» Federation of Literary and Art, April 15, 2012
An open letter to Xi Jinping by 134 Nobel laureates, as published by Reporters Sans Frontières.
December 4, 2012
The Honorable Xi Jinping General Secretary of the Communist Party of China Zhongnanhai, Xichengqu, Beijing City People’s Republic of China
Dear Mr. Xi,
As you have taken the first step towards assuming the presidency of the People’s Republic of China, we write to welcome the prospect of fresh leadership and new ideas. To that end, we respectfully urge you to release Dr. Liu Xiaobo, the world’s only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, and his wife, Liu Xia.
On December 25, 2009, your government sentenced Dr. Liu, a highly respected intellectual and democracy advocate, to 11 years in prison for “inciting subversion.” The charges were based on his political essays and co-authorship of “Charter 08,” which called for peaceful political reform in China based on the principles of human rights, freedom, and democracy. Shortly after the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded Dr. Liu its Peace Prize, the government placed Liu Xia under house arrest, where she remains cut off from the outside world two years later without charge or the benefit of any legal process.
In response to the continued detentions of Dr. Liu and Liu Xia, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, an independent and impartial body of experts, issued Opinions No. 15-16/2011, finding their detentions to be in violation of international law ; however, despite this finding their cases remain unresolved.
Across all disciplines, the distinguishing feature which led to our recognition as Nobel Laureates is that we have embraced the power of our intellectual freedom and creative inspiration to do our part to advance the human condition. No government can restrict freedom of thought and association without having a negative effect on such important human innovation. Indeed, we Laureates are distressed that your government continues to block access to the main Nobel Prize web site (www.nobelprize.org). During former Chinese President Hu Jintao’s state visit to the United States in 2011, he recognized that “a lot still needs to be done in China on human rights.” While we welcome such honest assessments, we hope that China’s new political leadership will move past merely recognizing the problem and seize this important opportunity to take concrete steps towards embracing the fundamental rights of all Chinese citizens. An essential first step is the immediate and unconditional release of Dr. Liu Xiaobo and his wife Liu Xia.
134 Nobel Prize Laureates ( Name, Category, Prize Year ) Peter Agre Chemistry 2003 Thomas R. Cech Chemistry 1989 Martin Chalfie Chemistry 2008 Aaron Ciechanover Chemistry 2004 Paul J. Crutzen Chemistry 1995 Robert F. Curl Jr. Chemistry 1996 Johann Deisenhofer Chemistry 1988 2 of 4 Richard R. Ernst Chemistry 1991 Gerhard Ertl Chemistry 2007 Walter Gilbert Chemistry 1980 Robert H. Grubbs Chemistry 2005 Dudley R. Herschbach Chemistry 1986 Avram Hershko Chemistry 2004 Roald Hoffmann Chemistry 1981 Robert Huber Chemistry 1988 Roger D. Kornberg Chemistry 2006 Sir Harold Kroto Chemistry 1996 Yuan T. Lee Chemistry 1986 Mario J. Molina Chemistry 1995 Kary B. Mullis Chemistry 1993 John C. Polanyi Chemistry 1986 Venkatraman Ramakrishnan Chemistry 2009 Richard R. Schrock Chemistry 2005 Jens C. Skou Chemistry 1997 Thomas A. Steitz Chemistry 2009 Roger Y. Tsien Chemistry 2008 Sir John E. Walker Chemistry 1997 Kurt Wuthrich Chemistry 2002 Ada E. Yonath Chemistry 2009 Kenneth J. Arrow Economics 1972 Peter A. Diamond Economics 2010 Daniel Kahneman Economics 2002 Finn E. Kydland Economics 2004 Robert E. Lucas Jr. Economics 1995 Harry M. Markowitz Economics 1990 Eric S. Maskin Economics 2007 Daniel L. McFadden Economics 2000 James A. Mirrlees Economics 1996 Dale T. Mortensen Economics 2010 Roger B. Myerson Economics 2007 Douglass C. North Economics 1993 Thomas J. Sargent Economics 2011 Thomas C. Schelling Economics 2005 Vernon L. Smith Economics 2002 Oliver E. Williamson Economics 2009 J. M. Coetzee Literature 2003 Gunter Grass Literature 1999 Elfriede Jelinek Literature 2004 Toni Morrison Literature 1993 Herta Muller Literature 2009 Tomas Transtromer Literature 2011 3 of 4 Mario Vargas Llosa Literature 2010 David Baltimore Medicine 1975 Francoise Barre-Sinoussi Medicine 2008 J. Michael Bishop Medicine 1989 Gunter Blobel Medicine 1999 Sydney Brenner Medicine 2002 Linda B. Buck Medicine 2004 Sir Martin J. Evans Medicine 2007 Andrew Z. Fire Medicine 2006 Edmond H. Fischer Medicine 1992 Alfred G. Gilman Medicine 1994 Paul Greengard Medicine 2000 Carol W. Greider Medicine 2009 Roger Guillemin Medicine 1977 Sir John B. Gurdon Medicine 2012 Leland H. Hartwell Medicine 2001 Harald zur Hausen Medicine 2008 H. Robert Horvitz Medicine 2002 David H. Hubel Medicine 1981 Tim Hunt Medicine 2001 Louis J. Ignarro Medicine 1998 Eric R. Kandel Medicine 2000 Rita Levi-Montalcini Medicine 1986 Craig C. Mello Medicine 2006 Joseph E. Murray Medicine 1990 Erwin Neher Medicine 1991 Sir Paul Nurse Medicine 2001 Christiane Nusslein-Volhard Medicine 1995 Stanley B. Prusiner Medicine 1997 Sir Richard J. Roberts Medicine 1993 Hamilton O. Smith Medicine 1978 John E. Sulston Medicine 2002 Jack W. Szostak Medicine 2009 E. Donnall Thomas Medicine 1990 J. Robin Warren Medicine 2005 Eric F. Wieschaus Medicine 1995 Torsten N. Wiesel Medicine 1981 Amnesty International Peace 1977 Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo Peace 1996 Mairead Maguire Peace 1976 Shirin Ebadi Peace 2003 Leymah Roberta Gbowee Peace 2011 Tawakkul Karman Peace 2011 The 14th Dalai Lama Peace 1989 4 of 4 Jose Ramos-Horta Peace 1996 Desmond Tutu Peace 1984 Elie Wiesel Peace 1986 Betty Williams Peace 1976 Jody Williams Peace 1997 Zhores I. Alferov Physics 2000 Leon N. Cooper Physics 1972 James Cronin Physics 1980 Jerome I. Friedman Physics 1990 Andre Geim Physics 2010 Riccardo Giacconi Physics 2002 Donald A. Glaser Physics 1960 Sheldon Glashow Physics 1979 Roy J. Glauber Physics 2005 David J. Gross Physics 2004 John L. Hall Physics 2005 Serge Haroche Physics 2012 Antony Hewish Physics 1974 Gerardus ’t Hooft Physics 1999 Brian D. Josephson Physics 1973 Charles K. Kao Physics 2009 Wolfgang Ketterle Physics 2001 Klaus von Klitzing Physics 1985 Leon M. Lederman Physics 1988 Anthony J. Leggett Physics 2003 John C. Mather Physics 2006 Douglas D. Osheroff Physics 1996 William D. Phillips Physics 1997 H. David Politzer Physics 2004 Robert C. Richardson Physics 1996 Adam G. Riess Physics 2011 Heinrich Rohrer Physics 1986 Brian P. Schmidt Physics 2011 Jack Steinberger Physics 1988 Joseph H. Taylor Jr. Physics 1993 Charles H. Townes Physics 1964 Steven Weinberg Physics 1979 Frank Wilczek Physics 2004 Robert Woodrow Wilson Physics 1978
Related tag: Liu Xiaobo
The Dalai Lama hopes that the new, coming leadership would be more lenient, according to Reuters. Reuters writes that
[i]n the early 1950s, the Dalai Lama knew Xi Jinping’s father, Xi Zhongxun, one of the most liberal leaders of the Chinese revolution, who was known to have had a less hardline approach to Tibet.
Xi Zhongxun (习仲勋) is said to have opposed the 1989 Tian An Men crackdown, about a year after his retirement in 1988. The article suggesting this stance by Xi Zhongxun also suggests that Xi Jinping himself is the only leader who served in the military. If true, this could mean that he has a more realistic view of the limited use of violent crackdowns. However, according to a Singapure National University document, Xi Jinping’s military role was rather political:
Unlike other frontrunners of the fifth generation leadership, Xi has had some
military service before. Upon his graduation from Qinghua University in 1979, he worked for Geng Biao (耿飚), the then secretary general of the Central Military Commission (CMC), for about three years.
Meantime, Huanqiu Shibao is quoted as having reported on an eleven-day visit by the Dalai Lama to Japan, scheduled for November this year. The article can currently not be found on Huanqiu (only the search results seem to be available at Google). Beifang Net apparently republished the short news article. It closes with quoting the foreign ministry’s standard condemnation:
Concerning the Dalai issue, the FMPRC has expressed many times that Tibetan affairs are China’s internal affairs. The Dalai has for a long time been a political exile under a banner of religion, engaging in anti-China splittist activities. China resolutely opposes any country and any person making use of Tibetan issues to interfere in Chinese internal affairs.
Russian president Vladimir Putin told Buddhist citizens on July 31 that the Russian government worked in the direction of inviting the Dalai Lama to Russia. Feng Chuangzhi, a regular congtributor to china.com, a website operated by the state council, wrote in an editorial on August 8 that given many years of friendly cooperation between Putin and Beijing, Chinese reactions to Putin’s comment eight days earlier had been low-key, just its reaction to the Russian shelling of a Chinese fishing boat had not been radical (过激). After a short re-cap of the usual allegations against the Dalai Lama, Feng writes that
under such circumstances, the likelihood of a Dalai visit to Russia as expressed by the Russian president does, of course, hurt the feelings of the Chinese people, and can lead to contradictions emerging between the two sides [China and Russia].
However, the ways in which Putin and Western countries invite the Dalai are different. Putin spoke about the possibility, but didn’t make it definite. People know that a so-called possibility is no official decision. It should also be said that he made these remarks in a discussion, saying that “we obviously understand the hopes of our people living here in [the Republic of] Kalmykia that the Dalai Lama comes to them”.
但是，同样说邀请达赖，普京与西方等国邀请达赖的口角就有所不同。普京只是说到创造达赖访俄罗斯的可能，并未把话说死。人们知道，所谓可能性，只是一种预 测，不是正式决定。还应一提的是，所说的邀请达赖来的是在同论坛与会者们交谈时的表示，“我们当然理解我们那些生活在卡尔梅克并期待达赖·喇嘛到来的 人”。
The following lines explain the history of the “so-called Kalmyks” (所谓卡尔梅克人). Feng then returns to the present tense:
Putin promised the Kalmyks to invite the Dalai Lama to alleviate their historical wounds. One can imagine that for some time, the Kalmyks raised the invitation of the Dalai, and as a Russian politician, [Putin] can’t ignore their wishes, but he also can’t be unaware of the Chinese government’s attitude towards the Dalai, and therefore can’t simply do things that would lead to tensions in Sino-Russian relations. Agence France-Presse said on August 1 that Putin had always acknowledged China’s position concerning the Tibetan issue, and believed that the Dalai was “a politicial personality engaging in secession”, and that the Dalai’s announcement of abandoning the political role had perhaps changed Russia’s traditional approach. “The Australian” said that perhaps, Putin’s remarks on July 31 marked “a turning point in attitude”. There are Western media that say that if Putin, only for a single day, allows the Dalai Lama to visit Kalmykia, it would put Sino-Russian relations to a direct test. Therefore, Putin’s invitation to the Dalai Lama is rather to curry favor with the Kalmyks, and also rather makeshift.
普京面向卡尔梅克人承诺邀达赖访问一事其为平抚卡尔梅克人历史创伤之意。可以想到，一段时间以来，卡尔梅克人早就发出了邀请达赖来访的声音，身为俄罗斯政 治家，不能不顾及卡尔梅克人的意愿，但普京也不可能不知道中国政府对达赖的态度，决不会冒然做令中俄关系紧张的事情。法新社1日说，普京一直认同中国西藏 问题立场，认为达赖是“从事国家分裂的政治人物”，去年达赖宣布放弃政治角色，或能让俄改变传统做法。《澳大利亚人报》称，普京7月31日的发言或是“态 度转变的契机”。有外媒称，普京一旦允许达赖访问卡尔梅克，将“对俄中关系构成直接考验。因此，普京发出邀请达赖访俄更多是讨好卡尔梅克人之意。也就是权 宜之计。
It wasn’t clear if Putin also “played the Dalai card” to put pressure on China in negotiations about the price for Russian oil, where there was disagreement between the two sides, writes Feng, and also gives Russia’s alliance with Vietnam a mention. Feng doesn’t describe Russia as a foe, but uses quotes instead to whip up readers’ paranoia. Referring to Cam Ranh Bay, among other recent issues in the news, Feng quotes analysts:
Russia’s president Putin wants to tie China down and weaken it by inviting the Dalai. It wants to slow Chinese action against Vietnam down, thus giving Russia the opportunity to arm and support Vietnam, and to build military bases in Vietnam.
China and Russia are friendly neighbors, and to promote Sino-Russian friendship is the mainstream volition of the people on both sides. The most important thing in their relations is to respect territorial sovereignty and integrity, and each others core interests. If core interests are involved, contradictions will arise. This author [Feng] believes that both countries’ politicians, facing a complicated international situation, will handle sensitive issues, including those of the “Dalai Lama card” type, appropriately. Floating clouds won’t blind them, and they will maintain and promote the general situation of Sino-Russian friendship.
I’ve sometimes wondered what it may feel like, for the Dalai Lama’s emissaries, to “negotiate” with Chinese cadres. Articles like Feng’s seem to give me a vague idea.
Citing a number of issues in the news (see links there), Rectified Name states that China keeps scoring own goals in terms of soft power, when it comes to the question as to how to react to unwelcome events somewhere abroad.
This mixture of criticism on the one hand, and advice to China’s dictators as to how to improve their image on the other, are a pattern that emerges regularly, frequently among Westerners, but I’ve also seen a Korean example. This approach, however, leaves a few crucial factors out of the account.
For one, it is diplomats who will care most about soft power. Yang Jiechi, China’s foreign minister, isn’t even a politbureau member. Like state-sponsored scientists, diplomats may compile working papers, but they are probably not calling the shots.
Obviously, China’s rulers would rather like to see the Dalai Lama under quarantine in Dharamsala. But to suggest, in this context, that Beijing will only get the opposite of what it actually wants, ignores the fact that there is already a number of countries where the Dalai Lama is unlikely to get a visa for the rest of his lifetime. Much more vital questions – if basically market economies can afford trade with a state-capitalist economy without a plan of their own, for example – aren’t even seriously discussed in Europe.
Another – related – misconception is that to be viewed positively would be the CCP’s “A” priority. It isn’t. They want a nice image for themselves and for China, but not as an end in itself. They rather want a nice image and control, but control comes first. From Beijing’s perspective, to become successful in both these fields will mainly be a question of perseverance – and of their “opponents’” self-overestimation.
Under these circumstances, scoffing at Beijing’s regular “representations” amounts to burying one’s head in the sand.
Rather than doing that, we need to ask ourselves where we want to be in ten or twenty years. If we still want our politicians and event managers to be the masters of their own appointment diaries by then, we’d better stop laughing at Beijing’s “own goals”, and start thinking instead.
Messages from Beijing are in conflict with each other when the Dalai Lama – and the degree to which he may become internationally noticeable – is the issue. On the one hand, the Dalai Lama doesn’t belong in Tibet, from Beijing’s point of view. He therefore doesn’t belong in China either. On the other hand, Beijing reacts angrily when the Dalai Lama “denies his Chinese citizenship”. And the Chinese leadership seems to suggest that it has a say in foreign leaders’ appointment diaries.
The Dalai Lama is quite powerless, but a discussion with him is probably much more enriching than one with Hu Jintao, Jackie Chan, or Zhang Ziyi.
That’s one of the problems with Chinese “soft power”, I guess. Whatever could be a factor in building such power is either in exile, or (mostly) silent.
But above all, it is childish when Chinese authorities condemn meetings with people outside their jurisdiction. And when Chinese editorialists who take their orders from those authorities demand that “hosting Dalai Lama must come at a high price”, there are two obvious objections. For one, David Cameron and Nick Clegg apparently met the Dalai Lama at St. Paul’s Cathedral. Downing Street didn’t host him. But above all, a nexus between economic cooperation with China and “hosting the Dalai Lama”, as advocated by the “Global Times”, shows how shaky the foundations of our economic cooperation with China actually are.
Maybe we should think about our own reasons to limit cooperation with China. Because one day, we might feel that we can’t “afford” certain values and views of our own anymore. Other governments have come to such misguided conclusions already.
Huanqiu Shibao, April 23
French Pesidential Nominees play the China Card, Sarkozy says he Pays Close Attention to Tibetan Issue (法总统竞选打出中国牌 萨科齐称关注西藏问题)
From our France, Germany, Britain, U.S., Russia correspondents
Huanqiu Shibao reports that an anti-Chinese overseas exile Tibetan website reported on April 21 that during the April 22 presidential elections, Dalai supporters and French paper “Nouvel Observateur” addressed the Tibetan issue. From ten nominees, nine affirmed that they would meet with the Dalai. The report says that Sarkozy told the “Nouvel Observateur that “he frequently addressed the Tibet issue in talks with Chinese leaders”, and that “Tibet is an important topic for the French people, and for me”. Hollande said that the Dalai was a “respected religious personality, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and he abandoned all political roles. Therefore, I have no reason to refuse a meeting with him”.
A Chinese person living abroad told “Huanqiu Shibao” on April 22 that some countries in Europe have not abandoned “democratic” etc. issues as means of pressure on China, and provocative intentions. However, under the current difficult economic difficulties, some comparatively reasonable politicians could exercise some restraint. China’s tough stance could leave some politicians with no choice but to face the realities. If they were provocative, they would certainly have to pay a price.
Beijing Normal University Political Science and International Relations department deputy director Zhang Shengjun told “Huanqiu Shibao” that these presidential elections wouldn’t change French China policies on the whole. Chinese-French relations didn’t show great conflicts of interests, and all of Europe was actively seeking cooperation with China to solve the European sovereign debt crisis.
Le Nouvel Observateur, April 17, 2012
Dalai Lama – what the Candidates say (Ce qu’en disent les candidats)
Question five: Once you are president, will you receive the Dalai Lama? (Question n°5 : Une fois Président, recevrez-vous le dalaï-lama ?)
I remind you that I’m the only president of the French Republic who talked with the Dalai Lama. That was in 2008. I also had the opportunity on several other occasions to talk about the Tibetan situation with the Chinese president. Of course, I intend to continue doing so. Tibet is an important topic for the French, just as for me. As far as the Dalai Lama is concerned, as a matter of principle, I’m not forbidding myself anything.
“Je vous rappelle que je suis le seul Président de la République française à m’être entretenu avec le dalaï-lama. C’était en 2008. J’ai par ailleurs eu à plusieurs reprises l’occasion de parler de la situation du Tibet avec le Président chinois. Mon intention est bien sûr de continuer à le faire. Le Tibet est un sujet important pour les Français, comme pour moi. S’agissant du dalaï-lama, par principe, je ne m’interdis rien.”
The Dalai Lama is a respected religious personality, and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. He has abandoned all political functions. I have no reason to refuse meeting him a priori. This will, of course, depend on the context of the appropriate time.
“Le dalaï-lama est une personnalité religieuse respectée, prix Nobel de la paix. Il a abandonné toute fonction politique. Je n’ai pas de raison de refuser a priori de le rencontrer. Cela dépendra évidemment du contexte le moment venu.”
If the Dalai Lama wishes to meet me, I will receive him, of course.
“Si le dalaï-lama souhaite me rencontrer je le recevrai naturellement.”
The Patriotic Road Abroad, August 15, 2009
On March 10, some 1,150 (if not more than 1,200) cities, counties, and communes in Germany took part in a Tibet Action Day which includes flying a flag from administrative buildings, usually the town hall. Huanqiu Shibao‘s count was that more than one-thousand German cities and towns had raised the Tibetan independence flag, remembering the so-called Tibet revolt (纪念所谓西藏起义):
According to “Berliner Morgenpost” on March 12, more than 1,000 German cities and towns flew the Tibetan “freedom” and “justice” flags in front of their city government houses to remember the so-called Tibetan revolt’s 53rd anniversary.
However, Huanqiu Shibao’s correspondent in Germany did some research on official German websites and found that many of these activities were mostly carried out at small communes and towns, and that in other cases, only single departments had participated. All the same, Huanqiu (apparently) quotes an expert – Lian Xiangmin (廉湘民) of the China Tibetology Research Center (中国藏学中心) -, history has proved that Germany holding such supportive actions of the Dalai Clique created harm for Chinese-German relations.
The report was filed under Huanqiu’s military category.
Either way, there is constructive advice in the commenter thread (where the soothing effect of Huanqiu’s investigative journalism appears to remain rather limited):
if Germans love that dreg of society (the Dalai Lama) so much, they should cut some German territory and hand it over to the Dalai. Or, chancellor Angela Merkel should hand political authority to the Dalai, given that her subjects (子民) had sworn allegiance to him anyway, because they had capitulated, by hoisting the Dalai’s independence flag on German soil, and by kneeling under his feet as his sycophants.
Tibetan history has often swung between centralized and stateless poles, and the epic of Gesar reflects the tensions between central authority, as embodied in religious orthodoxy, and the wild, nomadic forces of the autarkic periphery. There are versions that adopt Gesar as a lama showing him as a tamer of the wild, but, in so far as his epic retains his old lineaments as a maverick master of shamanic powers, he represents the stateless, anarchic dimension of Tibet’s margins, and is rather a tamer of corrupt monastic clerics and, thus, it is not coincidental that the epic flourished on the outlying regions of Kham and Amdo.
According to Mountain Phoenix, the story of Ling Gesar Gyalpo is one of rather few not-so-religious Tibetan books, or a story of indigenously Tibetan, heathen origins – one that her father had kept reading through all his lifetime.
Few years ago at a Tibetan gathering, I heard the Dalai Lama talk about the importance of the Tibetan language and he gave tips to youngsters on how to work on their Tibetan. He said: “If you want to improve your Tibetan, you should read Peja (Buddhist scriptures)”.
We can all imagine the youngsters jumping for joy on the inside exclaiming: “Yeah, Peja! Finally! So exciting”!
Her father never touched a Peja in all his life, but
Still I conclude from comments his surviving peers make that his Tibetan didn’t pale in comparison to some of the erudite clerics who used to live in our vicinity. Astonishing for a Tibetan of his generation, that he somehow managed to become “cultured” without cosing up to Buddhism.
Woeser quotes Tibetan voices from India – nothing representative, she cautions, and collected through social media, but with an eye-catcher among the statements:
Lobsang Wangdu, for instance, says that only in recent years did he see some civil society groups supporting Tibet appearing in India and after having lived in India for over 10 years, he has never had a single Indian friend, many Tibetans are like that. I asked him whether this may be because India is too big, has too many people, too many different religions and cultures? He said that this could be one reason, but also thought that Tibetans had not made enough effort; at the same time, however, he also felt that it is difficult to come into contact with Indians.
The debate described by Woeser also involves the Karmapa incident, apparently referring to Indian allegations that the Karmapa Lama were a man of many connections into China, i. e. a Chinese spy, and in violation of India’s Foreign Exchange Regulation Act. The Lama was reportedly cleared of the forex allegations soon after.
Kabir Bedi, an Indian television and film actor whose mother converted to Tibetan Buddhism, urged the authorities to show the Karmapa Lama more respect:
The Karmapa’s office applied for, and received, permission to bank the money under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act. Inexplicably, this permission was withdrawn after the first $1,00,000 was received. And the Karmapa’s re-application has been pending, and pending, since 2002. What can a monk do with a growing pile of donations that can’t be banked, except to keep it in cash and use it for expenses?
And [h]ow would we look if he – the Karmapa Lama – sought asylum in a friendlier country?
To look at clerics as useless moneybags is a tradition that goes far beyond China, India, or Tibet. But while Mountain Phoenix may prefer secular literature, Chinese politics has proven that Tibetan Buddhism is actually much more scientific than she might think.
Dechen Pemba is a UK citizen and an ethnic Tibetan. She is an editor of High Peaks, Pure Earth, a blog which translates Tibetan blog posts (in Chinese and Tibetan) into English, and she also runs a personal blog of her own. A short bio of her can be found here.
In July 2008, she was deported from Beijing, only weeks ahead of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. She had come to Beijing because things had gotten to a point where to really get to know Tibet today, you have to know what China is like.
Q: You are Tibetan, a British citizen, and you once lived in Germany. When someone asks you to introduce yourself, what do you usually say?
A: I usually say that I am a Tibetan born in the UK – that’s something that people have usually already figured out from my accent! If the conversation goes further then I’ll also say that I have lived in Berlin and Beijing and spend a lot of time in New York.
Q: You have been to China. You worked in Beijing as an English teacher, and in July 2008, you were told to leave the country. You were banned to re-enter China for five years. How long did you stay in China? And have you ever been to Tibet?
A: I moved to Beijing in September 2006 to learn Chinese at the Central University for Nationalities. I lived there until I was deported in July 2008. I had been to Tibet twice before but in this period when I lived in Beijing I travelled to Lhasa once in 2007 and to Amdo several times.
Q: How was this experience? Were you seen as just another foreign-language teacher, or did it matter that you are Tibetan?
A: I was mostly seen as another foreign language teacher, the school I was teaching in only employed US, Canadian and British nationals and they could all tell that I was British, my ethnic background didn’t really come up in my day to day work there.
Q: You run a personal blog - Dechen Pemba’s Blog, and you also run or co-run High Peaks, Pure Earth, a blog which does translations of Woeser’s blogpost, Invisible Tibet. Woeser is Tibetan and lives in Beijing, and her topics are current affairs in and around Tibet. When did you start blogging on High Peaks, Pure Earth? Was blogging there a possible reason for the Chinese authorities to ban you from China?
A: I first started blogging on my return to the UK from China in July 2008, it was more out of necessity at first as I needed a personal online space to post statements for the media, it was the easiest way to get my side of the story out.
High Peaks Pure Earth started in September 2008 as a translations blog, a place where Tibetan blogs would be translated into English. Occasionally there will be original pieces featured on High Peaks Pure Earth but the content is overwhelmingly made up of translations. The work of prominent Tibetan poet, writer and blogger, Woeser, is translated the most.
Q: Why do you run a personal blog, besides High Peaks? Was there a key moment where you felt that you should share your experiences in and your feelings about Tibet which got your blog started? Or is Dechen’s Blog more about your life after having left China? Who are the main readers of Dechen’s Blog?
A: As mentioned before, I consider High Peaks Pure Earth to be more of a translations project whereas Dechen’s Blog is really a place where I can post my own thoughts, publish my articles and write updates about what I’m personally doing. If I feel like writing about Tibetan mastiffs, Tibetan rap videos or Chinese rock magazines, then I can just use my personal blog as a forum for these!
Q: Do you have a policy on trolls? Can you think of a reason to ban a commenter from your threads?
A: There is no official policy. Until now, nobody has been banned and the comments tend to be reasonable.
Q: Which are the three worst online articles or posts you have ever read about Tibet (that you remember)? Please name at least one Chinese, and one Western source. Feel free to name a third source from anywhere, but maybe there is one from this category from a Tibetan source, too?
A: There are too many worst articles to choose from. If I got worked up about all of them, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do so I’m just going to post one link from a Chinese source that I would classify as the most bizarre piece written against the Tibetan Youth Congress, JR, your readers can draw their own conclusions (!):
Sometimes you need some light relief I guess.
Q: But there are differences between the Youth Congress and the Dalai Lama, for example, aren’t there? Concering the middle-way approach advocated by the Dalai Lama, for example? Where do you see your own position, there?
A: Yes that’s right, the Tibetan Youth Congress stands for Tibet’s complete independence whereas the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan exile administration advocate the middle-way approach. Actually, a few days after I was deported from China, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman announced to foreign media at a press conference in Beijing that I was a “core member” of the Tibetan Youth Congress. I don’t know where they were getting their information from as TYC is mainly based in India and I’ve never even been a member, so that was quite funny. I don’t feel that my own position is important for my work as I’m committed to putting the focus on Tibetans in Tibet, supporting and amplifying their voices.
Q: What’s the worst online article or post you have ever read about China (that you remember)?
A: Again, it’s hard to single out a piece right this second. I’m going to skip this question.
Q: Have you seen big changes in the “China” or “Tibetan blogosphere” in general, since you started blogging yourself?
A: My feeling is that the Tibetan blogosphere is expanding and growing, particularly as more Tibetan join Weibo and mobile devices become more widely used. I think it would be fair to say that this is in keeping with the general trend in the Chinese blogosphere in the three or four years that I’ve been blogging. There are more and more Tibetan sites to monitor and Tibetans to follow on blogs and microblogs.
On a technological level, more and more apps are being developed in Tibetan and more and more netizens are enjoying the easier process these days to render Tibetan fonts and type in Tibetan. These are the biggest and most dramatic changes taking place. However, it must also be noted that the risks remain the same and Tibetan netizens have to remain cautious in what they blog and discuss online.
Q: When it comes to Tibetan online articles, I’m completely lost, because there seems to be no Tibetan translation function on “Google Translate”. Is there an alternative, if someone who doesn’t speak the language wants to get the gist, however roughly, of a Tibetan text online?
A: A Google Translate for Tibetan is a tool that I’d also like to see! For a general gist then this tool from the Tibetan and Himalayan Library is quite good but might be confusing for somebody who doesn’t have any knowledge of Tibetan:http://www.thlib.org/reference/dictionaries/tibetan-dictionary/translate.php
Q: Do you speak Tibetan yourself?
A: Yes, I grew up with Tibetan in my family.
Q: Which is your favorite blog, besides Woeser’s Invisible Tibet? What’s the most informative online source about China?
One of my favourite Tibetan blogs that I always enjoy reading is called “Mountain Phoenix Over Tibet”. It seems to be written by a Tibetan woman who is based in the USA and every post is thoughtful and well-written, also thought-provoking: http://mountainphoenixovertibet.blogspot.com
I also check in every Wednesday to read The Lhakar Diaries, a blogging project started by a group of young Tibetans outside of Tibet: http://lhakardiaries.com/ What I like about it is that the project takes an initiative that started inside Tibet (Lhakar, meaning White Wednesday, a movement that started inside Tibet to assert Tibetan identity every Wednesday in small ways) and just runs away with the idea and makes it interesting and fun.
For China information I think China Digital Times does a great job aggregating news, if I’m too busy to read anything else, at least I feel like I know what’s going on if I glance over CDT: http://chinadigitaltimes.net/
To feel scholarly I will read the fantastic blog China Beat http://www.thechinabeat.org/ and for Chinese literature news I like to keep up with Paper Republic http://paper-republic.org/ and Bruce Humes http://www.bruce-humes.com/
Q: In your view, has Tibet changed since you started blogging? Has the Tibetan exile community? Has China? Or has the world changed? How so?
A: Gosh, big questions. I think Tibet, the exile community, China and the world have all changed over the last few years! It’s too much really to get into.
I will say though that the self-immolations in Tibet that started in February 2009, continued last year and have intensified over recent months, have been the most disturbing new development in the Tibetan resistance movement since I started blogging. The self-immolations are a desperate plea for the world’s attention and unlike before, it’s possible to receive information about these occurrences relatively quickly, thanks to new technologies. There is even visual documentation of some of the occurrences and whilst this is sad to say, the series of self-immolations have allowed Tibetans outside and inside to process and connect with each other, generating real action worldwide in real time.
Q: When you wrote a translation of Woeser’s post remembering Phuntsog, who died from self-immolation in March last year, a commenter wrote that he had zero respect for the self-immolation. I disagreed with his suggestion that Woeser “ought to be banned from writing even to her own people”, and asked the commenter to respect Phuntsog, no matter if he agreed or disagreed with what he had done. But self-immolation is wrong, isn’t it? Isn’t there a danger that an action which is wrong becomes something celebrated, just to shame those responsible for the plight of Tibet?
A: Yes, I remember that post and also that discussion. Due to their extreme nature, the self-immolations in Tibet have provoked strong reactions from people all over the world, amongst non-Tibetans as well as Tibetans. Read these two reactions from female Tibetan bloggers in USA:
By responding to your previous question in the way that I did, it wasn’t my intention to get into a discussion on whether self-immolation is right or wrong. Rather, when thinking about how things have changed over the last few years for Tibet and Tibetans, I felt I couldn’t possibly not refer to these 17 cases since 2009. These cases constitute a disturbing new development that we all have to try to come to terms with in our own minds, something I felt that Woeser, the other commenter, Mountain Phoenix and NYCyak were all doing out loud.
Q: Have your political views, or your view of the world, changed? If yes, how so?
A: No, I don’t think my views have changed.
Q: Does your interest in China go beyond the role it plays in Tibet, and in Tibetan affairs?
A: Yes I think so, although of course that would be my main interest in China. I studied various aspects of China during my Masters in Chinese Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies, focusing on anthropology and literature as well as language. Living in Beijing and travelling in China also gave me a feel for the people and the place that I would never have developed otherwise.
Q: Is blogging your preferred way of discussing matters of public interest, or do other ways of expressing yourself – social networking, youtube, Twitter, etc. – matter just as much to you, or more? Which role does Global Voices play in your online activities?
A: Blogging is my preferred method of discussing Tibet and China, I mostly use social networking sites to share what’s on my blogs. I also publish articles on other blogs and sites such as The Comment Factory or as a guest writer, for example, most recently for WITNESS.
Global Voices has been a good platform through which to reach a wider audience interested in citizen journalism and underreported stories. It helps to put Tibet into a wider perspective in the context of everything else that is happening in the world. I really should write more for them, thanks for the reminder JR!
Q: Is there an unasked question to which you would like to reply anyway?
A: Nope! Thanks for this interview!
Q: And thank you for your answers!
The interview was conducted by an exchange of e-mails.