Living Under Siege: Book Review of Woeser & Wang’s Voices of Tibet

voices from tibet 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.”

Buy the book on Amazon.

How Do You Celebrate Independence?

TODAY MARKS THE CENTENNIAL OF TIBETAN INDEPENDENCE DAY, A SYMBOLIC DAY that Tibetans and their supporters pledge to mark every year. 2013 marks one hundred years since Tibetans proclaimed restoration of their independence.

Today’s observance comes at a time when conditions seem worse than ever for those living in in occupied-Tibet. Since 1999, nearly 100 Tibetans have set fire to themselves (“self-immolated”) to protest Chinese rule.

This is the most urgent cry for help a human being can make. In the face of a brutal Chinese regime which aims to erase Tibetan culture from the earth, the Free Tibet movement remains nonviolent. Independence Day is a reminder to renew the spirit of Tibetans, and to commit once again to the struggle for freedom.

Today I raise my Tibetan flag.

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Life Inside Guantanamo Bay: The Photographs of Edmund Clark


© Edmund Clark

IF THE LIGHT GOES OUT is the title of award-winning photographer Edmund Clark’s photographs of life inside the Guantanamo camps. His series of photographs explores both the interiors of the detainee camps and the homes of ex-detainees. The photographs are on exhibit at several shows in London this month, including one at PhotoFusion.

Clark’s photographs address imprisonment, both physical and psychological, within a theme of “home.” He shoots interior spaces and the objects within; the viewer is forced to think of the men who occupy those spaces and what their lives are like. In a photo essay for Lens Culture, Clark writes,

Rather than documents to monumentalize the historical fact of the camps, these images illustrate three experiences of home: the naval base at Guantanamo which is home to the American community and of which the prison camps are just a part; the complex of camps where the detainees have been held; and the homes, new and old, where the former detainees now find themselves trying to rebuild their lives.


© Edmund Clark

Along with the photographs are “Letters to Omar,” a selection of the letters written to Omar Deghayes, who was held at Guantanamo for six years before his release in December 2007. Over 60 of the letters will be included in Edmund Clark’s new book of Guantanamo photographs.

View a slideshow of Guantanamo: If the Lights Go Out at Edmund Clark’s official website.

Visit Reprieve UK to read about their work with Guantanamo prisoners and others held in secret prisons.

A Spiritual and Political Weapon: Gandhi’s Satyagraha


Gandhi during the Salt March

GANDHI DEFINED HIS PHILOSOPHY OF NONVIOLENCE, satyagraha, as “Truth-force.” His revolutionary thinking is both a spiritual and political weapon which still speaks to us today. October 2nd, the anniversary of his birth, is celebrated worldwide as a day of peace and nonviolence.

In his book, Non-Violent Resistance, Gandhi explained the theory and practice of satyagraha this way:


Indeed, violence is the negation of this great spiritual force which can only be cultivated or wielded by those who will entirely eschew violence. It is a force that may be used by individuals as well as by communities. It may be used as well in political as in domestic affairs.

Its universal applicability is a demonstration of its permanence and invincibility. It can be used alike by men, women and children. It is totally untrue to say that it is a force to be used only by the weak so long as they are not capable of meeting violence by violence. This superstition arises from the incompleteness of the English expression, “passive resistance.”

It is impossible for those who consider themselves to be weak to apply this force. Only those who realize that there is something in man which is superior to the brute nature in him, and that the latter always yields to it, can effectively be Satyagrahis.

This force is to violence and, therefore, to all tyranny, all injustice, what light is to darkness.

The development of Gandhi’s movement had its start in 1906, when Gandhi organized thousands of Indians in their struggle against institutionalized racism in South Africa.

Gandhi’s philosophy still inspires over a century later. On October 2nd, 2009, thousands of people began a march in the name of peace, an event culminating in January.
Composer Phillip Glass created a work centered around Gandhi’s life in South Africa in Glass’ 1980 opera, Satyagraha. From ordinary citizens to artists, Gandhi’s life demonstrates how an individual must take up his responsibility to be a force for social change.

Here are two short videos of film from Gandhi’s Salt March in 1930:

Transforming War Into Art


Big Country by Heather C. Englehart. Camp Anaconda, Iraq

A NATIONAL EXHIBIT OF COMBAT-INSPIRED ART OPENED this week at the National Constitution Center in Phildelphia. Art of the American Soldier features over 200 paintings created by Army soldiers in the field, from World War I to the current conflicts in the Middle East.

This exhibit unveils the work of thousands of soldiers. The Army’s art program lacks a museum like the other branches of the miltary, so 15,000 paintings and sketches were kept in storage, and have never been on public view.

The exhibition’s website gives you a taste of the variety of materials and subject matters the soldiers captured while on-duty, and all without any sense of propaganda. It combines the truthful eye of photojournalism with personal interpretation. For example, “Movies,” by Paul Sample, shows a troop watching a movie on a crude outdoor projection scene on Canton Island in 1943. The movie features a romantic clinch, and could be happening at any drive-in, except for the moonlit night and the figures in uniform and helmets.

Each painting, no matter its subject or time, focuses on the human figure, and not just that of the soldiers.


Young Girls, by David Fairrington

There are portraits of the people the soldiers interacted with and confronted, including local men, women and children. The images from the Vietnam War are especially emotional and powerful.

You can view these and other paintings through a timeline of the works from 1910 to 2010, available at the National Constitution Center’s special online gallery.

And if this peaks your interest in more art by soldiers, check out the Combat Paper Project, a workshop based in Vermont creating art made directly from soldiers’ uniforms. Veterans learn hand papermaking, pulping the uniforms they wore in service and then using the material for sketching and painting.

The works created in this project take the combat experience one step further into catharsis, as a way for soldiers to understand and interpret their experiences. Here’s an example of a work by Drew Cameron, veteran and co-director of the Project:


We Are All Free Now © Drew Cameron, 2008 Iraq Currency on Combat Paper with abaca

Chile’s Bicentennial: Mapuche Resistance Amid the Celebrations



AS CHILE CELEBRATED ITS BICENTENNIAL last weekend, more than 30 political prisoners of the indigenous Mapuche entered the 73rd day of a hunger strike. The Mapuche prisoners want to call attention to their struggle for land rights and bring an end to anti-terrorism laws used to criminalize them.

The Chilean government seems to be taking notice: President Sebastián Piñera offered a dialogue and pledged to invest $4 billion in the Araucania region. Meanwhile, four Congressional members of Chile’s opposition parties joined in solidarity with the prisoners.

Piñera is on a media blitz lately, chatting up Chile’s rising currency and plans for recovery after the February earthquake.

You can always count on Chile to project a strong democracy and stable economy, no matter what the circumstances below the surface. This is an opportunity for Piñera’s young administration to right some wrongs of the past. But the biggest story on people’s minds still seems to be the rescue of the trapped miners.

At least one Chilean artist, Guillo, cuts through it all and gets to heart of the matter, with his take on the word “unity” (“Unidad”):



For more response on what citizens and activists are doing to call attention to the Mapuche struggle, see this photo essay about a demonstration in Santiago, Chile, published by user-generated news site Demotix.

How A Funding Crisis May Derail The Fight Against AIDS

THERE IS RECENT ENCOURAGING NEWS ABOUT THE FIGHT AGAINST AIDS: a decline of 25 percent in new infections in sub-Saharan Africa, for example. This is cause for hope in achieving the sixth Millennium Development Goal. But these successes hide the fact that funding for HIV/AIDS eradication is in jeopardy by as much as $10 billion dollars.

Last year, total global funding for HIV/AIDS was flat. Experts and advocates say the next step is to carefully allocate available funds so each dollar goes further.


© U.N.

Goal #6: Have halted by 2015 and begun to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS

The key words moving forward are “faster, better, cheaper“—and it’s up to us to make sure governments follow-through on their promises.

What will you do today to help combat the spread of HIV/AIDS?


The Global Fund To Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria provides funding for the eradication of diseases like HIV/AIDs worldwide. Program directors said in June they needed $17 billion for countries to scale up their efforts.


AIDSspace is an online community for connecting people, sharing knowledge and providing services for the 33.4 million people living with HIV. You can search the directory for individuals, educators, and NGOs working in the AIDS cause, or read the latest documents and news in the Library.

This is the sixth in a series of posts examining each of the eight Millennium Development Goals.

Where to Find Citizen Reports Covering the Pakistan Floods



THE WORST FLOODS IN LIVING MEMORY in Pakistan is a news story quickly fading from mainstream headlines. South Asian regional expert Juan Cole, writing in, called it the worst disaster television didn’t cover.” Contrast that with coverage of the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile—and you see how the story in Pakistan disappeared, even though the disaster has so far affected 20 million people.

It’s up to citizen journalism to keep the ongoing crisis in the public eye, at least for those who get their news online. Here’s where to find citizen reports covering the Pakistan floods: collects texts from observers in the field, and uses an Ushahidi platform as a tool to create a dynamic map of the flood emergency. There were over 700 reports from the field as of this past weekend, ranging from calls for relief to short updates about where help is arriving.

Pakistan Eye

Pakistan Eye is the blogging team chapter of Citizens Eye, which has citizen reporters working in seven locations in Asia and London. The blog takes a look at all aspects of Pakistani society, but since the floods posts are focussed on the aftermath of the disaster. In addition to writing about the efforts of civil society for relief work, there’s also personal essays like Flooded Ramadan, by a teen reflecting on what this tragedy means in the larger picture.


While SeenReport is an open service anyone can post to, freelance journalists have created profiles on the site, giving it authenticity and news credibility. You can view photo essays including this series of flood photos taken by Abdul Majid.

Other resources to explore include PakPositive’s Pakistani Bloggers portal, and Global Voices Pakistan.

For more information on how to help flood victims in Pakistan, here is a list of organizations with relief operations.

China’s Latest Propaganda Ploy: The Tibet Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo

THE SO-CALLED ‘HEAVEN IN TIBET’ PAVILION AT THE SHANGHAI EXPO is China’s latest propaganda ploy against Tibetan culture and society. Last week a protest against the Expo by Students For A Free Tibet projected images of jailed Tibetan artists, writers, musicians against the walls of the Chinese Consulate in New York City (video, above).

Tenzin Dorjee, president of the SFT, expressed the group’s opposition to the expo’s “Tibet Week”:

While the Chinese government parades state-sponsored Tibetan culture on the stage in Shanghai, scores of Tibetan artists, writers, musicians, bloggers, and other public figures have been arrested, imprisoned, harassed, or disappeared for speaking out about the aspirations, the hardships, and the deepening pride and unity of Tibetans living under Chinese occupation.

Meanwhile, a performance of Pete Wyer’s ballet The Far Shore, which was to be performed at the Expo, was cancelled last week because he dedicated it to the people of Tibet. The British Council and English National Ballet preemptively did the cancelling, a cowardly move of self-censorship.

The ballet’s cancellation is more evidence of organizations and governments remaining silent for fear of Chinese annoyance, or worse, working with China against the Tibetan cause. Tibetan refugees in the region are increasingly in danger as Nepal continues to detain and hand Tibetans over to China.

This follows the fatal incident in which Chinese fired on Tibetan protesters, claiming one person was accidentally shot, while independent media reports placed the number at four killed, and as many as 30 hurt in the peaceful protest against mining activities.

As witnesses to China’s abysmal human rights record, it’s up to us to speak out, defend, and protect the rights of the Tibetan people. The Expo’s Tibetan pavilion is a cruel reminder of the cultural erosion Tibetans endure every day. How then, do we respond to the question, “Heavenly Tibet—or Hell on Earth“?

Three Ways You Can Improve Literacy on International Literacy Day

UNIVERSAL LITERACY is yet to be achieved on this planet: according to UNESCO, one in five adults, or about 774 million people, lack minimum literacy skills. Two-thirds of them are women. And 72 million children are out of school.

September 8, International Literacy Day, was created in the mid-1960s to highlight this basic lack and to stress the importance of literacy worldwide.

You can make a difference today by volunteering in your community, donating books, or supporting an organization working in the field:

1. Room to Read


Room to Read works with rural communities in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Laos, Nepal, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Zambia to build schools and establish libraries. The Local Language Publishing program allows children to read books in their first language.

Room to Read’s programs reach more than four million children and is aiming to improve literacy for ten million children by 2015.

Learn more about how to donate or sponsor a project.

2. Li! Li! Li! (Read, Read, Read):


Li, Li, Li! Reader with children in tent camp in Tabarre, outside Port-au-Prince. © Alice Speri

Li! Li! Li! means “read, read, read” in Creole and it’s also the name of a reading-out-loud program for children in Haiti displaced by the January earthquake. This grassroots group sends local Haitian readers to visit over a dozen “tent” camps, reading storybooks and using puppets to act out stories for children.

You can help by sponsoring a reader or donating children’s books.

3. Global Literacy Project

Christina Vanech at opening of kindergarten room in Soweto.

Global Literacy Project is a New Jersey based nonprofit with programs in Africa, India, the Caribbean, and the United States. In areas with higher literacy rates, they work to help people get access to materials and media; in lower literacy rate communities, the group tailors programs to building from the ground up.

One twelve-year old boy was so inspired he organized his own project that delivered 1,000 books worth nearly half a million dollars to a school in Africa.

There are many ways you can help the Global Literacy Project: volunteer, fund a science room or library, hold a book drive or make a book donation.