Remembering a Battered Buddha (Notes)

Tromsikhang Market  Barnett reports that “in 1993 an orange−colored concrete building had been constructed with 1,800 stalls, the largest purpose−built shopping center in Tibet” (72). At the outbreak of the unrest in March 2008, it was badly damaged by fire.

to buy droma  The root of a fern plant, somewhat resembling the sweet potato and typically boiled for food.

a fragmentary chorten  The Tibetan chorten is “a bell−shaped monument encasing relics and offerings, sometimes built for protection against harmful influences” (Alexander 319). What seems to be described here is a small−scale model suitable for indoor use. Woeser uses the Chinese word 佛塔 fota. In the photographs that were posted with this poem on her blog it appears that the chorten was broken off at the base, and the beast and the Buddha are both resting on that base.

Had to be the Cultural Revolution  In 1966, the year of Woeser’s birth, Mao Zedong appealed directly to the Chinese masses (and in particular to youth) to reignite the revolution. Initially, this seems to have been a maneuver against members of the Politburo who he feared might soon, in the aftermath of Mao’s disastrous Great Leap Forward, follow the example of Khrushchev’s colleagues and depose him. The movement thus unleashed soon spiraled out of control and led to hysterical cruelty and destruction on an epic scale. MacFarquhar and Schoenhals provide an excellent one−volume history of the political machinations. Chen Jo−Hsi recreated the epoch in unforgettable fiction. Jung Chang’s popular memoir offers a vivid and personal insight into the era. Although exploration of this history is officially discouraged, some Chinese are trying to compile records while eyewitnesses are still alive; see for example the project of Wang Youqin at the University of Chicago.

Although the Cultural Revolution proposed the annihilation of ‘the four olds’ (old ideas, customs, culture, and habits) throughout the PRC, the devastation proved especially far−reaching and systematic in Tibet, for reasons which Tsering Shakya analyzes (321-323). Tibetans’ participation in the violence suggests to Wang Lixiong (“Reflections”) that they were glad to exchange the gods of their religion for the new god named Mao; Wang has been sharply rebutted by Tsering Shakya (“Blood”).

As a military officer in Lhasa, Woeser’s father took many black−and−white photographs during the era. He was a good photographer and was of sufficiently high rank not to be challenged when he took pictures of mass rallies, struggle sessions, and truckloads of condemned prisoners. The negatives came into Woeser’s possession after his death in 1991. Seven years later, after reading a book by Wang Lixiong, she offered him the photographs. He told her they were a unique and irreplaceable record of a history which some wanted very much to be forgotten. She then quietly identified some of the figures in the photographs and managed to interview many who were still alive. The resulting book, which combines Woeser’s reporting with her father’s photographs, is one of the best resources for understanding the Cultural Revolution’s impact on Tibet. It was published in Taiwan as 杀劫 (sha jie, ‘kill and loot’), with an English title Forbidden Memory for ease of reference. The Chinese title alludes to the fact that the term ‘cultural revolution,’ when translated into Tibetan (rik né sar jé), sounded like the Chinese words renlei shajie, “killing and plundering humanity.”

Jiangxi  A relatively poor province in southeastern China. The peddler was more than 1,300 miles from home.

wouldn’t budge from three thousand  Renminbi, that is. At contemporary exchange rates, this price was about four hundred (U.S.) dollars. On a purchasing−power−parity basis, it was about four times as much.