An Eye from History and Reality — Woeser and the Story of Tibet


WOESER (ཚེ་རིང་འོད་ཟེར་ / 唯色) was born in Lhasa in 1966 to a senior commander in the People’s Liberation Army. Her family moved to Kardze (Ganzi Autonomous Prefecture) in Sichuan when she was four. In Chengdu, she received a Chinese university education, studying literature at the Southwest Institute for Nationalities (Southwest University for Nationalities).

After graduation, she worked as a journalist in Kangding (Dartsedo). In 1990, she moved to Lhasa, where she was hired as an editor for the magazine Tibetan Literature. In 1999, she published her first book of poetry, Tibet Above (西藏在上).

When her collection of essays, Notes on Tibet, was published in Guangdong in 2003, it was quickly withdrawn from circulation and officially banned on account of “political errors.” A year later, she lost her job, and went into exile in Beijing. Several of her books have since been published in Taiwan, notably Forbidden Memory, a history of the Cultural Revolution in Tibet, illustrated with photographs by her father.

Woeser received the Freedom of Expression Prize from the Norwegian Authors’ Union in 2007. She continues to publish articles and commentary on Tibet online, of which some can be found on High Peaks Pure Earth. Currently, she lives in Beijing with her husband, writer and Tibetologist, Wang Lixiong. She is under surveillance and cannot travel abroad.

The editors would like to thank Robert J. Barnett for his assistance.

You studied literature and first worked as a journalist before becoming an editor for a literary journal in Lhasa. When did you discover a love for poetry as well as your own voice as a poet?

Thinking back, I have loved stories since I was a child. My earliest memory is narrating the story of the times before leaving Lhasa to a bunch of children in Tawo County, Sichuan. At that time, I was four or five. When evoking Lhasa I often invented some intrigue to attract friends. After my story-telling, I started to yearn for Lhasa.

Alas, I can now no longer locate the first poem I wrote. I remembered it was written in Tawo County. At that time, I was studying in the first year of middle school. The news broadcast the death of a famous Chinese poet one day. I felt a little sad, so wrote a few lines that resembled the arrangement of a poem. To me, that felt like a poem.

However, among the poems I now preserve, the earliest one was written in 1984. I was then already studying at the faculty of Chinese language at the Southwest University for Nationalities. I was a first-year college student. Among my classmates were students from more than ten “minority” groups and those of the Han Chinese, who were the majority. This poem is entitled “Print — For Certain Prejudices.” I vaguely remember at that time, I argued with a few Han Chinese classmates, and wrote this poem on the spot, then copied it painstakingly on the blackboard. They were shocked.

Now, revisiting this tender poem, I’m surprised that I already had a national consciousness at eighteen. Also, clearly, when I wish to express my voice, my way of expression is through writing poetry.

Print — For Certain Prejudices

Never again let
muddy water of disdain
flow from your young eyes
The print that exudes
the scent of butter tsampa
is engraved on my heart
I do not despair
even refuse your cold

a natural sense of superiority
bloats your life
But I won’t
offer a complying smile
shines on you, shines on me
On a blue planet
we are equal!


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