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Tweeting the truth
Tsering Woeser continues to search for the Tibetan dream with her blogs and tweets even as China turns her life into a nightmare.
On June 19, while Tsering Woeser and her husband Wang Lixiong were walking on Cuiwei Road in Beijing, their path was blocked by eight personnel of the state security bureau. The men took the couple to their home and told them to stay put. To make sure that Woeser and Lixiong don't go out, policemen in plainclothes were placed outside their building and by the elevator. Woeser's latest house arrest happened just days before a group of foreign journalists went on a state-sponsored trip to Tibet. Some of the journalists had met Woeser before leaving for Lhasa.
Born in Tibet in 1966, Woeser is a poet, writer, blogger and chronicler of Tibetan life and history. Above all, she is a truth seeker. She brings out the facts that are blocked by the state media. She revives those memories that are forbidden in China. "Chinese authorities seem concerned that my views will contradict the rosy picture that they want to present via an approved itinerary and scripted encounters meant to project an image of happy Tibetans living happy lives, " Woeser said, after she was placed under house arrest.
As a little girl growing up in the windswept plateau, Woeser was told stories about how the Red Army had come to liberate Tibet. Her father, a Tibetan who was a member of Communist Party, moved the family to Sichuan, where Woeser was raised in Chinese circles. She almost forgot Tibet as she inhaled air thick with propaganda. "I used to believe the army came to Tibet to set Tibetans free, " she said in 2008.
Chasing her Chinese dream, Woeser came out of the Southwest University for Nationalities in Chengdu as an apolitical poet. "My way of thinking was not based on reality, " she once said. But in 1999, as Woeser moved to Lhasa to work with a state-supported journal, she came face to face with the reality in Tibet, and her poetry began to turn political. She started documenting the Tibetan life under the Chinese rule. In 2003, she published a book 'Notes on Tibet', exposing the Chinese atrocities on Tibetan people. The book was banned for "political errors" and Woeser was asked to condemn her own writing. When she refused, she was fired from her job, her pension was frozen.
Back in Beijing, Woeser took to blogging in 2005. Through her blogs and tweets, she began telling the stories of environmental damage and prostitution in Tibet and how the train to Lhasa was flooding the region with Chinese migrants, and she became a voice of millions of Tibetans. "The plight of Tibetans has for a long time been silent. Our voices have been replaced by others, who speak out and talk in our place. Thus, I report the real situation in my writings, " she wrote on her blog, which has become one of the main sources of news about Tibet.
Woeser has a paid heavy personal price for the cause she believes in. Her books have been banned, her blogs hijacked and her online identities hacked into and stolen. She is under constant surveillance and her movements are sometimes restricted. According to the International Women's Media Foundation, Woeser's family and friends have been threatened, detained and interrogated because of her work. "At least thirteen of Woeser's friends have been held in prison by the Chinese government, in part for providing information about the human rights abuses in Tibet that inform Woeser's reporting, " said an IWMF statement in March, when it gave the Courage in Journalism Award to her.
But Woeser could not travel to Washington to receive the award as she was denied a passport by the Chinese government. But despite the constant surveillance and harassment, Woeser has not stopped seeking and reporting the truth. She is seen as a hero by the Tibetans living in exile, including the Dalai Lama himself. Her blogs and tweets have become the most reliable source of information on Tibet. And Woeser knows what she is doing. "There is no room for the dreams of Tibetans in the 'Chinese dream', " she said in a recent interview. And she continues to give expression to those dreams.
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