The Distorted Image of Tibet - special interview with Chinese writer Ms. Zhu Rui

“Before I came to your hometown, I had thought it was a deserted place set in barren mountains; now that I’ve visited your hometown I know it’s filled with the fragrance of flowers. Before I met you, I had thought you were a primitive people; now we’ve come to know each other, so I know you are really a noble nation.”

These are the lyrics of a Tibetan folk song Ms. Zhu Rui, a writer of Han nationality, first heard at a Tibetan’s home, and these words expressed exactly how she felt about Tibet.

Growing up in mainland China, Ms. Zhu went through a transformation from having a distorted image of Tibet, to loving its culture and people after she visited there. Now an immigrant in Canada, she can’t seem to get Tibet out of her mind. Tibet has become a part of her life, like her pulse and breathing. That distant and mysterious land lies right at her life’s turning point and has been leading her toward milestone after milestone in her literary creations.

As Tibet is now the focus of international attention, the Epoch Times interviewed Ms. Zhu Rui in Canada, and asked her how she viewed Tibet, Tibetans, and their culture. During the interview her sensitive mind and soul took us on a journey, exploring that beautiful yet unfortunate snowy plateau.

My First Visit to Tibet: Chinese Han - Tibetan Conflicts

Ms. Zhu Rui: When I was young I had numerous meetings at which we were asked to recall the bitter past and be thankful for the sweet present. At that time, my impression about Tibet was that it was not only undeveloped, but also barbarous and to be feared. But later my perception of it changed.

It became a civilized, clean and picturesque place. I can’t pinpoint the exact cause of that change, as it is too distant in my memory. Like most Chinese, I was brainwashed by communist propaganda. Whatever was said about Tibet was not good, and I accepted that it was not good. In the 1980s, the Chinese communist regime seemed quiet on many sensitive issues—including on Tibet—and many works on Tibet from different angles appeared in China. I even found books on Tibet by foreign writers, and I became interested in the region.

My first trip to Tibet took place in 1997. On our drive to Bird Island in Qinghai Province, I saw the first Tibetan tent, so I asked our driver to stop the van. As we started toward the tent, the people in it, a Tibetan woman and her husband and two children, came out greeting us. Happily, they ushered us in and treated us with their favorite food: butter tea, and they offered their only cushion for us to sit on.

I left the hostess 10 yuan (approx. US$1.4) before we left. But another Han woman in our van asked the Tibetan woman, “Other people all practice family planning. How come you have two children?”

Back in the van, one of us exclaimed, “Tibetans are really poor!” Another one said, “Poor? Isn’t it good here?! These pastures are all free!” Hearing their conversation, thinking about how that Tibetan woman treated us with the best they had without seeking anything in return from us, my heart felt heavy.

As we reached a desolate stretch of land on our drive on the Qinghai-Tibetan highway, we saw a Tibetan couple with the wife carrying a baby walking on the side of road. They waved to us, wanting a lift. So I said to the driver, “Shall we give them a ride?” As if he didn’t hear my words, the driver stepped on the gas and the van moved faster. “Why didn’t you stop the van?” I asked. “It’ll be beyond the capacity of the van,” he replied. “It’s not true. We can take six or seven more passengers. They are so helpless in this deserted area. If we don’t give them a hand, who knows how long it will be, before they can expect to see another vehicle coming? Why can’t we help them?” “You are so naïve. You don’t know that Tibetans are dirty. If you allow them to step onto the van, you’ll all hate the odor on them.”

I knew I couldn’t make him change his mind and gave up. I looked out the window and saw that the hands of the Tibetan couple still raised but now frozen.

When we arrived in Tibet, I found that everything was different: the language, the clothing, the buildings, the religious sites—and I liked them all. As I was strolling down Barkhor Street—the busiest shopping street in Lhasa—I was totally absorbed. The earthen jars, the stringed flags, thang-ga paintings, turquoise necklaces, and costumes all amazed me. When I entered the Buddhist temples, I was awed by the beauty of the architecture. People in them were all so quiet and I was surrounded by an atmosphere of serenity.

My Second Visit to Tibet: Simplicity and Honesty

The second time I visited Tibet, I stayed with a Tibetan household because I wanted to see how they lived. The hostess never stopped chanting scriptures.

I visited Lhamo Lhatso, also known as Goddess Lake. It’s a holy lake in the heart of the Tibetan people. In identifying incarnations of the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama, the lake is consulted for clues. It was a hard journey to Lhamo Lhatso. There is no paved road and it took us a long time before we arrived. When I returned, there were lice in my hair and mud all over my body.

The hostess quietly washed all of my dirty clothes. I felt embarrassed. “I am so young; I can wash my own clothes. How could I let you do it for me?” I asked. “You just came back from a pilgrimage. So when I do something for you, I am doing something good. I am accumulating good karma,” she replied. “It was not a pilgrimage. I am of Han nationality. I don’t have any faith in my heart. I went there because I wanted to know my previous and future lives,” I continued. “It doesn’t make any difference as long as you went there,” she said.

I later moved to another farmer’s house that did not have electricity or running water. They made a living by weaving wool blankets. When it was time to leave, I said to them, “I’m leaving.” They didn’t expect me to go so soon, and brought out everything they thought was good, such as potatoes, and asked me to take them home. I said I wouldn’t, so they insisted that I take the blankets they made. I saw they were so sad at my leaving, so I said, “I’ll come again when farming starts.” Hearing that, their faces lit up, starting to count how many days were left before the farming started.

Their spiritual life is centered on giving, being grateful, and trust. These are typical Tibetan people.

My Work in Tibet: An Interview With a Master of Farm Slaves

After my first visit to Tibet, I started to create literary works featuring Tibet. Invited by the Society of Literary and Art Workers of Tibet Autonomous Region, I came to Tibet again and worked for the editorial department of the "Tibet Literature" . During this period, I took the opportunity to interview a master of farm slaves, a former Tibetan aristocrat who was referred to in the Chinese Communist regime’s propaganda materials.

Only then did I realize that Tibetan aristocrats are kindhearted, and every aristocratic family has a Buddha-worshipping hall. Worshipping Buddha and doing something good are major parts of their daily routines. In the past, many aristocratic families also offered food to beggars and wandering monks at their front doors every day. They would even generously meet the demands made by ruffians and those who goofed around if they came to their homes to beg for food during the Tibetan New Year.

In Tibet, beggars and poor people have never been discriminated against since Buddha Shakyamuni had been in that situation in the past.

The author of Seven Years in Tibet, Heinrich Harrer, who was an Austrian mountaineer, escaped to Tibet after he was arrested by the Indian authorities in the wake of Germany’s being defeated inWorld War II. When he first arrived at Lhasa, he looked extremely awful, but an aristocrat invited him to his household. Besides helping him have a bath and haircut, the family also offered him new clothes. He was also invited to all the aristocratic families one after another, including the Dalai Lama’s mother. That’s why he maintained a good friendship with the Dalai Lama all his life.

After I associated with Tibetan aristocrats, I strongly felt their innate quality of compassion. I thus started to reflect on some of my own conventional notions. Their behaviors were absolutely different from that of the Chinese regime's propaganda. Of course, there might be some rotten apples in every group in the world, and some individual Tibetan aristocrats might not be so good, but I have not met them so far. Nonetheless, when an atypical case was portrayed by the regime as a common phenomenon, it was spread widely, and became a scheme to deceive and fool the Chinese people purposely. To the overwhelming majority of the Chinese people, Tibet is a remote territory, and the only channel for them to know Tibet’s situation is the Chinese authorities’ propaganda.

There were various reasons for me to become interested in Tibet first and then to have passion for it afterward. Among others, I was very much moved by the Tibetans’ frankness, truthfulness and the mentality of allegiance. These traits are different from the Chinese people nowadays who always take into consideration their personal interests before doing anything. Tibetans are very intelligent, and are not as sly as the Chinese today.

Han People in Tibet

There are four categories of Han people living in Tibet. The first category is the cadres sent to work in Tibet. The second category is construction contractors and workers who were recruited from Sichuan and other provinces to construct Han-style buildings in the wake of the demolishing of many ancient Tibetan buildings. The third category is small business operators and vendors who moved to Tibet from the adjacent regions in Sichuan Province as they couldn’t make a living there due to the high unemployment rate. The fourth category is a small group of people who went to Tibet because of an interest in Tibetan culture, which is mainly composed of painters, artists and writers.

These artists would rather give up their comfortable lives in the hinterland of China and went to Tibet because they really love the culture there. In addition to their respect for Tibetan culture, they clearly know what is going on there. But they would never mention it, as they want to survive the atrocious rule by the Chinese Communist regime.

The vast majority of those who moved to Tibet did not understand Tibet, and their entering Tibet has resulted in damage to Tibet in various aspects. Take those small business operators and vendors for instance. They brought substandard commodities to Tibet from the hinterland of China. The goods many nomadic people came all the way from remote areas to buy from the market often turned out to be substandard. For instance, the thermos they bought cannot keep water warm and the footwear they bought was worn out in a few days.

Those Chinese construction contractors, workers, business operators, and vendors are mixed with Tibetans, but the Han people don’t appreciate or respect Tibetan culture at all. With the Chinese regime’s vicious propaganda against Tibet over the past years, they regard Tibetans’ unsophisticated traits as something underdeveloped, and the steadfastness of their belief as superstition.

The household where I stayed was on Barkhor Street in the old town of Lhasa, where many Chinese small business operators and vendors live nowadays. These merchants just dry their underpants and vests in the sun in front of Tibetan families’ Buddha-worshipping halls, irrespective of the fact that it would hurt Tibetans.

When I had a meal at small Chinese restaurant run by Han people from Sichuang Province during my first visit to Tibet, I asked the operator of the restaurant for the direction to Barkhor Street. It turned out that he warned me: “You’d better not go to Barkhor Street, as there is nothing meaningful you can see there. You should stay away from Tibetans, since they are not well-educated, If you approach them, you will be in danger.”

With this mentality, Han Chinese people find it difficult to associate with Tibetans. This is why the Dalai Lama didn’t want too many Han people migrating to Tibet. For one thing, it might deepen the conflicts between the two races, and for the other, Tibetan culture would be damaged tremendously.

Damage to the Tibetan Culture and Religion

The ancient Tibetan buildings are part of Tibetan culture, and have inestimable values in architecture, history, culture, and aesthetics. In the past, there were over 500 ancient buildings around Barkhor Street in Lhasa. But only 93 remained when I visited in 1997, the majority of them were demolished by the communist regime.

Tibetan Buddhism is the spirit of Tibet, and the biggest offence to Tibetans is to insult this spirit. Although the Chinese constitution stipulates the freedom of religious belief, this “freedom” does not exist in Tibet, and many obstructions are set to keep people away from their belief.

The current regulation forbids anyone under 18 years of age to become a monk. However, in the past, there was no age limit. In Tibet, temples are also schools, and many extraordinary Tibetan scholars, such as Gedun Chosphel, were educated in temples.

In the temples, one can be taught architecture, linguistics, literature, etc. Tibetan Buddhism is not just the essence of mankind’s spirituality; it also has close ties with science. In some aspects, it is even more advanced than current science. This contributes to the reason why many scientists generate interest in Tibetan Buddhism.

Unfortunately, the Chinese people under the communist regime do not bother to grasp a deeper understand of Tibetan culture. They hold groundless views on age regulations for temples, claiming that one would become ignorant and incompetent if entering the temple at a young age.

The regime also casts restrictions on what can be taught in the temples. Every temple has a work team from the regime. They turn the monk’s study time to communist patriotism education, with every monk needing to pass with a red certificate. Upon visiting one temple, a monk showed me his certificate.

Without such a certificate, the monk would be kicked out of the temple. Very often, the most disciplined monks were kicked out because they put their belief above the so called “patriotism education.”

What has happened in the temples now is communist politics under a religious coat, and is completely against the spirit of Buddhism.

The regime has also changed the religious system. Many systems in the temple that have been passed down for many generations have been abolished. Take the Geshe exam, for example. Geshe is the highest position in the temple, equivalent to PhD. The System of Debating Buddhist Scriptures has not been abolished, but has been changed completely.

In the past, monks would annually go to a valley close to Lhasa to hold their Buddhist Scriptures Debate forum. Now the number of monks permitted to participated is restricted, and often the forum is cancelled for no reason.

Religious festivals are the most illustrious and colorful part of Tibetan culture, but many of them have been completely eradicated now, like the Tibetan Calendar celebrations, considered to be the most important of the Tibetan festivals.

Another is the Lamp Festival, where Tibetans light butter lamps to commemorate the death of Master Zongkaba, a tradition upheld for the past several hundreds years. Although this festival has not been banned, when I was there, I saw many police, and plain clothed police present. Also, people who worked in the government were absolutely banned to participate in this activity.

Besides this, many other religious activities, such as the Treasure Bottle Mountain Worship, and Pine Branch Burning Heaven Worship, are also restricted.

Who Brings Moral Degeneration into Tibet?

Currently, Tibet is full of prostitutes; hairdressers on the streets of Lhasa are mostly brothels. One often spots seductively dressed females from the neighboring Sichuan province, wandering on the streets of Lhasa. They seduce men on the street and even make attempts on passing by monks.

According to one dermatologist at the People’s Hospital in Lhasa, before 1978, there was no single case of a sexually transmitted disease among the 11,081 people being surveyed. But in 2002, there were over 10 cases daily, and the diseases showed many variations.

Tibetan is taught as a foreign language

I have not met one cadre who works in Tibet and knows the Tibetan language. The first thing I did after immigrating to Canada was to learn English. Isn't that logical? Why wouldn’t someone who lived in Tibet and love Tibet learn the language?

A conqueror believes that the locals should learn their language. Therefore, Chinese Mandarin is the only official language used in large conferences and governmental meetings. This has brought major inconveniences to the Tibetans.

One Tibetan doctor who attended a medical meeting in Lhasa said to me, “This is too hard for me. Throughout this whole conference, there is no communication in Tibetan.” He showed me his Chinese brochure, “Even a side-by-side Tibetan translation would be better than nothing.” His Chinese was very poor. I asked him if that was the only incident. He responded, “It happens in every meeting.”

The situation in schools is the same—communication is only in Chinese. The Tibetan language is taught as a foreign language.

Wasteful and Corrupted Communist Officials

The Tibetan riot in March was a result of accumulated frustration on the China-Tibet situation. The Chinese communists have damaged and insulted the Tibetan people, culture, religion, and natural resources.

Ordinary Tibetans still live in poverty—their situation has not improved for several decades. The Chinese people may think that the communist regime has done its best to financially support Tibet. However, the true beneficiaries are those officials who work for the Chinese Communist Party. Ordinary Tibetans have felt no change.

What is the extent of the luxury and corruption of the Chinese officials? There was a government building in the Autonomous Region, however, officials felt it to be “insufficient” and believed there should be another. Therefore, they spent over US$100 million to build the Chongzhou Base in Chengdu City of Sichuan Province. After the construction was complete, the officials felt it was too far to travel, and thus abandoned the Base and built a second in a secret location. I happened to realize the existence of the Chongzhou Base through an official document.

The Derzhong Spring is a famous scenic resort. In 2000, the son of Raidi, the deputy secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Region, contracted a 40 year term at the resort. The cost of a guest house near the resort used to be US$2 per night. After the newly signed contract, the price soared so high that I could no longer afford it. Raidi’s son has been doing whatever he pleases in Derzhong. A friend of mine witnessed him hunting endangered wild yellow ducks.

How Much Do You Know About Tibet?

A Chinese youth came to my house and talked about the Westerners’ support of Tibet, “The Westerners know nothing about Tibet, and thus they speak nonsense about the Tibetan issue.” I asked, “How much do you know about Tibet?” He responded, “Tibet is part of China.” That’s what he considers, “knowing Tibet.” Unfortunately, he represents the majority of young Chinese.

This is solely due to the many years of censorship by the Chinese Communists. Tibet is a remote place for the Chinese. Not everyone would visit Tibet; even the tourists see only the surface.

It is difficult to learn a culture. I’ve been in Canada for more than a decade, and yet, I’m still a stranger to the Western culture.

The Tibetan culture is completely different from the Han culture. The majority of the Chinese people won’t even have a chance to visit Tibet. Their sole source of information is the Chinese Communist’s propaganda. Whether you like it or not, it’s everywhere. You’ll hear it while cooking, talking, and even going to the bathroom. It brainwashes you.

The Chinese Communists have completely destroyed the 5,000 years of Chinese culture and civilization during their 60 years of ruling. For example, the criticism over Confucius during the Cultural Revolution has precisely demolished the fundamental virtues of the Confucius philosophy—benevolence, righteousness, propriety, and humility, but retained the dross serving to the interest of the communist authority.

The constant patriotic education naturally led to the fanatical nationalism that is present today. In fact, the so-called Chinese patriotism and nationalism is merely a resurgence of chauvinistic power. As a result, the damage not only affects the Chinese, but the world as well.

The more I learn about Tibet, the more I feel a sense of crisis and fear for the loss of such a culture. It is a unique culture. It is not something that once lost, could be reproduced. There is no other culture that can replace the Tibetan culture.

By Lin Caifeng

Epoch Times Staff, Created: Sep 9, 2008, Last Updated: Sep 27, 2008

Brief Biography of Writer Zhu Rui

Ms Zhu Rui is a Han writer. She has published several novels, poems, and essays, with most of her works related to Tibet. After the Lhasa Massacre happened in March 2008, Ms Zhu published many articles on the Internet, including, Why Tibetans Want to Protest, Write to Some Chinese, A Letter to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Hope the One in Power Doesn’t Miss This Opportunity, Hope of Tibet, and Interview with Buddhist Monk Arjia Rinpoche.