in Beijing, and doing your part!

    Bhod Rangzen!

  7. Woeser,

    Thank you for your gifts to us human beings. To the Tibetans who are inspired by your insights and voice, and to the rest of us, who with your fellow Tibetans, seek to challenge the dying of the light. The flame of reason burns strong and we should not let it sputter out…ever.

    Thank you for your poetry, a gift to all humans but especially to us poets who struggle to make the unheard voices heard. Who struggle to make the secrets come to light. Thank you, sister.

  8. Woeser la is for the Tibetan people – and for the whole world – what Anna Ahkmatova was for the Russian people in the darkest days of Stalinism. A beacon of humanity and clarity.

  9. Woeser la, you are really beacon of hope and inspiration for the Tibetans. You are the voice of the voiceless. You have a gift of thought, writing and courage. I am definitely sure many have been encouraged and inspired by this and other writings. We need more and more writers like you.

    Keep it up


  10. I embark on with a warm tashi delek.It is heartening me to go through your dedicated peom for land of snow we belong.your poems is sure to strengthen unity and machismo to the every corner in the hearts of young boys and sure to be peircing proud in the heart of a youngladies.

  11. I think it’s high time the chinese people stand up for the just cause of Tibet and lend a helping hand to bring about some change in their selfish government manage by people with low moral. I mean they love more than anything to seek wine and womanize rather than take some time to scrutinize the hard realities facing them.

    Their mind is always clouded by negative thoughts when always dealing with issue of Tibet and their fear inside is getting worse due to their policy of mistrust.

    The situation inside Tibet right now is very grim and UNO is busy tending sheeps on the other side pretending as if everything is alright with Tibet and their way of life.

    I believe good thing will come and ultimately Rangzen for us Tibetan.

  12. The biggest obstacle to Chinese standing up for Tibet is that they don’t respect Tibet. So many Chinese I met have extremely cut-throat, survival-of-the-strongest philosophies and view Tibetans’ eagarness to appease and compromise as laughable. If you want their support you first need their respect as a force to be reckoned with. In all my experience arguing with Chinese, the times they’ve been most receptive and intent on discussion and engagement is when I’ve been steady and forceful, not attacking them personally but presenting a complete disregard for their happiness or affirmation.

  13. chilling and well contented, this too under the guns,
    Your courage, faith in freedom and will to endure the circumstances whatsoever harse would it be…. I am undoubtedly awestrucked and impressed by all your writings, Woeser la.

  14. Wodxer, Light
    Wodser, golden light
    Brighter than all the red of Communism
    A beacon in our dark night
    Shinier than all the stars on their flag

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