Tragyal was detained on April 23, 2010 from his home in Xining following the publication of his now-banned book, ‘The Line between Sky and Earth.’ The book is a strong indictment of Chinese policies in Tibet and a discussion of events since March, 2008, in which he describes Tibet becoming “a place of terror” and gives a detailed analysis of the 2008 spring protests as a re-awakening of Tibetan national consciousness and solidarity. Tragyal’s arrest is one of the most significant in the context of a broadening crackdown on Tibetan writers, artists and educators since protests against the Chinese state began in March, 2008.
According to ICT sources, Tragyal has been described as achieving the status of a “hero” among Tibetans and his book is selling widely underground. Tragyal is being detained in Xining No. 1 Detention Center according to various sources but is family have not been allowed to see him yet, not even to take food. Tragyal suffers from various chronic ailments, such as kidney stones and stomach problems, but the delivery of his medication to him has not been permitted. The family’s popular bookshop, 1+1 in Xining was closed on April 15 and copies of Tragyal’s book seized.
In a report yesterday, Tragyal’s daughter Yeshi Tsomo said that the trial appeared to be delayed, and was quoted by Radio Free Asia as saying: “The police told us that his case is quite special because it has to do with different ethnicities.” (Radio Free Asia, August 11).
A Western scholar who has read the book in Tibetan and who asked not to be named described it as the most daring and wide-ranging critique of China’s policies in Tibet since the 10th Panchen Lama’s famous ‘70,000-character petition’ addressed to Mao Zedong in 1962. Shogdung openly reflects in his book on the risk he is taking by writing it: “I have written of four fears, the fear of contemplating the cruelty of the régime, fear of the danger of government and individuals falling into extreme nationalism, fear for one’s own life and wellbeing, and fear for the future, and at this point, I have one more fear. I am naturally terrified at the thought that once this essay has been made public, I will eventually have to endure the hot hells and cold hells on earth. I may ‘lose my head because of my mouth,’ but this is the path I have chosen, so the responsibility is mine.”
Tragyal’s detention is particularly significant because he is a well-established editor and an ‘official intellectual’ whose views have been seen by many Tibetans as close to the Party and the Chinese state. This was since he wrote an article in 1999 denouncing Buddhism and Tibetan people’s profound religiosity as an impediment to development.
In a letter written in Chinese to his employer clarifying why he wrote his new book and dated April 15, Tragyal explains: “This book represents the view of an intellectual about the ‘March 14, 2008’ events. The first part mainly contains my feelings regarding the tragedy of March 14. After the tragedy occurred, the life of the people and their goods have suffered great damage, and I have expressed my sadness at that. Nationality matters are very serious ones. If they cannot be solved in a proper way, then violence and violent incidents may arise. From the bottom of my heart, I am very preoccupied by this and very frightened too.
“I believe that the problem of the Tibetan nationality is complicated and urgent. If it is not solved in accordance with the people’s thoughts, things difficult to fathom may occur. This is why, based on Article 35 of the [Chinese] Constitution that states that the society enjoys the right of free speech and of publishing, I put this right into practice and I expressed my ideas. My hope is that the Tibet issue can be resolved in the best way, by the core principles of kind heart, tolerance, freedom, equality, human rights and human values.”
In ‘The Line between Sky and Earth’ (Tibetan: gnam sa go ‘byed), Tragyal apologizes for his previous writings and for his failure to speak out in the months following the protests that swept across Tibet from March, 2008, saying, “When at leisure to do so, I have stated that ‘Freedom is a hundred and a thousand times more valuable than my own life, and I will fight for it,’ with as much bravado as you please, yet this year, when Tibetans were staging a peaceful revolution for the sake of freedom, I shrivelled up, saying and doing nothing, and acting unconcerned. This was not out of stupidity, perversity or cunning, neither was it an outward display of integrity or discretion. It was because, one, I was quite unprepared, two, I was scared for myself, three, I was worried about what I stood to lose: ultimately, I was in fear for my own personal wellbeing.”
Tragyal is one of a group of intellectuals who have contributed to the translation and publication, into Tibetan, of such works of Western literature as Rousseau’s “The Confessions,” Montaigne’s “Essays,” and other writings. He and other Tibetan intellectuals in the area particularly relate to the works of Czech writers Vaclav Havel and Milan Kundera, whose works were banned by the Communist regimes of Czechoslovakia until the downfall of the regime in the Velvet Revolution in 1989.
The Western scholar who has read the book in Tibetan explained why Tragyal’s book is so important: “It draws from some historical written sources that have appeared recently, to expose the deafening silence of contemporary China’s historiography and ignorance of the sufferings experienced by scores of Tibetans during the decade that followed the entry of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army on Tibetan territory, in the 1950s. It summarises the deep frustration felt by most Tibetans at their feeling of powerlessness in a theoretically multi-national state, which in reality plays scant attention and shows little respect for cultural values of its ‘minorities.'”
Tragyal’s daughter, Yeshi Tsomo, 25, was quoted by the New York Times today as saying: “I’ve read the book again and again, but I don’t see anything that breaks the law. I fear the government won’t care because they probably don’t like the idea behind the book.” (New York Times – August 11).
The book, which is based on a thorough knowledge of the Western world’s intellectual history, ends with an explanation of the concept of ‘civil disobedience’ and its rightful applicability to Tibetans in China today. Tragyal also makes a passionate appeal for peace and for Tibetans to follow a path of non-violence. He gives a vivid account of his fears for the future, including of the outcome of extreme Chinese nationalism, as well as a more personal and existential terror of his own imprisonment, writing: “It scares me to think how my basically unwell body would cope just with deprivation of food and sleep, never mind the sufferings of the hottest and coldest hells. At that time, when your life depends on what story you can tell, there is a good chance that you might disgrace yourself, weep and wail, and while pleading for leniency and forgiveness, mention a few names. It is terrifying to think that there is no certainty that one’s determination never to become a lackey of the régime would not be shaken from the foundations. So it is that just thinking about a single aspect of the dictators’ torture methods brings terrible and unending fear. Whether this is because of my cowardice, or thinking I know all about what I have never experienced is uncertain, but fear is fear, and there may not even be an explanation for it.”
In his book, Tragyal pays tribute to the heroism of Tibetans from all walks of life since March, 2008, writing: “Last year’s large-scale revolution was something I had never even dreamed of and that came without warning. […] When the Tibetan people came out of nowhere on an active quest for freedom, rights and democracy, it left me astounded. We are always going on about awareness, about courage, but for it to manifest visibly and tangibly in a short time was unimaginable.”
Tragyal is the most high-profile of some 31 writers, bloggers, intellectuals and others now in prison after reporting or expressing views, writing poetry or prose, or simply sharing information about Chinese government policies and their impact in Tibet today. (ICT report, A ‘Raging Storm’: The Crackdown on Tibetan Writers and Artists after Tibet’s Spring 2008 Protests).