“Desecrated Tibet”: story of a country crushed by China

Tibet desecrated, to live, die and resist in an occupied country

Barbara Demic

Editions Albin Michel, 409 pages, €22.90

Barbara Demick knows how to tell stories. She likes to listen to the testimonies of men, women and children that she transcribes with emotion in order to tell the great story. After her major survey of North Koreans a few years ago, she is now publishing a major Tibetan saga. Another place, another culture but an identical political context: the oppression of a totalitarian regime that crushes everything with its violence and its inhumanity.

→ CRITICAL. Tibet is dying

Former correspondent of Los Angeles Times in Beijing, Barbara Demick discovers Tibet in difficult political conditions where meeting Tibetans freely is a constant danger. Like Alexandra David-Neel in her time, the reckless journalist went there many times, in camouflage, turbaned, masked and dressed in thick coats that deceived Chinese police surveillance. To the east of the Tibetan plateau, in the current province of Sichuan, she will travel to the city of Ngaba, which has become the “world capital of self-immolations”.

→ EXPLANATION. Buddhism: what does the Dalai Lama still represent today?

She wants to understand why such a resistance persists in this singular city and makes us discover a long history of rebellions against the communist regime of Mao from the 1950s. Chinese politicians who had promised the freedom to live their religion, their faith, their life. To betray their words a few years later when the National Liberation Army sends troops, burns, pillages and expels the Tibetan populations.

All the characters we met believed in the fine words at the start, imagining that the world would be better off with the Communists. The feeling of betrayal will take hold of them very quickly. They will understand that their immense territory will very quickly become “bright red” where the slightest rebellion will be put down in blood.

Reading these pages, one cannot help but think of what has been happening for years in Xinjiang and the fierce oppression against the Uyghur Muslim people. Same tactics, same promises, same lies, same strategy of eliminating a people and a culture that is being absorbed by China. Barbara Demick immerses us in the heart of this tragic destiny of the Tibetans which already announced the tragedy of the Uyghurs and the crushing of the Hong Kongers.


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