‘Now the Lapis Lazuli vase is smashed’: Tibetan intellectuals on the death of Liu Xiaobo

Tibetan intellectuals have posted moving tributes online to Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo, whose death on July 13, 2017 was condemned worldwide. “In a free country, such a man would be cherished as dearly as the eyes on our foreheads and hearts in our chests, but instead […] he was smashed on the rocks and broken into pieces,” wrote one.

Immediately following his death, a number of Tibetan writers posted emotional tributes to Liu Xiaobo, whose wife Liu Xia, is still missing. Most of the writers refer to him by a Tibetan term meaning of ‘great’ or ‘noble’ birth, with one blogger likening him to a bodhisattva.

Some of the writers do not name Liu Xiaobo directly given the dangers of alerting online censors and the scope of digital surveillance, and express mourning for an entire generation and society. The present era is characterized as “a dark era of long duration in which violence is the driving force in the world” in which “those befuddled in darkness are mute”.

Several express sadness that due to the systematic and oppressive measures used by the Chinese Communist Party to control information and stifle expression,[1] many young Chinese and Tibetans are simply unaware of who Liu Xiaobo is, despite the global response to his life and death. Four of these tributes, translated into English by ICT from the original Tibetan, are posted below. They were uploaded either on the day of Liu Xiaobo’s death or shortly afterwards, and were written by intellectuals in Tibet, some of whom are well-known for their writings. Their names have been withheld.

The great man has died with the light, those left in darkness are mute

A great man[2] who gave his life for the dream of his countrymen enjoying rights and equality, and had to live out his days in a prison cell. His life was spent walking alone on paths of future aspiration, living in awareness and dying in dignity. In a free country, such a man would be cherished as dearly as the eyes in our foreheads and hearts in our chests, but instead, like our [Tibetan] intellectual hero Gendun Chopel,[3] he was smashed on the rocks and broken into pieces. The infamy of Liu Xiaobo’s death has shaken the whole world, yet there is hardly anyone to mourn him. This is a clear sign that the particular community has become so inured to oppression and the darkness of dictatorship that they dare not wish for freedom, equality and rights. The noble being has died with the light, and those befuddled in darkness are mute…

A people who do not realise the value of such a great man and do not see tragedy as tragedy has scarce opportunity to march forward and their actions successful. Given this reality, when such a clear-minded hero, cognisant of past, present and future, is born among us, we would do well to bear in mind that the need to support and help him is the living lesson that history has taught us. The difficulty for great leaders to emerge is related to the absence of a tradition for nurturing them. The absence of mourners for the passing of a great man is no different from preventing a great man from being born.

July 14, 2017

Bidding farewell with tear-moistened eyes – on the death of Great Soul[4] Liu Xiaobo

Seeing a photo of him suffering on his hospital bed last week on WeChat made me so unhappy. Last night’s news of his passing on the internet made me very saddened and to weep, and left me with no words but sobs.

This great soul voluntarily took on hardship and shouldered a burden for the sake of human freedom and truth, holding aloft a lamp to illumine our minds in the midst of darkness. Taking the suffering of tens or hundreds of thousands on his own head, he kept laughing heroically in the knowledge that this was his burden to carry.

In 2008, when the black demon tied the noose, I posted an article “Liu Xiaobo and Us, or Us and Them – reflections on the courage of the Earth Rat year protests” on a website,[5] which I had sorrowfully written in the hope and trust that before long he would step back into the ring of contested ideas, and we would get to see his face again. And not only that: I harbored great hope that the day of vindication would come when he would write down a long account of his thoughts, and we would come to know all that he had been through. Now the Lapis lazuli vase is smashed, and all of that, everything, turned into something like a dream.

Today we are lighting your farewell lamp. We are reciting the Mani mantra[6] in mourning. If there is a day when the dawn will break and the sun will rise for us, we might carve your deeds on the pillar of history in glittering gold letters, and those words will shine for as long as the sun and moon remain. If there is a next life, may you great soul be reborn in a free country, and there may you live one hundred years and see one hundred autumns.

July 14, 2017

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Has the emergence of a new debate on “Modern weapons and technology in the hands of barbarians” not been validated again and again in recent years, and a new distinction between civilisation and barbarity not been inescapably drawn?

For those arrogant enough to think “Thousands of years of civilization and a fully developed modern economy, that’s me! Count me among the front runners!” to indulge in the savagery of wild animals, with no sign of the moral restraint that comes from the most basic of human values – how terrible! Thinking about this state of intoxication on the firewater of the big ‘overlord’, the winner in the law of the jungle – I despair!

The Chinese scholar Yi Zhongdian said: “Civilization is the opposite of barbarism”. Then what do we call barbarism? Can’t it but be “Barbarism is the opposite of civilization”?

July 13, 2014

Noble One

Whatever we think about an era in which calamity can fall, with uncertainty, on the heads of the noble ones, it seems to be a dark era of long duration in which violence is the driving force in the world. Noble ones, who regard no one as enemies and consider all living beings as their relatives and friends, strive on this earth with undaunted resolve to bring about an era of light, while the forces of barbarism devise unendurable trials to obstruct them, even robbing them of their lives.

Even when the noble ones depart the human world, they cannot bear to abandon the welfare of their relatives and friends, and their courageous spirit filters back into the human realm; it filters through the opening in the mind of the moral sense of cause and effect in each one of us.

[No date given]


Footnotes:
[1] For a detailed look at the implications of digital and other surveillance in Tibet and China today see Gabriel Lafitte’s blog, posted on July 15 (2017) at http://rukor.org/making-sincerity-mandatory/

[2] The translator noted that most of the writers refer to Liu Xiaobo as a ‘Kye Chen’ in Tibetan, which is translated here as ‘great’ or ‘noble birth’. One piece likens him to a bodhisattva, a Sanskrit term that refers to a being who can attain the state of Buddhahood, but delays doing so out of compassion to save suffering sentient beings. The Dalai Lama is believed to be the manifestation of the Bodhisattva of Compassion.

[3] A Tibetan writer, scholar and artist from Amdo who died in 1951 who was an important and inspiring figure in contemporary Tibetan society.

[4] The Tibetan term used here is Sempa Chenpo, which is a translation of the Sanksrit term Mahatma, meaning Great Soul

[5] The author names a Tibetan language website.

[6] This refers to the mantra associated with the Bodhisattva of Compassion, ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’, which is commonly carved onto rocks, known as mani stones, or else it is written on paper which is inserted into prayer wheels.

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