Author Tsering Woeser has used her blog "Invisible Tibet," together with poetry, historical research, and social media platforms to give voice to millions of ethnic Tibetans who are prevented from expressing themselves to the outside world by government curbs on information. In a recent commentary, she describes her early run-ins with Chinese authorities over her published works.
The first big trouble I ran into in my life was over the Chinese edition of Notes on Tibet. That was more than 12 years ago now, but I remember it as if it were yesterday, because the dark shadow of this regime, which silences dissent and strips its citizens of their most basic rights, is still entwined in my psyche.
And that trouble has proved to be a blessing in disguise, because it set me on the path to becoming an independent author, where I found difficulty and danger, but also a precious kind of spiritual freedom for which I am deeply grateful.
As a writer living under an absolute authoritarian power, I have always been subjected to investigation because of my writings. But before Notes on Tibet, I mainly wrote poetry, where meanings are obscure and metaphorical, and can be carried out into the world as if hidden inside an amulet.
But as soon as I began writing nonfiction, albeit in a literary style, it became a matter of fact and the historical record, and I was very soon punished for it.
Notes on Tibet was published by the China Huacheng Publishing Co. in 2003, to an enthusiastic reception by its readers, and further editions soon followed, although one aspect of it caught the attention of the government.
For a start, the United Front Work Department of the [ruling] Chinese Communist Party said that the book contained "grave political errors." The person in charge of ideological work on Tibet ordered an investigation and banned further sales of the book, seizing all copies still held by the publisher.
The book was a major target of criticism in 2004 at a meeting of the General Administration of Press and Publications (GAPP), where it was described as "committing the serious political errors of praising the 14th Dalai Lama, and the 17th Karmapa Lama, and of proselytizing and expressing religious devotion, while some chapters enter the territory of political misunderstanding to varying degrees."
The Tibetan Literature Association, where I worked at the time, said that it "exaggerated and idealized the positive effects of religion on society, while many of its chapters exude a sense of reverence and worship for the Dalai Lama."
"At times, it turns a blind eye to the huge successes of the past few decades of reform and opening up in Tibet, indulging in nostalgia for old Tibet and committing grave political errors and erroneous value judgments. It has lost sight of the political and social responsibilities incumbent on a writer to create a progressive literary culture," the Association said.
I refused to admit to these so-called errors, and so, a year after of the publication and banning of Notes on Tibet, I lost my job, my home was confiscated and my insurance policies revoked, and I was banned from applying for a passport to leave China. I could only leave [Tibet's regional capital] Lhasa to live in Beijing, which I still haven't gotten used to, with my husband Wang Lixiong, an author who researches Tibet and Xinjiang.
I have continued to write poetry, essays, short stories, and collections of oral history, 14 volumes in total, while Wang Lixiong has published three volumes. But of course these books, which are all written in Chinese, can't be published in mainland China, only in Taiwan and Hong Kong in the case of one volume.
They are banned, and they can't be brought back into China.
I am very pleased that 12 of my books have been translated into English, German, French, Japanese, Spanish, Catalan, Polish, Czech, and Tibetan, and I would like to thank the translators at this point for choosing my work, and the Czech Publishing Co. for its recognition, and my Czech readers for their concern.
The stories in the books may have been written many years ago, but these are no tales of mysticism and Tibetan demons.
I am telling the story of the invisible Tibet, the historical and real Tibet as it is experienced by all Tibetans.
Translated by Luisetta Mudie.