Author: Hortsang Jigme
Reviewer: Xiaoxiao Sun
This article is organized in three parts: the “abstract” has provided a brief introduction of Hortsang Jigme’s life under Chinese control before he escaped to India; the “review” has examined each chapter’s story-telling and made summary and comments accordingly; the “open question” includes my thoughts based on a comprehensive understanding of the book, and also, on an approach of reading beyond the text.
This autobiography is written by Hortsang Jigme, a Tibetan-in-exile, telling his story from 1967 (his birth) to 1992 (his escape from China). He was born in Hortsang, Amdo, a village 60 kilometersfrom Labrang Sangchu town (chin. Xiahe) in 1967. Before 1980, he stayed in his village most of the time except a short journey to Tika, Blue Lake area (tib. Kokonor; chin. Qing Hai Hu?) in 1977 and a pilgrimage to Kokonor in 1979. In 1980, he went to Labrang, Gansu to study Buddhism, but was interrupted by Chinese new policy shortly after and was forced to go back home. In 1983, he passed Labrang’s entrance exam and resumed his study but was expelled in the same year due to his undisciplined behavior. Then in 1985, he resumed Buddhist study again in Labrang, this time privately. He was admitted to the newly founded Higher Institute of Buddhist Studies (Nang Ten Lobtha) in Gansu province in 1986. In 1987, he started writing commentary and poem but was soon prohibited by Labrang authority. In 1990 he entered Chinese Tibetan Higher Institute of Buddhist Studies in Beijing, and was labeled “splitting wrenches” after a students’ demonstration in 1991. He graduated in 1992, went back to hometown, and escaped to Kathmandu, Nepal through Lhasa and Dram (chin. Zhang Mu).
His account has been said to be written to accuse the Chinese oppression on Tibetans. Nevertheless, the stories haven’t been limited to this single purpose. A huge part of his narrative has been devoted to criticism of the cruel Tibetan commoners, as well as the conservative and suppressive monastic authority.
Intro & Preface p1-4
The author has started the book saying that Tibetan has stories that belong to “a lost country. He then compares the “reality” of China with that of a western society, indicating that killing even a piglet in western world would be sued, while the killing of the Tibetan people by the Chinese has never been challenged. Thus, the author appeals for the readers’ compassion.
In the preface, the author expresses his apprehension of writing and publishing his own life story, since in Tibetan tradition, only “reincarnate Lamas within a religious context and those of noble birth within a political context” have been permitted to write their biographies. Despite the tradition, he tries to legitimize his writing on three reasons. First, his suffering under the Chinese rule made him fearless. Second, he has seen the wonderful life in developed countries and felt it totally opposite to his old experience, thus, wanted to record such distinction. Third, when nowadays people make documentaries even for animals, he considers it unproblematic to record his own life.
From the beginning of the book, the phrase “a lost country (1),” clearly shows the author’s political stance of advocating an independent Tibet. Since Hortsang has compared the Chinese people’s cruelty with the western society’s justice, I assume the prospective readers of this book are the westerner who may feel sympathetic to the Tibetan cause.
I admit that the Tibetan biography tradition has long restrained commoners from recording their own narrative. However, from 1959 onward, biographies and autobiographies written by commoners have flourished due to the antagonism between the PRC and the CTA discourse. Based on the fact that so many ordinary Tibetans have been encouraged to claim their suffering after the escape from China, the author’s declaration that “if ordinary people write about their lives, their luck will run out, their lives will be shortened and they will experience many bad things (3)” seems more likely a way to seek sympathy.
Moreover, when the author has noted that “my ancestors gave me more than enough gifts of superstition to ensure that I would lack the confidence to write my autobiography,” the term of “superstition” as a substitution of Tibetan Buddhism surprised me. It indicates the author’s irreverent attitude towards the popular Buddhism belief. Such attitude will be further proved in his following chapters.
Chapter 1 Grandma p6-7
In the first story, Hortsang briefly introduces the household of his family. He held intimate relationship with his older grandma until she died in 1972, at the age of 91.
The narrative in which Hortsang has described his dream the night before his grandma’s death sheds light on a Tibetan value system that emphasizes the dream’s predictive function. In the dream, he saw a girl taking his grandma away. Also, the vivid account of his dream, in which a beautiful young girl in chuba (Tibetan cloak) and fox fur hat carried his grandma away with a big water barrel (7), adds a strong exotic sense to the story.
Another interesting factor that might raise an anthropologist’s attention is the kinship term. Whom he called “older grandma” was his grandfather’s mother, while whom he call “younger grandma” was his grandfather’s sister (6). This differentiates from the modern kinship term in which “younger” and “older grandma” are to be called “grandmother” and “great-grandmother.” However, the meaning behind these terminologies requires further research.
Chapter 2 My First Steps p9-11
Hortsang’s mother is Lhamo Tso, who gave birth to him when she was 20. His biological father was imprisoned by the Chinese, became ill, and died shortly after his birth. His mother then married his stepfather, Wangchen, and had three more daughters.
His childhood was mostly carefree until the age of six or seven when his life turned to misery. He describes three aspects. First, he joined street fights with other kids that were instigated by some unemployed old men, and was always severely wounded. Second, children at that time always suffered from hunger, thirst, and illness. When the livestock was slaughtered and the meat was divided, since his father died and no one was there taking care of him, he could only see other children eating meat with their fathers. Third, he was always unfairly chastised and blamed by people in his village including his own mother.
The author’s intention to de-romanticize the western’s “Shangri-la” stereotype of Tibet is clearly shown in this story. The direct maltreatment was not from the Chinese but from his fellow Tibetans, which has led to his conclusion that:
Those who care for the poor and weak out of love and compassion are few in any human race. To hear Tibetans described as religious and good people, more compassionate and kind than other people, does not go down very well in my ears and I have never believed it (10).
The description of Tibetans’ own misdeed has distinguished Hortsang’s narrative from most exiles’ accusatory accounts which mainly criticize the Chinese. Is this because he has been writing in an absolutely sincere way? Or has he realized the potential danger of a “religious and virtuous” Tibetan image and tried to write from a different perspective to contradict such image?
Chapter 3 The Second Great Famine p12-14
The second famine occurred from the early 1960s to the end of 1970s. He has attributed the disaster to the Chinese coercive policy that replaced free trade with “ration cards” system. The hunger caused discord within his family.
As the first sentence of this chapter has noted, “In 1958 communist China invaded and occupied eastern Tibet or Amdo, which is where I come from (12).” Comparing his account with Tsering Shakya’s more scholarly historical analysis may shed new light on our understanding of this period of time. Shakya (1999) has noted that:
In August 1958, Gonbo Tashi and his men had attacked PLA troops in Nyemo, an area south-east of Lhasa, killing 700 Chinese soldiers… Most of the remote areas, stretching from Chamdo in the east to the borders of India in the south, were under the control of Khampa resistance groups (179).
Based on Shakya’s information and Hortsang’s map of Tibet (Horstang: 5), most area of Amdo in 1958 should have been under the control of Khampa guerilla forces. In August 1958, CCP was busy demanding the Lhasa government finding ways to get rid of the Khampas (Shakya: 180). Before long, “the Khashag appointed Tsipon Namseling Paljor Jigme to hear a delegation to negotiate the disarming of the Khampas (182).”
In short, the power comparison might be different from what Hortsang’s account has implied. Due to some factors, such historical context has not been counted by Horstang in his biography. However, it is necessary for scholars to refer to other historical materials in order to see the whole picture, and examine what has been ignored or understated in the text.
Chapter 4 Under the Blue Sky p.15-16
When he was 10, the author and his mother collected and sold firewood to earn their living, while they had to finish the government’s obligatory work at the same time. Under the burdensome work, his mother once wept and said, “Under the blue sky, we are the mother and son who in this world must suffer without end,” which is the origin of the book’s title.
While selling the firewood to the local officials’ house, the people who were to purchase the wood always made them wait for a long time and offered low price (16). Was such merciless behavior conducted by the servants of official or the officials themselves? Were the officials Chinese or Tibetan?
Chapter 5 “Empty Steps Taken to One’s Destination, Empty Rope Brought back Home.” (A Sad Death) p.17-19
In 1975, after suffering health problem from years of food shortage, Hortsang’s grandfather died. As required by custom, the family of the deceased had to offer food to all members of the community at the funeral. While they had nothing but only Y 24 and felt desperate, a stranger offered a “good deal” and defrauded them of all the money.
It was the fellow Tibetan who took advantage of the author’s family at their most difficult time. Who should be blamed? Did the social environment lead to the deterioration of the Tibetan people? Was “the good Tibetan” nothing but a beautiful imaginary?
Chapter 6 My Mother’s Life p.20-24
Hortsang’s mother bore the heaviest domestic and governmental labor, including collecting firewood, fetching water, carrying manure to the field, removing the weeds by hand, and harvesting. The overloaded labor caused severe damage to his mother’s back and hands.
The detailed description of his mother’s hands is astounding. “My mother’s hands were like a horse’s hoof altered into the shape of a palm and fingers, as calloused and horny as a goat’s horn (23).” It is vivid and persuasive.
Chapter 7 “The Sun is Unmoved.” (A Supposedly Happy New Years Eve) p.25-27
In this story, Hortsang’s family’s losar (Tibetan New Year) experience in 1975 was told. On the night before the New Year’s Eve, a group of Chinese and Tibetan officials came to Hortsang’s house to investigate “suspicious religious artifacts.” Not being able to find anything, one of the officials accused the author’s younger grandmother of reciting mani (Tibetan Buddhist prayers) and beat her, while the “prayers” was actually caused by the never-healing sore that made her mouth quiver all the time. In order to save the grandma, the family paid all their food saved for losar as penalty.
Festival is an important symbol of national identity. Through celebrating a festival, every individual is involved in a nation-wide practice that strengthens his/her imaginary of a shared community. As a result, neighboring countries sometimes compete for the ownership of a traditional festival, such as the origin dispute of the Dragon Boat Festival between China and Korea. On the other hand, to prohibit the celebration of a festival functions as a suppression of an old national identity, and meanwhile, prepares for the cultivation of a new one. The “Destroy the Four Olds” campaign in the Cultural Revolution of China could be counted as a typical case. 1975 was close to the end of the disorder period. However, since Amdo area was far from Beijing, the new trend of politics always arrived with delay. I feel deeply sorry for Tibetan people living at that turbulent time.
Chapter 8 A Funny Way of Crying p.28-29
When Hortsang was 11 years old (in 1977), a rich but brutal man called Shalkur Palgon set one of his guard dogs off to bite Hortsang simply because he yelled back some abuse to the dogs when frightened by them. When he was deeply wounded, the witnesses were all laughing at the “spectacle.” From that day on, he got the reputation of being “a fool” in his village.
While the extreme cruelty of this story sounds shocking, what’s even more surprising is that his narrative does not fit well in the category of “exile literature.” In his story, the rich Tibetans in the village were depicted as arrogant and merciless. And his poor fellow countrymen were pitiless. The gap between different social classes, i.e. the rich and the poor, was dramatic. Such feature of his narrative strangely reminds me of the Chinese “propaganda literature” in the Mao era.
Chapter 9 “Difficult to Beg, Easy to Give.” (My First Journey) p.30-34
In the spring of 1977, Hortsang contracted a skin disease but had no money to go to the hospital at Labrang Sangchu town (Xiahe) lying sixty kilometers away. Thus, he followed two people heading to the Blue Lake area to cure his disease by bathing in the Tika hot spring. Few days after their departure, they ran out of food and started to beg until they finally arrived the spring after a month. He recovered. On their way back, they were stopped at a security check point and asked for travel permits which none of them possessed, so they were thrown into detention for five days before being released.
This story is abundant with historical details, one of which being the situation of the restrained Buddhist practice, as the author has noted that “At that time the Kumbum monastery was a tourist site for the Chinese. It was not possible for devout Tibetans to do a pilgrimage and devotional practices such as making offerings and prostrations (32).” Tibetans only dared to do so under the cover of darkness; the second of which being the strong military control of Amdo area, where the Tibetans were required to show travel documents when moving around (33).
Also, this account may help us better understand the practice of begging in Tibet. To prepare little Hortsang for the journey, his mother “got ready a small pack of provisions” including “a cake of btter, a cup and small bag of tsampa (30).” With such limited food supply, his mother should have expected his son to beg for survival on his journey. In reality, since going on pilgrimage to Lhasa and other sacred sites has been popular but most people lacking the money for it, begging is always a common option. Thus, we should not understand “begging” in Tibetan accounts as that in a western discourse.
Moreover, the author, for the first time in this book, directly encountered the Chinese mistreatment and accused the Chinese of their hideous behavior from his own experience. His narrative of “our young female companion looked pale in the face and felt nauseated all of the time” implies a sexual abuse by those “six or seven military personnel (33).”
Chapter10 “Struggle Against Sky and Earth.” p.35-38
When Hortsang was thirteen (1979), he was forced to enter the “Struggle against sky and earth” movement to take her mother’s place. The latter had been seriously ill from the unbearable working load. “Struggle against earth” meant transforming the forests into farmland, and “struggle against sky” meant denouncing the deities. Each household should provide one participant for the movement. In this chapter, the author provides detailed account of the Chinese abuse that happened in the working campsite.
My question of this chapter is about the chronology. The “Struggle against sky and earth” is from the Quotations from Chairman Mao (Mao Zhuxi Yulu). After Mao’s death in 1976 and the third plenary session of the eleventh Central Committee in 1978, the cult of Mao should have been discouraged. However, according to the author’s record, such radical campaign was still taking place in Amdo in 1979. The time has caused my suspicion. Were the conservative officials regional officials still frightened by the ghost of the revolution, thus, felt hesitate to embrace a more liberal policy? Just as indicated by a popular saying Shakya(1999) has quoted, “change reached Tibet last, in the way that a ripple from the centre of a pool of water finally reaches the edge (369).”
Chapter 11 “Bad People Don’t Die Easily. Weeds Are Hard to Kill.” (The End of An Unfortunate Autumn) p.39-43
The Tibetan astrology regards thirteen-year cycles as unlucky. When the author was thirteen, three things happened which seemed to prove this belief. First, on their way delivering meat tax to the Chinese government officials, Hortsang and his friend encountered a group of local militia including his uncle, and were demanded to use their horses to carry the militia’s potatoes. While Hortsang refused, one of the militia dragged him off the horse and beat him relentlessly, while his uncle stood by and said nothing. Secondly, when Hortsang was riding his young yak after delivering the grain tax, the young yak lost control and deeply injured him. Fortunately he was saved by a veterinarian. When he was carried home, his mother showed neglect and simply said, “Bad people don’t die easily.” Thirdly, when he felt hungry carrying on obligatory work and sneaked home for food, he bumped into the community supervisor Cherchung. This guy was among those “chosen by the Chinese government to bully others.” Cherchung beat Hortsang continuously with his wooden baton until a passerby implored Cherchung to stop.
The prominent feature of this story is its accusation of the indifference and ignorance of some Tibetan people. Some of them, including the author’s mother, showed apathy when the author was bullied; others were even worse, since they stood on the Chinese side and assisted the Chinese oppressing their own people.
Chapter 12 “Dreaming without Sleeping.” (My Second Journey) p.44-48
The General Command was the authority of the valley. Being an aspiring teenager, the author was eager to be recruited as a performing artist. However, he was always deprived of such opportunity since it was only offered by the General Command to children of themselves, their relatives and friends. Desperate of the situation, Hortsang ran away from his village in March 1979 with his friend Tashi Gyatso and went on a journey by begging. After a pilgrimage around the Lake Kokonor, Tashi returned home, while Hortsang moved on, went through dangerous situations, and encountered strangers who treated him differently, until months later he was found by his younger grandma by a road and taken home.
An accurate date, for the first time in this book, has been given in this chapter. It was “March 19th 1979 (45)” that the author ran away from home. In previous chapters, it’s only possible to locate approximate time points of Hortsang’s life, while his typical narrative has been like this: “The second famine was from the early sixties until the end of the seventies, so from before I was born until I was about fourteen (13).” Simply based on the information of the book, we would never know the exact birth year of the author. Only after I found some precious information on French Wikipedia did I realize that Hortsang was born in 1967. Then, combined his birth year with the vague chronological information in the book, I have eventually been able to situate Hortsang’s story into a broader historical and social context.
Besides the indefinite time given, there is another problem concerning the time. In chapter 10 “Struggle against Sky and Earth” the author has noted that “when I turned thirteen years old, I had to enter a movement…” and “from each family one individual had to enter the movement (35).” Since in Tibetan tradition, a newly born baby should be counted as one-year-old, Hortsang would have turned thirteen in 1979. At the age of thirteen, as narrated in chapter 10 and 11, he not only took his mother’s place to participate in the burdensome “struggle against sky and earth” movement (36), but was also badly injured by a young yak in an accident (40). Then, in this chapter, he went on a journey which lasted several months. Wasn’t he too busy at the age of thirteen?
Possible explanation for Hortsang’s “busy thirteen-year-old” lies in a book written by an anthropologist. After scrutinizing the production of the biography, I, Rigoberta Menchu, the anthropologist David Stoll (1999) has suggested in his book that in order to better portrayed herself/himself as the spokesman of a group of people and arouse international attention, details about the main character are always eliminated from or weaved into the narrative. Such method of reconstruction could be legitimized by the concept of “collective memory,” as Stoll has noted:
[S]ince she is speaking for her people, it is not very important whether the experiences she describes actually happened to her, or whether they happened exactly the way she says, because they represent the collective experience of the Mayas… Therefore, her story may be true in a poetic sense (190).
Could a similar method be traced in the biography of Hortsang Jigme, especially in those chapters which depict the Tibetan’s miserable situation under the Chinese rule?
Chapter 13 My Sister Dolma p.49-50
Dolma is the eldest of Hortsang’s three younger sisters, and the closest one to him. Although Hortsang was harsh with her at his teenage years, she never turned her back on him.
Chapter 14 Three Generations of Women p.51-52
This short story compares the reproduction of three generations of women – Hortsang’s grandma, his mother, and his sister Dolma. Before the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) control, for his grandma’s generation, women could give birth to as many children as they were willing to. After the CCP ruled Tibet, Tibetan women like his mother were gradually instructed to control childbirth. Some were given medicine; others were taken to hospital for a sterilization operation. As for his sister Dolama, the government stopped her family’s food supply by suspending their ration cards until people from the government captured and brought her to the hospital and sterilized her.
“In the time of my grandmother’s youth, Tibet was free and independent. No one had ever heard that giving birth could oppose national law, nor had they ever thought or worried about that (51).” The first paragraph of this chapter has set the main theme, which is to denounce the Chinese mandatory one-child policy. The experience of Hortsang’s grandma, mother, and sister has been portrayed as representative of all the Tibetans’ suffering under the Chinese control. With the narrative, the author has reconstructed the “collective memory” of an old “free and independent Tibet,” intensively contrasting the nowadays “Tibet under oppression.”
Chapter 15 “We Do Not Know Who Is a Thief and Who Is a Buddha.” p.53-57
Hortsang has committed two stealing. The first one was when he stole a speaker back home to broadcast music and news; the second one, happened in the autumn of 1979, when he stole a horse from a nearby nomadic community to take revenge. Hortsang mentioned that after the nomad came to use some money to exchange the horse, he didn’t see the money, implying that as the contributor of the stealing, he hadn’t been fairly rewarded.
In the preface of this book, the author has used “superstition” to describe Tibetan Buddhism (3). Despite his future intermittent Buddhism study, he hasn’t been an exemplary “religious Tibetan,” just as any other Tibetans portrayed in his biography. In this chapter, Hortsang not only stole twice, but also used the Tibetan proverb “We do not know who is a thief and who is Buddha (57)” to legitimize his misbehavior. Based on my understanding, the proverb is saying that if the behavior of stealing roots in compassionate intention, even the thief might have shared some characteristic of the Buddha. However, Hortsang’s conduct had nothing to do with this proverb. In the first occasion, he stole merely to fulfill his personal desire; while in the second, he stole to avenge a villager. Neither of them was originated from compassion. Should we not doubt his moral standard? It seems like few acquaintances of Hortsang’s like him and most people have abused him. Should we simply blame those people without examining Hortsang’s own personality or morality?
Chapter 16 “To Lose Life is Not So Serious; To Lose One’s View is.” (Candle Flickering in the Wind) p.58-64
This chapter has depicted Hortsang’s rebellious teenage period. In 1980, conspiring a plot with his divinatory friend, he successfully fooled his family to approve him being a monk in Labrang Monastery. Later in Labrang, he became a tea boy for the monastery’s librarian Tibu Tsendup and learnt Tibetan alphabet and scriptures. In 1981, the CCP compelled young monks and nuns to renounce religious practice, so he returned home. In 1983, Labrang was permitted to recruit 13 new monks and Hortsang continued his religious study. In the same year, Hortsang ran away with a friend to Lhasa for a pilgrimage, which led to his dismissal from the Monastery. He tried to commit suicide three times but finally gave up. In 1984, he resumed study in Labrang privately. Because of his unorthodox behavior such as taking snuff, using sound recording machine, and reading non-religious book including Chinese classic, he was labeled “new brain” by the senior monks.
I feel ambivalent to evaluate a figure like Horstang. On one hand, he abandoned his family despite being the only son (58), was later expelled from Labrang due to misbehavior (62), and conducted practice unorthodox for a Buddhist (63). On the other hand, his unorthodox behavior has reminded me of controversial figures like Gendun Chopel and Dhondup Gyal, on whom the most modern and revolutionary characters could be traced.
One problem this kind of text has caused is the unilateral narrative. If his fellow monks and supervisors could have spoken for themselves, the comparison of different discourses could be interesting and inspiring.
Chapter 17 “You Are Not a Man If You Cannot Decide; You Are Not a Horse If You Cannot Jump over the Mound.” (Leaping Through Time) p.65-69
In 1985 Hortsang took the entrance exam of the newly founded College of Buddhist Studies (Nang Ten Lobtha) in Gansu province. In 1986, he was admitted by the college and started his study of Tibetan literary composition, where he was also exposed to new knowledge and information from outside world. Since 1987 he began writing commentary for Tibetan literature masterpieces and also published his own poets. However, on December 21st 1987, Labrang Monastery called a meeting and prohibited his writing which led to his “silence” in 1988-1989. Fed up with the curse and criticism from the older monks in Labrang, Hortsang decided to leave.
The information in this chapter has provoked my thinking of the monastery administration system. Although Hortsang was learning in a college other than Labrang, it seems that Labrang was all along holding the predominant power that can easily destroy his life and career (67). Is it because the new college has been attached to Labrang? How has the authority of Labrang been worked? There is another question to be examined. Horstang was already expelled from Labrang in 1983, although he resumed study privately a year later. How should we understand his identity after being expelled? Was he an ordained monk or a lay Buddhist? Why was he continuously under the monastery’s pressure rather than suffering the “Chinese oppression”?
In Pema Bhum’s (1995) article “The Life of Dundup Gyal: A Shooting Star that Cleaved the Night Sky and Vanished,” one of the main themes has been the conservative religious forces constantly obstructing the development of modern Tibetan literature. The confrontation between conservative and modernity, no matter in the realm of literature or politics, has always been a key theme of the Tibetan modern history.
Chapter 18 “What is the Suffering of Hunger? What is the Suffering of Thirst?” (Once a Journalist) p.70-73
This chapter is the story of Koga, Hortsang’s mother’s sister’s husband. Since Koga fought against the Chinese invasion in 1958, he was imprisoned for ten years, where he suffered hunger, thirst and torture from the Chinese.
In this chapter, the predicting function of dream has again been introduced. Similar to the occasion that Hortsang’s dream once forecasted his older grandma’s death (7), this time, the dream of a Rinpoche locked up beside Koga foresaw that Koga would not be killed (71). Such detail has revealed an ordinary Tibetan’s common belief.
Chapter 19 How Could Leaves Rustle without Wind? p.74-75
Under the Chinese rule, the celebration of Tibetan festivals was always supervised. Meanwhile, the Tibetan writers were forced to write articles to refute the Dalai Lama and praise the Chinese, “their enemies.” However, real feeling was conveyed through covert ways.
Folk song has been widely taken around the world as a method of resistance. As Hortsang has noted, he had written lyrics for his famous singer friend Monlam which expressed secret feelings in metaphors that only Tibetans could possibly interpret. Similarly, Pema Bhum (2001), in his Six Stars with a Crooked Neck, also recorded that during the “Destroy the Four Olds” campaign, how the Tibetans changed the lyrics of la-gzhas (Tibetan traditional love song) to preserve the tradition while not arousing suspicion of the Chinese (Pema Bhum: 115), and how they rearranged the lyrics in private to mock Mao (116). Taking lyrics as a form of “text”, we may come to the conclusion that how crucial the language ability and contextual information are for decoding it.
Chapter 20 “A Short Hill Can Defeat a Stallion; A Short Temper Can Defeat a Young Man.”/“One’s Mouth is an Axe Which Takes One’s Life.” (Visit to Beijing to Study) p.76-80
In 1990, after graduating from Gansu’s Higher Institute of Buddhist Studies, Hortsang successfully acquired an opportunity to study at the Chinese Tibetan Higher Institute of Buddhist Studies in Beijing. When students reproduced the Dalai Lama’s picture, they were exposed by the school’s pro-CCP principal Choshu and then interrogated. In 1991, a conflict between the Tibetan students in the institute and the Chinese military broke out. At the end, Hortsang and another student (Gelak Dondrup) were labeled “splitting wrenches.” However, due to the pressure placed by the students, Hortsang and Gelak were spared from punishment. Later, he acted as a vanguard to criticize the school’s defects and expected other Tibetan students to follow him, but nobody did. The school’s officials were offended. However, in 1992 Hortsang still successfully graduated.
Hortsang’s biography has left the impression that he was widely unwelcome with little exception. People in his village bullied him; the senior monks cursed him; the authority in Labrang repressed and dejected him. Even his own mother sometimes treated him coldly. The most heroic moment of his life history was when his schoolmates in Beijing threatened the authority in order to prevent him from being expelled. It is incredible to see an unpopular young man suddenly became an exemplar of a Tibetan nationalist.
Chapter 21 A General Account of an Adventure p.81-89
This chapter has described Hortsang’s adventurous escape from his hometown Hortsang to Kathmandu, Nepal in the end of 1992. To avoid being seen by Chinese soldiers is a main theme.
Based on Hortsang’s account, we can see that his motivation of escape was different from other exile accounts that have accused the inhumane practice of the Chinese. Despite his misfortunate childhood under the abuse from both Chinese and Tibetan people in 1970s, since late 1980s there was no record of physical abuse and he even succeeded in getting a degree in Chinese higher educational system. From chapter 16 on, the main obstacle on Hortsang’s path to “freedom” was actually the conservative force of Tibetan monastery. Hortsang has indicated that he never told his family of the plan of escape, since “they would have prevented me from going (81).” It is quite possible that Hortsang’s escape was not due to Chinese oppression, but simple due to his aspiration for upward mobility outside the Chinese realm.
Normally, a biography about an ordinary individual, who is or has been under oppression, is written for specific political motivation. The protagonist is always portrayed as an “everyman/woman” of the community to call for international attention. However, Hortsang’s story seems different. Compared with the mainstream exile literature that attack Chinese oppression, this book’s uniqueness lies in the accusation of both the Chinese and the Tibetans’ mistreatment. How should we evaluate Hortsang’s account? Does it share any common feature with other exile literature?
The online information provided by French Wikipedia may bring insight to our understanding of Hortsang’s life. After using Google website translator to translate the page into English, its content is in accordance with details provided in Hortsang’s biography. Thus, it can be taken as a reliable additional material. Since the wiki page has clearly indicated the birth time of Hortsang as 1967, I have been able to sort out an approximate time-line of Hortsang’s life and to situate his life story into the broader social and historical context, as has been done in the discussion of chapter 12. Moreover, while searching the key word “Hortsang Jigme” would lead to a result in French Wikipedia, no result has been shown in English. Does it indicate different academic interest between the English and French Tibetology circle? In any case, it has demonstrated a new language (here, the French) as the key to a treasury of new knowledge.
Another interesting feature of this biography is Hortsang’s preference in using Tibetan idiom as the title of a chapter. In a total of 21 chapters, 11 of them have been titled with idiom. Some of them, like “Bad People Don’t Die Easily. Weeds Are Hard to Kill” of chapter 11, are relatively easy to understand for an non-Tibetan outsider; some of them, like “Dreaming without Sleeping” of chapter 12, one can only understand its meaning within the text; other titles, like “How Could Leaves Rustle without Wind?” of chapter 19, are probably only comprehensible for insiders, i.e. Tibetans who have grown up in a similar cultural environment. What’s the purpose and effect of using idioms? Have the usage of these idioms added some originality of “Tibetanness”? Should we treat this simply as an elaborate writing style of a Tibetan poet and writer?
The last question is about the authorship. From my reading, I’ve got the sense that Hortstang’s account is narrated to an actual or imagined western listener. Then, a review written by “Elia A. Sinaiko, Ph.D.” on the back cover has raised my attention. This book is said to be written by Hortsang Jigme, translated by Lobsang Dawa and Gussje de Schot, while Elia Sinaiko is only one of the editors. However, as the funder of the books first printing, Sinaiko has shared the copy right with Hortsang in its 1998 version. Who is this Elia Sinaiko? Should we also consider his “voice” in the text? I found online Sinaiko’s brief autobiography that introduces his “wandering years” and “crazy life”. Based on his own autobiography, he was born in New York City in 1945, acquired a PhD degree in psychology from NYU in 1983, visited India, and studied Buddhism in 1990s. He was in Dharamsala in 1995, 1998, and 1999, which is in accordance with the release time of the book. Sadly, Sinaiko’s detailed story-telling ends at 1969. The following account is only shown in abstract. Without further information, it is hard to know how the collaboration between Hortsang and Sinaiko has been reached. Thus, we can only infer that the first prospective audience of Hortsang’s story is Sinaiko.
Hortsang Jigme. (1998). Under the blue sky: an invisible small corner of the world. Dharamsala : H. Jigme.
Pema Bhum (trans. Lauran Hartley). (2001). Six Stars with a Crooked Neck: Tibetan memoirs of the Cultural Revolution. Dharamsala, Distt. Kangra, H.P.: Bod kyi dus bab.
Pema Bhum (trans. Lauran Hartley). (1995). “A Shooting Star that Cleaved the Night Sky and Vanished” in Lungta, No.9, Dharamsala, Winter, pp. 17-29.
Shakya, T. (1999). The dragon in the land of snows: a history of modern Tibet since 1947. New York: Columbia University Press.
Stoll, D. (1999). Rigoberta Menchu and the Story of All Poor Guatemalans. Westview Press, Boulder.
 “Hortsang Jigme”, on Wiki French (translated by Google translator to English) Retrieved April 24, 2014, from