Tsering Woeser was born in Lhasa in 1966, the daughter of a senior officer in the Chinese army. She became a passionate supporter of the Dalai Lama. When she was very young the family moved to Tibetan towns inside China proper. In school, only Chinese was used, but Tibetan “became the language of conversation,” according to Columbia’s Robert Barnett, who writes the extremely informative and wide-ranging introduction to Voices from Tibet. He suggests that when she was a child, “everything around her would have emphasized her identity as a citizen of a new and thrusting Chinese state…. Almost everything Tibetan would probably have been regarded as opaque and backward.”
After attending the university in Sichuan, Woeser was assigned to work as an editor at the official Tibetan Branch of the Chinese Writers’ Association in Lhasa. She began writing poems, but always in Chinese—still her only written language—and slowly, according to Barnett, she developed “an engagement with Tibetan landscape, history and people.” Throughout the Eighties, the official denunciations of the Dalai Lama, who had fled Tibet in 1959, became more savage; and this, Barnett assumes, must have deeply disturbed Woeser: “Woeser’s poems in the late 1990s increasingly hint, through indirect language and veiled images, at the strains of living in Tibet under those conditions.” Still, inside China her poems were praised as signs of cultural pride, thus playing into the Chinese concept of Tibet as an exotic place, part of “the treasure-house of Chinese literature and culture.”
By 2003 Woeser was writing essays about how ordinary Tibetans felt about Chinese rule and expressing sympathy for Tibetan exiles abroad. They were published briefly and then banned; soon she was dismissed from her job for sympathizing with the Dalai Lama. She moved to Beijing
and began a new career as a solitary, unpaid, unofficial spokeswoman for Tibetan dissidents within China…and then as a commentator on the Internet and in the foreign media. She became the first and only Tibetan living in China to survive as a public critic of Chinese policy without being arrested.
Woeser now has a Twitter account that she uses frequently; she has over 47,000 followers, many of them in China.
Wang Lixiong, Woeser’s husband, was born in 1953, the son of a manager at a car factory where one of his employees is said to have been Jiang Zemin, China’s future president. Barnett suggests that this connection may have helped him escape persecution for his condemnation of the Chinese occupation in Tibet. What is clear is Wang’s contempt for the Tibetans he finds incapable of thinking for themselves while the Dalai Lama is still alive, and others who have corrupted themselves under Chinese rule. Wang’s scorn centers on the temptations and corruptions of Tibetans today:
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