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.