The Stamp of a Nation: Images of Tibetan Postal Stamps, Then and Now

In this blog I present a short visual history of postal stamps of Tibet, and reflect on the political work that they do. I have been meaning to do this blog for months ever since I started to notice the frequency with which images of postal stamps from pre-Communist Tibet appear on Weibo and Wechat.

It is easy to dismiss stamps as just a small piece of square-shaped paper to be affixed to an envelope in order to get it from A to B, but they are so much more than that.

Stamps regularly convey messages about people, culture, place, histories, and achievements. Issued by the state, stamps are inherently political. They communicate ideas of ‘imagined community’ to recipients at home and people worldwide about national identity, collective memory, and even political destiny, sometimes even leading to diplomatic spats.

Serving as vehicles through which the state can disseminate propaganda and promote their own legitimacy, stamps actively construct, reproduce and even naturalize particular forms of power relations.

On Weibo and Wechat I regularly see Tibetans posting pictures of Tibet from the early 20th century, and among these postal stamps of pre-Communist regularly appear.

Many Chinese language source material I read through while researching this blog emphasise some form of postal service being in operation in Tibet since the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368), chiming in nicely of course with the official state narrative of Tibet being an integral part of China since that time.

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A set of Tibet-themed stamps in the Qing Dynasy (1636-1911) Source

In 1910 the Qing launched a military campaign to establish direct rule in Tibet. Following their occupation of the region, six post offices were opened in Lhasa, Gyantse, Shigatse, Yatung, Pharijong, and Chamdo. These post offices gradually closed after the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1912 and the subsequent expulsion of Chinese officials and troops from Tibet.

screen-shot-2016-11-19-at-11-08-44A set of stamps issued in Tibet during the Xinhai Revolution in 1911. Source

Tibet began its first local issue of postage stamps at the beginning of the 20th century. The first stamps issued in Lhasa in 1912. A further set of two were released in 1914 and a final set of five in 1933 that remained in production until the 1950s.

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While that may sound like a grand total of twelve postage stamps in all, it appears that things were a little more complex than that. As this New Zealand-based philately blog  explains:

Each stamp or cliché in the sheet was hand carved, so with sheets of the first and third sets comprising twelve stamps and the second set six stamps we actually have thirty stamps. Then there are the numerous different printing inks or paint resulting in over 200 clearly differentiated shades bumping the total up to over two thousand. The third set was carved in individual blocks which were bound into a printing block of twelve. The binding frequently broke giving rise to numerous settings and subsettings as the cliché were re-bound in a different order and at slightly different angles to one another, so each pair or multiple has to be carefully checked to determine the setting.

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Leaving the more detailed accounts of the development and operation of Tibet’s postal services and stamp production to the many excellent philatelist’s out there, let’s have a look at how stamps from Tibet have changed since the ‘peaceful liberation’ of Tibet in the 1950s.


The “Peaceful Liberation” series, released in 1952. Source


The “Kang-Zang, Qing-Zang Highway” series, released in 1956. Source


The “Tibetan People’s New Life” series, released in 1961. Source

And moving into the 1980s and 1990s…

Some stamps from the “50th Anniversary of the Establishment of the Tibet Autonomous Region” series, released in 2015. Source

Over the past century images gracing the front of Tibetan postage stamps have moved from the powerful symbolism of the snow lion of pre-communist Tibet to the public construction projects of the 1950s and Tibetans becoming ‘the masters of their own destinies’ in the 1960s before finally falling into the infantalizing trope of the singing and dancing minorities of recent years.

These stamps remind us of the ways in which postage stamps, far from merely being mundane pieces of paper, can be powerful vehicles of propaganda that construct, reproduce, and naturalize particular ideas of nation and history to serve the state.

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In Images: The Tibet Match Factory (1966-2006)

This week I came across a photo essay from 甜茶馆 (Sweet Tea House), one of my favourite Tibetan Wechat platforms, on match production in Central Tibet. Featuring a wide array of wonderfully diverse and colourful images of matchboxes that are absolutely worth sharing, the essay also provided a brief timeline mapping out the factory’s forty years of existence. 

In this super short blog I share a selection of images of matchboxes produced by the Tibet Matchbox factory (Tib. ་བོད་ལྗོངས་མུ་ཟི; Ch.西藏火柴), as well as some background information that found and translated from a few online sources on Tibet’s only matchbox factory.

In the 1950s, following the “peaceful liberation” of Tibet, a large number of cadres and workers from across China were sent to Tibet to establish new industrial bases in the drive to modernize and develop the region. (For more on the history and politics of the party-state’s gift of development, see Emily Yeh’s awesome book.)

Sights were quickly set on Bayi (Tib. བྲག་ཡིབ; Ch.巴宜), a small town in Nyingchi (Tib.ཉིང་ཁྲི; Ch. 林芝), Central Tibet, surrounded by thick forests. It was not long before paper-making, printing, and other forms of forestry-related factories were up and running across the area.

Left: Image of workers at the Tibet Printing factory in Bayi District. Right: Image of workers at the Tibet Papermaking factory. Both images featured in issue no.4 of the People’s Daily Pictorial, 1974. Source

In 1966, the Tibet Match factory officially began production. For the first ten years the factory was largely dominated by workers from interior China.

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An image of Tibetan workers at the Tibet Match factory that featured in issue no.4 of the People’s Daily Pictorial, 1974. Source

Under the planned economy of the Mao era, the factory was producing as many as 20 million boxes of matches per year. These were sold across Tibet, interior China, as well in India and Nepal.

Some examples of the matchboxes produced at Tibet Match factory. Source


Image of the “The Building New Tibet Label” series released by the factory in 1968. Source

“The Tibetan Architecture Label” series launched in 1986. Source

In 1993, struggling to keep afloat following the increasing availability of cigarette lighters as well as major cutbacks in state support in the reform era, the factory began producing disposable chopsticks. Proving to be a short-lived experiment, production of disposable chopsticks came to a grinding halt in 1996 after number of public campaigns appeared on television denouncing disposable chopsticks as wasteful and environmentally unfriendly.

In 1998 the factory temporarily halted all production. It finally declared bankruptcy in 2006 with remaining members of staff swiftly transferred into new work at nearby pharmaceutical plants in Tibet.


The Tibet Match factory as it stands today. Source

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More or Less Tibet – a Translation of a Weibo poem

This morning on Weibo I came across what I thought to be a really interesting poem entitled “More or Less Tibet“, and decided to translate it. “More or Less Tibet” caught my attention because of the very simple language it uses to engage some of the most topical and complex events that occurred in past weeks as well as contemporary Tibet more broadly. General concerns about identity, language, religion, and culture are all reflected upon throughout the poem, but so too are more specific recent discussions of Tibetan representation at the Olympics, Drolma’s animal release affairand the rise of “dangka” (党卡), a recent wave of Thangka paintings in which Chinese party (dang) officials feature prominently.

The poem was penned by Arok, a Khampa Tibetan man who, according to his Weibo, hails from Yul Shul (Tib. ཡུལ་ཤུལ; ; Ch. 玉树) and describes himself as “a southern barbarian residing in a place far from home who always takes with him a sense of place and the temperatures of the Land of Snows.” 

(This translation is my own. While I have made every effort to remain faithful to the original text, I am not a professional translator. Please get in touch if you feel that any particular section needs attention or have any suggestions for improvement! All images are from the original news piece.)

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More or Less Tibet

The time I more or less slept in

I got up more or less early

and saw more or less Tibet

I am no longer there so much

I put on more or less Tibetan attire

Drink a gulp of more or less butter tea

Gaze upon more or less Tsampa

I no longer gobble it down

I ride more or less horses

Drive along the more or less herds

Wave the more or less yak hair sling

I no longer yearn for the past

I return to my more or less Tibetan family

See more or less Tibetans

Speak more or less Tibetan

I no longer stay there much

I hurry to go to more or less school

Study more or less Tibetan

Write more or less Tibetan

I no longer speak it

I enter more or less society

Make more or less friends

Pick up more or less girls

I no longer love anyone

I roll into the more or less nangma hall (1)

Drink more or less barley beer

Sing more or less Tibetan songs

Dance more or less Tibetan dance

With those nearby more or less friends

I make more or less pledges

Raise more or less beer bottles

Wave them at more or less foes

After some more or less time

Along come the more or less police

I enter more or less prison

and don’t see those more or less friends

I enter a more or less work unit (2)

Muddle through a more or less job

Take a more or less wage

I no longer care about others’ interests

I return to my more or less house

Watch more or less television

See the more or less news

I no longer sigh

I pick up my more or less phone

Open up more or less WeChat

Speak more or less Tibetan

See the more or less “dangka” (2)

and also see more or less Tibetans

Speaking more or less Tibetan

Commenting on more or less Thangka

I don’t know the more or less artist

From which more or less teacher they studied

More or less Thangka

Featuring more or less Tibet

Depicting the more or less snow mountains

The more or less rising sun

I see more or less Tibet

They are all more or less Tibetans

They know more or less Buddhism

Understand more or less history

Comment upon all kinds of more or less things

Read more or less Tibetan

Appearing in the more or less Olympics

Feel more or less moved

See more or less Tibetans

Releasing more or less sheep

Thanking more or less Tibetans

I am more or less a sheep

Poor more or less Tibet

Without more or less purity

Still speaking more or less my thoughts

Always speaking more or less complete nonsense

See more or less the media

Reporting on more or less Tibet

See more or less Tibet

Feeling more or less grateful

More or less Tibet

Don’t say more or less things

Or do more or less things

Or pass a more or less life

Time is already more or less up

I put down my more or less phone

Enter the more or less Buddha hall

Light the more or less butter oil lamp

Recite three times the more or less scriptures

Make three more or less prostrations

Make one more or less vow

Make a little more or less money

Take off my more or less Tibetan attire

Lie on my more or less bed

Smoke a more or less cigarette

Another more or less day passes

More or less Tibet

Living on more or less the margins

More or less Tibet

In fact you’re really different (3)

  1. Nangma bars are a kind of Tibetan karoke bar or nightclub. They began to emerge in Tibetan cities in the early 1990s.
  2. “dangka” (党卡)is a word that has become very popular among Tibetans in recent weeks and describes a form of Thangka, traditional Tibetan paintings, in which Chinese party officials feature prominently. “Dang” (党)  is Mandarin for “party”, hence the term “dangka”. For more on this, see here.
  3. The entire poem revolves around the phrase “chabuduo” (差不多), meaning more or less, almost, about the same, just about etc. The final line of the poem contains the phrase “chahenduo” (差很多), the opposite of “chaobuduo”, meaning not more or less, i.e. not really the same at all, very different.
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The Politics of Animal Release in Contemporary Tibet

Over the past few days my Weibo and WeChat feeds have been wildly abuzz with what is quickly becoming one of the biggest stories of 2016 in Tibetan cyberspace. On September 1st, images of  Drolma, a Tibetan woman from Kham, began circulating on social media after she and her fellow members of the “Land of Snows’ Animal Release Group” (Tib.གངས་ལྗོངས་སྲོག་བསླུ་ཚོགས་པ ; Ch. 雪域放生群体) reportedly spent over five million RMB buying 6,387 sheep who were destined for the slaughterhouse. Drolma and her fellow group members then released the animals “into the wilderness” of the Tibetan grasslands. The incident has generated  widespread and  lively discussion about the changing politics of animal release (Tib. ཚེ་ཐར ; Ch. 放生) across contemporary Tibet, with particular attention to questions of vegetarianism, environmental degradation, and the marketisation of animal release.

In this blog, I translate a WeChat essay that has garnered more than 100,000 reads and dozens of fascinating comments since yesterday (September 3rd). Penned by a Tibetan named Tashi Dorjee (Ch. Taxi Duojie), the piece raises several provocative points about this particular incident of animal release as well as the state of the practice more generally.

For more on this topic be sure to check out Chelsea Hall’s excellent blog where she explores the gendered language at work throughout social media responses to “Girl Drolma’s” story.

(This translation is my own. While I have made every effort to remain faithful to the original text, I am not a professional translator. Please get in touch if you feel that any particular section needs attention or have any suggestions for improvement! All images are from the original news piece.)

Rational Animal Release | Let’s Talk About Miss Drolma’s Animal Release

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Yesterday for the whole day my social media circles were bombarded by two issues. The first was about a girl named Drolma (Ch. Zhuoma) who, because of household hardships, could not pay her tuition fees and so at beginning of the new term she found herself in the difficult situation of having to drop out of school. In the second story, another woman, also named Drolma, spent vast sums of money buying more than 6,000 sheep out of the hands of Hui people…

By comparison, the second story sounds so incredible, and compelled me to look into the details surrounding the entire incident. It was only at this point that I realised that in Tibetan areas there are some self-media* that are really too lacking in moral integrity. They know only how to chase more page clicks. Without looking into anything properly, they publish pieces so carelessly and randomly. Seeing as this was so obviously the activity of a group named “Land of Snows’ Animal Release Group”, then why is all the commentary centering on this one girl? Honestly, this is not the way to do self-media. This irresponsible reporting is nothing but nonsense self-media…

Anyhow, after this incident happened, it really shocked the whole of Tibet (整个大藏区). In addition to the fanning of flames by these irresponsible public WeChat accounts, the incident has now been raised to the level of morality and ethics. Some people clap their hands and shout ‘bravo’, admiring Drolma and her group’s actions to the point of worship. However, many have expressed the opinion that this incident was not reasoned or rational, and moreover, has actually inadvertently placed further moral and ethical pressures on poverty-stricken ordinary people at the lower rungs of the social ladder.

As it so happens, quite a while back, I, along with a good friend named Lobsang (a monk from Kumbum Monastery), made a radio show called “Don’t Let Animal Release Become The Taking of Animal Lives”. The show analysed the merits and virtues of animal release from social and religious perspectives and at the same time exposed some very unorthodox animal release practices happening at present. After this recent incident, Lobsang and some of his friends again engaged in a “war of words”, during which one friend expressed the following:

even though this pretty woman made every effort she could to save so many lives, which is totally commendable and worth learning from, these livestock cannot evade the fate of slaughter nor that of eventually dying of old age. This kind of animal release makes me think firstly about meddling with reincarnation cycles, secondly about the destruction of ecosystems, thirdly about the indirect opportunities it gives to criminals and those who carry out illegal activities, and fourthly about the awkward contrasts it poses with the circumstances of poverty-stricken people nearby and those afflicted by serious illnesses. I support sustainable animal release, but for those wealthy people like this pretty woman, well surely it is better to use resources where they are needed most?

But this friend still missed out on one other issue, and that is that this incident is going to perpetuate the development of a larger chain of animal release industries, and just like the aquatic markets that sell “fish release” across interior China, the problematic signage of “sheep release for sale”, “yak release for sale” and so on will start springing up by roadsides and slaughterhouses in Tibetan areas. There are always some people ready to take advantage.

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Lobsang told me a parable. Once upon a time, there was a monastery, and near that monastery there was a slaughterhouse. How could the monks endure such a thing? Consequently, they took great pity and for a high price they bought that slaughter house. However, it was not long before the group of people who had originally managed the slaughterhouse staged a comeback and opened a factory that was even larger than before. This new factory then became a dark graveyard, a point of no return for a large number of livestock. So, dare we ask who was it that gave those people the opportunity to become more powerful? Both you and I know the answer all too well….

Among the intense collisions of modern urban culture and the traditional culture of Tibetan areas, many unharmonious things have become regular occurrences. Just take animal release as an example – originally it was a means of increasing one’s good fortune and wisdom, but you cannot just gaze passively upon the cultivation of merit. Not only is that not the route to enlightenment, it is also lacking in wisdom. Undertaking animal release in accordance with reason and Buddhist doctrine is the only proper way to go about it. Rationally releasing animals and doing so in an appropriate way is so very important. Miss Drolma is pretty, and the resolve and compassion of the “Land of Snows’ Animal Release Group” cannot be faulted. My concern here however is not how much money they paid to release the animals. What I am much more concerned about is the fate of these many animals that have been released, as well what the unanticipated “butterfly effects” created by such a large-scale animal release will be.

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His Holiness 17th Gyalwang Karmapa has given talks on animal release of which the general point was that in the case where an animal who is right about to be slaughtered, we should save them and release them. Sure that animal who has not being killed today has been saved, but perhaps this will indirectly harm the next animal. So the killing of that second animal might have been briefly delayed, but now that the first one has been saved, the slaughter of that second animal is moved forward. As a result, His Holiness 17th Gyalwang Karmapa considers the best method for protecting animal lives to be vegetarianism. This is a bit of a roundabout method of going about things, but at the same time, it is also a fundamental in the freeing of oneself from this cycle of suffering. At the same time, being vegetarian is also something that “Door 12th” (a popular online Tibetan radio show presenter) consistently promotes as the most rational form of animal release.

But no matter what, these 6000 sheep are further away from the butchers’s knife.  This is also their good fortune from previous incarnations. The kindness and compassion of Drolma and her group members is admirable, but just like “Birendandao” wrote on his Weibo account:

A bowl of clear water could be sweet dew and a pool of mud could become an elephant’s play area. Ignorantly transmitting pious deeds is not compassion because it is not wise, and beating those with good intentions is also not wise because it lacks compassion. As for finding a way of manifesting wisdom in a compassionate way, that takes a long consideration….. The sheep said thanks, Drolma said that was the collective effort of our group.

*Self-media refers to WeChat news feeds that are created, managed and/or compiled by individuals and small groups without media organization funding. They send out free content on a wide variety of topics. See more at

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‘New Thangka’ and Representations of the Party-State in Tibetan Art

Last week Jiang Zemin, the man who served as General Secretary of the Communist Party of China from 1989 to 2002 and is affectionately (and not) known as “Uncle Toad“, celebrated his 90th birthday. To commemorate the former president hitting the big 9-0, a tidal wave of “toad worship” descended over Weibo, with a flurry of colourful pictures, memes, and gifs of toads and over-sized spectacles circulating widely. Among them all, one image in particular caught my eye:

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Jiang Zemin Receives Caidan Zhuoma, by Tsering Wanggyal, Li Zhibao and Lhakpa Tsering Source

Painted by two Tibetan artists and one Yao artist who has lived and worked in Lhasa for years, the image depicts Jiang presenting a khata (a traditional ceremonial scarf) to Caidan Zhuoma (Tib. Tseten Dolma), a famous Tibetan singer known for her songs celebrating China’s ‘peaceful liberation’ of Tibet, the end of ‘feudal serfdom’, and so on.

The distinct blend of overt party-state propaganda, socialist realism, and traditional Tibetan painting style was new to me, and it got me wondering how much more of it could be out there.

A few minutes searching around Baidu yielded no end of the stuff. Representations of Chinese senior party officials were popping up left, right and centre across Chinese state media outlets in what was invariably referred to as ‘New Thangka’  (新唐卡), or as many Tibetan netizens have started calling it “党卡” (dangka), where “dang” refers to the Communist Party.

It turned out Jiang was far from the only leader to get the Thangka treatment. In fact, I soon learned that the piece he appeared in was part of a wider set, all by Tsering Wanggyal, Li Zhibao, and Lhakpa Tsering.

Source                             Source                                Source

Thangka (Tib. ཐང་ཀ ; Ch. 唐卡), as many readers will know, is a form of traditional Tibetan artwork, often depicting Buddhist deities, bodhisattvas, and other elements of Tibetan Buddhism. But, what about ‘New Thangka’?

Googling the term in English proved fruitless, but thanks to a suggestion by Françoise Pommaret, I found some work on “New Tibetan Painting” (Tib. བོད་ཀྱི་རི་མོ་གསར་པ་; Ch. 新藏画)by Per Kvaerne. Beginning in the Tibetan town of Kanze in the 1980s, “New Tibetan Art” combined elements of traditional Tibetan painting with modern Chinese art and was “consciously and systematically put to ideoloigcal use” (Kvaerne 1994: 166). Perhaps “New Thangka” and “New Tibetan Art” were one and the same thing?

In any case, searching “New Thangka” in Mandarin yielded plenty of results. A precise definition, however, seemed pretty hard to come by. One Xinhua piece provided an enthusiastic but vague description of “New Thangka” as “a moment of flourishing reform for traditional Tibetan Thangka, a single leap from traditional craft art into modern painting.”

An essay penned by Tsering Woeser offered a considerably more helpful and less lofty explanation:

Some of these so-called “New Thangka” paintings display the bold attempts of mainstream artists. Though sticking with the age-old forms, the content is not of the past. It empties into the ceaseless flow of news and information of this era of rapid progress. Tractors, cars, planes and related symbols of material progress. There are also portraits and so on of authorities (权力者), communicating political meanings. Even more “New Thangka” draw lessons from forms of expression of both Chinese and western art, longing to become an independent work of art. Do these “New Thangka” stray too far from the authentic Thangka? Without religious elements, even if they use traditional methods, is it still Thangka?


What I found surprising was that many of these New Thangka, even those featuring Mao and Deng, are all very recent. Most were completed in the last four years as part of the ongoing propaganda overload that is the “Hundred New Thangkas Project”. Initiated in 2012 by the Party Committee and government of the Tibet Autonomous Region, this “significant cultural project” was promoted to mark the 60th anniversary of Tibet’s “peaceful liberation”. The project involves over 70 Thangka painters (almost all Tibetan) covering themes “of grand reforms and constructions, important historical events, figures and changes of Tibet in 60 years after Tibet Peaceful Liberation”.

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Comrade Xi Jinping and Tibet Autonomous Region’s Deputy to the National People’s Congress Discuss Affairs of the State, by Li Zhibao. Source  

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Chairman Mao Meeting with Pagbalha Geleg Namgyai (‘Living Buddha’ and Vice Chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference), by Sonam Topgyal. Source

Another very recent batch of “New Thangka” showed up in a photo essay on Buddhism iFeng. Completed over the course of three years, they all featured in an exhibition hosted in Xining in early 2016. Here’s a quick slideshow of some “New Thangka” that appeared there.

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It is also easy to spot the highly gendered dimensions of these Thangka. Apart from that one image featured above of Jiang Receives Caidan Zhuoma, women remain very much at the fringes of the scene, passively watching on as Han and Tibetan menfolk stride forward in socialist bromance.

Older examples of politicised Thangka seemed a little harder to come by on my first Baidu search, but maybe that’s a blog project for another time. One image that did pop up frequently during my searches was this:

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Drawing of the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama Shaking Hands (1954) Source

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No details

This Thangka, now held at the Cultural Palace of Nationalities in Beijing, was presented to Chairman Mao as a gift by the 10th Panchen Lama, Choekyi Gyaltsen, in October, 1954. It depicts a scene of the 14th Dalai Lama and the 10th Panchen Lama shaking hands below the national emblem of the People’s Republic of China. In the top right, in Tibetan and Mandarin, the words “Commemorating the Great leader Chairman Mao, the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama  both unite together. Donated by the Panchen Lama, October 1954.”

So, what to make of all these very patriotic Tibetan-produced “New Thangka”, brimming with harmony, gratitude, and socialist zeal? Has party-state indoctrination and patriotic education got the best of artists in contemporary Tibet, or are there really so many artists in Tibet who believe in the party-state promise?

Without having talked to any of the contributors, I can only hazard what I reckon is a safe guess, and that is that the majority of contributors to the above collections are just being strategic, i.e. taking advantage of an opportunity for paid work, the chance to make new contacts, build new networks etc.

Speaking about it all with Leigh Miller, an expert on Contemporary Tibetan Art at Maitripa College, I learned that artist opportunism would not tell the full story. In recent years, she said, there has been some pressure to accept party-state commissions, adding “how can they really decline without knowing there will be repercussions of one sort or another?” Leigh also noted that in some cases, the Han leaders or contacts are also personal contacts – professional or as former teachers, etc.

And on a final note, is this all there is to artistic innovation in 21st century Tibet? Of course not. Contemporary Tibetan art is an exceptionally dynamic, creative and bold space, regularly drawing from tradition while simultaneously experimenting with an endless array of new ideas and styles from within Tibet and further afield. And as the work of Gade, one of the most important and influential Tibetan artists in Tibet today shows, representing leaders in considerably more ambiguous ways is not unknown…

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Father’s Nightmare (2007) Source

Further Reading:

Kvaerne, Per. “The Ideological Impact on Tibetan Art.” Resistance and Reform in Tibet Edited by Robbie Barnett and Shirin Akiner. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1994.


Thanks to Leigh Miller and 
Françoise Pommaret for their helpful comments and suggestions!








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Images of Xinjiang and the Cultural Revolution (part two)

This morning I stumbled upon a large collection of photographs capturing a variety of events from Xinjiang during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), and decided to make a quick follow-up to a post I made a few months back on Images of Xinjiang and the Cultural Revolution. They appear to come from a variety of sources, though mostly from a 2014 photo essay by a Xinjiang-based website named Yaxin. The piece from Yaxin, entitled “Xinjiang History: The People’s Militia of the Tarim Basin”, also features some brief comments on the wider context of the time, which I have also included below.

I would just like to add a very brief note regarding the reception of these pictures on Weibo. I noticed a number of netizens expressing a sense of nostalgia for what they perceive to have been a time of ethnic harmony and unity. Now, they wrote, with the arrival of “religious extremism” in Xinjiang, no one would dare share weapons of the sort pictured below with Uyghur people. One comment, which garnered over 40 ‘likes’ had a very different take and is worth translating in full:

“When many old Uyghur people come to Beijing, once they get to Tiananmen and see the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, they begin to cry. They tell children about the past and how good Mao was at that time. Later, when they go to sort out accommodation for the night, people take one look at their ID card (身份证), see they are from Xinjiang, and refuse to let them stay. In the whole of Beijing, they can find nowhere to stay. Sigh.” 

Starting in the 1970, the military districts in southern Xinjiang mobilised the masses across all ethnic groups, rural and urban, to establish an organisation for a people’s militia. An attendance so large and a momentum so great had never been seen before. The organisation of the people’s militia, in safeguarding social peace and rushing to deal with calamities, brought into play their important role, especially the battalions on the front lines for border defence. Every house is a guard building, every person is a guard.

In 1972, the southern Xinjiang military area decided to convene the people’s militia congress meeting. In order to prepare well, Yuan Guoxiang took the Working Group along the Tarim (Ch. Talimu) Basin to research, and also took many photographs.

Yuan Guoxiang said that the peoples of each ethnic group knew very well that a life of happiness was not easy to come by, and that there was high enthusiasm for joining the people’s militia. The militia organised a training session every year. Through defending the country and guarding the borders, maintaining social order, advancing production and development, they played a significant role.

The advanced achievements of the ethnic minority division of the people’s militia of the armed forces of Baicheng County (southern Xinjiang military district) were once made into a film by CCTV. In particular, the shots of the Laohu Tai People’s Militia training in combat readiness and scenes of tending and herding in remote mountainside all left a deep impression on viewers.

Work of the people’s militia at Kashgar textile factory has always been at the forefront. They once built a anti-aircraft gun and even mastered shooting techniques, making a contribution to Kashgar’s air defence combat readiness. In 1991, when riots occurred in Baren county, all ethnic groups of textile factory were dispatched throughout the night to co-ordinate with the armed forced and surround the rebels. Very quickly,through outstanding military service, the riot was quelled.

Not only did the people’s militia train tirelessly, they also participated in local development, making contributions to the local economy.

Born in Moyu County, militia battalion commander Noor Mohammad (pictured below), encouraged and led tens of militia members into the desolate fringes of the Taklimakan Desert to clear weeds and sand dunes, reclaiming large tracts of farmland and leading to many peasant households setting up home. He also served as a representative of the people’s militia, and went to Beijing to take part in the first national people’s militia congress, and was received by Chairman Mao, Commander-in-Chief Zhu, and other senior officials.


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1. Yasheng•Kuerban, captain of Laohutai army forces assigning tasks to the militia

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2. The bold and brave women of the militia

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3. The people’s militia working hard to practice their bayonet skills

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4. After Moyu County’s people’s militia battalion commander, Noor Mohammad arrives home, he brings an automatic rifle awarded to him by the Central Military Commission and gives an account of the occasion of seeing Chairman Mao.  

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5. April, 1960, Chairman Mao, Commander-in-Chief Zhu, and other senior officials receive representatives of the people’s militia congress in Beijing

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6.  After Tulupu of Pishan county people’s militia gloriously sacrificed himself, the people’s militia go to comfort his motherScreen Shot 2016-08-13 at 16.20.10

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7. People’s Militia ride camels to pursue fleeing rebels

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8. In 1965, Premier Zhou chats with female textiles worker from Kashgar

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9. People’s militia member Wangdui’s father is killed by rebels. He vows to avenge his father

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10. Both male and female militia members cherish their weapons and study shooting theory

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11. Brave and bold female militia members 


And here are some pictures from taken during the 1970s by Li Qiuwei, the director of the People’s Liberation Army Pictorial, while he worked in Xinjiang. These pictures were posted together with the above in a recent Weibo post.

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Tajik Youth (1970) 

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Xinjiang’s Ala Shan Watchtower(1971)

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A Time of Happiness (1971)

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Female Kazakh Member of the People’s Militia (1971)

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Reclamation of Wasteland by army (1971)

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Gongnaisi Grasslands (October, 1973)

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Nadam Fair (a Mongolian traditional fair) on the Grasslands (1973)

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No details

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During the Cultural Revolution, the PLA stationed in the motherland’s northwest regions and the people of the Uyghur areas were in close unity, mutually developing and safeguarding the frontiers. This is a member of the army and a local man carrying out a land survey.

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Xinjiang Pictorial (1973)

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During the Cultural Revolution, a soldier and a one hundred year old Uyghur man study The Selected Works of Chairman Mao

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Ethnic Unity, Close Kinship

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During the Cultural Revolution, the soldiers and the people enjoyed feelings of kinship. Here is an Uyghur man named Ada bringing fresh spring water from a fair away place to convey greetings to the soldiers developing and safeguarding the frontier.

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Turpan (Ch. Tulufan) grapes have ripened. Chairman Mao and the people of Xinjiang stand together.

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Issue one of the Xinjiang Pictorial (1966)

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Issue one of the Xinjiang Pictorial (1972)

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Picture from Xinjiang Pictorial 1966

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Picture from Xinjiang Pictorial (1966)

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Picture from Xinjiang Pictorial (1966)

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Picture from Xinjiang Pictorial (1966)

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Picture from Xinjiang Pictorial (1966)

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Picture from Xinjiang Pictorial (1966)

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Picture from Xinjiang Pictorial (1966)

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Picture from Xinjiang Pictorial (1966)

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Picture from Xinjiang Pictorial (1966)

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Day 17: An Update from Pema Tseden

Today, 17 days after he was detained, Pema Tseden released a short statement on his Weibo page concerning his current situation and condition. As I write this blog, his post has been shared over 500 times across Weibo alone. Below I provide a translation of his post. You can also find the original Mandarin and Tibetan versions of his statement at the end of this blog.

(This translation is my own. While I have made every effort to remain faithful to the original text, I am not a professional translator. Please get in touch if you feel that any particular section needs attention or have any suggestions for improvement! All images are from the original Weibo post)

Hello everyone,

I am now at a government-designated hospital. Everyday I am receiving oxygen, IV, and other kinds of treatments, and my condition has improved to some extent. Because of the special situation at present, it is not convenient for me to respond to everyone’s messages. Regarding this incident, the relevant authorities are in the process of carrying out an investigation once more. It has already 17 days since the incident happened. From the beginning until now, my request has been very simple: I need an explanation. Even if I have to return to detention in the future, this request will not change. I hope for a reasonable explanation as soon as possible. Many thanks to everyone for their concern.

Pema Tseden


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Police Report on Pema Tseden’s Detention

Here is a translation of a police report regarding the detention of Pema Tseden. It appeared in Legal Daily (法制日报) yesterday (June 29th). Pema’s name in Mandarin is Wanma Caidan (万玛才旦), and he is referred to in the below translation as Mr. Wan. Many thanks to my anonymous co-translator for their contributions.

(Neither myself nor the other person who contributed to the translation below are professional translators. Please get in touch if you feel that any particular section needs attention or have any suggestions for improvement!)

Qinghai Civil Aviation Airport Public Security Bureau Carry out Legal Investigate into a Passenger Who Disturbed Public Order through Illegal Behaviour

Legal Daily Online, Xining June 29th  Han Ping reports

A notice issued this afternoon by Qinghai Civil Aviation Airport Public Security Bureau: In recent days, in order to maintain peace and stability, and acting in accordance with legal procedure, Qinghai Airport Security investigated a case of a passenger who disturbed public order through illegal behavior.

On June 25th at 20:15 Mr. Wan, the person who behaved illegally, arrived in Xining on flight CZ6269 from Beijing. At 20:30, Mr. Wan walked out of the arrival control area. When we reached the parking lot, he discovered that he had left a piece of luggage in the arrival hall on a cart near the luggage carousel. He then returned from the parking lot to the arrival hall. At 20:35 Mr. Wan trespassed into the arrival control area in search of his luggage. Airport security personnel repeatedly tried to dissuade him, but Mr. Wan would not be listen and argued with safety personnel. Following this, airport safety personnel called for the police.

Three on-duty police officers from the Qinghai Civil Aviation Airport Security Bureau immediately arrived at the scene. In accordance with the relevant legislation under “Regulations of the People’s Republic of China on Safety and Security of Civil Aviation”, the officers demanded Mr. Wan leave the control area, and also adviced that airport personnel help him to find his luggage. However, Mr. Wan would not listen their advice and would not leave the control area. He continued to shout and scream in the control area, and would not co-operate with the directives of the on-duty police officers. After repeated attempts by on-duty police officers were ineffective, at 20:49 the officers forcibly removed Mr. Wang from the scene to carry out investigation.

During the investigation, the on-duty police officers patiently educated and explained policy to Mr. Wan. They also asked Mr. Wan’s friends from the scene to co-operate with police work and accept investigation. However, Mr. Wan still refused to co-operate and refused to answer the officers’ questions. According to evidence gathered at the scene by Qinghai Civil Aviation Airport Security Bureau from two of their counterparts, airport staff, and eye witnesses, Mr. Wan’s behavior constituted a disturbance of public order. The facts are clear and the evidence is conclusive. In accordance with the provisions of Article 23 of the first paragraph of the “Public Security Administration Punishments Law of the People’s Republic of China” the Qinghai Civil Aviation Airport Public Security Bureau placed Mr. Wan into detention for a period of 5 days as punishment.

During the investigation of this case, Qinghai Civil Aviation Airport Security Bureau police informed Mr. Wan of his legal rights, and strictly abided by the laws and regulations during the course of interrogation. An audio-visual recording of the entire course of law enforcement was made. In accordance with the laws and regulations, before Mr. Wan was put into detention, police escorted him to the People’s Hospital in Haidong City, Ping’An District to undergo a physical examination. According to the results of his physical examination, it was established that there was no legal basis preventing Mr. Wan from being put into detention. On June 26th at 7:10 Mr. Wan was taken to Ping’An district detention centre. On June 25th at 20:49 police forcibly escorted Mr. Wan from the scene. As Mr. Wan refused to co-operate, this led to 3 scars on his wrists from handcuffing.

At the detention center, Mr. Wan’s scars were recorded and Mr. Wan signed a document to confirm this. On June 27th at 10:00, Qinghai Civil Aviation Airport Security Bureau made a phone call to Ping’An District Detention Center. They requested medical care for Mr. Wan who was experienced chest pains and dizziness. Qinghai Civil Aviation Airport Security Bureau immediately sent two officers with legal recording equipment to escort him to Ping’An District Hospital. In the presence of his friends and family, Mr. Wan received medical examination. The results of his examination showed high blood pressure and hyperglycemia. No other symptoms were detected. Doctors recommended that Mr. Wan be admitted to hospital for observation. After being treated, 2 police officers once again read Mr. Wan his rights and informed him that once he had recovered he would complete the remainder of his administrative detention period. Mr. Wan expressed agreement.

Qinghai Civil Aviation Airport Security Bureau sincerely thanks the large netizenry for following public security work,and welcomes netizen scrutiny of the Public Security Bureau and police.

Original Editor: Zhang Xin.


发布时间:2016-06-29 19:22 星期三来源:法制日报——法制网

    法制网西宁6月29日电 记者韩萍 今天下午,民航青海机场公安局通报:近日,为维护机场治安秩序稳定,民航青海机场公安局依法查处一起旅客扰乱公共场所秩序违法行为。









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Update on Pema Tseden from Sina Entertainment: Witness Responds to Pema Tseden Incident

This is a translation of a news piece that was released today by Sina Entertainment at 16:04,  (Beijing time). It contains a number of important comments from someone who has spoken with Pema over the past 3 days as well as people who were at the scene when Pema was taken away by police.

(This translation is my own. While I have made every effort to remain faithful to the original text, I am not a professional translator. Please get in touch if you feel that any particular section needs attention or have any suggestions for improvement! All images are from the original news piece.)

Witness Responds to Pema Tseden Incident

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Sina Entertainment – June 29th: News has emerged and spread across social media that director Pema Tseden was forcefully detained by police at Xining Airport. After the incident, Sina Entertainment contacted Keke (a pseudonym), a person who recently visited Pema at the detention centre. Keke said “Apart from a few others who knew about this, we did not tell anyone else. We were worried that the incident between Pema and airport security would be blown out of proportion and distorted.” Currently, Xining police have yet to issue statement about this incident.

The Series of Events

On the evening of June 26th around 8pm Pema Tseden arrived from Beijing to Xining Caojiabao Airport. After exiting the building he discovered that he had forgotten his backpack at the baggage collection area. Following this, he approached a member of staff and informed them about the piece of luggage that he wished to collect. “The staff member asked Pema to leave. Pema Tseden then showed his plane ticket to the staff member to explain that the item was his, but the staff member’s attitude was that the ticket did not matter. Pema continued to speak with staff, but then the police were called.”

At this point, the two people who had originally come to the airport to pick Pema up arrived at the scene. At this stage, the members of staff had taken out Pema’s backpack. The people who had come to pick Pema up then said to the police “It’s fine, we’ll leave”, but at that stage the attitude of the police was that they had to arrest Pema.

“They pleaded with police over and over, but by then police had begun handcuffing Pema, and forcefully taking him away to a nearby police station. After this, Pema was interrogated until around 4 or 5am the next morning. They claimed Pema had disturbed public order. They tried to argue with him, but he was not persuaded by their reasoning. They then said that it is exactly people like him who they are after – people who understand reason but still refuse to listen”.

“There was no physical assault between Pema Tseden and the others, and he did not resist.” Keke added. “Those police officers who arrived did not ask any questions. Even ask the the bare minimum that they have should have asked, they didn’t. They just handcuffed Pema. They did not inform his relatives. Even now his relative still do not know what has happened.”

As events continued to unfold that night, one of the people who originally went to pick up Pema gave Keke a call. On June 27th Keke bought a quilt and mattress to the police station. In the detention centre he met with Pema for 2 or 3 minutes. “His handcuffs were worn very tightly and he had a number of wounds on his body”.

The Police told Keke that Pema Tseden had experienced some chest pain and headaches, and needed to see a doctor. Keke said “They said you yourselves should take him to see a doctor. What they meant was we relatives should pay the medical expenses. Whatever happens at the hospital is your responsibility. After he finishes with the doctors, he must return to complete his detention period. That’s what the airport police said. They were not willing to take any responsibility”.

The Director’s Current Situation

Keke revealed “Pema Tseden chest pains are causing him quite a bit of discomfort and he is feeling some chest tightness. Last night they measured his blood pressure. At it’s highest it was over 200, and at it’s lowest it was under 60. His diabetes has also left his two hands feeling numb. The soft tissue in his back and shoulders have also been injured. At night he cannot sleep well and with lying in some positions are very painful.”

It is understood that the police at Xining Airport have detained Pema Tseden for 5 days. It is unclear whether they have an official warrant for his detention. Currently Pema Tseden has been detained for 2 days. Once he has finished with doctors he will continue his period of detention for a further 3 days.

Keke said “Pema Tseden resides in Beijing. His trip to Xining this time was to promote a new film. To do so, he had invited a number of foreign guests to take part in events. He had also planned to take them to visit some scenic areas in Qinghai. This incident has caused much disruption to the scheduled events, which cannot now be carried out. These guests are still in Qinghai.”

Though the incident happened 3 days ago, the news has only just been posted on Weibo. In response to this Keke said “Apart from a few others who knew about this, we did not tell anyone else. We were worried that the incident between Pema and airport security would be blown out of proportion and distorted.” Even though the director does not wish the details to get out, in the end the news spread very quickly.

Pema Tseden is not aware that the story has spread across social media and he does not know that the media has been following the story. China Film Guild has also issued a statement in which they express their hopes that the incident will be dealt with justly and appropriately.


2016-06-29 16:04 新浪娱乐
摘要: 亲历者表示:除了几个人知道,我们一直没有往外说,就怕往大了去,性质给变了。目前,西宁警方尚未就此事做出回应。

新浪娱乐讯 6月29日,导演万玛才旦在西宁机场警方强制带离的事件经某微博博主曝光,随后迅速发酵。事件发生后,新浪娱乐联系到了曾前往拘留所看望万玛才旦的可可(化名),他表示:“除了几个人知道,我们一直没有往外说,就怕本来是一个机场公安对他的一个事情,往大了去,性质给变了。”目前,西宁警方尚未就此事做出回应。














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A Statement from Film Directors’ Guild of China on Detention and Assault of Pema Tseden

As many of you will have seen in the news this morning, well-known Tibetan director Pema Tseden was detained and assaulted by police at Xining Airport on Saturday, June 25th. Details are still emerging regarding what and how events unfolded. Tibetan netizens are calling for calm and have asked people to reserve comment until further details have been released. In the meantime below is a translation of a statement from the Film Directors’ Guild of China (中国电影导演协会) on the incident.

*Update: Several reports from Pema’s close friends and colleagues say that, apart from blood pressure being a little high, he is doing just fine.

(This translation is my own. While I have made every effort to remain faithful to the original text, I am not a professional translator. Please get in touch if you feel that any particular section needs attention or have any suggestions for improvement! All images are from the original essay.)

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Film Directors Guild of China (FDGC)

On June 25th, Pema Tseden, a member of the fifth executive committee of FDGC and well-known film director, was forcefully taken away by police at Xining Airport. In the course of subsequent detention, he sustained injuries and was admitted to hospital on the afternoon of June 27th.

Pema was taken away by police on charges of disturbing public order, but no details have yet been officially issued concerning specific laws or regulations that police employed to detain him. This all took place four days ago. Today many in the film industry and wider society are using the internet and social media to express their concern for Pema.

FDGC is a professional association for film directors in China. The protection of rights and interests of its members is our basic duty. We will be paying very close attention to the reasons for this incident and related developments. We call upon authorities to respond in a timely and considerate manner and to release all details, including the reasons why police took such forceful measures, whether these measures were standard, and whether violent or excessive enforcement was used.

Pema Tseden is a writer and director. He is a graduate of Northwest Nationalities University and the Beijing Film Academy departments of literature and film. He is one of the outstanding Tibetan directors in our country. In recent years his series of films have been very well received both domestically and internationally. To our knowledge, Pema Tseden suffers from a number of chronic illnesses. Already in the course of detention his state of health has declined and this has made us very concerned.  We hope Pema Tseden is safe and sound, and we hope that this situation will be resolved in a just and appropriate manner.

Film Directors Guild of China (FDGC)

Afternoon of 29th June, 2016

The original statement in Mandarin can be found at

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