Carrying Tibet on their shoulders

Updated: Feb 21, 2019

Nyima Tso – PEN Tibet’s General Secretary – gave me a book in Tibetan language and said: "We managed to get it out of Tibet; we printed it here, in India; we will now ship it inside the country and distribute it in between the Tibetan community in exile". I need to concentrate and imagine: the writer who wrote the book in hiding, the network of monasteries and other organizations that managed to get the book outside of Tibet, under Chinese’s military boot... And continue imagining then, the reading in exile; the precious value of the words stolen from censorship; the transmission of Tibetan language and literature to new generations as the best way to resist ruthless occupation.

Lhoudup Palsang (President of PEN Tibet in Exile), Lokdun, (Vicepresident), and Nyma Tso (General Secretary).

Buddha Kyab told me that he left his job at the Ministry of Education and now works restlessly writing children’s books, given that exile-schools need them but there are no authors who can do so. Lokdun – an academic – recounts that despite all difficulties; they try to approach the families of imprisoned writers to encourage them, to tell them that their relatives receive letters from PEN colleagues around the world supporting them. Lhoudup Palsang introduced me to a monk who has developed software to create websites and mobile applications in Tibetan language, and who runs a team formed by lexicographers and experts in high technology.

Tibetan Keyboard.

Tsering Tsomo – social sciences researcher – told me: "We are very grateful to PEN International for its Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights. It has given us the language to describe our situation and to claim the universality of our linguistic rights. Inasmuch as all linguistic communities have the same rights. Tibetan too!"; whilst she showed the report of the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy, which she herself directs. The report is entitled: Bilingual education in Tibet. The systematic replacement of Tibetan by Mandarin Chinese. Because this is what it is all about, the replacement of one language by another; starting by delegitimizing it as a language of knowledge to its speakers, which is a simple process: teaching Tibetan through Chinese language, showing how Tibetan works in Chinese ... to children whose mother tongue is Tibetan. Is that absurd? The final objective being to replace in children’s minds the value of their own language for the foreign one. Simply check Tibetan alphabet letters explained by Chinese ideograms. Destroy the language – the aggressor thinks – to destroy the culture and faith that resist them, along with it.

The cover of the report, with Tibetan and Chinese characters.

However, resistance continues to be invincible; despite the destruction of old temples and libraries, despite the scattered landscapes, despite imprisonment and daily torture. As an example, this man, the founder and director of a website about Tibetan literature, who was imprisoned and sentenced to fifteen years in 2009. Visit this website:, and take a walk along Tibetan writing; the language that from ancient times has translated all the great texts of Sanskrit; and think about this man – Kunchok Tsephel Gopey Tsang – who has now been in jail for eight years for promoting his language and literature. Also today – on Mother Tongue’s International Day – you can also take part on PEN America’s campaign in defense of Tashi Wangchuk, who has been imprisoned for denouncing the persecution of Tibetans’ language rights on an interview with the New York Times.

The Dalai Lama told Jennifer Clement – President of PEN International – and me: "Thanks for your support to Tibetan writers. Thanks for your support of our literature in exile" and then he added "Practice having a peaceful mind to get a compassionate world." I try to see this compassion in the eyes of China violence against the Tibetan people; I try to imagine this indestructible compassion as an extreme form of resistance.

Their names are Lokdun, Nyma Tso Buddha Kyab, Lhoudup Palsang, Tsering Tsomo ... They all fled from Tibet when they were young. They all crossed the Himalayas, got lost, almost died of cold and exhaustion; they finally got to Nepal and were turned back by the border police, risking detention by the Chinese authorities, risking being imprisoned and tortured. They all risked their lives and continue risking them in exile. Some of them are monks or nuns, or have been in the past for three, seven, eleven years ... Some of them are poets, scientists, essayists, novelists, journalists, bloggers, or singers.

Suddenly we found ourselves being part of a wonderful evening of celebrations, of poetry, singing and Tibetan dance. They are more than seventy people. They carry Tibet on their shoulders. They are the Tibetan PEN Center in exile.

This article is in English:

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#Tibet #Rights #Linguistic #MotherTongue #Language #Exile #PENTibet

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