Jayang Jinpa, 26, was among the 15 Tibetan monks who staged a daring protest in front of a group of international and Chinese journalists at Labrang Tashikyil Monastery in Sangchu County. On 9 April 2008, monks of Labrang Monastery interrupted the Chinese government-organized media visit that was carefully planned to show that Tibet was stable and that monks enjoyed freedom of religion and other human rights. The protest lasted for about 10 minutes but was quickly suppressed. And over a year, he spent time in the mountains trying to escape arrest. Jayang Jinpa who now lives in India tells his story (The following is a direct translation of Jayang Jinpa’s personal notes.)
I was born in December 1986 in Sangkhog Village in Sangchu (Ch: Xiahe) County, located in Kanlho (Ch: Gannan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Gansu Province.
It is a nomadic village. My family is called Rilatsang. My father’s name is Choepa and mother’s name is Lhaye. I have four siblings – two older sisters and two younger ones. I will never forget the love and affection I have received in our family and the nomadic life that we lived.
When I was young, my grandmother and other elderly Tibetans often narrated me stories about the dark periods of the 1950s and the Cultural Revolution. [Listening to them] I came to know that China is totally different from Tibet and is someone who oppresses us.
At the age of eight, I began attending school. At twelve, after seeking permission from my parents, I joined on my own freewill the great Labrang Tashikyil Monastery in Sangchu.
However, unlike in the past, that is before the Chinese appeared [in Tibet], today one cannot attend studies immediately after becoming a monk. Therefore, I was able to attend studies only some years after joining the monastery.
What I recall vividly now is the fact that for almost ten days I could not go to my teachers’ place to study; I was compelled to live in hiding in my own dwelling at the monastery.
At times when officials came to inspect [for unregistered monks], I hid myself in the basement of our monastery’s kitchen, where I remained quietly taking deep breaths.
II On the day His Holiness was awarded the US Congressional Gold Medal
In our area, we generally celebrate the New Year according to Mongolian (Hor zla) calendar but since 2003, celebration of Tibetan New Year became very popular among young monks. To deal with such changes, the Chinese government had to organize a huge meeting in Kanlho area.
The first time I got involved seriously in the Tibetan movement was in 2007, when His Holiness the Dalai Lama was honored with the US Congressional Gold Medal award. Since the year was also celebrated as the soul-year of His Holiness, I gave up eating meat from Saga Dawa, the holy Buddhist month.
From a few days ahead, monks from our monastery made, on their own volition, preparations to celebrate the event. On the night of the Congressional Gold Medal Award ceremony, almost ten thousand Chinese yuan worth of firecrackers were burned.
[However this was not easy.] A day or two before, the Chinese government had ordered all the shops selling firecrackers in Sangchu County to close. Towns in Kanlho Prefecture were also ordered to close down their shops. We had to make a two-hour bus journey to Kachu, a [Hui] Muslim town, to buy the bulk of our firecrackers. Due to Chinese restrictions, however, the police seized two vehicles bearing our firecrackers.
On that day, on our initiatives, my friend and I [collected] one thousand Chinese yuan from ten monks. With help of that money, we bought firecrackers and prepared for the celebrations.
When darkness fell, we joined monks and lay people who were already celebrating the event with firecrackers, outside the monastery. Although there were many Chinese police nearby, they were not able to do anything because of the enormous crowd – around five hundred Tibetans had already gathered there.
Many activists shouted slogans calling for the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet, an aspiration deeply repressed in their souls. During that night, severe military restrictions were placed everywhere. We heard about arrests of some Tibetans.
This great non-violent activism (celebrations of the Gold Medal with firecrackers) came to an end precisely when the Congressional Gold Medal award ceremony was being telecast live on Voice of America. We were all overjoyed to [watch it].
On that day, not just the monks of my monastery, but many Tibetans organized prayers for the long life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
III When I first witnessed the demonstration in Labrang
The demonstrations in Labrang lasted for two days, from 14 to 15 March 2008. 14 March was the day when the Chinese started cracking down on Tibetan [protesters] in Lhasa. The events that occurred in our area appear vividly in my mind’s eye.
On the afternoon of 14 March, at around 4.30 pm, I went into a two-storied restaurant. I heard many people shouting, so I walked through the door and went outside, where I saw around 20 monks; emotions running high, they were walking on the road, holding Tibetan flags in their hands. Raising their fists in the air, together with the flags, they were shouting all kinds of slogans .
I was totally taken aback, almost lost my breath, for having seen for the first time in my life such courage and willingness to sacrifice [lives]. Slowly, many people started joining the protest. Tibetan restaurants and shops on both sides of where I was standing started shutting down.
Inspired as if by the all-knowing heroes, they started running towards where the cries of slogans were being raised. Stuffing my leftover food in my clothes, I joined this great demonstration.
At the time, the Chinese soldiers had already arrived [at the scene of the protest], but they were not able to launch a crackdown, because the crowd of protesters had gathered steam and become enormous.
On that day, around a few thousand Tibetans rose up in protest, and not a single glass was broken. It was 7 February in accordance with the Tibetan calendar, the day when our monastery conducts the ritual to cast away glud or evil spirits. Thousands of Tibetans had gathered on that day.
At around 12 pm, the Chinese used force to confiscate all the materials for the glud ritual, put them in a few vehicles and threw them away into the river. For the Chinese, it was their most effective strategy to preempt any gathering or assembling of Tibetan people, so as to avoid any demonstration and ensure ‘stability.’ But it backfired, as the confiscation of the glud materials incensed the Tibetans, provoking them to join the protests.
On 15 March, around 12 pm, we again rose up and held a large protest. It was estimated that more than ten thousands Tibetans – comprising both clergy and lay people – joined the protest. Since the morning, nobody knew from where, a large number of gun-toting military soldiers had arrived. The fact that the Tibetans rose up in rebellion again on that day is something beyond logical comprehension. It was unbelievable.
Such depth of courage I witnessed among the Tibetans protesting amidst the Chinese soldiers carrying guns with bayonets.
Around 12 pm, the demonstrations began. Like the one on 14 March, the protesters marched towards the gate of the government office shouting slogans. They threw stones on the windowpanes of the office building, breaking a few glasses.
While returning from there, on the road between the monastery and the town, they burned lots of junipers (bsang bstang ba). Right then, I had my opportunity to participate in the demonstrations.
I told the demonstrators throwing stones not to do so.
Before I joined the protests, I saw a couple of demonstrators running towards the County Middle school, where they removed the Chinese flag and replaced it with the Tibetan flag. They also removed the portraits of Mao Zedong and other Chinese leaders [from the walls] and burned them.
In the afternoon, when protesters gathered on the road where huge pile of junipers was being burned, suddenly people screamed ‘Chinese soldiers, Chinese soldiers’ and the crowd dispersed and ran away.
I saw a large contingent of soldiers, with armored vehicles amidst them, moving swiftly towards us from the main road.
The crowed of protesters stood still, helpless, for a while, but their courage gathered steam once again, and shouting slogans they charged down towards the approaching contingent of armed Chinese security forces.
A few people stood on our way, trying to prevent us from marching further. They said ‘we should not do this, if we ran towards them, they would kill us.’
But they had no influence whatsoever.
As I ran towards the Chinese security forces, a young man grabbed me and said ‘Akhu, don’t do this, you should not charge towards them.’
Rather than listening to him, I snatched the stick from his hands, and yelled at him, ‘folks like you can not do it, but you should not come in the way of those who are doing so.’ Then I thought they were cowards, but now when I reflect on the incident, I feel embarrassment for what I said.
When the Tibetan protesters ran ahead, a few thoughtful people, fearing the monastery would be harmed, shouted ‘don’t run into the monastery, run into rgya bor (a country).
While we were at a distance of a hundred walking steps from the Chinese soldiers, a huge noise filled the sky. The crowd of protesters turned around and ran forward.
The Chinese soldiers threw tear gas [on the protesters]. [We heard] a huge noise, as if artillery shells were fired in the air, forcing the [crowd of] protesters to disperse.
We only came to know about these slowly and steadily, only later. [When we heard the noise], we thought the Chinese were firing live bullets and the fear was intense.
One of my friends later told me, ‘I thought the artillery shells were being readied to fire, so I lied down on the ground, covered my ears with both my hands. I felt as if [we were in a war zone], it conjured up in my eyes images of war scenes that I watched in films.
As I was at the front of the group of people running towards the Chinese, when we turned around, I was struck powerfully by tear gas, which made me weak and nauseous. My eyes were hurting, and I was unable to run away, my lungs and throat started choking, so I started coughing. My eyes became wet, my mouth was filled with spit, and I had runny nose.
The poisonous gas entered into my throat. I had difficulties breathing then. I was gripped with intense fear, as if my lungs came into my mouth.
The protesters were still running around. I was unable to run, as I fell down from a motorbike. I heard shots of gunfire around me; I forced myself to raise my head up a little. Two men returned and dragged me into the crowd. The Chinese soldiers were closing in on us at the time. Those two men saved me. I feel immense gratitude to them. I was not able to make out who they were. Fortunately, the Chinese soldiers stopped chasing us, when we entered the monastery.
Many old aged people started sobbing. Tears flowing down their cheeks, they cried, ‘the Cultural Revolution has returned from its tomb.’
A little later, the sky darkened and the earth was covered with dust. People were saying that more than sixty tear gas had been fired on that day. Many protesters suffered physical injuries due to the tear gas; they were unable to get medical treatment in hospitals.
The protesters who fell into the Chinese hands were arrested. Among them included one of the main leaders of the protest, Tenzin Lushod, who was eventually sentenced to jail for five years and one month.
Just before the darkness fell, the Chinese, with the help of a few logs, blocked the road between the monastery and the County town.
IV My initial motivation and decision for joining the protest
Gradually I began hearing news of Chinese security forces killing protesters throughout the three provinces of Tibet. Every day, the official Chinese media revealed biased news about the protests, saying Tibetans were indulging in riots, in activities of “smashing, burning and looting.”
The media also accused that the protests were instigated from outside and were denouncing and denigrating the person of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Under such circumstances, it was very difficult for me to concentrate on my [duties as a monk] to perform prayers and study the scriptures.
I thought about fully resisting the brutal Chinese repression and exploitation, always looking for a window of opportunity to do so. Because of the daily sad news that I heard and the fact that I was always thinking about activism, I had difficulties finding sleep.
Generally, the indomitable courage and heroism of martyrs such as Thupten Ngodup and others have inspired me not to give in to slavery and to fight for truth and justice. In the depth of my heart, I felt that Tibetan men and women had sacrificed their lives for their nation, religion and culture, and specifically to ensure the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Tibet.
The responsibility for this cause lies on the shoulders of every Tibetan. So, I have had the desire to work for return of His Holiness to Tibet, Tibetan independence, release of all political prisoners, including the 11th Panchen Lama. Moreover, in the depth of my heart, I have the aspiration to propagate the sufferings of Tibetan people to the wider world and to continue resisting Chinese repression.
Most importantly, I have had the strong desire that Tibetan Buddhism be spread everywhere in the world, so that [many people] can benefit from its wisdom.
I therefore decided to at least protest once against the Chinese government’s repressive policies. My friends also had the same wishes.
I also felt that the monk-students and the Geshes in our monastery are the hopes of the future [generation], so their lives and studies should not be exposed to risk.
No matter what political campaigns we pursue, the Tibetan National Flag, which represents the Tibetan identity, is very important. Therefore, we tried to make a Tibetan flag. To buy the materials we went to rgya srang (literally Chinese road/street), but not a single shop was opened. A little later, the Chinese authorities forcibly ordered restaurants and shops to open.
But on both sides of the rgya srang, Chinese soldiers, carrying rifles and guns, were marching continuously, creating an atmosphere of intense fear. On the ground in front of a large restaurant owned by the monastery, everyday many gun-and-stick toting Chinese soldiers exercised in military drills, making loud and passionate cries.
Amid such chaos of rush and demonstration of military prowess, they created an impression as if war was imminent. Needless to say that such demonstration left deep imprints on the psyche of the Tibetan people.
On the road between the monastery and the street, they laid barbed wires, thus not allowing a single Tibetan to move freely.
Whenever more than two Tibetans started walking on the street, the Chinese soldiers immediately stopped and interrogated them.
In the beginning, there were hardly any Tibetans walking on the street. The Chinese government pasted posters of around three hundred Tibetans on the walls, accusing them of participating in the protests and ordering for their arrest.
From the beginning of the first protests until we participated, that is for twenty four days, during the night, hundreds of gun-toting Chinese soldiers sneaked into the monastery, arresting and beating up monks.
Once a monk called Thupten was arrested, and according to his father, he died in prison.
Since I was in the monastery, I wrote everything [the incidents of Chinese arrests] in my diary.
There were also many monks and laypersons who were issued arrest warrants. For fear [of arrest], they fled everywhere.
Under such circumstances, preparing the Tibetan flag was not easy. This had to be kept secret even from fellow monks living in a same house. We could only make the flag late in the night.
It took more than two weeks’ of labor before a magnificent Tibetan flag was prepared, which gave us lots of joy and pride.
During the night, we hung up the flag and enjoyed to full its magnificence and beauty. It was the only and greatest joy we experienced at a time when there was so much fear and danger.
The flag was enormous, weighing almost two kilos. As to the description of the flag, we referred to the text on political history of Tibet (bod kyi srid don rgyal rabs).
That historical text really moved me. Since the Chinese were barging in our rooms during the night, we had difficulties finding a secure place to hide the flag.
Fortunately we heard a good news. In the afternoon of 8 April, my friend Kelsang Jinpa (who fled into exile with us) said that journalists would be visiting Labrang the next day.
He heard about this through Radio Free Asia radio news broadcast. That night I deliberately listened to the radio broadcast (Amdo dialect) which said a group of foreign journalists were visiting Labrang Tashikyil Monastery.
The news made us overjoyed. We felt as if the day, which we waited eagerly for many days and nights, had arrived finally. Even our thoughts and intellect became clearer.
Although no one could tell absolutely that the journalists would arrive the next day, we made every preparation to ensure that we were going to take the full opportunity presented to us.
V Leading the rebellion with friends willing to sacrifice
After we heard the news, two or three of [us] friends, who were willing to sacrifice, met voluntarily. During the meeting, we discussed and decided to stage a demonstration in front of the journalists.
Although we had the courage to rise up in front of the journalists, it was not easy to do so. Had we not succeeded, not only the outside world would be deprived of truth, but also we would be disappeared and more repression would result in our homeland.
On the other hand, if our campaign succeeded, we were hundred percent sure that it would render immense benefit to the cause.
We knew that, in Lhasa, in front of the journalists, monks in the past exposed the mask of the Chinese government and made it known to the world the truth of the issue.
The Chinese were also making attempts to wipe out the truth of sufferings [Tibetans were being subjected to] in many other areas, considering as if the problem is confined only to Lhasa or the areas in Tibet Autonomous Region.
Therefore, our protest was aimed to sent out a message that the Tibetan cause concerns six million Tibetan people and that the protests beginning from March 2008 was held not just in Lhasa, but everywhere in Tibet.
We thought our rising up would bear a new witness to the merciless crackdown of the Chinese government. It was important to take this risk, because the press would relay our message to the wider world and, moreover, we felt at a time when the Olympics was being held in China, it would help people of the world to know the reality inside Tibet.
The Chinese were interpreting the events in Tibet in full contradiction to the way His Holiness, the Central Tibetan Administration and Tibet support groups were describing the urgent situation inside Tibet. Under such circumstances, we realized that the need of the hour was to rise in rebellion in front of the journalists and sacrifice ourselves by making them understand the truth.
We were especially worried that we might not meet the journalists next day. It was an extra burden.
We never trusted the Chinese media. In the past, when the Chinese-approved Panchen Lama, Gyaltsen Norbu, visited Labrang, the whole monastery was surrounded with Chinese soldiers. As a result, monks faced difficulties in their studies. Learning lessons from such past experiences, we made our preparations.
What the Chinese government wanted was to create an impression that Tibet was stable. So, the government was not in a position to take the journalists everywhere. What the Chinese desperately needed then was to show an image, a facade, of monks holding their regular prayers. The reason is that at a time when people are clamoring outside that the Chinese are launching military crackdown [on the Tibetan people], an image or a facade of stability in Tibet would be a propaganda coup for the Chinese government.
Such machinations on the part of the Chinese explain why they brought the journalists to cover us when we were holding our regular afternoon prayers. That’s how the Chinese try to blackmail us.
On our part, we thought if we did not attend the prayers, we would miss our interactions with the journalists. So, we decided to attend the prayers and made all the necessary preparations, including the pamphlets and a large banner which bore the following slogans:
Due to incessant Chinese oppression,
The Tibetan people have lost the capacity to endure the sufferings.
No matter how much [they] oppress
[We] have conscience and memory
[Called] His Holiness the Dalai Lama!
For the sake of the Buddha Dharma
And the well being of all sentient beings
We, the people of Tibet,
Have risen up in peaceful protests!
Moreover, my friends Lobsang and Jigme unleashed a banner that proclaimed ‘we do not have freedom of speech’ and ‘we demand human rights.’ On the night before the day of protest, we had many discussions as to the consequences of our acts. Probably, no one had a shadow of doubt that we would flee [from the scene of protest]. We said to each other that we were not going to be scared of the Chinese arrest and long-term imprisonment. What we were worried, however, was the torture we would be subjected to in prison that might cause serious physical and psychological injuries. This would be unbearable to our parents and relatives.
Since we also had to prepare two handles for the banner, we had to remain wide awake till four in the morning. We held prayers and rituals for more than one hour. After going through all the preparations, we went to attend the morning prayers of the monastery at ten. In front of the prayer hall, and everywhere, unlike in the past, we witnessed the presence of many Chinese tourists. Looking at the rosaries or cameras they were holding in their hands and the fact that their hair were not shaved, we knew that they were all laymen – of our age. They confirmed our speculation, further intensifying our suspicion.
While seeking the blessings [of deities] in the prayer hall, I took a few khataks from a monk friend. Then we took out two long sticks from the monastery’s canteen. Hiding the sticks, we went ahead to participate in the morning prayers. The monks were telling each other that many journalists had arrived, so unless they left, we shouldn’t leave the prayer hall. While we were conducting our prayers, a ball of paper, on which it was written that ‘today we need to rise up in front of the journalists,’ was being thrown everywhere.
When the prayer was finished, we walked outside. Suddenly some small vehicles arrived. We stood still and looked at them, although we were asked by a camera-holding Chinese to leave. For a moment we remained under shadow of doubt, thinking that we were trapped, because the people in the vehicles all looked like Chinese. Then a bus arrived. Many foreigners stepped out of it. We became overjoyed, and envious, thinking that these were the people who really enjoyed freedom. We immediately turned around and ran towards the canteen.
We took out the national flag attached to the two sticks. I was suddenly gripped with intense fear, something which I had never experienced before in my life. I felt as if I was entering into an altogether different world. I said some prayers and tried to control myself. Some monks who saw us from the canteen were in disbelief. Although there were no soldiers, we became so hot with fear as if the Chinese would appear [and arrest us]. We hid the flag in our clothes. The moment we came out of the canteen we unleashed our flag and ran towards the journalists.
First I shouted the slogan ‘for the sake of Dharma and the sentient beings, Tibetans are rising up in protest.’ While shouting my slogans, I had no fear and embarrassment. The journalists had assembled in the courtyard of the monastery. Hearing our slogans, they came out and walked swiftly towards us. We had more than thirty Tibetans participating in this protest, including Akhu Sangye.
For ten minutes we shouted our slogans and demands. There were a few among us who shouted slogans in Chinese and English. But I spoke out in Tibetan. What I said was all the suggestions that I previously noted down in a seven-page document. Initially, I wanted to have an interview with Radio Free Asia, but this was not possible. Although I burned the document while cleaning up my house, I vividly remembered what I noted down in the papers. What made me sad was what I found out when I came into exile in India. I found out that there was only a brief video of our protest. Even what we said in the video could have been misinterpreted.
As captured by the journalist, I did say that ‘we are not opposing the Olympics; we support it.’ But this needs to be put into the right perspective lest it convey a wrong message. I should have been quoted in full. So what I said, apart from my approval of the Olympics is that every human being, including the Chinese, desire happiness, not suffering. Our approval of the Olympics was to refute Chinese allegation that our goal had nothing to do with [freedom] but to disrupt the games. The fact of the matter is that the Chinese can not enjoy the fruits of the Olympic games while murdering the Tibetan people. China’s proclamation that Tibet is stable was a lie.
We expressed our desire to see His Holiness the Dalai Lama back in Tibet, UN taking concrete actions on behalf of Tibet, release of political prisoners, including the young Panchen Lama, and the immediate resolution of Tibet issue for world peace. I remember what I said to the journalists – that when they leave us, there’s no guarantee that [their report] could help secure our lives even for a few minutes.
I told them that they must know this reality.
Although there were many Chinese nearby, they were not able to do anything. Finally, they ordered the officials responsible for managing the monastery to stop us from shouting our slogans. Since we could not carry the flag with us, we dropped it into the bus, and told the journalists: ‘we are not able to keep our flags, so we are leaving it in your care.’ I don’t know where the journalists had taken the flag. But I am proud that for the first time in history, a Tibetan flag was openly displayed at Labrang Tashi Kyil. Since we were not arrested, we returned to our prayer halls. We were overjoyed that our campaign turned out quite successful. In the prayer halls, we saw expression of sadness and mourning on the faces of monks.
Although we were happy and proud of our activism, we were also scared that we would be arrested anytime. In the restaurant, [monks] were talking about the rebellion/protest. I told some of my monk acquaintances that I was the one who led the protest. One of the monks said, ‘if that is the case, then you should have informed me. I would have at least brought twenty monks, [who could be part of this protest].’ He said this with a lot of passion, his body was trembling. Later he even said, ‘you brave souls, you brave men, today you have really shown your bravery.’
When I saw such satisfaction and pride on his face, I was filled with pride too. As the prayers got over, I went back to my room, along with other monks. My Aku was so worried. He said we must make sure the Chinese did not arrest us. He felt our lives would be endangered if they caught us. However, the Chinese didn’t arrive to arrest us immediately. Finally I understood the apprehension of my Akhu, so I took my first steps to escape. An hour after finishing the prayers, [they] were able to hide me and my two other friends in another room. We then saw gun-toting Chinese soldiers surrounding our monastery.
We heard that the journalists had a meeting on that day after their interactions with us, because of which the Chinese were not able to immediately act on our arrest. However, we heard the laymen who participated with us in the protest were immediately arrested.
VI Escape to the mountains
We tried to sleep for a while in the small room we were hiding in. We were fully exhausted. However, we could not sleep. Fear and apprehension gripped us, to the extent that tears started streaming down my cheeks. Fortunately, we heard about our protest on Radio Free Asia. On that night, we also heard that the Chinese soldiers were breaking into the homes of monks. It was not safe to continue remaining in our hiding place. On the other hand, it was not possible to flee, [given the Chinese security forces around]. We decided to seek divination, and then came to the conclusion that it would be appropriate to flee on the night of 10 April.
Although we knew that the Chinese security forces were surrounding the monastery and could arrest us any time, we had no choice but to flee. Fortunately, there was no one walking on the road [that night]. So we were able to climb the mountains [without any danger of being caught].
When I reached the mountain behind the monastery, I straighten myself up and looked ahead. There was no one around. Perhaps the Chinese retreated lest there would be rainfall, because on that night we had a huge thunder and lightning. It was on the night of 10 April. Thanks to the waxing moon, the night was very bright. So we were very scared that we would be arrested. We were so relieved when we finally crossed the mountains. We felt as if a huge burden had been lifted from our shoulders.
Had [some one] taken a picture then, we would appear as fully drenched in sweat, but smiles on our faces. Around two in the midnight, we saw a few people riding bikes. In order to avoid them we had to change our routes. As a result, we sort of lost our ways, so there was no option but to sleep on the mountain. After staying there for two hours, the dawn finally broke. We were shivering – our bodies became ice-cold. We did not wear enough clothes. Our boots were filled with mud.
The place where we slept on that night was very close to a nomadic family. [On the morning], a nomad, a woman, herding animals saw us. We told them the truth – that we were monks from the Labrang Monastery and on the run from the Chinese security forces because we were involved in protest. She was filled with compassion after hearing our story. She invited us into her house/tent, feeding us with food. Overcoming our hunger and cold finally, we were able to sleep for a few hours. On that day, we crossed a huge mountain pass and reached another nomadic family.
VII Labrang Monastery Turned Upside Down
After a few days, we heard that Chinese security officers were carrying out searched in the monastery. This occurred on the night of 14 April, five days after our protest. We heard that thousands of Chinese security forces first surrounded the monastery. Not only they started peeing everywhere, but they also threw their cigarette butts in and around the monastery. The streets of the monastery were kept under security lockdown. Late in the night, ten soldiers started barging in to each house of the monastery. They smashed all the TV equipments, confiscated the pictures of the Dalai Lama and CDs featuring his speeches and teachings.
Precious statues and other belongings were also stolen. Even cooking utensils were not spared. They also took away all the logs, meant for repairing the monastery, and used them as fire woods to warm themselves up. Normally, we Tibetans look down upon the soldiers as tools of oppression. Roughly, two hundred million Chinese yuan worth of belongings were looted from the monastery. The soldiers were, moreover, rude and barbaric. Slapping on the cheeks of the monks, breaking the doors and windowpanes and so on were routine practices.
For instance, one of my friends was arrested. While stepping down from the vehicle, he was hit with rifle butt and fell unconscious. They searched the monastery till dawn. In the process they arrested 180 monks. Of them some were as old as 70 years of age and some as young as 14 years old. They were taken to a huge ground; hands tied behind their backs, they were forced to stand up for [hours]. When the monks tried to move a little, they were beaten up.
Some of the elderly and teenage monks, because of having been forced to stand up for so long, [later] had great difficulties to pee. Leave alone other human rights, under the Chinese occupation, we are even denied our right to pee. The next day, when the monks from the monastery threatened to protest and march towards the government offices, the Chinese officials promised to release the arrested monks. Of the 180 arrested monks, however, 15 were kept in custody for another few months. The rest were released as the Chinese promised.
While they were in custody, the 15 monks were severely tortured. Heads covered with black hoods, they were hit with plastic rods. At times group of Chinese beat them up with sticks. There were other cruel methods of torture. For instance, they were forced to sit in a chair called ‘Tiger’s chair.’ Then their two hands and two legs were inserted into a hole on the walls. Then the Chinese took away the chair and left the prisoners stuck to the walls.
People say such methods are meant to ensure that no traces of torture remain on the bodies of prisoners. Prisoners who have undergone such forms of torture suffered from severe physical injuries; they have had to receive medical care for a long time. Their hands started trembling. As a result they were unable to write. Our hero, the late Jamyang Jinpa, was arrested at that time. While in prison, the Chinese place an electronic baton inside his mouth. As a result his brain nerves got damaged. They broke his limbs, damaged his liver, and then finally handed him over to his family. [On 3 April 2011, Jamyang Jinpa died after he failed to recover from the injuries he suffered due to beatings and torture in detention.]
VIII. How We Became Thorn in the Eyes of the Chinese and Our Final Escape
On [Chinese] state TV, everyday, our pictures were shown, accusing us as the ‘ring leaders’ of the rebellion. Cash rewards were promised to those who could help arrest us. However, the state media said that those who aided us would be regarded as ‘criminals.’ Spies were also stationed in the monasteries. Monks who hold the same names as mine were especially targeted and interrogated. They sent security forces in nomadic areas to hunt us.
They also went to Sankhog and arrested Tsultrim Gyatso who had earlier participated in protest. He had been sentenced to life in prison. Although we remained on high alert, we also faced many dangers. We dug a trench and remained in it for some time. To avoid the rain that fell every night, we carried blankets with us. The nights were extremely cold. While on the run, I saw ten wolves, which became further cause of concern and fear.
I don’t know if it was due to my excessive fear, but in the first few months when we were on the run, I suffered from nightmares. For instance, I had nightmares of Chinese security forces chasing us or of battlefields. While on the run, leave alone attempting to meet people on the mountains, I had to be on alert all the time, making sure that no one spotted us. As a result, I had suffered from both physical and mental despair.
The reason I avoided the nomads is not because I distrusted them. I simply wanted to make sure that no one had a clue of my escape. It took me almost a year to overcome the trauma of my escape. Everyday I do hundred prostrations and recite prayers, which help me to overcome my mental trauma. One of the biggest problems faced by escapees was that of health. Since we were labeled ‘criminals’, we could not attend the hospitals to seek medical help.
Because of such problems, one of our friends who participated in the protest, Akhu Lha, succumbed to his injuries. I too suffered from many diseases, such as pain in the chest. I was unable to walk for a few days, because of the injuries I suffered after having bitten by a dog. I could not go to hospital. Despite all the danger, I secretly went to see a doctor. I have still not recovered from the disease. Since we were to used to live in warm and cozy dwellings, we faced many difficulties, having been subjected to many cold-related diseases, when we were on the run in the mountains. As we were denied on-the-spot medications, our diseases had gotten worse.
At the end of summer, we moved to a huge rock-mountain. It was very cold and the wind was harsh too. It did not feel like summer at all. Although we did not have any radio equipment, we did come to know about the status of Sino-Tibetan dialogue [from the nomads]. We did not hear any positive news about the dialogue as we had expected. So that made us really sad. Despite the summer, there was a huge snowfall. At one point of time, we were woken out of our deep slumber, when the tent in which we were sleeping suddenly fell on our heads. Due to heavy snowfall, the tent was not able to hold on its legs.
While on the rock-mountain, we at times worked as shepherds [for the nomads]; at times we read books and hung around idly, doing nothing. The area was very remote, but many Chinese arrived there. Nobody could say if they were Chinese soldiers [in plain clothes] or spies. In the previous year, no Chinese had passed through this area. We were so worried as a result, and on the same night we decided to move to another area. Fifteen days later, we went back to the same place. However we found more Chinese walking up the mountain. We also found a small red flag planted in the trees, nearby a river. We got more scared. There was no option but to flee to a more secure place.
Generally, during summer, the nomads live in scattered zones, in their tents. So the situation is ideal for us to hide [in their tents]. During winter, we hid ourselves for a couple of days in a nomad’s who was from our country. When we sensed danger, we got ourselves shifted to a more secure location, as we did before. Then one day, we heard that there were people who were going to help escape Tibetans to India after the Tibetan New Year. We got so happy to hear this news. We waited eagerly for the day when we would escape to India. We were so eager that we counted days on our fingers, and we made preparation every morning by running up and down the hills.
We were like birds suffering from intense thirst, eagerly waiting for raindrops. It was decided that a week later we would escape to India. But the guides, who were supposed to help us escape to India, changed their plan. As a result we were forced to wait for some time. I realized acutely how painful an experience it must be for jobless people waiting for employment and for insomniacs deprived of sleep. At this time another sad news struck me. I heard that my Aku’s hair had started turning grey because of worrying too much about my fate.
However, I do cherish the fact that I was able to escape, and did not have to suffer Chinese arrest and torture. During our escape, many nomads gave us protection and refuge [in their tents]. Needless to say that we put them under a lot of trouble and difficulties. Although the Chinese declared that any Tibetan helping the ‘fugitives and criminals’ [escape] would be punished severely, they gave us every possible help and support. For instance, when we were in their tents, they made sure that their visitors were kept under control. If the nomads found any visitors willing to spend the night in their tents, they informed us beforehand and helped us move to other secure places. So, here, I would especially like to express my deep gratitude to all the nomads who helped us in our ordeal.
IX Escape into Exile
Escaping into exile was just a rash thought, a passionate desire. The truth was that severe restrictions had been placed everywhere. Chinese security forces were stationed at the Labrang; security check points had been planted on the roads. We almost lost our hope to escape. Fortunately, we received a message from our friend, Lobsang, whose untiring efforts helped secure one agent/guide who could help us escape to India. We received the message in April 2009.
This was the time when the Chinese government lifted the ban on foreign tourists visiting Tibet. Because of this policy, some of the security forces stationed on the roads had been withdrawn. Therefore, my friends, Lobsang and Jigme, and I did not face much trouble when we ‘travelled’ to Lhasa. Gendun and Kelsang Jinpa too did not face much difficulties going to Lhasa.
When we regrouped in Lhasa, we spent two days in the Tibetan capital. However, due to fear, we could not visit the Jokhang Temple. At the time we heard about a large protest at a Tibetan middle school in our hometown Labrang. Then with the help of the guide/agent, overcoming many difficulties on the way, we finally reached the Tibetan Reception Center in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Needless to say we were all overjoyed; however, the political situation in Nepal was volatile. So, during our ten-day stay in Kathmandu, we were constantly worried. The officials of the Reception Centre told us not to go outside. During this time another sad news struck us. Before we fled into exile in India, the Chinese security forces arrested our good friend Kelsang Gyalsten Tsayul. He was sentenced to ten years in prison.
On 8 May 2009, we arrived at the Reception Centre in Delhi. It was very hot and I still remember vividly my experience in the Indian capital. For the first time in my life I experienced what it means to be a free person. I could look at any one; I could go to any places I liked. I felt as if I removed a dirt-filled leather hat from my head. These experiences filled me with so much joy that I was compelled to look up into the sky over and again. On 9 May, we left Delhi for Dharamsala, arriving at the headquarters of Tibetan exile administration on 10 May 2009.
We had a chance to speak to the Tibetan public at a gathering organized by the Tibetan Youth Congress. The next day, on 11 May, we had the great fortune of seeking a private audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama at his residence. I participated in many press conferences during which I was able to narrate the real situation inside Tibet to both Tibetan and non-Tibetan journalists. I felt that there was enough interest in the issue of Tibet.
I escaped into exile in India, because it was unbearable to live under the Chinese occupation. Now I have received a precious opportunity to engage in studies. I believe it is very important for me to study seriously. I thought as a Tibetan first of all I need to get myself educated in Tibetan grammar, poetry and history before learning other world literature and cultures. So I got myself enrolled in a Tibetan institution. In July 2009, I was able to get admission at the Tibetan college in Sarha, as an informal student. Lobsang and I are now at this institute. In 2010, we were able to clear the entrance test for Bachelor’s Degree in Arts course. Today both of us are in the final year.
I have given here an honest account of how I protested in front of the journalists. Due to security reasons, I could not mention the names of certain places and persons.