Lhasa in the Cultural Revolution: A Photo Essay

Tsering Woeser presents her father’s photographs of Tibetan struggle sessions

In her new book Forbidden Memory: Tibet During the Cultural Revolution, the Tibetan essayist and poet Tsering Woeser dissects the impact of China’s Cultural Revolution on Lhasa, her birthplace, five decades ago. This photo essay features 18 of the more than 300 photos in the book, accompanied by Woeser’s comments (translated by Susan Chen); these are based on her interviews with Tibetans and Chinese in Lhasa who lived through the events shown in the photos. All of the photos were taken by Woeser’s father, Tsering Dorje (1937-91), who was a PLA officer and photographer serving in Lhasa in the early 1960s. His photos, which came to light only after his death, are the only known visual records of the struggle sessions, humiliation parades, and mass rallies staged during the Cultural Revolution in Tibet. For our previously published interview with Tsering Woeser about her book and her father’s photographs, please read here. – Robbie Barnett



Red Guards in Tibet

Robert Barnett and Susan Chen talk to Tsering Woeser

Ed: In her new book Forbidden Memory: Tibet During the Cultural Revolution, Tibetan author Tsering Woeser dissects the impacts of China’s Cultural Revolution on Tibet. In this interview the book’s editor, Robert Barnett, together with its translator Susan Chen, speak with Woeser about the English-language version of her book and the enduring significance of the photos taken by her father, Tsering Dorje. Later this week we will also be publishing a photo essay featuring a selection of Dorje’s photographs.

When Tibet was taken over by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in 1950, the Chinese officials sent to run Tibet initially made few changes to its society, culture or administration. But, as with most revolutions since the 18th century, in time the Chinese Communist project in Tibet turned to the use of terror. Initially, this took the form of Robespierrean public education – mass imprisonment and executions – but by the mid-1960s the dominant form of political violence had become the ritualized humiliation of teachers, scholars, landlords and others whom the revolutionaries identified as their enemies. These “struggle sessions” and “speaking bitterness” events, along with ultra-leftist policies, factional conflict, and rebellions, were defining features of the Cultural Revolution in both Tibet and China from May 1966 until the death of Mao in September 1976, ten years later.