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Life Under Surveillance

Tibet possesses a rich culture and profound history, and it is a place where religion -- Buddhism -- holds a privileged position. To be born in a small village surrounded by endless snow-capped mountains is delightful. However, it has been devastating to have our once-peaceful home, Tibet, occupied; to see our long-conserved natural resources depleted; to have our religious faith dispelled; and to be confined since the Chinese invasion in 1959, when the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet, was exiled to India along with thousands of Tibetans.

Despite that, those moments playing with runny-nosed children, chasing one another around the boundless grassland until my tummy started growling with hunger, were some of the happiest of my life. I was too naive to pay close attention to the reality of the lives of people in my home community, until I witnessed an intervention by the Chinese government in my own family.

Some years ago, the Chinese government compelled people in my community to remove their dignified religious artifacts and photos of His Holiness the Dalai Lama from their family shrines. According to a Buddhist perspective, it is very important to have religious artifacts in the family shrine. It is both traditionally valued and culturally treasured. Moreover, Tibetans are generally very religious and have a great deal of faith in His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who has devoted his life to religion and his people. So, it is truly unacceptable for Tibetans to remove his images from their family shrines. This not only caused anxiety throughout my whole community, it also created apprehension within my family. I have come to believe that it is unethical for the government to invade people’s lives with unsolicited intervention or regulation, especially when it comes to spiritual beliefs. My family was directly affected by such intervention.

One harsh winter afternoon, as the sun began to sink behind the majestic mountains, I hurriedly got off a small white bus and ran toward my cozy home. I had been away for a month. When I was already halfway home, the driver called me to retrieve my school bag, which I had left behind. I could not believe I had forgotten to take my bag in my excitement in coming home from boarding school in Karze County, 30 kilometers from my home. Approaching my house, I thought it strange that my mom and dad were not waiting for me in front of our family gate as usual. It was strange and quiet, but still I happily entered the gate, which had been left partially ajar.
Suddenly, “How dare you take down all of those precious images of my Holiness?” I heard my mother rave loudly upstairs. I was rooted still, listening.
“Don’t pretend to be brave in this circumstance, Zhuo Ma. We have to comply with this unjustified regulation for the moment,” said my father, Daji. I tightened my school bag again on my back and listened carefully.
“I would feel empty without these images in our shrine, Daji. No matter what happens, I cannot take them down,” my mom insisted.
“Don’t be so silly. Genga” -- our village leader -- “just warned us during the meeting that local policemen will come to check every household to see whether any family has violated their order. So, I think the most important thing right now is to calm down; all factors are out of our control. Taking his images down doesn’t mean we lose any faith in him. Trust me, nobody can snatch away our faith in him and our deep conviction in religion,” my dad added.

As my parents argued in the shrine, I was totally bewildered, not sure exactly what was happening upstairs, and I was scared, too. I slowly went upstairs and entered the shrine. My parents seemed surprised by my abrupt appearance. Both of them stared at me. I was shocked to see a number of His Holiness’ pictures taken down and set on the table. My parents looked depressed and powerless. They could not explain anything, but my mom cried and my dad became speechless. I did not know what to say, except to stare without blinking at the perfectly designed frames of His Holiness’ images on the table. I could not comfort my mom, nor could I talk to my dad. My heart sank in the bottom of the silence.

I returned to school the following day when the sun rose to its zenith in the blue sky. It was a new day, but I still could not recover from the suspicion and injustice I felt deep in my heart. As soon as I got into town, I saw hordes of armed soldiers marching in Karze Street, back and forth, as if they were going to attack some wild gorillas. My heart pounded as it did whenever I happened to see soldiers, because my mom used to tell me when I was a child that soldiers would take people away from their homes if they saw anyone disobeying. I carefully dragged myself along to pavement, listening to the steps of the well-uniformed soldiers. They paced, wrapping their fingers around triggers -- if anyone were to stand up against the injustice, they would likely silence him or her by firing right away on the spot. I was left breathless on the edge of the pavement, gazing back, full of questions.

Even today, hundreds of trucks of well-armed soldiers are stationed in Tibetan communities, and people are living under constant surveillance and control.

The People’s Republic of China has always justified its policy in Tibet by painting the darkest picture of traditional Tibetan society -- what they call “feudal serfdom and slavery.” Therefore, the military invasion and occupation of Tibet by China has been termed a liberation. The Chinese government claims that the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 brought hope to the deeply distressed Tibetans. It claims that the society of old Tibet under feudal serfdom was even more dark and backward. The estate-owning officials, nobles and highest-ranking monks in the monasteries -- less than five percent of Tibet’s total population -- owned all the farmland, pastures, forests, and the majority of livestock. Therefore, modernization, elimination of the feudal system, and the liberation of Tibet by the PRC is claimed to be fundamentally important. According to the Chinese government, the peaceful liberation of Tibet, which was part of the Chinese national democratic revolution, enabled Tibet to drive for common progress and development. In actuality, it invaded, colonized, and killed many innocent people.

As a matter of fact, Tibet had been remote from the rest of the world, with a dispersed population of nomads, farmers, monks, nuns and traders. Tibet was a mysterious place with rich culture, history, its own national flag, currency, and a distinct religion. Traditional Tibetan society was not perfect, and indeed it was in great need of positive change. The Dalai Lama and other Tibetan leaders have admitted as much. According to the Tibetan government-in-exile, this was the reason why the Dalai Lama initiated far-reaching administrative and land reforms in Tibet when he was chosen as Dalai Lama. In reality, the Chinese occupation of Tibet has entirely changed the lives and lifestyles of Tibetans for the worse. During the invasion, the Chinese army imprisoned hundreds of Tibetans for their political and religious activities.

In fact, if China sincerely wanted to transform old Tibetan society into a more civilized, modern society, the current Tibet would be more autonomous -- but it remains under Chinese sovereignty and surveillance. Had Chinese “liberation” brought improvements to Tibet, today Tibet would have more political self-determination. If Chinese modernization had shaped the lives of Tibetans for the better, today economic development would genuinely benefit Tibetans, rather than only Han Chinese immigrants in Tibet. If Chinese so-called development of infrastructure in Tibet were implemented honestly, Tibetans would have a better trade system and direct connection with the outside world, instead of having thousands of immigrants occupy the land of the Tibetans, the environment abused and natural resources extracted. Most importantly, Tibetans are no longer happy, and that is why today more than 100 people have died from self-immolation as a form of protest against Chinese government oppression. This unprecedented occurrence illustrates the human dimension of this tragedy and proves just how oppressive the Chinese government has been in Tibet.

The interference of the Chinese government shook my family’s peaceful life in that instant. It would make anyone cry aloud, feeling empty and guilty, unable to practice one’s own religion. It prompted me to question why mere images of our people’s Holiness worried the Chinese government so much. They did accuse His Holiness the Dalai Lama of inciting self-government or separatism from the Chinese -- was that their reason to censor his pictures from families’ shrines? Back then, I kept wondering how it could be a reasonable motivation for a government to bother innocent people silently practicing their religion and decorating their family shrines with a respectable religious figure. It is painful to be a bystander of injustice and uninvited intervention.

Now, in retrospect, I think it is important for those authoritarians who want to infringe on people’s freedom to know that all humans were born to have basic rights to adjust to this world. So it deserves people’s attention when anyone, anywhere, is struggling with infringement of freedom, especially freedom of religion. What would happen to the Chinese government if it fairly allowed Tibetans to practice their own religion? I think that people can live in harmony if they are allowed to live in accordance with their own particular interests and are free to make their own life choices. One of the first steps in bringing about reconciliation between Tibet and China is to have negotiations. I think there is always room in the conflict for negotiation, and the conflict remains only because there is no sense of understanding from either side. The Chinese government has to accept that Tibet has rich natural resources, history, special culture and religion, and it deserves its own rights and practices.

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous digital media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.


I am more than impressed, I am shaking on my chair as I read, sister, where are You????????????????????????
I wish you God's protection, continue to speak, make it resonate, the whole women worldwide is behind you. SAY IT OUT. AWAY WITH OPPRESSIVE REGIMES ALL OVER THE WORLD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I love your voice one million times. May Tibet be liberated, may her citizens continue to talk, to speak out, to break the chain of oppressive leadership. Amen.

Olutosin Oladosu Adebowale
Founder/Project Coordinator
Star of Hope Transformation Centre
512 Road
F Close
Festac Town


jampa's picture


Thank you so much for your support, dear Olutosin! I am in my hometown Tibet now, have been there for just one week and having a great time with family.
i think it is my obligation to speak out for my people with this great chance. Thank you for your attention to Tibetan cause. Let’s hope for the great revolutionary.

Sarah Whitten-Grigsby's picture

Excellent ! Thank You!

Dear Jampa,

Your piece is excellent and enormously informative. I understood little about the loss of Tibet until I read your story, and I am dismayed, as always, to read about the ways in which the Chinese took away the Tibetan identity by entering people's homes and taking their private, precious, religious artifacts. Shameful!

I want to share with you one of my morning prayers which is apparently one of the ones His Holiness the Dalai Lama says each day, which you may very well know. I keep it in a special place with my favorite prayers.

With Compassion and Respect,
Rev. Sarah



May I be a guard for those who need protection
A guide for those on the path
A boat, a raft, a bridge for those who wish to cross the flood.
May I be a lamp in the darkness
A resting place for the weary
A healing medicine for all who are sick
A vase of plenty, a tree of miracles
And for the boundless multitudes of living beings
May I bring sustenance and awakening
Enduring like the earth and sky
Until all beings are freed from sorrow
And all are awakened.
- Shantideva, Indian Buddhist Sage, 700 A.D.

Hana's picture

"a tree of miracles"

What a lovely prayer! Thank you for posting this, Sarah!

Sarah Whitten-Grigsby's picture

You're Welcome . . .

You're welcome, Hana! I find myself sort of collecting beautiful prayers -- so many exquisite ones have been written that are not overly religious and allow one to fill in the blanks with ones own beliefs . . .


jampa's picture

Thank you Sarah

Your comments are very appreciated dear Sarah. Thank you so much for taking time to read my journal and learn more about Tibet. I am glad that helps you to have a larger picture of how Tibetan’s situation under the PR of China now. Thank you for your support and your generosity.
I loved your morning prayers and I do chant often in Tibetan.
I would like to share one more prayers that His Holiness usually chants as:

“For as long as space endures, and for as long as living beings remain, until then may I too abide to dispel the misery of the world.” -Shantideva

Sarah Whitten-Grigsby's picture

Thank you, Dear Jampa

. . . for that beautiful prayer, which I'll add to my favorites.

Love to you,


jampa's picture

You are most welcome

Let's keep sharing great prayers and be happy together !


Mukut's picture

So So brilliant !

Jampa, my dear, this article is beyond brilliant ! I loved it.You have such a powerful voice.

In case you want to know more about what's happening on our FB page, you can email me-

Do not hesitate to contact me. Hope you can access FB soon.

Lots of love,

Mukut Ray

jampa's picture


Dear Mukut,
Thank you so much for the message. I am back to school now and can access to FB. Hope everything has been wonderful with you and I have to read your journal soon, i am so sorry that i could not have access to internet when i was on trip back to home, and could not read so many amazing pieces of you all. I am looking forward to read them.
All the best,

pelamutunzi's picture


i enjoyed your writing. this is very similar to what has happened in zimbabwe its not only oiur religion that was stolen but culture and economy through colonisation. we havent done much to change the situatioon but truly i just saw myself here in a different continent and country but same emotions. the people's will should be respected and yes negotiations are the way forward. i pray for healing of tibetan people as well as your personal healing but most importtantly they will never take away who you are. defend your rights and one day tibet shall be free and you can freely worship.

my support for you

we may be powerless to stop an injustice but let there never be a time we fail to protest.

jampa's picture

Greeting to dear Pela

Thank you very much for the comment. I felt your sincere support and I felt your generosity when you said, "i pray for healing of tibetan people as well as your personal healing but most importtantly they will never take away who you are. defend your rights and one day tibet shall be free and you can freely worship."
Tons of thanks,

Hana's picture

Powerful and informative!

Jampa, I love this piece. When I read about the confusion and fear you felt returning home as a child to hear your parents arguing, I really felt like I was there and it reminded me of times in my own childhood. I totally agree when you say that "there is always room for negotiation in the conflict." I believe it is always good to keep negotiations going, even when sometimes it seems like it isn't going anywhere, because when they stop talking, they start shooting. It is so saddening and frustrating that the Chinese government refuses to come to the negotiating table with the Tibetans.

When I was a young child I got in trouble for writing "Free Tibet" on the window of the school bus. This issue was always dear to my heart and it is so interesting that our lives have now woven together in this way. I can't wait to read more from you!

jampa's picture

Honored to have you as my Editor

Dear Hana,
Thank you so much for everything. You are a wonderful editor. Without your effort and your help, I would not be able to produce this so powerful and polished in this much. We are destined to be woven together in this way and I feel so blessed.
All the best,

Y's picture

Much food for thought here,

Much food for thought here, Jampa.

Martin Luther King and Gandhi moved forward with a clear mission and definite plans. Have the Tibetans come together with a plan for moving forward, while honoring the Tibetan heritage? Who is the spokesperson for Tibet? With whom would the Chinese government negotiate? Who knows what Tibetans want and what they want to contribute to the modern world in which they live?


jampa's picture

Hey Y

Thank you for the message dear Y.
Thank you for your wonderful questions too.
I would like to share with you that Tibetan government is in exile in India. We have His Holiness Dalai Lama as both spiritual leader and as spokesperson for Tibet and its people. Now that we have Dr. Lobsang Sangay as the Prime Minister of the Tibetan Government in Exile on 26 April, 2011, he works to continue trying to negotiate with PR of China. Moreover, he has emphasized the importance of seeking a peaceful, non-violent resolution of the Tibet issue. He has supported the Dalai Lama's call for a so-called “Middle Way” approach “that would provide for genuine autonomy for Tibet within the framework of Chinese constitution.” Noting that China has established “one country, two systems” mechanisms in Hong Kong and Macau, he has argued that it makes no sense for China to continue to resist a similar solution for Tibet, which, he emphasizes, would be a “win-win” result.
Hope this helps you a bit and will share more with you,

delphine criscenzo's picture

Free Tibet

Dear Jampa,

Thank you so much for this insight into what it means to live at the frontlines of Chinese occupation in Tibet. Your piece was so inspiring because you transported us in space and time. Being able to experience what religious oppression means in the eyes of a young Tibetan girl was so powerful. Your piece also made the connection for me between religious oppression and Tibetans living in exile. I have met many Tibetans who live in the United States, fled Tibet and will never be able to return because they refused to accept this religious oppression. Their refusal to comply was associated with political activism and they now have to live in exile.
Recently I spoke with a 17 year old Tibetan girl who has lived in exile with her family in France for the past 7 years. She was reunited with one of her cousin this summer. He has lived in Tibet for the past 7 years, away from his father who was in exile in the US. Seeing a father reunited with his wife and son and seeing two cousin, reunited after 7 years brought tears to my eyes.
Religious oppression in Tibet, imposed by the Chinese does more than force people to take down pictures of His Holiness from family shrines, it separates families.
Wonderful job Jampa!
Thank you

Delphine Criscenzo

jampa's picture

Dear Delphine,

I am very grateful to you for your comment and your sharing about what you know about Tibetan people and their struggles for living in exile. It’s so saddening to learn that so many young Tibetans have to live in different countries but never are allowed to return back to their homeland.
Now that I am back to university and will write to you more about my one-month internship in China and the time with my family.

I look forward to it. Also I have pictures to send you that I took with our friend from Little Tibet in Indiana!
Missed you

Delphine Criscenzo

jampa's picture


I am looking forward to it too.
Miss you too dear Delphine. I also talked to my friend from Little Tibet on FB today and he talked about you.

Kabukabu Ikwueme's picture

Well done Jampa. Amazing

Well done Jampa. Amazing story and so well articulated.

jampa's picture

Hey dear,

Thank you dear Kabukabu for stopping by and read my journal.
All the best,

EllenWingard's picture

Freeing Tibet

Dear Jampa,

It is my honor to be asked by Delphine to step in as your vision mentor and to take in your heart searing, powerfully written work into my own heart. You take us right into your home, imagining what is like to feel the removal of sacred images that hold such reverence for His Holiness and all that he stands for in human dignity and kindness. To have the forceable removal of this universal expression of love and compassion could break one at a soul level or cause permanent embitterment. But you so courageously transcend this (just as I imagine His Holiness has in his non violent stance with the Chinese) and describe the right of every human to be free. Like His Holiness and all the truly great movement leaders such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King, you speak from a place of wisdom not violence, noble truth not hatred.

Jampa, I feel that you have taken what trauma you have experienced and turned your suffering into a strong stand for justice and freedom that will inform your leadership as a change maker for Tibetans everywhere...It is so powerful to have your voice in this ongoing struggle. Living here near Boston we have a strong Tibetan community and very rarely hear the voices of women speaking about this ongoing struggle. Your work is so important and illuminates what is often the most invisible struggle going on that so many have died for for so long. It is a truly heart wrenching situation yet you have given us hope and a sense of what could be possible for freedom in Tibet.

Thank you and a deep bow of gratitude. I so look forward to speaking soon.

jampa's picture

Wow, dear Ellen

Thank you very much for your comment and support for Tibet.
Thank you for being my part of my life and agreed to be my mentor. I am honored to have you and i am looking forward to working with you. I will write to you more details about my visions and in what way you could help me to work on them. I am very excited. Thank you Ellen!


Maura Bogue's picture


Captivating job describing past events. You make the reader join you in the dramatic conflict with your parents, really feeling the consequence of this injustice. Since it it so striking, maybe you could include more examples and quotes that portray the effects of life under surveillance.

jampa's picture

Thank you very much

Dear Maura,
Thanks for the comment and suggestions. I really appreciate for your suggestions of giving more examples of to illustrate people's lives under the surveillance. I hope to continue writing more and lead you all into the real situation of my people.

Leigh Anne Kranz's picture


Dear Jampa,

This is a very powerful piece, seen through the eyes of a wise young woman. I learned so much about the reality of the Chinese occupation of Tibet. So similar to the founding of the United States--the invasion, occupation, assimilation and unwanted intervention into the spiritual and cultural lives of the Indigenous people of the Americas.

Thank you for speaking out!
Leigh Anne

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