More Prisons Than Monasteries: The True Map of Tibet
“On This Spot: An Unconventional Map and Guide to Lhasabegins where other commercial guidebooks and maps of Lhasa end.” That, according to The International Campaign for Tibet (lCT), who published the map, is precisely the point. This two-sided 20 x 24 inch map of Central Lhasa and the Greater Lhasa Valley region of Chinese-occupied Tibet isn’t actually a viable substitute for the larger commercial tourist guides. Rather, according to ICT it provides “the missing pages” from those otherwise comprehensive tomes. “You will read,” says the guide, “about major independence demonstrations as you stand on the sites where they took place…about Tibetan prisoners of conscience—and the exact locations of the prisons where they are held today.”
While On This Spot is also useful for the information it provides on hotels, monasteries, travel offices, consulates, and hospitals, promotional material from ICT that accompanies the map cautions against bringing it to Lhasa: “If it is brought in, the map should be discretely used. Authorities may decide to confiscate it or question the owner if found.”
Below are excerpts of the text that accompanies On This Spot. An asterisk indicates that the site number does not appear on this map, which has been adapted for Tricycle; all site numbers with asterisks are located within the bold box at right.
*13—The site of Lhasa’s largest modern massacre which took place on March 5, 1989. Monks were protesting Chinese interference in the year’s most important Buddhist ceremonies, the Monlam Chenmo. Chinese police swarmed the palace, killing over forty monks and imprisoning hundreds. *18- The first of many large indoor Chinese markets built in Lhasa. While it 92 Winter 1994 was being constructed, Tibetans nicknamed it the “torture market” after police used its unfinished stalls in order to beat and torture protesters detained in a series of 1988 demonstrations.
*18—The first of many large indoor Chinese markets built in Lhasa. While it was being constructed, Tibetans nicknamed it the “torture market” after police used its unfinished stalls in order to beat and torture protestors detained in a series of 1988 demonstrations.
*22—Jeboom Lhakhang, a temple which once housed thousands of Buddhist statues. Used as a granary during the Cultural Revolution, the temple is today accessible by climbing over a rubbish pile behind the toilets of a Chinese restaurant.
*43—The Potala Palace, the symbol of Lhasa and Tibet. Ninety percent of the Potala is closed to visitors; the contents of the thousands of rooms have either been carted off to China or destroyed. The practice of Buddhism is still essentially banned in this building, and most of its monk caretakers are not allowed to wear robes.
*48—Dekyi Shar Lam is the Tibetan name for what the Chinese have renamed Beijing Street. Today Beijing Street has been dubbed “Karaoke Row.” According to one report in a Hong Kong newspaper, “Karaokes are spreading faster than yak butter across the Tibetan steppes.”
*59—Two golden yaks were unveiled on this spot on May 23, 1991 to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the “Peaceful Liberation of Tibet.” De facto martial law was enforced to ensure no demonstrations or other disturbances marred the ceremonies, which were held in the new stadium. Tibetans in Lhasa jokingly refer to the two yaks as “Tenzin and Raidi,” after Deputy Secretaries of the Communist Party in Tibet. The inference is that the two fake yaks installed by the Chinese represent two fake Tibetans—politicians who barely know their own language and who are always trotted out by the Chinese to put a Tibetan face on Chinese policy.
*66—The Holiday Inn, with its Tibetan motifs, added in 1988. Site of the infamous 1992 “Miss Tibet” contest, the opening event for the “1992 Golden Year of Tibetan Tourism” and the fortieth anniversary of the “Peaceful Liberation of Tibet.” The Communist Party sent directives to local work units requiring participation of each unit’s most beautiful women.
*74—Peoples Armed Police (PAP) headquarters. The PAP was established in April 1983 as a paramilitary force to safeguard China’s borders and government buildings, and to control foreigners residing in China. The PAP was used extensively between 1987 and 1991 to suppress demonstrations in Lhasa. It was largely responsible for the March 1989 Lhasa massacre.
*77—The Higher Peoples Court of Tibet. This appellate court has never overturned a lower-court conviction of a prisoner of conscience. Trials remain closed to the public.
*82—The Mother-Child Health Care Hospital is Lhasa’s primary abortion and sterilization facility.
*86—Polingka Stadium, which was used for all of the mass denunciation and sentencing rallies during the 1960s and 1970s. Lhasa residents were forced to attend the polemical speeches justifying why Tibetan “counter-revolutionaries” must be executed. On September 24, 1987, Chinese authorities said fifteen thousand people attended a sentencing rally from all of Lhasa’s work units. Two Tibetans were sentenced to death. Executions in China customarily mean a bullet in the back of the head. The family of the victim is then required to pay for the cost of the bullet in order to get the body back.
100—Sangyip labor camp is in an area utilized almost exclusively by the Peoples Armed Police (PAP). It is a complex of prison facilities for both political and common criminals. Official Chinese planning maps label this area as “special use,” “traffic and transportation,” and “basic industrial construction.”
101—Sitru Prison, part of the Sangyip Prison complex, has been home to some of the most noteworthy Tibetan prisoners of conscience. The smallest of Lhasa’s six prisons, Sitru is known for employing severe forms of torture and the longest periods of incommunicado of any penal facility in Tibet. There are reportedly underground cells where prisoners are tortured.
102—In a deserted area about one kilometer southeast of Sera Monastery stand the old execution grounds where hundreds of Tibetan monks, aristocrats, and ordinary citizens were shot after the 1959 Uprising. The site is now periodically used as a military training area.
106—0n this spot, thousands of Tibetans who participated in the March 1959 Uprising were forced to build Lhasa’s first large hydroelectric plant. Nachen Tan, as it was called, may have been the largest forced labor camp in the early 1960s, using over ten thousand prisoners. Many prisoners were killed by rock slides, and many others reportedly committed suicide by jumping into the Kyichun River.
107—Drapchi Prison, where most of Lhasa’s political prisoners live. The prison holds over two hundred convicted and sentenced political prisoners. Nearly all are charged as “counter-revolutionaries.” About three-quarters are monks and nuns, mostly under the age of twenty-five.
131—Gongar Airport was used by Boeing to demonstrate its CH-47 helicopter. This aircraft, designed for high-altitude use, would provide China with a rapid deployment capability. In November 1988, China bought six of the U.S. choppers, marking the most obvious sale of military equipment that could be used to quell Tibetan dissent. The United States military loaned a transport plane to Boeing to bring the helicopters to Gongar Airport.
Information concerning On This Spot: An Unconventional Map and Guide to Lhasa may be obtained through The International Campaign for Tibet, 1518 K Street, NW, Suite 410, Washington, DC 20005.
According to a press release from PandaAmerica, a U.S. distributor, “In 1994, for the first time, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy has been portrayed on China’s legal tender silver coins, with the issuance of just 3,000 proof sets. Each set consists of four different coins, with Kuan Yin portrayed in different classical poses—either holding a willow twig in her hand or a baby on her lap…they come in a custom box with a certificate of authenticity.”
Supposedly, the coins have been minted at least partly in recognition of the throng of worshippers who, “drawn because of her promise for relief from misery and hope of a better life,” journey each September to Putuo Mountain in China’s Zhejiang Province, where Kwan Yin propagated her doctrines. A representative of PandaAmerica told Tricycle, however, that the coins are meant primarily for distribution to American collectors. Go figure.
What possible connection could there be between City College of New York (CCNY) and a Soto Zen Buddhist temple in Japan? More than you might think. The self-educated founder of City College, Townsend Harris, was the first United States Consul to Japan in 1856, and the first U. S. Consulate was housed in Gyokusen-ji, a Soto Zen temple in Izu where Harris lived. In honor of that historic relationship, Founder’s Day was established at City College “to honor those whose vision and leadership have contributed to the promotion of relations between Japan and the United States.” Past recipients of the award have included Beate Sirota Gordon, the Director of Performing Arts at the Asia Society in New York and a key proponent of equal rights for women in Japan; Dr. Hirotoshi Sa no, the President of Tokyo Metropolitan University; and the late Mayor Robert F. Wagner, Jr., who established the Sister Cities Program between New York and Tokyo in 1961.
This year, in an unprecedented move, the award was presented to the White Plum Lineage, founded in this country by Taizan Maezumi Roshi, Abbot of Zen Center of Los Angeles.
Maezumi Roshi first came to the United States in 1956, a hundred years after Townsend Harris went to Japan. At the award ceremony, Maezumi Roshi told an appreciative audience of CCNY faculty that in preparation for receiving the Founder’s Day award, he made a visit to Gyokusen-ji while on a recent trip to Japan, and also read two Japanese biographies of Townsend Harris.
“Because of the historic relationship between the College and Japanese Buddhism of the Soto tradition, we feel that there could be no more fitting recipient of the 1994 Award than the White Plum Lineage in the United States,” said Professor James J. Shields, Director of the Japan Initiative at CCNY.
Maezumi Roshi journeyed from Los Angeles for the presentation of the award on October 5 as part of the week’s activities celebrating the inauguration of Dr. Yolanda Moses as the new president of City College. The award was presented by Dr. Moses and, in addition to Maezumi Roshi, the White Plum Lineage was represented by Bernard Tetsugen Glassman Sensei, Abbot of the Zen Community of New York, and John Daido Loori Sensei, Abbot of Zen Mountain Monastery in Mt. Tremper, New York. The following day, on his own initiative, Maezumi Roshi returned to CCNY, located in the Harlem section of Manhattan, in order to present to the library some documents that related to Townsend Harris, which he had purchased in Japan.
Image: City College of New York President Yolanda Moses presenting Founder’s Day Award to Taizan Maezumi Roshi of the White Plum Lineage.
The Bell of Nuclear Abolition is a temple bell from Thailand, where Buddhist monks noticed that casings from Vietnam-era bombs produced a beautiful sound when struck. The bell, made from such a bomb, was recently presented to Mexican Ambassador Marin-Bosch at the third session of the U.N. Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, Switzerland. After statements by indigenous people whose lands have been devastated by nuclear testing, Ian Zabarte of the Western Shoshone National Council asked, “Please Mr. Ambassador, won’t you ring the bell?” In the silence that followed the bell tone, the Ambassador said, ‘This is a high point—a note of hope.” Currently in the custody of the World Council of Churches, the Bell of Nuclear Abolition will be presented to the Conference when it reconvenes on January 27, 1995.
Image: The Bell of Nuclear Abolition at the Nevada nuclear test site, April 8, 1994.
Buddhism is on the rise in Italy, according to a recent issue of La Civilta’ Cattolica, a Jesuit bi-weekly published by the Vatican. Given the recent success in Italy of Bernardo Bertolucci’s film Little Buddha, and the declaration by Italian soccer star Roberto Baggio that he is now a Buddhist, there is concern on the part of some Church authorities that more and more Catholics might exchange their faith for Buddhism. Already, argues La Civilta’s Father Gabriele De Rosa, there are an estimated 30,000 Buddhists in Italy, and with the proposed publication of a serialized Buddhist Encyclopedia to be made available at newsstands, Italy could soon have as many Buddhists as France (50,000), or even Britain (135,000). Father De Rosa warns that embracing Buddhism is “apostasy,” the renunciation of religious faith, and concludes that “in Buddhism, there is no room for God or for the revelation, for faith, or for grace, nor incarnation or redemption.” Apparently, however, Father De Rosa’s word is not law.
In his new book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, Pope John Paul II responds with a more ecumenical spirit to the issue of non-Christian religions. “From the beginning,” writes the Pope, “Christian Revelation has viewed the spiritual history of man as including, in some way, all religions….” On Buddhism specifically, he quotes no lesser authority than the Second Vatican Council of 1962-65: “The various schools of Buddhism recognize the radical inadequacy of this malleable world and teach a way by which men, with devout and trusting hearts, can become capable either of reaching a state of perfect liberation or of attaining, by their own efforts or through higher help, supreme illumination.” Of Eastern religions in general, says the Council, “The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions….However, the Church proclaims, and is bound to proclaim, that Christ is ‘the way and the truth and the life’ (John 14:6), in whom men must find the fullness of religious life and in whom God has reconciled everything to Himself.”
As part of a program sponsored by the Samaya Foundation of New York, childr
en of the Watts section of Los Angeles learned the centuries-old art of sand mandala painting. Called “Healing the Causes of Violence Through Art,” the program was an attempt to teach the children compassion and respect. Instead of the deities normally depicted in such mandalas, the children placed the names of their “protectors,” including Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Frida Kahlo, Spike Lee, and Malcolm X.
Image (left): the completed mandala.
Image (right): Children of Watts, Los Angeles, making a Wheel of Compassion sand mandala, assisted by the Ven. Champa Tenzin Lungpo of Namgyal Monastery.
For six weeks twenty-six-year-old artist Michael Tong lived inside the Buddha’s head. Part of a group exhibition at Manhattan’s Exit Art, the installation in which Tong lived was meant to show “the ways that cultural
stereotypes isolate and identify individuals as separate from or as part of a given group.” Says Tong, “I was trying to think of one image, one form, that represented the Orient from the perspective of the Western eye. And one that also captured the essence of the East. It’s all there.” Within the stereotypic shell of the twelve-foot-high sheet metal Buddha head, however, Tong developed a typical American interior, complete with TV and stereo.
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