On the Events in Aba: Sources

Another Tibet-themed guest post by Kristiana Henderson, Pacific Lutheran University

While I was writing this larger piece about the construction of dams in the Tibet Autonomous Region, I was simultaneously following the developments coming out of Aba Prefecture of Northern Sichuan Province, another “autonomous” region comprised mostly of Tibetan and Qiang people. I believe that following the story regarding the funding of hydroelectric facilities in the T.A.R. is of just as great of importance, if not nearly as “cinematic” and therefore gripping in terms of international headlines, because it is the story of the relatively slow-moving process of “development” as a codeword for controlling an indigenous population’s land and resources and using it for geopolitical gain. That said, it would be strange to completely ignore this ongoing, in-your-face concern in my guest post, and therefore, I will quickly rehash the latest developments since mid March.

One of the first take-home points of this article is that I have come to appreciate the news reports as submitted by www.phayul.com, a Tibetan exile news and cultural website that was first introduced to me by a Tibetan doctor and scholar who was a classmate with me at the University of Oslo a few years ago. I remember asking him at the time about what resources he would recommend for keeping up-to-date about the “Tibet situation.” When he gave me links to websites such as this one, I first simply regarded it as an incredibly biased grouping of soundbytes from an angry community in Northern India. Therefore this meant that I did not log on to Phayul very often, but when I did, I always reminded myself to take it with a grain of salt. This reminder to consider the source, of course, is good with whatever piece of information one is looking at. However, considering my long-standing interest in the problems related to Tibetan culture and sovereignty, I realize how inappropriately long it took me to realize that my overly skeptic attitudes were endemic of not only sloppy scholarship, but also brought me dangerously close into playing right into the hands of a hegemonic paradigm.

After all, even though I also took Chinese nationalistic websites with this same hesitance, I was looking at far more of these and was more likely to consider their opinions, especially because I was countering them in terms of a dialogue with the Western media. Essentially, what you are looking at is an invalidation of the minority voice inside a minority voice in terms of Western discourse on current events: because my media is dominated by Western opinion that overall is not doing enough justice to the Chinese opinion and POV on China, I sought to understand China’s opinion better. However, by default, I casually lumped in the exile community’s concerns back into the “Western” media, and failed to see it as that counter-point to the counter-point, the indigenous voice standing in solidarity against the official, mainstream Chinese doctrine, certainly, but also separately from the BBC, CNN, and the other news media that enjoys frolicking with the Dalai Lama when it has no other celebrity to chase after. I realize that looking at Tibet on its own terms should seem like a fairly obvious conclusion, however, believe me that China and Tibet in general – whether exile community or within the Tibetan regions in China – has reminded me of the importance of the deconstructionist tool, and ensured that I don’t instantly jump onto any ideological bandwagon. Hence my (hopefully healthier) skepticism, and hence that I feel that Phayul could, with all its blatant editorializing, is incredibly valuable. At the very least, considering that websites such as Phayul are at the heart of documenting Tibetan issues and this is their specialty, they are also a great jumping-off point for reading more about these topics on the Guardian, the Straits Times, and, yes, even the New York Times and the BBC.

A very good example Phayul’s media is seen below, via the Voice of America, in Amdo Tibetan. Most of the beginning shots are also very daring shots of the police/military forces. For readers trying to parse the linguistic parallels, རྔ་བ is the writing for 阿坝 – Aba.

[Editor’s note: This film is fairly graphic, first-hand stuff; absent comprehension of the Tibetan language, I’m at a bit of a loss as to how to fit this into the emerging master narrative from Amdo.  Certainly something to keep an eye on. –A.C.]

It all started this time last month as a 21-year-old monk known as Phuntsok burned himself to death in commemoration of the third-year anniversary of the famous Tibetan protests. Let’s remember that while these protests/riots/Reformations may have started in Lhasa, they caught fire in Aba prefecture, and not in the least, this same Kirti monastery of which Phuntsok was part. What began as an anecdote of another monk choosing to enlighten a cause, blaze a trail, and set fire to a movement (Mao’s proverbial “single spark”) has continued to set off a maelstrom in the region, leading to several arrests, a curfew on the monastery, a hunger strike in the local upper middle school, an increased police and military force, international/Western outcry.  Most recently, according to Phayul and other sources, the CCP crackdown has also initiated an intensive “re-education” training for the monks of Kirti. From what I have read, however, it appears that the government has effectively clamped down enough on these protests to stifle any copy-cat protests happening in other Tibetan regions

(Meanwhile, China has been actively courting Nepal and gaining its support for the “One-China” policy, as high-ranking officials have spent a considerable amount of time in Kathmandu since March. 缘分?Realpolitik? Yup.)

Questions still remain: what kind of enforcement measures were in place before these protests occurred, other than, say, me having to report myself to the police statement if I wanted to travel there? And, similarly, what is so different about Kirti monastery that it has long been at the center of these movements, and why have more protests within Tibet not sprung up (yet…)?

Needless to say, I’m getting a wee bit tired of these “reliable sources,” but 生活就是 – C’est la vie.


  1. by default, I casually lumped in the exile community’s concerns back into the “Western” media, and failed to see it as that counter-point to the counter-point
    Same here, Ms Henderson. It’s remarkable to which degree power keeps defining our perceptions. In the end, when unctuous or angry assertions of the status quo should matter in our daily press consumption, so should suggestions of what would be desirable.

    1. JR, do you by chance have any info or previously-written analyses/links that you could share about the Tibetan exile media? We tend to spend so much time parsing the CCP media (since they’re the biggest and baddest in town, of course we need to take them on) that the opposing distortions (think Epoch Times) often fail to make a dent. What is the Tibetan equivalent to the Epoch Times?

      Does anyone else (including the resourceful Kristiana Henderson) have information about the source of the video linked in this post? Looking for a tie-in or more information here….

      1. Only found your comment right here on your blog, Adam – seems the “my comments” function left it out.
        I’ll take a look at my, umm, sources tonight, but I’m afraid it won’t be a real lot. Anyway, I’ll be back.

  2. Here we go.

    I can see the irony myself, but by reading this CCP website, you can find some Tibetan currents between the lines – the ones the CCP reacts to –

    It’s somewhat difficult when it comes to exile media. I read them mostly because I read official Chinese media, too. The combination may help to understand some of the actual news. Unfortunately, just as the Chinese media, they are often full of acrimony.

    A blog I really like is Dechen Pemba’s blog – but I think you are familiar with hers anyway.

    Obviously, the India Times is a pretty good – and maybe the most comprehensive and realtime – source. Trying it, I’m reading that Tibetans in exile have elected a new political leader. Try a Google search with Tibet site:indiatimes.com, with differing timelines.

    Given the paramount role of the Dalai Lama – no matter who’s going to be the elected political leader -, his website seems to matter, too: http://www.dalailama.com/, and
    especially his Chinese-language website, which is much more about politics than the English one: http://www.dalailamaworld.com/

    Saransh Sehgal, too. Enter his name into a search engine for articles, some of his best can be found at the Asia Times. His stuff may come closest to analysis.

    Then there’s freetibet.org. And Phayul of course (much more comprehensive), but Ms Henderson mentioned it before, anyway.

    You can’t escape the propaganda, from either side. But that’s in the nature of the conflict, I guess. I’m afraid there is no shortcut to genuine information, at least not online. In many ways, the main effort of Tibetan exile media seems to be to keep the awareness alive, that Tibet isn’t necessarily what China says it is.

    But hey, there are books online, too!
    http://books.google.com – you might enter something like Tibetan conflict, for starters.
    I wish I could spend more time in Bremen University’s library. Twice or three times a year, I’m basically camping out there, for a weekend.

    1. JR, Du bist so verruckt, ich bin total ueberzeugt von dein Herrschaft des Netz im sino-tibetisches Raum, weisst du? OK, dann, jetzt kann ich ein bisschen klarer sagen: vielen, herzlichen Dank dafuer! Ich hab’ offensichtlich nicht so viel Kenntnis in diesem Art und deswegen deine Hilfe ganz nutzlich, erfolgreich, und willkommen ist. Und das Bibliotek beim Uni-Bremen sehr schoen muss sein, weil jedem grosse Bibliotek so ist, doch, auch im diktaturische Gesellschaften, besonders in Peking, wo ich, hoffentlich, eine zukunftliche Reise machen koennen, und sofort. Stimmt, dann, ja? Bitte entschuldigung meinetwegen fuer die viele Fehler die ich hier geschreiben habe, ich bin nur ein bisschen, wie ein Tempo-Strich Mahlers, “Lebhaft bewegt.”

  3. Adam, ich glaube, es gibt wirklich nicht allzu viel Info über Tibet im Internet. Mit tibetischen Sprachkenntnissen könnte man viel mehr lesen (vermute ich).
    Die Bremer “Staats- und Unibibliothek” ist wirklich sehr schön – aber im Gegensatz zu meiner Studentenzeit gibt es dort jetzt keinen Raucherraum mehr. Vielleicht macht man sich Sorgen um die Farbe der Blätter in den Büchern.
    Wie auch immer – das Internet ist eine gute Sache, aber ohne Bücher geht es auch nicht.

    Ich freue mich schon auf weitere Tibet-Posts auf deinem Blog.

    1. JR, Dein Antwort freut mich sehr — aber, fuer Rauchern zumindestens, dein Nachtricht aus dem Staats- und Unibibliotek ist so schade! War Fritz Nietzsche oder der grosse Komponist Robert Schumann von Tabak verboten im Arbeitszeit, im schaffenden Raum, eigentlich? Im neunzehnjahrhundert war ein Paar Dingen schoen.

      1. In meinem schaffenden Raum kann ich rauchen, so viel ich will! Aber eben nicht in einer öffentlichen Bibliothek.

        Eine Symphonie ist leider noch nicht dabei herausgekommen – egal, wie viel ich rauche.

  4. Thank you so much for your research into this and commentary! Dechen Pemba’s blog is certainly one that I have been starting to get acquainted with, which I’m very glad for. The India Times has proven to be especially insightful —- and has offered some of the best commentary on the election of Lobsang Sangay in the long-awaited Kalon Tripa elections. I am continuing to follow this story as well in between my “capstoning” and other research papers and presentations I am writing. Hence the lag time between post, comment, and my responses just now.
    Regardless, the political and symbolic significance of this election DOES pose to have some interesting consequences inside Tibet…you know, it’s been slated as an ect signaling democracy and political sovereignty acting relatively indepently of both India and its government system AND, of course, in direct binary opposition with the CCP and all of the paradigms granted to it by the Western media, both “deserved” and “oversimplified.”
    In short after this long, elliptical commentary thanks a ton for the extra resources. They should continue to be quite useful.
    By the way: With regard to the video first posted by the VOA, the same link has since been posted on such websites as the Economist…

    1. With regard to the video first posted by the VOA, the same link has since been posted on such websites as the Economist…
      It actually originates from the VoA, doesn’t it?

      1. That’s what I thought, too. Need to read up the thread a bit to see who you are quoting!

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