Testimony of a Tibetan in exile, part one

This is the first of a series of interviews with Tibetan refugees who have recently escaped from occupied-Tibet, and arrived India in early 2023. Their testimonies give insight into a life without freedom under the ruling Chinese government. 

In the first interview, Tibet Watch spoke to a man in his mid 20s from Kham, eastern Tibet, who worked as a chef. In his interview, he recounted a range of experiences about life under occupation and his arrest and detention. This interview is his words but has been edited for security and clarity. His name has also been withheld.

Since this testimony is extensive and covers various aspects of life in Tibet, we have split it into three sections. The first part details how the Chinese Communist Party’s policies in occupied Tibet are driving the Tibetan language out of schools and prompted mass demolitions in the Tibetan Buddhist community of Larung Gar.

Personal background

In 2010, I learned how to cook from a relative in our village and since then, I worked as chef/sous-chef at restaurants in different towns and cities of Tibet. I faced many difficulties finding a livelihood as a cook and also saw others go through many challenges.

View of mountains in Kham from a the train to Lhasa (thelandofsnows,com)

Tibetan language instruction is being phased out of schools

There is only one primary school in our village and no school for secondary and high school education. We are mostly taught in the Chinese language except for one Tibetan class. Then there is one government-run, county-level “Tibetan language school”, but this is just a name; most of the teaching is done in Chinese.

Since there are fewer schools with Tibetan as the language of instruction, Tibetan students prefer not to go to school in my area. 

Demolitions and removals at Larung Gar Buddhist Academy

During my stay at Larung Gar [a large monastic community located in eastern Tibet] from 2016 to 2019,  I saw the forced eviction of monks and nuns, and the destruction of monks’ residences. 

Larung Gar Buddhist Academy

When I asked my friends why they [the demolition workers] were doing this, they told me that  they were told it was because of excessive residential homes in the monastery. But I don’t know the real reason behind this. Between 2016 to 2017, the Monastic Management Committee and security personnel visited the monastery and instructed: “These and these residences must be cleared”, and monks and nuns of those marked residences were asked to return home.

Later on, they came with bulldozers to tear down the residences. I remember, most of the evicted monks and nuns happened to be from different areas in the Tibet Autonomous Region. But I don’t know what happened to them afterwards or their current situation, after their return home or somewhere else.

In 2019, they set up a checkpoint at the place between Larung Gar Monastery and the township. With two police working in rotating shifts, every visitor is checked and scrutinised. Visitors must present an identity card and temporary residence permit and have it with them all the time. I don’t know about other required documents.But most of the visitors are Chinese. Only a few are Tibetans who go to the funeral grounds of Larung Gar Monastery. And occasionally, a few western tourists come by.

They [the authorities] built many new structures in place of demolished residences. For example, they constructed eight buildings around the monastery’s corner areas, and a long staircase in the centre. A new monastic assembly hall was built, and some other residences were renovated.

There were many monks and nuns, including many lay students in 2016. But around 2018-2019, fewer than 30 percent of them were remaining at the monastery.

Information supplied by Tibet Watch

Part Two

In this section of the interview, the Tibetan refugee explains how Chinese Communist Party policies in Tibet have created an increasingly suffocating environment for those wishing to practice their religion or celebrate their culture.

Part Three

In this third section, the Tibetan refugee talks about both times he was detained. He was first arrested for burning juniper berries, a cultural practice to venerate local deities, and then detained once again after a photo of the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet, the Dalai Lama, was found on his mobile phone. He concludes by talking about his decision to leave Tibet.

We are Free Tibet, and we stand with Tibetans around the world. For their homeland, for their future and against China’s brutal occupation.