Tsering Woeser is one of the most important voices today for bringing the world news from inside occupied Tibet. The writing in Voices from Tibet: Selected Essays and Reportage (Hong Kong University Press; University of Hawai’i Press, in a translation by Violet S. Law) by Woeser and her husband, Wang Lixiong, are testimony to a contemporary Tibet experiencing cultural destruction and economic exploitation.
I recently had a chance to hear Violet Law speak at a reading hosted by Students for a Free Tibet. The event also included a special video message from Woeser, who spoke about her determination to continue writing and bearing witness.
Woeser described conditions in Lhasa as “almost like a war zone, with soldiers everywhere.” Law related further details: like so many others, Woeser and her husband are subject to control and surveillance by the Chinese authorities. She avoids personal contact with people out of fear that by meeting with her, a person may be taken in for interrogation.
“It breaks her heart that friends and acquaintances might get in trouble just by talking to her,” Law said.
Despite these challenges and the very real threat to her freedom, Woeser travels to Lhasa twice a year to visit family and to observe facts on the ground. She remains a prolific blogger whose nuanced stories of life inside Tibet not only focus on her people’s acute suffering, but offers a clear examination of the political and personal forces at play.
In “Self-Immolation to Self-Rule,” she writes of her respect, without reservation, for all Tibetans who have chosen self-immolation as a form of protest. Yet she offers another path to self-rule beginning at the grassroots level. She draws parallel to villagers in Wukan who defied illegal land grabs. Similarly, if one Tibetan village rises up and experiences success, then ten more might follow, until they reach hundreds.
She anticipates skepticism about Tibetans being able to protest as native Han do; but, she writes, “if you’re not afraid to set yourself on fire, what else can scare you?”
These are wide-ranging essays exploring the effects of China’s half century of occupation on Tibet’s environment, resources, culture, and religion. Woeser’s writing informs us and calls to attention the need for long-term action and solutions.
“I continue to write,” Woeser says. “There is so much to write about.”
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