CHINESE INVASION AND OCCUPATION

These interviews describe the infiltration of Tibetan villages by the Chinese army and the subsequent dissolution of traditional Tibetan social, cultural, and religious ways of life.

ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEWS

Select an interviewee from the list below or scroll down to browse the interview summaries and key topics. After each summary, a link is provided to the entire interview transcript.

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USA (2006)
1. Cho Lhamo (#92)

Bylakuppe, India (2007)
1. Norbu Dhondup (#6)
2. Norbu (#10)
3. Yeshi Lhadon (#12)
4. Sonam (#76)
5. Dhondup (#61)
6. Wangmo (#67)
7. Lhundup Dorjee (#73)
8. Sonam Dorjee (#86)
9. Dorji Damdul (#18)
10. Tashi Nyima (#7)
11. Tsering Kyipa (#9)
12. Wangyal (#63)
13. Dhondup (#65)
14. Tashi (#25)
15. Gangtso (#39)
16. Sonam Gogyal (#44)

Mundgod, India (2010)
1. Migmar (#3M)
2. Pasang Dhondup (#5M)
3. Tenzin Woeser (#29M)
4. Phakya (#41M)
5. Karma Wangdu (#46M)
6. Sither Tsering (#62M)

Dharamsala, India (2012)
1. Sonam (#23D)
2. Phuntsok Topchu (#46D)
3. Gapa Akar (#65D)
4. Tenzin Wangmo (#66D)

USA (2013-2014)
1. Arjia Rinpoche (#7C/24B-Part 1)
2. Sangyal Tashi (#6C)
3. Paljor Thondup (#22C)
4. Kalsang Yulgial (#30C)

Bylakuppe (2013-14)
1. Sonam Bhuti (#13B)
2. Arjia Rinpoche (#7C/24B-Part 2)
3. Tsewang Namgyal (#11B)

 

© 2009-2015 Tibet Oral History Project. These translations and transcripts are provided for individual research purposes only. For all other uses, including publication, reproduction and quotation beyond fair use, permission must be obtained in writing from: Tibet Oral History Project, P.O. Box 6464, Moraga, CA 94570-6464.




Cho Lhamo (#92)

Cho Lhamo was born in Kongpo Tham-nyen to a Khampa father and a Kongpo mother. She recalls her childhood days as being extremely happy. She played games, rode horses, danced, sang and dressed like boys to play pranks on other girls. Cho Lhamo married at the age of 21. She fondly describes her village as a very beautiful place with mountains, forests, fruit trees and big rivers.

When the Chinese came to Cho Lhamo’s village, they were initially friendly. Then, gradually, life under Chinese control became more oppressive. Cho Lhamo’s family was targeted for arrest and torture so they tried to escape. She and her mother were captured by the Chinese and her father was killed. Cho Lhamo and her mother were allowed to return home if they agreed to changer their “way of thinking.”

Their second attempt to escape was successful and Cho Lhamo and her family finally reached India. On the way the family met His Holiness the Penor Rinpoche, who was then at Pema Koe near the Indian border. Cho Lhamo travelled to Tibet in 1987 and was able to visit her relatives.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, first appearance of Chinese, life under Chinese rule, brutality, thamzin, resistance fighters, escape experiences.

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Norbu Dhondup (#6)

In describing his early life, Norbu Dhondup states, “I was happy when I was a nomad. The hills were full of flowers and we didn’t have to feed the animals. We milked, churned the milk and made butter.” His life was drastically altered when his father, a land owner, was arrested by the Chinese, who confiscated all the family’s possessions and property. After being falsely accused of supporting the Tibetan resistance fighters, his father was subjected to thamzing ‘struggle sessions.’ Norbu Dhondup was told to torture his own father but he refused. After arrest his father castrated himself, but survived after receiving medical treatment while imprisoned.

Norbu Dhondup fled to India with his family. Two decades later he heard that his father at age 86 was still alive after being released from 20 years imprisonment in China. Norbu Dhondup went to find his father in Lhasa and brought him back to India carrying him on his back part of the way.

Topics Discussed:

First appearance of Chinese, life under Chinese rule, Chinese oppression, thamzing, escape experiences, life as a refugee in India.

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Norbu (#10)

Norbu had a very adventurous childhood in Tibet, hunting and fishing for both fun and for his livelihood, as his family was poor. At age 17, he killed a bear with his knife in self defense. A prize kill would be a musk deer, which sold for a good price. Norbu gives a fascinating and suspenseful account of the villagers’ hunting expeditions.

Norbu narrates how he and other Tibetans worked at Chinese road construction sites, how the Chinese appeared to be friendly at the beginning in order to gain their confidence, and how they gradually tightened their control. Norbu recounts the horrifying events of when Sangay Dorji, one of the richest people of the village, was subjected to thamzing ‘struggle sessions.’

Norbu describes a confrontation with a Chinese officer, who called Norbu, “a wolf in sheep’s clothing.” Fearing that he and his family would be subjected to thamzing, his large family embarked on a month long escape to India.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, farm life, first appearance of Chinese, life under Chinese rule, Chushi Gangdrug guerrillas, forced labor, Chinese oppression, brutality/torture, thamzing, escape experiences, life as refugee in India.

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Yeshi Lhadon #12

Yeshi Lhadon believes her village, Doktsa, was the happiest place—with high mountains, temples on the mountains and villages down below. There were no schools or hospitals, but the villagers were completely self-reliant. She was about 14 years old when both her parents died and she became responsible for raising her two younger sisters. She was never able to enjoy her childhood days like a normal child.

When the Chinese arrived in her village, they gave the villagers tools and told them they must work harder to cultivate the land. Yeshi Lhadon and her husband left their village to go to Lhasa because rumors were spreading that the Chinese would mistreat everyone and take away the children. They worked as laborers for the Chinese doing bridge construction near the city. Then they moved to Phari near the Indian border and stayed there for 5 years while contemplating escape to India, which they finally attempted in 1959 when Yeshi Lhadon was 37 years old.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, farm life, nomadic life, first appearance of Chinese, forced labor, Chinese oppression, trade, escape experiences, Dalai Lama.

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Sonam (#76)

Sonam describes his early life as a nomad in Jang Namchung, Namru. As a child, Sonam enjoyed spending his time grazing animals and playing games with other boys. He fondly recalls horse racing during a special month-long annual festival.

When the Chinese came to Sonam’s village in 1959, they interrogated everyone and began forcing the villagers to participate in thamzing ‘struggle sessions.’ During the Cultural Revolution beginning in 1966, the Chinese restricted the Tibetans’ freedom, including banning religious practices and imposing various taxes. Unable to tolerate this oppression, Sonam and others protested by beating up a few Chinese officers and destroying an administrative office.

Expecting to be arrested after the protests, Sonam decided to escape to India. He left his pregnant wife and one-year old daughter behind in the village and fled with several men on horseback. During a confrontation with Chinese soldiers on the way to Bhutan, one of Sonam’s companions was killed. Then after reaching Bhutan, Sonam was questioned by American officials to determine if he was a Chinese spy. Sonam visited Tibet in 1986, seeing his wife and two children for the first time since he had escaped.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, herding, salt gathering, festivals, first appearance of Chinese, thamzing, life under Chinese rule, escape experiences, life as a refugee in India.

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Dhondup (#61) (alias)

Dhondup reminisces about his childhood days in his village of Khangmar Yulkhang when he had no responsibilities—playing games like skipping and soccer. His parents sent him to school in a nearby village to learn basic Tibetan reading and writing. This was a special privilege since there were only eight children who attended school in his entire region. As the only educated person in his village, Dhondup worked as a clerk to the regional administrator.

Though Dhondup’s family avoided being subjected to thamzing ‘struggle sessions’ following the Chinese occupation of Tibet, he witnessed people in his region being subjected to them. He describes how the Sadhak ‘wealthy landowners’ were falsely accused of mistreating the poorer villagers and were beaten by them under the influence of the Chinese. Some of the Sadhak panicked and committed suicide to escape from the thamzing and imprisonment.

At the age of 28 Dhondup escaped to India along with 80 people from his region in 1959. He was in Bomdila, India during the 1962 Indo-China war and once again had to flee with his family, leaving behind their meager belongings. They later moved to the settlement in Bylakuppe.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, farm life, first appearance of Chinese, life under Chinese rule, thamzing, escape experiences, life as a refugee in India.

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Wangmo (#67)

A native of Dhingri, Wangmo’s parents died when she was a teenager and she wove carpets and blankets, until she married at age 18 or 19. She moved to her husband, Wangla’s, his village, Lhatse, where he was a lhamo ‘opera’ performer. Her husband also participates in the interview and describes lhamo and its significance as an integral part of Tibetan culture and tradition.

Wangmo recalls the misery she endured trying to care for her four children after the Chinese forcibly took her husband to Lhasa to teach them Tibetan opera. She describes thamzing ‘struggle sessions’ in her village where monks and wealthy landowners were beaten by poor villagers at the coercion of the Chinese. She recounts that some people were shot, while others became permanently disabled due to severe beatings. Unable to endure these abuses, some people committed suicide either by jumping into rivers or by hanging themselves. Wangmo also witnessed the destruction of many monasteries in her region.

The family’s sufferings continued even after their escape from Tibet. They were put in detention and interrogated daily in Gangtok, Sikkim, and later in Kalimpong by Indian authorities, who were suspicious of the refugees and made them explain why and how they had escaped.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, life under Chinese rule, forced labor, Chinese oppression, brutality/torture, thamzing, destruction of monasteries, escape experiencess.

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Lhundup Dorjee (#73) (alias)

Lhundup Dorjee describes how his family gave him away in marriage to a woman whose family lived as tenants of Dechen Sangakha Monastery. This family acted as the ngotsap ‘representative’ of the monastery and performed various functions for it, including collecting butter and grain taxes. Lhundup Dorjee explains the roles played by genpo ‘leaders’ and ngotsap in collecting taxes on behalf of the government and private estates, in settling disputes, and in looking after villagers’ welfare.

Lhundup Dorjee provides an account of increasing Chinese oppression after the occupation of his region, including the tactics the Chinese used to force Tibetans into conducting thamzing ‘struggle sessions.’ The person subjected to thamzing had his hands tied behind him and was ordered to kneel in front of a huge gathering of people, some who participated in the beating of the accused.

Lhundup Dorjee also describes the difficulties he and hundreds of other fleeing Tibetans faced when they reached Bhutan, including food shortages and death from heat exhaustion. Upon reaching India, he worked on road construction for eight years before moving to Bylakuppe.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, local governance in Tibet, taxes, first appearance of Chinese, life under Chinese rule, Chinese oppression, thamzing, escape experiences, life as a refugee in India.

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Sonam Dorjee (#86)

Sonam Dorjee was born in Kham Chungpo to a family who engaged in both farming and a nomadic lifestyle. He and his family were very happy in independent Tibet; he recalls with emotion his childhood days in school and, later, as a monk in Sera Monastery in Lhasa.

Sonam Dorjee describes seeing Chinese soldiers bombard the Potala Palace and Sera Monastery. He also recalls the siege of Bakor and how the Chinese constantly announced on loud speakers that Tibet was “lagging behind” and that the Chinese had come “to help” the Tibetans.

After these events, the situation in Tibet deteriorated and Sonam Dorjee, along with a friend, fled the country. He relates in detail the hardships they suffered on their journey from Tibet. Once in India, Sonam Dorjee worked on road crews and then learned how to drive and repair cars. He saw many Tibetans die from the hot climate in India and suffer from leeches and mosquitoes.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, monastic life, first appearance of Chinese, invasion by Chinese army, life under Chinese rule, resistance fighters, escape experiences, life as a refugee in India.

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Dorji Damdul (#18) (alias)

Dorji Damdul had seventeen brothers and sisters from three different mothers. His village contained the only school within five districts so Dorji Damdul had the good fortune to be sent to school. Due to poor behavior, he was removed from school and his parents sent him to join a local monastery. Dorji Damdul provides a description of monastic life and his daily routine.

The Chinese labeled Dorji Damdul as a “rebel” because of his family’s high status in the community. They restricted his movements and arrested his uncle, who served as head of the family. The Chinese arrested many monks and distributed the property of the monastery to the people of the village. Dorji Damdul was forced to return home, but his house had been emptied by the Chinese. After a year, he decided to marry, but the Chinese also imprisoned his wife, who came from a prominent family.

Fearing his own arrest, Dorji Damdul decided to flee to Bhutan with his wife, who had been released from prison because she was pregnant. During the journey, his wife gave birth to their baby, but after reaching Bhutan the baby died in 6 days. The couple traveled to Balingpur and then to Bylakuppe, India, where they resettled.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, monastic life, first appearance of Chinese, life under Chinese rule, brutality/torture, escape experiences, life as a refugee in India.

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Tashi Nyima (#7)

Tashi Nyima was born in the village of Tsakhalowa, meaning ‘village of salt.’ He gives an account of how salt was made on rooftops in his village. At around the age of 12 or 13 his father taught him to inscribe mani ‘prayers’ on stones. He did this work until he was 17 or 18 when he became a transporter/trader.

When he was 18 years old Tashi Nyima went to China to buy tea bricks, pork and other goods to sell in Lhasa. At that time he witnessed the Communist Chinese forces massacring supporters of Chang Kai Shek’s Kuomintang regime. When he returned to Tibet and the Chinese invaded his region, he saw them dividing the rich Tibetans from the poor and using the poor to humiliate the rich.

Tashi Nyima was one of the few Tibetans who visited India before 1959. As a trader, he transported goods between Phari and India. The Chinese began arresting all of the traders, but Tashi Nyima managed to escape and went to India.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, trade, Chinese oppression, brutality/torture, life under Chinese rule, Chushi Gangdrug guerrillas, escape experiences, life as a refugee in India.

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Tsering Kyipa (#9)

When Tsering Kyipa was a child, her parents gave her to a family in a place called Sha-Sima as an adopted daughter. Her adopted parents treated her very poorly and once she was accused of stealing the cash box. Unable to bear this difficult life, she ran away to her parents, but her mother once again gave her to a new family. Later, her parents forced her to marry. Tsering Kyipa and he husband worked on a road crew for the Chinese and later became farmers.

Though Tsering Kyipa personally was not subjected to thamzing ‘struggle sessions’ because she belonged to the class the Chinese wanted to use for labor, she saw many others undergo thamzing. She fainted the first time she witnessed it and was able to warn several families to escape before they were taken for thamzing. Tsering Kyipa also witnessed the destruction of local monasteries.

Tsering Kyipa’s parents left for India after being informed they would be subjected to thamzing. She was unable to go with them because her husband was away. Later the Chinese allowed her to visit her parents in India so she is one of very few Tibetans with official travel documents. She returned to Tibet once before moving to India permanently.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, life under Chinese rule, destruction of monasteries, Chinese oppression, brutality/torture, thamzing, forced labor.

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Wangyal (#63)

Wangyal was born in Samada in the Gyangtse district. As a boy he operated the water mill for grinding barley grown on his grandparents’ farm. They had many laborers working on their farm, who received wages and food for their work. Wangyal says that no one in his village was in need of work; the traditional relationship between landowners and laborers was beneficial to both.

Wangyal had been taught to read and write so when the Chinese occupied his region they assigned him the duty of recordkeeping at the Farmers’ Commune Office, and later appointed him Secretary of the Commune Office. Wangyal speaks of Buddhist traditions and how the Chinese destroyed Tibetan religion and culture. He explains that the Chinese deceived the Tibetan people, acting nicely towards them and paying high prices for goods between 1951 and 1959. But Wangyal heard of sufferings inflicted by the Chinese in other parts of Tibet and was worried about the future. Then in 1959 the Chinese began arresting and subjecting many influential people and lamas to thamzing ‘struggle sessions.’

His Holiness the Dalai Lama inspired Wangyal to write a book entitled Stories of Life Experiences in which he narrates the situation before and after the arrival of the Chinese in Tibet.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, first appearance of Chinese, life under Chinese rule, destruction of monasteries, brutality/torture, thamzing, life as a refugee in India.

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Dhondup (#65) (alias)

Dhondup’s family, in addition to farming, also engaged in trading and traveled between China, Dhartsedho, Chekudho and Lhasa and later to Kalimpong in India. They traded goods such as tea, wool, pelts and musk. Dhondup recreates a beautiful picture of his region which was full of forests, fruit trees, flowers and a host of wild animals.

When the Communist Chinese arrived in his region they deceived the Tibetans by requesting their weapons and horses on the pretext of fighting the Americans, whom the Chinese considered their enemies. Later they divided the villagers into groups based on wealth and power and would not allow the poor people and wealthy people to interact with each other.

Fearing that his father was to be arrested, Dhondup accompanied his father on a very long journey to Lhasa. His father then joins the Chushi Gangdrug Resistance Force while Dhondup travels with their mules. Both later escaped to India.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, trade, farm life, wildlife, first appearance of Chinese, resistance fighters, Chushi Gangdrug guerrillas, escape experiences.

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Tashi (#25)

Tashi’s family, called Woma, lived in a three-story house on a large piece of land. They owned farmland and over 100 animals. Tashi gives an account of his boyhood as a nomad living in a large tent made of animal fur, which was moved three times each summer.

Tashi left his life as a nomad at age 21 in order to care for the horses and mules belonging to his uncle, a prominent lama, in Kongpo. Tashi gives an account of the deaths of both his first and second wives and, after marrying for the third time, settles as a farmer in Digung.

In 1959 the Chinese came to Digung on three separate occasions. Tashi was told that he owned too much land and must give away one-third of his property to families without any land. Soon after, fearing the return of the Chinese, about 30 families including Tashi’s fled north, hoping to reach a Tibetan army camp. The Chinese captured some of the group and the rest fled, leaving behind their horses, yaks and belongings. Tashi refused to surrender and managed to retrieve 72 yaks and save a woman’s life. Tashi and his family then made a slow escape south to India, having to carefully evade the Chinese army and claim they were going to visit relatives in order disguise their true motive for travelling.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, nomadic life, religious festivals, first appearance of Chinese, life under Chinese rule, escape experiences.

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Gangtso (#39)

Gangtso was born into a family of six sisters and her parents separated when she was very young. Her mother passed away when Gangtso was 8 years old and she and her younger sisters each went to live with an older, married sister. Her pleasant memories of those days are of the snow-capped mountains, the grasslands, the river and ice skating.

As a young child, Gangtso witnessed the Chinese beating Tibetans and forcing them to demolish the local monastery and burn the scriptures. Gangtso remembers, “I felt very sad when they destroyed the monastery. I had no parents and the monastery was being destroyed. I cried a lot.”

On an impulse, she and one sister, while grazing their cattle, decided to flee to India. Without informing their elder siblings, they made an all day and all night journey over the border without food or water. Gangtso was only 11 years old during the escape.

After a month in a refugee camp, Gangtso and her sister were given a room in a house and some land to farm in Mundgod, India. Later Gangtso married and took a position as matron of the Tibetan Children's Village in Bylakuppe so that her three children could receive an education.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, life under Chinese rule, destruction of monasteries, escape experiences, life as a refugee in India.

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Sonam Gogyal (#44)

Sonam Gogyal was educated as a child and held the post of deputy leader of his village from age 22 to 36. He was responsible for collecting taxes from the villagers in the form of grains and animals.

Sonam Gogyal fled Tibet at the age of 36, leaving behind his wife and five children. He quickly chose to escape one night after hearing that the wealthy landowners, which included him, were to be arrested by the Chinese. In four days, he was able to reach Sikkim with a group of 12 others from his village.

Thus began the life of a refugee. Sonam Gogyal moved from Kalimpong to the Bylakkupe settlement, where he was paid to help clear the forests and build the settlement. Later he took up farming and sold sweaters in the Indian cities. Sonam re-married and built a new life with a new family, never seeing his first wife and family in Tibet again.

Topics Discussed:

First appearance of Chinese, life under Chinese rule, brutality/torture, escape experiences, life as a refugee in India, early life in Bylakuppe.

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Migmar (#3M) (alias)

Migmar was born in a large family of 11 members. His parents died when he was very young and he was brought up by his maternal uncles. Migmar’s family owned donkeys and he transported seeds and manure to towns like Phari. He tells about his life as a transporter. According to Migmar, all the land belonged to the government of Tibet. There were rich families called trelpa 'tax payers' from whom the poor people leased lands for cultivation. Migmar’s family grew barley, but transporting goods was their main source of income.

Migmar provides a detailed account of how the Chinese divided the Tibetan society into the wealthy, the farmers and the poor and how they created animosity amongst them. The Chinese redistributed some of the wealth amongst the poor families, but kept much of the jewelry and furs for themselves. Migmar describes his concern about the new roads the Chinese began to build using Tibetans as laborers.

Migmar witnessed thamzing 'struggle sessions' and explains how the fathers from the wealthy families were publicly humiliated and imprisoned. Migmar’s brother was secretly informed that he would be subjected to thamzing, and the family chose to escape to India.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, first appearance of Chinese, life under Chinese rule, oppression under Chinese, thamzing, escape experiences, life as a refugee in India.

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Pasang Dhondup (#5M)

When he was 10 years old, Pasang Dhondup started grazing animals. He describes a typical day in the life of a shepherd. His family's main occupation was farming and rearing animals. He briefly touches upon the subject of marriage in a Tibetan family and his own marriage. He also talks about the tradition of admitting one male child to the monastery as a form of tax from every family.

After the Chinese invasion Pasang Dhondup worked as a transporter of Chinese provisions, as directed by them. The people of his village supplied yaks, horses and men for the Chinese. Passang Dhondup talks about how the Chinese killed wild animals for food, which the Tibetans had never killed due to Tibetan laws.

Pasang Dhondup’s entire village escaped from Tibet together, but were nearly forced to return home when a Tibetan “spy” for the Chinese reported their journey. The escape route crossed five mountain passes and brought them a month later to Mustang in Nepal. Later Passang Dhondup was sent to Manali, India to construct mountain roads and finally settled in Mundgod.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, herding, life under Chinese rule, forced labor, oppression under Chinese, environment/wildlife, escape experiences, life as a refugee in India.

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Tenzin Woeser (#29M)

Tenzin Woeser’s parents engaged in farming. They had eight children and he was the sixth child. He became a monk at the age of 7 at Sangdok Monastery, near his village. Two of his older brothers were also monks at the monastery.

Tenzin Woeser recalls the Chinese appearance in his village as, “The Chinese first came to our village to wage a war. The villagers ran away temporarily into the forests to escape them. The Chinese fired shells at his monastery and killed one monk.” Tenzin Woeser describes the propaganda films that the Chinese screened in the village when they first arrived and the monthly meetings that villagers were forced to attend from which monks were exempt. Some villagers were killed at these meetings and similar things happened in nearby villages.

Tenzin Woeser left his monastery at the age of 20 and soon after it was completely destroyed by the Chinese. He describes the long journey of 5-6 months from his village to Lhasa where he joined the Drepung Monastery and lived there until the Chinese attacked in 1959. Tenzin Woeser escaped to Bhutan and then was sent to Buxa in Uttar Pradesh, India where he lived for eight years before being resettled in the Drepung Monastery in south India. He returned to his village in 1983 to meet relatives and talks about the changes that had taken place in Tibet.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, monastic life, first appearance of Chinese, invasion by Chinese army, resistance fighters, life under Chinese rule, escape experiences, life as a refugee in India.

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Phakya (#41M)

As a child, Phakya grazed animals with the other children of his village. He recollects the huge pasturelands and the games the children played while herding the animals. He describes an encounter with a Tibetan brown bear as it attacked his sheep. He talks about environmental protection through the Tibetan government law which forbade killing of wild animals, fishing and setting fire to the hills. Once he was older he helped with the farm work.

Phakya fondly recollects His Holiness the Dalai Lama and entourage passing through his village on a visit to China in 1954. He speaks about his involvement in the preparation for the Dalai Lama’s travel such as pitching tents and building roads. He provides a detailed account of both the onward and return journeys of the Dalai Lama.

The villagers had heard of battles in Kham and Amdo Provinces with the Chinese and realized that Mao Zedong’s pledge to peacefully implement the “Liberation” would instead by a violent takeover of Tibet. Phakya describes the thamzing ‘struggle session’ of the daughter of a wealthy family of Bhakashoe. He joined the Chushi Gangdrug [Defend Tibet Volunteer Force] and fought a battle against the Chinese. When the news that Lhasa had fallen and the Dalai Lama had left for India reached the guerrilla force, they began to flee towards India.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, environment/wildlife, herding, first appearance of Chinese, invasion by Chinese army, life under Chinese rule, forced labor, thamzing, Chushi Gangdrug guerrillas.

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Karma Wangdu (#46M)

Karma Wangdu hails from the village of Tsona, which is located very close to the Indian border. The villagers were farmers and he describes why farming is done on the slope of a mountain because crops do not bear fruit if cultivated on the plains. The villagers also went on trade expeditions to Bhutan and Mon Tawang [Arunachal Pradesh, India]. The main trade items from Tsona consisted of wool and woolen cloth and in return they purchased chili, paper and carved wooden items.

Karma Wangdu saw His Holiness the Dalai Lama when he passed through Tsona on his way to India during his escape. Karma Wangdu speaks about how the villagers felt and the preparations made for passage by cutting away ice and clearing snow on the mountain pass. It was a highly emotional occasion for the people of Tsona.

Karma Wangdu describes the arrival of the Chinese in Tsona and people enlisted to form a resistance, but they were outnumbered by the thousands of Chinese soldiers. He also witnessed the arrival of the first Chinese vehicles in Lhasa and the Chinese celebration of the event, which included participation by the Tibetan army, monks and aristocrats of the Tibetan government.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, farm life, trade, Dalai Lama’s escape, first appearance of Chinese, invasion by Chinese army, escape experiences.

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Sither Tsering (#62M)

Sither Tsering's family was samadok 'farmers and herders.' They owned 60-70 yaks and over 400 sheep. He started working around the age of 14-15, dividing his time herding, trading and farming. His middle-class family lived in a tent made from yak hair. They were obliged to pay an animal tax called sog-tel based on every unit of one yak and six sheep. The tax was paid in money and if it could not be paid then animals were taken by the government. Villagers also cared for the local monastery’s sheep and repaid the monastery in lambs and butter.

The Chinese first appeared around 1947-48 in Sither Tsering's village. He describes their uniforms and explains how they repealed the taxes, distributed of dhayen 'silver coins' and conferred titles like u-yon ‘leader’ on the poor people. Then he describes the gradual change in the attitude of the Chinese, the destruction of the holy Buddhist images in the Tholing and Dawa Monasteries and thamzing 'struggle sessions' conducted on the abbot and others.

Sither Tsering and the villagers felt they were “left in a void” after His Holiness the Dalai Lama escaped in 1959, but he remained in Tibet until 1967 because his village had not been as affected by the Chinese occupation as Lhasa. He escaped through the Wuri mountain pass with his yaks before reaching India. He describes his marriage that took place before leaving Tibet.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, herding, taxes, festivals, customs/traditions, first appearance of Chinese, destruction of monasteries, forced labor, life under Chinese rule, thamzing, escape experiences.

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Sonam (alias) (#23D)

Sonam was born into a large family with 11 siblings. He describes being a samadok 'farmer and herder,' cultivating lands in springtime and going up the mountains with the animals during the summer months. He recalls herding animals since the age of 7 or 8 and he knows the whole process of milking and preparing cheese and butter. He gives a detailed account of the many wild animals that were present in the mountains and also describes a rarely seen animal, the migoe 'ape/gorilla/yeti.'

Sonam's father died when he was young and he became a servant to other families because his mother had a difficult time supporting all the children. He was 14 years old when the Chinese appeared and he noticed they looked very poor. They requested food, clothing and animals to transport their weapons.

Sonam became a monk at Gaden Monastery but stayed only two years until the uprising took place in 1959. The monks tried to defend themselves but were overpowered and fled. He joined the resistance group, fighting the Chinese for two months at Tsethang in Lhoka. After coming into exile in India, Sonam joined the Establishment 22 unit of the Indian Army and served it for 22 years. He narrates various experiences, including fighting in Bangladesh war in 1971. He also served as headman of the Ngapa Division in Dharamsala for 16 years.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, environment/wildlife, farm life, herding, first appearance of Chinese, resistance fighters, life as a refugee in India.

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Phuntsok Topchu (#46D)

Phuntsok Topchu's family of nine members engaged in farming and herding animals in Zokong. He became a monk at the age of 14 years and recalls that many boys from his village joined the local monastery. He tells us that the monks in his region lived both at the monastery and at home. He describes the vows a monk undertakes and the different prayers sessions. The monks went 7-8 times in a year to the monastery to take part in prayer assemblies, while spending the other days helping the family with farming and herding.

After the Chinese invaded and the monastery was destroyed, Phuntsok Topchu stayed in his village. He recounts the Ngogor Chenpo 'Great Revolt' against the three ngadak 'leaders' started by the Chinese. He talks about how the ruling class of monasteries, leaders and wealthy people were targeted and accused of false charges. He further recounts how his family's animals were confiscated by the Chinese and life was made unbearable when they imposed heavy taxation. He explains the various kinds of taxes that the people were forced to pay and how the rates increased rapidly over the years.

Phuntsok Topchu embarked on a pilgrimage to Lhasa. He completed 26 circumambulations of the sacred Mount Kailash and then escaped to India in 1987 through Nepal.

Topics Discussed:

Kham, childhood memories, monastic life, religious festivals, first appearance of Chinese, life under Chinese rule, destruction of monasteries, oppression under Chinese, taxes, pilgrimage.

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Gapa Akar (#65D)

Gapa Akar was born into a nomadic family. He gives a description of a nomad's life—how it's spent caring for the numerous yaks and sheep. He explains how a nomad herded the livestock and obtained all one's needs from his animals. Gapa Akar also gives us an idea of how the animals were taken care of when they fall sick, the role-played by the ngagpa 'shamans' in healing and the of use of blessed pills as medicines.

This peaceful and contended life changed after the appearance of the Chinese. Gapa Akar talks about how the Chinese arrested leaders, confiscated their wealth and animals and forced him into a road construction crew. He recalls how the Chinese destroyed the Ranyag Monastery with cannons and machine guns and how most of the monks were killed there including Gapa Akar's own father and uncles. He describes the resistance put up by sword-wielding monks who were no match for the well-armed Chinese soldiers.

Gapa Akar fled to Lhasa when the Chinese attacked the nomads and drove away his family along with their animals. He encountered many other people fleeing and Tibetan guerrillas fighting against the Chinese as he traveled across Tibet. He endured many hardships trying to escape from the Chinese and went many times without food or water. Gapa Akar narrates his final escape journey through the Changthang to safety in Ladakh in India.

Topics Discussed:

Kham, nomadic life, herding, shamans/mediums, invasion by Chinese army, destruction of monasteries, forced labor, escape experiences.

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Tenzin Wangmo (#66D)

Tenzin Wangmo was born in Khangzikha village in Kham which consisted of 35 families. Her family was poor so even from young age she had to work in the fields and look after the animals. She remembers searching for mushrooms in the mountains. She didn't spend any time playing with other children, but does recall having picnics with other girls during festival times.

Tenzin Wangmo narrates her feeling about the Chinese when they first arrived in her village driving yaks and mules. She recalls the Chinese deceived them by helping with fieldwork and behaving in a friendly manner. At age 21 Tenzin Wangmo and a few friends ran away from their village to Lhasa out of curiosity. In Lhasa she found employment first with a Tibetan family and then later mixing coal with soil for the Chinese because they paid well. At that time she stayed with her brother, a monk living in Drepung Monastery.

Tenzin Wangmo describes how suddenly the Chinese attacked Lhasa and how she fled with some of the monks of Drepung Monastery. The escape was a difficult journey and many were killed by the Chinese along the way. When they reached Mon Tawang in India they had to beg for food. Tenzin Wangmo feels blessed to be able to often see His Holiness the Dalai Lama since she now resides in Dharamsala.

Topics Discussed:

Kham, childhood memories, first appearance of Chinese, life under Chinese rule, escape experiences, life as a refugee in India.

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Arjia Rinpoche (#7C/24B - Part 1)

Arjia Lobsang Thupten Jigme Gyatso, known as Arjia Rinpoche, was born in 1950 in Amdo. He talks about his Mongolian and Tibetan heritage and fondly remembers his childhood days. He recalls how he was recognized as the reincarnation of the 7th Arjia Rinpoche at the age of 2 and describes in detail his life in the Kumbum Monastery as a reincarnate lama, and the responsibilities and privileges that go with it.

Arjia Rinpoche talks about the drastic changes that came with the Chinese occupation. His life of privilege ended abruptly with the imprisonment of his teacher and entire staff. He was sent to a Chinese school for a few years and then was fortunate to be taken to Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in Lhasa. When the Cultural Revolution began he was sent back to Kumbum to work in the fields with the other disrobed monks. He describes the Panchen Lama's initial influence over the Chinese, his patriotism and how the Chinese denounced him.

After the death of Chairman Mao, Arjia Rinpoche met the first Tibetan delegation of His Holiness the Dalai Lama that visited Tibet in 1980. As religious freedom improved he was appointed Chairman of the Buddhist Association and visited many monasteries in Tibet. He explains the struggle to re-open monasteries and re-establish the system of reincarnated lamas.

Topics Discussed:

Amdo, childhood memories, monastic life, Cultural Revolution, oppression under Chinese, brutality/torture, Panchen Lama, destruction of monasteries, forced labor.

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Sangyal Tashi (#6C)

Sagyal Tashi was born as the youngest of five siblings in the village of Serchuthi where the population was 700-800. The pastoral farmers raised yaks, dzo 'animal bred from a yak and a cow,' horses and mules and cultivated barley, peas and wheat. Sangyal Tashi gives an account of the duties of each family member and the relationship of the local monasteries with the villagers. He attended school at Karze Monastery and learned to read and write.

The Chinese appeared in Sagyal Tashi's village around 1947-48. He explains how the Chinese initially formed contact with local leaders, gaining their confidence and gradually controlling the whole village. One Chinese officer stayed in his house and advised the family to flee to Lhasa where it would be safer. Sagyal Tashi and his brother left for Lhasa together where Sagyal Tashi joined the Gyumed Monastery at the age of 18.

Sagyal Tashi provides a first-hand account of the vigil at Norbulingka Palace in March of 1959, explaining why, the people protested and witnessing the Chinese bombardment of the palace. He then talks about the courageous role played by the Chushi Gangdrug Defend Tibet Volunteer Force in confronting the Chinese and saving many people's lives. Lastly he narrates his escape journey and the death one of his brothers to Chinese bullets.

Topics Discussed:

Kham, childhood memories, farm life, herding, trade, monastic life, first appearance of Chinese, Chushi Gangdrug guerrillas, Norbulingka, March 10th Uprising, escape experiences.

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Paljor Thondup (#22C)

Paljor Thondup was born in a village called Dongpa Mayma in Kham Province. He belonged to a large family, which was one of the richest and most powerful in the region. His father was second in command to the district's chief. He describes their wealth in terms of land and animals. He recalls his early nomadic family life, and especially the Tibetan mastiffs that were used to protect their animals from wolves and bears.

Paljor Thondup was taught reading and writing at home by a tutor during the summertime. The rest of the year he didn't have much to do because the nomadic families were miles apart from each other so he had no one to play with except his cousin. Paljor Thondup greatly enjoyed the annual horse racing festival and visits to local monasteries.

Paljor Thondup talks about his first encounter with the Chinese and their cunning tactics used to lure Tibetans, which then changed to harassment and the subjugation of Tibet. After some of his family members were arrested, the remainder of his family decided to escape to Lhasa. The city was crowded with other refugees, visitors for the Monlam Festival and His Holiness the Dalai Lama's final examinations in Buddhist philosophy and the invading Chinese Army. His family continued on towards Nepal, having to hide from and battle with Chinese troops along way.

Topics Discussed:

Kham, childhood memories, nomadic life, education, festivals, first appearance of Chinese, invasion by Chinese army, resistance fighters, escape experiences.

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Kalsang Yulgial (#30C)

Kalsang Yulgial was born in Phari bordering Sikkim in India. He describes Phari as a trading town where many different types of goods were transferred in and out of India. He was lucky to have the opportunity to attend a private school and he describes the curriculum and methods used for teaching. After the Chinese invasion, the Chinese closed all the Tibetan schools and sent the children to a large Chinese-run school in Phari. Some of the students, including Kalsang Yulgial, were later sent to a Chinese school in Lhasa, but they began to suspect the Chinese education was separating them from Tibetan language and culture.

Kalsang Yulgial was selected by the Chinese to go to a school in China. He explains how the family evaded this by sending him on a trade mission with his stepfather. By the time they returned many Tibetans had started fleeing from the Chinese through Phari. He recounts the circumstances under which his family made their escape journey through Bhutan and into India.

Kalsang Yulgial describes his education in India, then in Denmark and Iran where he received vocational training. He recounts the various positions that he held under the Tibetan government-in-exile after his return to India, starting as a mechanic and finally as a representative of a large refugee settlement.

Topics Discussed:

Utsang, childhood memories, education, trade, life under Chinese rule, escape experiences, life as a refugee in India, Tibetan Government-in-exile.

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Sonam Bhuti (#13B)

Sonam Bhuti was born in Khelkhar village near Gyangtse. A very holy pilgrim site of Guru Padmasambhava called Khelkhar Daduk exists nearby and she gives a vivid description of the rock caves inside which a miraculous spray of water appears after prayer rituals.

Sonam Bhuti left home for an arranged marriage at the age of 19. She describes the clandestine manner in which she was taken to the bridegroom's house in Phari. Her in-laws were a wealthy taxpaying family, who owned a large house, a store and land. They traveled to Kolkata in India to purchase goods for the shop and Sonam Bhuti helped manage a very prosperous business.

Sonam Bhuti saw how the Chinese initially treated the Tibetans with false generosity and then began political education programs and deceived the poor by awarding titles and money. She recounts the thamzing 'struggle sessions,' imprisonment, hard labor, political indoctrination imposed by the Chinese, which resulted in animosity and division in the Tibetan society. Sonam Bhuti's family was closely watched which made escaping very difficult. She describes in detail how her family fled while the whole town of Phari was watching a theatrical performance. She had no regrets leaving behind all her wealth and possessions in order to escape from "hell."

Topics Discussed:

Utsang, customs/traditions, trade, taxes, pilgrimage, life under Chinese rule, escape experiences.

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Arjia Rinpoche (#7C/24B - Part 2)

Arjia Rinpoche explains the selection of His Holiness the 11th Panchen Lama. The Chinese Government required a group of high Buddhist lamas including Arjia Rinpoche to assemble in Beijing for a meeting. They were intimidated to ensure that they all appeared in agreement with the government. There was going to be a selection ceremony, to "choose" the name of the next Panchen Lama. The government refused to allow Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, who was selected by the Dalai Lama's as the Panchen Lama's reincarnation, to be included in this process.

The same group was then sent to Lhasa for the Golden Urn Ceremony. The government facilitated the ceremony in the middle of the night in order to stage everything. Three names were attached to ivory sticks, inserted into a large urn, and the head of the Buddhist Association of Lhasa pulled one stick out with the name of Gyaltsen Norbu. Arjia Rinpoche later overheard a Chinese official admitting that one stick was longer than the others in order for the pre-determined winner to be easily chosen from the urn.

The Chinese Government later selected Arjia Rinpoche to be the President of the Chinese Buddhist Association and the tutor for the new Panchen Lama. He decided to leave Tibet because he refused to further collaborate with the government. He escaped to Guatemala, and eventually was granted asylum in the United States, where he published his autobiography.

Topics Discussed:

Life under Chinese rule, Panchen Lama, escape experiences.

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Tsewang Namgyal (#11B)

Tsewang Namgyal was born into a middle class nomad family with six children. They reared animals such as yaks, dri 'female yak,' sheep and horses. He describes the large number of animals, the grass-covered mountains, availability of good water and the rocky mountains. He says that milk products like butter, curd and cheese were consumed and bartered for rice, wheat flour and grains. The also used milk products and wool to pay taxes once a year to the local monastery. Tsewang Namgyal describes the taxes and how it could be a burden to nomads.

After his parents' death Tsewang Namgyal became a servant to a local wealthy family, but was treated well. He recounts his escape to Nepal after hearing from travelers about the suffering being inflicted by the Chinese in far away regions. The nomads attempted to drive their animals to Nepal but could not find grass during wintertime, which led to the death of the nomads' herds and they were reduced to beggars.

While in Nepal Tsewang Namgyal was informed that the wealthy family for whom he had worked was subjected to thamzing 'struggle sessions' and their riches distributed to all the villagers. So he secretly visited his village and learned about the repressive policies, destruction of shrines and burning of scriptures which had occurred under the Chinese occupation.

Topics Discussed:

Utsang, childhood memories, nomadic life, herding taxes, servitude, oppression under Chinese, thamzing, escape experiences.

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Short videos created by Tony Sondag.