* * *
Traveling through Kham, in what’s called the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), I had the considerable pleasure of staying in Lhagong. Chinese people will tell you it’s named Tagong, but re-naming is just one strategy of the Chinese occupation of Tibet. Approaching this “stupa” on the edge of town during a clear moment in an otherwise rainy day, I couldn’t decide which idea held more magic for me: that this was a giant fortification full of monks and nuns who, not fearing death, were more than a match for any earthly army or floodtide of settlers, or an immense palace full of exquisitely beautiful people of belief, happily lashing their souls to some great transcendent hum.
Last year, while traveling in East Asia, I read a fascinating book, The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia, by James C. Scott, a professor of Agrarian Studies at Yale University.
Scott’s book is essentially about a very large number of intentional Southeast Asian maroons or refugees–Zomians–and the book is making me re-think a lot of things, about the normal “advance of civilization” narrative and all that it assumes, presupposes, and omits. It’s also made me to recontextualize my understanding of nation-states to include the surprising importance of elevation.
Tibetans are Zomians. They are are, as I think almost everybody knows, long-term resisters against the Han Chinese empire. The Tibetans are fierce and lovely people who wish not to be told where or how to live. Their monks are known for many things, including sparking militant protest, as they did in March 2008 in Lhasa (elevation: 11,450ft) :
These days, urban China is made of people, cars, and ubiquitous green scaffolding and yellow-orange cranes flying the red Communist Party flag over construction sites. Everywhere you look, edifices of glass, concrete and stone predominate. By day, construction; through the night, construction. It stops for nothing, not even torrential downpours so heavy that the cab of the crane can’t be seen from the ground.
In western Sichuan, the rains have fallen particularly hard this year, causing floods and mudslides that have killed several dozen people and blocked key roads.
One of those key roads is the one that takes you from Chengdu, where I’ve spent most of my time in China, to Lhasa, the epicenter of Tibet, which is just now laboring under its 59th year of Chinese occupation. It’s rugged country, and the Tibetans are rugged people, accustomed to harsh conditions and high elevations.
On April 14, 2010, a 6.9-magnitude quake struck the predominantly ethnic Tibetan area of Yushu, Qinghai, in southern China. Over 2000 people were killed and over 12,000 were injured, according to “official” reports.
There is rarely agreement between “official” and actual accounts in China, especially when politicized matters involving Tibetans are concerned.
A friend of mine here in China speaks excellent Chinese and keeps a close eye on a number of important things. Today I am sharing some of his work. He writes:
A Chinese blogger combined pictures of pre-quake Yushu with this article by Ai Mo艾墨, “The Stage,” that appeared recently in Hong Kong’s Mingbao newspaper. The full text of that short article, which did not appear on the Mingbao website, is copied below, after my translation. [Some papers in Hong Kong face pressure over the publication of sensitive material and do not keep such material online. I have no direct knowledge of the track record of Mingbao in this regard. - ed]