Tibetan woman rights blogger & poet outlines China's clampdown on freedom

Lys Anzia – WNN Features

Tibetan human rights journalist Tsering Woeser
Tibetan author, poet and human rights journalist Tsering Woeser has written on the plight of social justice for Tibetans living inside and outside China’s Tibetan Autonomous Region. Image: Tsering Woeser

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(WNN) Beijing, PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA, EASTERN ASIA: Self-immolation is an act of setting oneself on fire as a protest, most often the practice results in suicide death for the protester. The act most often comes as a public statement against some form of human rights abuse. Today in China, indigenous Tibetans are struggling to keep their cultural history alive as they are not allowed to speak their own language or follow the religion of their choosing. Even the mention of the words ‘the Dalai Lama’ is forbidden.

Tibetan historian, human rights advocate, author, poet and blogger Ms. Tsering Woeser’s comprehensive and important book on China covers the ongoing self-immolation protests, in what activists say is an continuing ‘Chinese policy against cultural freedom’. Woeser’s book, “Immolations in Tibet: The Shame of the World,” published for now in French by Indigène Editions, was written after Woeser has documented the over one hundred self-immolation protests inside the China region.

“The Chinese authorities in Tibet have intensified measures to prevent information reaching the outside world about the self-immolations. This has been combined with a more aggressive and formalized response to the self-immolations, involving harsh sentencing and torture for those suspected of involvement, even if that is simply bearing witness,” outlined the International Campaign for Tibet in September 2013.

Woeser’s searing book brings the issue of desperation in protest to a global public from a series of writings she made outlining self-immolation protests by Tibetans living under what has been described by witnesses as “harsh military rule” in the Tibetan Autonomous Region.

Self-immolation protests have also occurred in the Gansu, Qinghai and Sichuan provinces inside modern-day China.

Covering social issues inside China today that are often politicized and down-played by Chinese news media, Woeser’s writing about ongoing protests in the region brings the issues of human rights and abuse of freedom to the front of the global human rights microscope as Woeser documents the great need for cultural acceptance and freedom for ‘Tibetan identified Tibetans’ currently living inside China’s borders.

“I think [the self-immolations] are an earth-shattering thing,” outlined Woeser to The Guardian News. “Yet people are silent. Why are they silent? In China, one reason is that the government blocks information, they block the truth, so a lot of people don’t know that this is happening. Yet in a lot of places – even in China – people know this is happening, but don’t really care.”

Working with acclaimed Chinese musician, sculptor, filmmaker and contemporary artist Ai WeiWei, along with a photo of Woeser by Corbis photographer Bill Smith, Woeser has compiled her book to as she conveys, ‘break the silence’ on current conditions for Tibetans in the region.

The book, released in French, has been given a forward by former French Minister of Justice Robert Badinter. Judge Badinter is known throughout Europe as a humanitarian expert on law. Badinter’s position as a respected expert in jurisprudence inside France provided his thoughts and ideas as a pivotal player in the removal of the death penalty before the French Parliament in 1981.

“This is a dense and tragic book,” writes Judge Badinter in his forward for Woeser’s book.

U.S. award ceremony shows empty chair for Tsering Woeser
On March 8, 2013 U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama looks toward an empty chair next to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that has been reserved for Tibetan Chinese human rights poet, author and blogger Ms. Tsering Woeser. Woeser was invited to receive an ‘International Courage Award’ in person from The White House for International Women’s Day 2013, but was blocked by officials in China with no passport to travel to the U.S. that would allow her to appear at the event. Image: WhiteHouse.gov

“What the flames that burn proclaim is that they can no longer withstand the assault against their people, eradicating customs and language (in a) cultural genocide…, ” continues Badinter.

Of mixed Tibetan and Chinese heritage, Tsering Woeser has written about conditions for those who have had little to no human rights since she began writing for the public in 1990. She has also authored a number of other books including poetry. Born in what was once Tibet’s capital city of Lhasa, Tsering is a true child of the Cultural Revolution with a mother who grew up in Lhasa and a father who was a soldier in the People’s Liberation Army. This unique perspective has given her the title of the most important human rights writer on Tibetan rights now living in China.

Growing up speaking Chinese exclusively, Woeser continues to bring news to the public about Tibetans living in regions of China from areas that often get little to no press coverage. Her written work brings a haunting engagement to those who read her words, say her fans.

Writing and words are her life. Human rights could be described as ‘her heartbeat’, they continue.

In addition to numerous other awards, Woeser received the Courage of Journalism award from IWMF – International Women’s Media Foundation in 2010. More recently Woeser received an invitation to come to Washington D.C. as a recipient of the International Women of Courage Award, as one of 10 women named on International Women’s Day on March 8, 2013. The award gave honor to her part for documenting human rights needs for the indigenous people in China.

In spite of her invitation to come to receive her award in person in Washington D.C., Woeser was not allowed permissions to get a passport to travel to the U.S. Today she continues to live under constant surveillance and house arrest, as she has on and off for years, in China’s capital city of Beijing.

Woeser’s writing does come with another price. Chinese officials have pressured Woeser’s relatives to ask her to stop all of her writing. Her brother has also stopped communicating with her.

Hunger strikes are a method of protest universally accepted and respected, whilst self-immolation is often ignored, because such suffering goes beyond the limits of what most people can conceive, even in their imagination,” she writes in her latest book.

“Self-immolation is the most hard-hitting thing that these isolated protesters can do while still respecting principles of non-violence,” Woeser continues in her latest book.

To read some of Tsering Woeser’s work in English link to these PEN America transcripts:

A Killing Trip

The Fear in Lhasa as Felt in Beijing

On the Subject of Silence and Speaking Out About Tibet


In 2011 the Dutch Ambassador to China with an office in Beijing was blocked from an ‘in person’ visit to give the Prince Claus Award to human rights journalist and cultural historian Tsering Woeser. The award came from the Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development. This highly prestigious cultural award was given to Woeser, in spite of her inability to receive the award in person, in recognition of her words, courage is the courage of the oppressed voice.”


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