“But oh that we might be
As splinters of glass
In cupped hands …”
— Aung San Suu Kyi
One day in April I used the payphone at a newsstand to call and say hello to my two friends in Amdo and Kham, and it is fortunate that they are both safe. What made me want to laugh and make me feel sad is that though they live in different Tibetan areas, both of them repeatedly urged me to zab zab je (zab zab gsogs byas) (meaning, be careful and cautious). It reminded me that when I was in Lhasa during Losar (Tibetan New Year) last year, my friend who only tells me his true feelings said that now we should not use “Tashi Delek” (bkra shis bde legs, auspicious and good fortune) to greet each other because we are neither tashi (auspicious) nor delek (fortunate), so what we should use to admonish others is “zab zab je“.
So does WD. When he said goodbye to me, he just said “zab zab je“, then he disappeared into the crowd of people. He is a Tibetan man who would be recognized as Tibetan even if he did not wear Tibetan clothes. I only recently got to know him, and I have met him three times. But I can not describe it in too much detail, as he repeatedly told me, “Do not write who I am. I still want to go back to Lhasa. My I.D. card was recorded by them and they also took my picture. Do not write who I am, otherwise they will find me.”
He is a young and handsome Amdo Tibetan, but his two eyebrows were knotted showing that many worries were weighing on his mind, and frequently he would suddenly look around as if he were frightened. In spite of the situation, he readily agreed to my request to interview him. At that time we accidentally met each other, and it was so accidental that it appears to have been destined. Meeting each other at that place and at that moment unexpectedly seems as if he just wanted to tell me about his experience. However, it did not go smoothly when we tried to meet again. Soon we parted from each other and each went our own way because there were people following us. Only when we met the third time very cautiously, perhaps because no one paid any attention to us, I was able to have a complete record.
On one afternoon we chose to sit at a table in a corner facing far away from the windows and the door so that we could see whether there were any unusual things going on. The backs of our seats were comparatively high, so it was not easy for people to notice us. Also there were not many people around us. They were either playing cards or chatting, and they hardly interfered with each other’s business. When WD saw me getting ready to record, then he said:
“I need to start with March 10. About 5:00 pm that afternoon, when I just arrived at “Makye Ame” (the Tibetan restaurant located at the intersection of the South Street and East Street in Barkhor), I ran into a friend who told me that an incident happened at Tsulhakhang (Jokhang Temple) square. We ran to see what happened and we saw eight people were arrested and thrown into the police car. Four of them were Ku zhab [sku zhabs, monks], and some said that the other four were Khampas but others said that they were from Amdo. Anyway, they were very young. Still others said that before this some monks were already arrested. It seems that the policemen were from Barkhor Police Station and they beat people viciously. There were many onlookers. Some Tibetans said quietly “nying je, nying je” [rnying rje, pity, pity] a few mola [old women] were crying, covering their mouths. My friend used his cell phone to take pictures, then a policeman in plain clothes came over and snatched the camera away, and confiscated it. We were very frightened.
“On the second day, the policemen in plain clothes increased greatly right away in the Barkhor Street. There were also thirty or forty women with very short hair, and all of them were Han Chinese. When they saw there were people chatting with each other, they would walk over to listen to the conversations. I do not know whether they could understand but they scared people. They had their lunch and dinner on the square, they ate food in boxes delivered to them. There were cars that sent boxed lunches and dinners. The crowd did not disperse until it was about to be dusk. All Tibetans knew that they were policemen in plain clothes, and we were reminding each other quietly. There were also more policemen, who looked very serious, and were walking back and forth in the square. Oh, that’s right, I heard that monks from Drepung and Sera Monasteries had staged a demonstration but they were beaten back by many armed police. The Jokhang and Ramoche Temples were also closed [to the public].
“On the day of the 14th I remember very clearly that I left at 11:20 am … [I omitted this part.] Before that time, I had already heard shouting …”
I interrupted him and said, “I heard about this on TV. Only Tibetans, and only Tibetans from the countryside and grassland could make that kind of sound. Tibetans in the cities could not make any such sound as their throats have already degenerated.” Furthermore, I also wanted to say it is a pure Tibetan-style whistle, but it was portrayed as “howling of wolves”.
WD nodded his head, and said: “Yes, it is exactly that kind of sound. After 11:20 am, like any other day, when I, together with a few of my friends, passed by Ramoche Temple, an incident had already happened there. Many Tibetans were shouting, and were throwing stones at the soldiers. We were all stupefied. We heard somebody near us saying that for these last few days there had been police cars at the gate of Ramoche Temple, and just now some monks rushed out to overturn the cars as they claimed that the cars were blocking the road to the monastery. Immediately, the policemen called the armed police to come to assist them, then those armed police who had shields and sticks in their hands began to beat the monks. Tibetans on the streets could not bear to continue to watch the zhim jang [zhim chang] thus the people began to demonstrate … I saw many Tibetans were very young, and not well dressed. While throwing stones, they were shouting “come out, tsampa eaters.” A Tibetan peddler wanted to join the others, but his wife exerted all her strength to drag his arms while crying, and pleaded him not to go. There were also many girls, who said to us “young man, are you still a Tibetan? If you are, then come over to join us”, and when they saw we did not join them, they spat on the ground, and said scornfully, “ngo tsa, ngo tsa [ngo tsha, shame on you]”. To tell you the truth, I was very sad, but I dared not participate, and only stood aside to watch. Among my friends, some of them ran over there and threw a stone, but immediately they came back again.”
“Wait,” I again interrupted him, “do you think this is an organized and pre-meditated event?”
“Kun chok sum [sku mchog gsum, Vow to the Three Jewels of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha], it is not so.” WD sadly waved his head. He continued:
“The stones they threw were those used by people in the neighborhood to build their houses. Some of them were holding knives, but they were not Tibetan knives, instead, they were long knives. I do not know where they got them either. Many people were waving khatas, and it is possible they seized them from the nearby shops, anyway, there were many khatas in those shops. Then they poured into Tromsikhang (the market at the corner of Barkhor Street) from Ramoche Temple. On the way, many shops owned by Chinese and Chinese Muslims (Hui) were destroyed. Part of the Tromsikhang market was also burned down. The Chinese all ran away, and the Chinese Muslims took off their white caps and ran away, too. It is strange that no policemen were there, and all of them also ran away.”
I asked, “don’t they know there are video cameras all over the Barkhor area?”
“They know. Many people know that there are video cameras, but they weren’t afraid,” WD paused for a little while and he appeared to be hesitant, finally he said, “They did it for the sake of our nationality. They are really tough.” This is what WD said, and I had a rather deep impression of his words.
“I had been following the people all the time. There were more and more people pouring from Tromsikhang into the Barkhor area. There were about 100 people. There were people from Amdo, Kham, and Lhasa. There were also a few monks. People walked around the Barkhor twice. While walking, they were shouting Gyawa Rinpoche kutse trilo tenpa sho [Long live the Dalai Lama], Bo Rangzen [Tibetan Independence]. While they were walking around, they destroyed the shops owed by the Chinese and Chinese Muslims. Silk and satin in one shop were thrown out, which was colourful and they were scattered all over the ground. Some people also set fire to Barkhor police station diagonally across from Jokhang Temple but it did not burn fiercely. I called JM in Beijing and he was very excited when he heard the news. It was because in March 1988, similar things happened. At that time JM was a teenager, he burned the gate of a shop and he was imprisoned for four years. Probably when it was nearly 3:00 pm or it just after 3:00 pm, people in black clothes came, their faces covered and only showing two eyes. They were holding guns and they fired at people.” “Who are these people?” I asked, surprised.
“Special police! Like the ‘Flying Tigers'” Flying tigers? I did not know who they were, they probably have something to do with some films or TV programmes but I know who the special police are, thus, I did not interrupt him again.
“There were about thirty or forty people who were all dressed in black with their faces covered. They only showed their eyes and were holding their guns high. At that time, I was at the entrance of North Barkhor street, I saw them rushing to Tsulhakhang Square, and they threw tear gas bombs into the crowd. People in the front were stopped and arrested. Then they fired and killed people in the back. I, together with many people, was frightened and we retreated back into Barkhor Street. But not very far from the entrance of North Barkor Street, it was right there when a teenaged girl picked up a stone and was about to throw it, the special police fired at her, and the bullet pierced through her throat. She fell on the ground right away. At that time I was over ten or twenty meters away from her and I saw it very clearly. Many people saw that. It was really horrible … I think she was only seventeen or eighteen years old.”
I realized that WD was shivering, and it seems that he still had lingering fear. This made me feel anxious, and the pain I was feeling was just like I was on that scene.
After quite a while WD began to recall again, “That girl fell on the ground, twitching and bleeding. Very soon the car of the special police drove over, their car looked like a Toyota 4500 in a dark color. The car stopped right in front of the girl, then two special policemen jumped off the car, and threw the girl’s corpse into the car. The car again continued to drive forward a little, then turned back. It is very strange that after the car drove back and forth, there was no blood on the ground. There was not even a blood stain on the ground.”
I had never heard this before. This was apparently a police car, not a street cleaning car! But WD insisted on this and said, “Yes. It is not a street cleaning car but it is just like a street cleaning car which completely cleans the blood on the ground.” Can that be a new-style police car? Does that even have the function to clean the slaughter scene? Later I searched for the police car for special police on the Internet, and I found a police car which can spray water. Except special police cars which can spray water up and down as well as left and right, there are also those equipped with supervision video cameras which can revolve 360 degrees. There were also those equipped with revolving platforms from which to shoot tear-gas cannons. But I still do not know whether there are any police cars equipped with cleaning functions to clean blood stains and others. Are there any such kinds of police cars?
WD said, “Except this girl, I did not see any dead people. But a friend who owns a restaurant in Barkhor saw from the roof that the special police fired on and killed many people in Barkhor. It is strange that these special policemen seemed to be in charge of Barkhor only, not other areas. At the time we saw that the corpse of the girl was being taken away by the police car, I, together with other people, started to flee. I ran all the way to Makye Ame restaurant, then turned a corner, and ran across the small alley. Most of the shops on both sides were destroyed, and many messy things were scattered all over on the way. As you know, this area is mostly Chinese Muslim and the mosque is just ahead. I saw some Tibetans burning cars. Three cars and one motorcycle were set on fire in front of the mosque. I dared not stay, so I walked through the crowd and walked through that especially high gate. TAR Public Security Bureau is located just across the street. What is more strange is that there were over ten policemen in front of the gate of the TAR Public Security Bureau, but they only stood there looking on. But only one street away, there were actually Tibetans smashing and burning things. I remember two butcher shops owned by Chinese Muslims and seven cars were destroyed, but the policemen did not do anything. They acted as if this had nothing to do with them. There were also many onlookers, who were standing on the edge of the streets. They were watching and discussing things amongst themselves.”
“They did not do anything? Why?” I asked.
“Who knows? Right, I saw a few policemen taking pictures. Ah, there were also policemen videotaping,” WD was recalling. “Now I remember that it is indeed very strange. There was only one street between these two sides, but they were like two worlds. Even now I still do not understand why the special policemen in Barkhor fired on and killed people, but the policemen outside of Barkhor did not go to stop [the people] at all? It seems that not long after there were three tanks that drove over from Jiangsu Road, and arrived at Lingkhor East Road. All the soldiers in the tanks were holding guns.”
“Tanks?” I asked in disbelief. “Were they tanks or armoured cars? Those government officials said that no tanks entered Lhasa.”
“Of course, they were tanks, only later were there armoured cars,” WD said absolutely, “Do you mean to say that I can not even tell apart tanks from armored cars? They are tanks with tracks. When the tanks drove over, the ground was vibrating. As soon as people saw tanks coming, all the onlookers dispersed. I ran away too, but I dared not to go back to the nearby house I rented, so I had to go straight to the left side. I have a friend living there.”
“What were the tanks doing?” I again interrupted his recalling. What appeared in my mind were the scenes of the PLA tanks rolling over the civilians and students on Beijing streets on June 4th, 1989.
“I don’t know what the tanks were doing because I simply fled,” WD said. “I ran away to my friend’s house. He had also just came back home from somewhere. Both of us were still badly startled, so we drank some alcohol to help us to get over the shock. I never drink any white liquor, and if I want to drink, I only drink beer, but my friend only had barley beer from Huzhu (Gonlung) County in Qinghai, a few bottles. Later two more friends came to my friend’s house, thus, we started to drink one bottle after another. We drank beer until past 11:00 at night, and we were all drunk. We were not very drunk, but it seems that we all had courage now and no matter what, we wanted to go back to our own places. When we three arrived at the crossroads of Jiangsu East Road, we were stunned, and almost sobered up. Because forty or fifty soldiers were standing there, with their guns in their hands, and they were also holding rubber clubs, batons or something like them. We were ordered to stop and hand in our papers. Luckily we had our I.D cards in our wallets, then the soldiers said “beat it”. One of my friends shot off his mouth, “We have our papers, on what grounds do you scold us?” Immediately we were done for. The soldiers pounced on us and started to beat us. Two of them held our arms and two others started to randomly beat us right in the face. My eyes were beaten severely and began to swell and at that time I thought I would be beaten so severely that I would become blind. These soldiers kicked us and scolded us, until we fell down … [this part was omitted] … We were taken to the police station. There two policemen came who took our pictures and recorded our I.D. numbers. When we were interrogated, one Tibetan police said in Tibetan ‘Don’t say too much.’ He sounded very vicious, so the Chinese policeman must have thought that he was scolding us. I did not expect at this time there would be a policeman who would help Tibetans. Perhaps because they could not get anything out of three drunkards, eventually they released us. Luckily the house I rented is not very far from the police station. Because I heard gun shots all the way home, so I do not know, I really do not know how many people like that girl were killed.
“My two friends live in the area over the Tibet Academy of Social Sciences, but they dared not go further so they stayed at my house. But we did not expect that they had to stay there for four days. On the morning of 15th, I wanted to buy some food, drinks and cigarettes, but I began to regret it as soon as I went out of my house. Soldiers were everywhere on the streets. Some were holding guns and pickaxes without the tips. I was about to turn back, but a little boy ten metres away, who was only seven or eight years old, actually threw a stone at the soldiers, immediately, the soldiers started to shoot tear gas. Suddenly, people were running everywhere. I dared not to go out any more. Luckily the house I rented was used by a work unit to store odds and ends, thus, no soldiers broke into to check the house. But there were soldiers on the roof of the building, and there were also soldiers in the courtyard. In addition, there were many military trucks and cars. For the entire four days, we closed the curtains, sat in the room to watch TV, or to sleep. At the beginning we still chatted with each other, but later we seldom talked any more, and each was thinking about the weight on his mind. During the daytime, sometimes we couldn’t help but open the curtain a little to look out, but no matter when we looked out, all we saw were soldiers. When it was dark, we dared not turn on the lights, nor did we dare to watch TV. While sitting in the dark, we dared not make any noise, and we were very hungry …”
“Then what did you eat?” I can not help asking him.
“Ah, ah, we were lucky that I had bought a box of milk earlier, and I also had bread I had brought back from home when I went back to celebrate New Year. At the time, I did not want to eat these, because there were so many restaurants in Lhasa, so who wanted to eat bread at home? As a result, there was green mildew on the bread. But at that time we had to eat the bread with the milk. After we got rid of the green mildew on the bread, we would swallow it together with the milk. There was a disgusting taste, but we could not afford to care about that. As I said before, fortunately the house I rented belongs to a work unit, later I heard that all three of my friends who rented rooms at the big compounds inhabited by many families were all arrested. Though they never shouted a slogan, did not throw a stone, nor were they even among the onlookers, they were actually arrested and taken away. What made it very funny is the reason for their arrest is that one of them has very long hair and looks like an impressive Khampa, the other has very short hair and looks very much like a monk. As for the reason for the third one, ah, ah, he has a gold tooth inlaid in his mouth.”
“Gold tooth?” I was so astonished that I promptly asked him why.
“Oh, as you know, many Khampas and Amdo people love to inlay gold in their teeth, and there were many Khampas and Amdo people who participated in this uprising. The reason he was arrested because of his golden tooth is probably because he was suspected to be a Khampa or an Amdo person. I heard he was arrested because of this reason. But I do not know what happened to them now. The person who is in charge of houses in the work unit from which I rented my house was very nervous. He is from Lhasa, and he is very timid. Every night he would come to my house quietly to remind me not to turn on any lights, but later he simply drove me out. I told him that I rented the house for three months, and it was not three months yet, then he gave back part of the rent to me, and wrote a testimonial for me. He insisted that no matter what I should move out. On the 19th, I was forced out of the house. Since then I bid goodbye to my two friends, and we went out on our own separate ways.
“I stayed at a friend’s house for three days, then I heard that they had begun to sell train tickets, then I directly went to the train station. On my way to the train station, only two kilometers from my friend’s house to the railway station, I was checked by soldiers with guns and clubs seven times. They all spoke Sichuan dialect. They were thin and small, and looked like mice, but they were more frightening than tigers.
“They repeatedly checked my I.D card and my certificate of temporary residence. If the person does not look like the photo in the papers, he would be arrested and taken away right on the spot. They also checked very carefully the text messages and pictures in people’s cell phones. Fortunately, I can not take pictures with my cell phone. My luggage was also leafed through and checked. I had one small album in it, and they opened the album and looked at the pictures one by one. The strangest thing is that they actually told me to roll back my sleeves, and stroked my two arms back and forth several times. Why? Were they looking for rosaries? If a person was wearing rosaries on one’s wrist, if one is not a monk, then one is somebody who believes in Buddhism. Later I heard there were people who were arrested because of rosaries. Eventually, I was able to buy a standing-room ticket. After I entered the train, before I had time to feel that I was lucky, over a dozen policemen came. So many people came over and surrounded me, they actually only checked me. When I saw they only checked me, not the Chinese who filled the railway carriage, and also witnessed that they leafed thought my bag and messed it up, I was so angry that I began to quiver, and I almost burst out.”
“It is fortunate that you did not burst out.” I gazed at the young Amdo man with bushy eyebrows and big eyes, thinking to myself that after all he endured and survived all this.
“I understand what you mean,” he said, “you feel that I am like a refugee, and there is only the last moment. I should absolutely not resist, is that so?” “Certainly,” I said.
WD lowered his head, then raised his head and looked around, then he bowed down his head again. After a while, he said in feeble voice, “In fact I regret very much and have been regretting all the time. After I saw with my own eyes that the girl was killed, I began to regret. But no matter how regretful I feel, I will not do anything. Because in my ears, I always hear a voice saying zab zab je“.
By then I knew WD’s recalling had ended at last. When he rose and left before me, and repeatedly told me to “zab zab je“, I sighed with unspeakable emotions. Apparently he is still afraid, but he did not keep silent because of fear, on the contrary, he was willing to allow me to record and make public his experience full of fear. Why? Once I read an article by Aung San Suu Kyi about fear and freedom, and she used verses to describe people who show courage when they were attempting to free themselves of suppression. When I read it again at this moment, I found that it to also be true for Tibetans:
“Emerald cool we may be
As water in cupped hands
But oh that we might be
As splinters of glass
In cupped hands …”
1 June 2008, Beijing
Original in Chinese at woeser.middle-way.net/2008/07/blog-post_04.html
(Translated from the Chinese)