A Tibetan netizen in her own right, Dechen Pemba, publisher of High Peaks Pure Earth (the remarkable blog that translates the writings of Tibetans living in Tibet and China) provides insight into the importance and the vulnerabilities of the Tibetan blogosphere in her following post:
As a place to meet, share and exchange, the Tibetan blogosphere has created opportunities for Tibetan netizens that would be unimaginable in the offline world. Keeping in mind the state of internet censorship in the Peopleâ€™s Republic of China today, these new spaces can be seen as new outlets but also as new areas involving personal risk. Tibetan cyberspace has opened up a new opportunity for expression, which has also brought new risks to this community.
There are several blog-hosting sites,Â both Tibetan and Chinese, that are favoured by Tibetans in the Peopleâ€™s Republic of China (PRC) today. One of the of the most popular Chinese language sites is called Tibetan Culture Net or simply TibetCul. TibetCul was started by two brothers, Wangchuk Tseten and Tsewang Norbu, and their head office is in Lanzhou, capital of Gansu Province. According to Alexa, the web Information Company, TibetCul receives over 400,000 hits every month. TibetCul is primarily a news and blog-hosting site but there are many different sections on the site related to Tibetan music, literature, films and travel. There is a BBS forum (bulletin board) and there is even a section dedicated to â€œoverseas Tibetansâ€.
For all Tibet related news, blogs and cultural activities, TibetCul is an invaluable resource and source of information. Many posts translated into English by High Peaks Pure Earth come from TibetCul, such as the translation of the popular Tibetan hip-hop song â€œNew Generationâ€ by Green Dragon that was first featured on the groupâ€™s TibetCul blog in February 2010Â in which a gang of Amdo rappers boldly proclaimed:
â€œThe new generation has a resource called youth
The new generation has a pride called confidence
The new generation has an appearance called playfulness
The new generation has a temptation called freedomâ€
In a similar surge of pride in Tibetan identity that featured on Tibetan blogs post-2008, TibetCul blogs featured many poems and prose articles with the title â€œI Am Tibetanâ€ and new posts are being written even today.
Heated discussions and debate take place on TibetCul every day about all matters of concern to Tibetans. One major example would be the online vilification of well-known Tibetan singer Lobsang Dondrup following photos posted on blogs of him and his wife both wearing fur at their wedding ceremony in early 2009. The photos were quickly re-posted across many blogs, incurring the wrath of angry Tibetan netizens and comments criticising the couple flooded the internet forums both in Tibetan and Chinese. This must all be seen in context, in 2006, after the Dalai Lamaâ€™s injunction against the wearing of animal fur, a wave of fur burning protests took place in Amdo and Kham. Hence the netizens anger and loathing for the couple. Shortly after, Lobsang Dondrup posted an apology online through his friendâ€™s TibetCul blog.
The above observations on TibetCul demonstrate the nature of cyberspace in the ability to bring people together in discussion and debate and also the ability for the online content to transcend national borders, â€œNew Generationâ€ has gone on to become a popular song amongst Tibetans all over the world and the â€œI Am Tibetanâ€ poetry and spirit has sparked Tibetan exile groups to hold events to amplify voices from Tibet.
In a paper from 2004, Tibetan scholar Tashi Rabgey referred to the Lhasa tradition of the Sweet Tea House: â€œThroughout the 1980s, sweet tea houses had served as important gathering places for Tibetans to exchange news, air opinions and discuss ideas.â€ However, â€œwith the tightening of political controls in the early 1990s [...] this unusual space of lively, open debate was brought to an end through constant surveillance.â€ The new virtual Sweet Tea House contains Tibetans who are literate in many languages but mainly in Tibetan, Chinese and English and Tibetans from Central Tibet, Kham, Amdo, India, USA and beyond, all in contact and dialogue.
Whilst the potential for contact and dialogue in the Tibetan cyberspace is great, control of the internet and the politicisation of the blog content poses difficulties and risks. Monitoring Tibetan blogs reveals that throughout the year, at times deemed â€œsensitiveâ€ by the Chinese government, Tibetan blog-hosting sites will suddenly with no explanation or prior warning either be taken offline or be offline â€œfor maintenanceâ€. This happens typically for Tibetan blogs around the time of March 10, the anniversary of the Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule in 1959. See this link for an example of TibetCul suddenly disappearing offline and this link for Tibetan-language blogs being taken offline.
Similarly, individual bloggers are in danger of being targeted by the state for blog content deemed to be dubious. The most famous example is the Tibetan poet, writer and blogger, Woeser, who was writing two blogs, one on TibetCul and another on a Chinese blog hosting site but both of which were suddenly shut down on 28 July 2006. Woeser then had no choice but to start a new blog on a server hosted outside the PRC but has since faced a new set of problems such as server cyber-attacks by Chinese nationalists, both to her blogs and her Skype accounts.
Tibetan language blog-hosting sites have been even more vulnerable than TibetCul and two previously very popular sites have been inaccessible since 2009, http://tibettl.com/ and http://www.tibetabc.cn/ The latter was particularly a great loss as prominent singer and blogger Jamyang Kyiâ€™s blog had previously been hosted by Tibetabc but she seems to have stopped blogging altogether since the site was closed down.
Two recent examples of individuals using blogs and the internet for purposes of social justice have been Dolkar Tso and Shogdung. Dolkar Tso, the wife of environmentalist Karma Samdrup, was blogging almost daily in June and July 2010, documenting the events of her husbandâ€™s trial and expressing her personal feelings about the injustice of his sentencing to 15 years in prison. Amazingly, Dolkar Tso persistently kept blogging on Chinese blog-hosting site Sohu and, at the last count, is on her fifth blog as the others kept being shut down rapidly.
Tagyal, a writer and intellectual who used the pen name Shogdung meaning â€œMorning Conchâ€, openly spoke out in April 2010 following the devastating earthquake that hit Yushu. He, along with several other intellectuals, published an open letter on Tibetan language blog-hosting site http://www.sangdhor.com in which they expressed condolences and at the same time were critical of the Chinese government in their handling of the earthquake relief efforts. Following this open letter, Shogdung was arrested and is still facing trial. Following Shogdungâ€™s arrest, the site Sangdhor was taken offline for several months and has only recently come back online.
The last two examples of Dolkar Tso and Shogdung illustrate the importance of Tibetan blogs as sources of information and as ways to highlight injustice but evidently this comes at a great price for the individuals involved. The virtual Sweet Tea House is ultimately as vulnerable as the Lhasa tea houses of the 1990s were and is likely to remain so as long as Tibetan blogs remain behind the Great Firewall.
Dechen Pemba is a UK born Tibetan, based in London.Â She is the editor of the website High Peaks Pure Earth, which provides insightful commentary on Tibet related news and issues and translations from writings in Tibetan and Chinese posted blogs.
On August 17th, Chinese police opened fire on a group of Tibetans protesting the expansion of a Chinese-owned gold mining operation in Palyul County, Kardze Prefecture in eastern Tibet (Ch: Baiyu County, Ganzi Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province). Voice of Tibet Radio (in Tibetan) and Radio Free Asia (in English) have reported that four Tibetans were shot dead and thirty more were injured in this violent attack on unarmed protesters.
The group had been picketing the county government office to stop the mine expansion, which is destroying farmland and harming the local environment. Chinese police reportedly used ‘incapacitating gas’ to try and disburse the Tibetans, but when the group resisted, police opened fire. Join people worldwide in condemning the killing of innocent Tibetans.
TAKE ACTION: Send a letter to the Party Secretary of Sichuan Province, Liu Qibao, and to the Kardze (Ch: Ganzi) Prefecture Government.
(We will also fax your letter to their offices.)
Tibetans detained near Shigatse for protesting gold mining operations (May 2010
The fatal shootings in Palyul County mark an escalation in the Chinese government’s response to the growing opposition by Tibetans towards Chinese and other foreign mining companies operating on their land. Please take action now to shine a global spotlight on the Chinese government’s actions. International pressure does make a difference and will help to protect Tibetans inside Tibet who continue to risk everything to stop China’s rampant environmental degradation and to preserve their beautiful and fragile homeland.
Please call the Chinese authorities to condemn the shootings and to call for the immediate release of those detained in Palyul County.
+86-28-84356776 – Foreign Affairs Department
+86-28-86747716 – Justice Department
+86-28-86604437 – General Government Office
(Please note: China is 12 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time.)
To join the campaign to Stop Mining Tibet, please visit: http://www.StopMiningTibet.org
Thank you for all that you do for Tibet,
Tendor, Kate, Stefanie, TenDolkar, Mary-Kate and all of us here at SFT HQ
We are proud to release the latest edition of SFT’s official newsletter “Banned in Tibet,” online! You can view it below, download it in PDF format, or view the high-res JPEG photos of each page for viewing or printing!
Featured articles include:
Please spread the word to your friends, family, co-workers, and anyone else interested in reading more about SFTâ€™s creative work over the past year. In addition to the digital edition of Banned in Tibet, we also have print copies available. To order copies of the newsletter, please contact email@example.com.
Banned in Tibet is more than just an overview of Students for a Free Tibetâ€™s activities â€” itâ€™s a voice for the Tibetan people and a call for freedom from Chinaâ€™s brutal occupation of Tibet.
As China continues it’s crackdown on Tibetan artists and writers, a form of digital resistance is gaining popularity in Tibet. In February 2009, NPR reported on what China calls “Reactionary ringtones” and recently, RFA reported a list of 23 songs from Tibetan artists which have been banned in Tibet. In one school in Tibetan city of Shigatse, officials called these songs “unhealthy” and stated,
“If you have any of these songs as your ringtone, please will you delete them; if you own any of the above discs, please will you destroy them by melting or burning them.” “Anyone possessing the illegal music or videos will be severely dealt with.”
A powerful phenomenon in Tibet is that whenever China bans a piece of music or writing, it becomes more popular. Therefore, in this spirit we are releasing several of these “reactionary ringtones” for free download. Please share and spread these songs to amplify the beats of a silenced nation.
The Hope of the Son of the Snow City by Kunga:
Yi Re Kyo by Kunga:
New Generation by Yudrug:
Torture without Trace by Tashi Dhondup:
*After sending ringtones to your phone, help spread these “reactionary ringtones” by forwarding the download links to your friends.
The complete list of 23 newly banned songs:
*If you have the URL of any of the above music, please add it in the comments below.
For the most recent edition of SFT HQ’s newsletter Banned in Tibet we interviewed Dechen Pemba, a Tibetan blogger activist who runs the exceptional site: http://www.HighPeaksPureEarth.com
Thoughts on being deported from Beijing
I found 8 Chinese security officials waiting for me outside the door of my flat in Beijing on the morning of 8th July 2008. They asked to see my passport and resident permit first and then took away my mobile phone. I was then told that I had broken the laws of the country and according to those laws had to leave immediately. When I asked why I was being made to leave, I was told that I ought to know what I had done wrong. I asked to contact the British Embassy, this was denied. Two of the security officials were filming every moment, my flat was searched and some of my personal belongings were confiscated. They all took the details of my bank account, including my PIN number.
At first I didnâ€™t think that it was strange that they wanted to check my papers. It was almost the Olympics after all and Beijing was in a fervour of paranoia and security clampdowns. If you ask any foreigner who was in Beijing at the time, they will tell you that it was a crazy time. It was routine for local public security bureaus to go around checking resident permits of all foreigners in the city at any time.
Of course when I realised what was actually happening, it was a much more alarming situation. I wasnâ€™t worried for my personal safety as the people dealing with me were civil and not threatening. If I was really being deported back to London, although unjust, I thought that it wasnâ€™t the worst thing that could happen to a personâ€¦my Tibetan friends or anyone in Tibet would not have been as fortunate as I was with my British passport.
Since the protests in Tibet that started on March 10, 2008, all Tibetans were under close surveillance. This also wasnâ€™t the first time that I had been visited by Chinese security officials, I had been detained for a short time at Beijing airport in April 2008 for being Tibetan. I was questioned for a short while but that time they let me back into the country. Also, 5 security officials came to my flat at the end of May 2008 to ask more questions and to check my papers. In China, itâ€™s easy for authorities to keep an eye on someone. It was 9am when they came to deport me and at 1:30pm I was on an Air China flight bound for London.
Thoughts on Blogging
At present I run a translations blog called High Peaks Pure Earth that monitors blogs from Tibet and translates internet writings from Tibet. Following the intense security crackdown in Tibet in 2008, there was in effect a media blackout and very little information coming out. Woeserâ€™s blog was the most important source of information at the time. Through her contacts and her blogging, it was possible to find out about arrests, detentions, deaths, protests and the thoughts and wishes of ordinary Tibetans. As Woeser blogs in Chinese, it was essential for the blog to be translated into English in order to reach a larger audience. This kind of information is crucial and several individuals worked very hard to have Woeserâ€™s Tibet Updates translated quickly into English and published online on China Digital Times.
However, Woeser is not only an important voice in times of great crisis, as 2008 was. Once the protests in Tibet seemed to be over and the Olympics had been and gone, the spotlight off China, Woeser continued to write articles, commentaries, travel diaries of journeys through Tibet and Lhasa and, of course, poems. There was no forum anywhere online dedicated to regularly translating her work. In fact, Tibetan blogs were being overlooked as a source of not only information but also a place full of much debate and literary wealth. So the motivation behind setting up High Peaks Pure Earth in September 2008 was very much to introduce the Tibetan blogosphere to an English language audience and to give voice to Woeser and other Tibetan bloggers in Tibet.
Thoughts on Technology
Internet is very much a double edged sword for Tibetans. On the one hand it’s an amazing source of information for us but internet writings can come at a heavy price for the writer. Weâ€™ve had the experience several times where weâ€™ll find an article and weâ€™ll save the link and weâ€™ll want to have it translated so weâ€™ll send the link to the translator and itâ€™s gone or itâ€™s been blocked. Also, quite often, an entire website will be suddenly inaccessible. Several of the main Tibetan blog hosting sites are closed down during any sensitive period. Many Tibetans have gone to prison for “communicating with the outside world”.
The axe really comes down based on the political climate, and any time there are sensitive anniversaries. For instance, in the run up to 10th March, usually nothing can be uploaded. Also, all the main Tibetan blog sites were blocked for the entire month of August 2009. When the blogs came back up we discovered that a lot of content that was deemed political had been removed.
Having said that, blogposts don’t always need to be overtly political, you can find many different kinds and styles of writing, anything from nuanced, subtle political commentary to the standard boring stuff someone did that day. For me the best, most defiant blog posts are the ones which are clever and creative. For instance, during the Dragon Boat Festival which everyone has to celebrate all over China, a Tibetan wrote that we should celebrate, but if you read further he said, let us celebrate a festival our forefathers had never heard of and letâ€™s celebrate by eating something our forefathers had never tasted before! So through humour, through irony, you can really say a lot. Also many bloggers will write poetry and use metaphors to only hint at the things they want to say but it’s very powerful anyway, if you know what signs and signals to look out for.
On Saturday, May 15th, Chinese police opened fire on a group of Tibetans outside a cement factory in Madang Township, Labrang County, Amdo in eastern Tibet (Ch: Xiahe, Gansu province). At least 15 people were injured from gun wounds or beatings by the police. Tibetans in the area have been campaigning to stop the pollution caused by the factory, which, sources say, spews out so much dust that it is “difficult to open one’s eyes.”
TAKE ACTION: Send a letter to the Chinese authorities condemning this violent attack: http://actionnetwork.org/campaign/madang
Call on the Chinese government to close the factory until the demands of the local Tibetans have been met. (We will also fax your letter to the county and provincial government offices).
Please also call the Xiahe County People’s Government Office to register your concern over this violent attack by Chinese police: +86 941 712 1818 (Please note: China is 12 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time).
This incident is part of a growing crackdown by Chinese authorities against Tibetans advocating for environmental protection. Just last week, Radio Free Asia reported that five Tibetans were injured when police moved in to stop protests against mine operations in Markham, another part of eastern Tibet. Learn more: http://is.gd/cgDlm
Help ensure the Chinese government hears from people worldwide. Global pressure does make a difference and helps protect Tibetans inside Tibet who are risking everything to preserve their fragile homeland: http://actionnetwork.org/campaign/madang
Thank you for all that you do for Tibet,
Tendor, Kate, TenDolkar, Schuyler, Mary Kate, Annie and the rest of the SFT HQ crew
MORE WAYS TO TAKE ACTION:
1) Call the Xiahe County People’s Government Office and register your concern over this violent attack against Tibetans: +86 941 712 1818 (please note: China is 12 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time). You can also call the Gansu Provincial Government at: +86 931 460 9000
2) Print & fax a letter to the Gansu Provincial Government. Contact information can be found here.
Sample letter to the Chinese authorities:
Dear Secretary Lu Hao,
I am outraged to hear that Chinese police opened fire on unarmed Tibetans in Madang Township, Labrang County in Amdo, eastern Tibet (Ch: Xiahe, Gansu province) who were protesting pollution caused by the Amdo Cement Factory. I understand that 15 people were injured by the attack.
Tibetans in Madang have petitioned the Chinese government to stop the company from polluting the local environment, the preservation of which is crucial to their livelihood. The factory is also damaging religious sites in the area.
Instead of addressing these legitimate concerns, Chinese authorities sent armed police into the area who then opened fire on the Tibetans.
I join people worldwide in condemning this violent assault against peaceful protesters. This is a blatant violation of Chinese law and shows the extent to which Chinese authorities will go to silence Tibetans who dare protest the degradation of Tibet’s environment caused by Chinese or other foreign owned companies.
I call on you to immediately shut down the Amdo Cement Factory until the company agrees to address the concerns of the Tibetans in Madang Township and to order an investigation into the shooting incident. I further call on you to ensure those injured receive medical treatment and that no Tibetan is detained or harassed as a result of this incident. I will continue to monitor this situation closely and urge my elected representatives to do the same.
Please read & share this moving request from Tibetans in the earthquake zone:
Requesting His Holiness the Dalai Lamaâ€™s visit to the Quake Area:
A letter from the victims of the Yushu Earthquake to President Hu and Premier Wen
(Boxun Beijing Time: 2010 April 16)
Dear President Hu and Premier Wen,
Wish you both good health. During the initial hours of the natural disaster, we appreciate your governmentâ€™s immediate relief efforts through soldiers and all round support from different sections of the society and we, the victims of this calamity, thank you for the same.
But we are a deeply religious community having a strong faith in the teachings of Buddha. Since many generations, we have a deep faith in His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Today, as we are suffering from a great physical and mental anguish, we really need His Holiness to visit the quake affected area to pray for the departed souls and to provide solace to the broken hearts. Today, we request you, president Hu and premier Wen, to find the compassion in your hearts and fulfill this desire of us quake victims. We, the quake victims numbering more than 10,000, implore you from our hearts to temporarily set aside your governmentâ€™s political differences with the Dalai Lama and kindly consider our request.
With this invitation to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, we have no other objective apart from fulfilling our religious aspirations of praying for the departed souls and the survivors of the disaster.
In this hour of distress, His Holinessâ€™ visit to offer prayers and condolences in person is the only way to heal our wounded hearts. There is no other better way.
Letter also posted in Tibetan at: http://www.tibettimes.net/news.php?id=2557
The Dalai Lama has also expressed his wish to visit the region: http://tibet.net/en/index.php#
Tibetan Prime Minister Samdhong Ripoche said this morning “If the external circumstances become favorable, there is no difficulty on the part of His Holiness’ aspirations and could make his visit to the affected areas at the soonest possible.”
Early this morning local time, a 6.9 magnitude earthquake followed by a number of powerful aftershocks struck in Kyegundo à½¦à¾à¾±à½ºà¼‹à½¢à¾’à½´à¼‹à½˜à½‘à½¼à¼Â (spoken as Jyekundo) in Kham, eastern Tibet (Ch: Jieguduo or Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai Province). At least 600 people are reported dead and more than 10,000 injured by Chinese & Western media, but Tibetans with contacts in the area have heard the death toll may be as high as 4,000. We will continue to post updates on SFT’s facebook page and twitter feed.
All of us at SFT send our heartfelt condolences to the families who have lost loved ones in the earthquake. Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone in Kyegundo and the surrounding area.
How you can help:
1) Donate to organizations working in the region and help support emergency relief efforts:
Tibetan Relief Fund: http://www.tibetrelieffund.co.uk/
Thrangu Rinpoche Trust: http://www.thranguemergency.org/
2) Help spread the word that this awful tragedy occurred in Tibet not in Western China as the media is reporting:
From High Peaks Pure Earth: Chinese media refers to the affected area as the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Yushu (çŽ‰æ ‘) in Qinghai province, Western media has been calling it Western or South Western China inhabited by “ethnic Tibetans” or part of the “Tibetan plateau”.
Although spelled Kyegundo, when spoken it sounds more like Jyekundo. This Google map shows the position of Kyegundo in relation both to Lhasa and also to the provincial capitals of Qinghai and Gansu, Xining and Lanzhou, to the north east.Â Here is the link to the map on the website of Tibetan and Himalayan Library, an excellent resource site.
Fears over potential dam burst:
The BBC hasÂ reported that a massive dam at the headwaters of three rivers in the area has been damaged and that people have fled for higher ground in fear that the dam might burst.Â A crack in the dam wall has prompted Chinese officials to drain the reservoir.Â The Chinese government has plans to build several more dams in this earthquake prone area.Â View a map posted on the Tibetan Plateau blog: http://tibetanplateau.blogspot.com/2010/02/dams-on-upper-reaches-of-yangtze-mekong.html
Also, according to an NPR report 85% of the buildings in the town have collapsed and the Red Cross is reporting that 70% of schools have been destroyed. The area is home to Tibetan nomads and farmers who traditionally live on the grasslands of the plateau.Â A Newsweek blog post from April 14th documents the Chinese government’s massive push to forcibly settle Tibetan nomads into concrete housing projects like the kind we see lining the streets of Kyegundo. China plans to settle all of the nomads in Qinghai Province within 5 years.
The media is reporting that relief efforts by the Chinese army are underway, but we’re also hearing that many people in the surrounding areas are without food and water. A Tibetan was able to send word out that:Â people as far away as Denma (5-6 hrs drive from jyeku) sleeping outside right now. People don’t have food and troops are apparently only going in by road, so it could take 2-3 days for relief to get here.
Please check back for updates and more ways that you can help the people of Kyegundo.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama sends his condolences to the earthquake victims: http://www.dalailama.com/news/post/520-his-holiness-offers-his-condolences-to-the-victims-of-the-earthquake-in-kyigudo
Statement by U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi: http://www.speaker.gov/newsroom/pressreleases?id=1629
Free Tibet (UK based Tibet Support Group): http://www.freetibet.org/newsmedia/earthquake-eastern-tibet
International Campaign for Tibet (Washington, D.C. based Tibet Support Group): http://savetibet.org/
World News Blog (The sensitivity behind the latest Chinese earthquake): http://blogs.channel4.com/snowblog/2010/04/14/the-sensitivity-behind-the-latest-chinese-earthquake/
BBC (China earthquake kills hundreds in Qinghai): http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/8619593.stm
NPR (Earthquake In China Kills 400; Thousands Injured): http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=125930694
Free Tibet (UK based Tibet Support Group): http://www.freetibet.org/newsmedia/earthquake-eastern-tibet
New York Times (Strong Quake Kills Hundreds in Western China): http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/15/world/asia/15quake.html