At a rally in New York on December 10 to mark Liu Xiaobo's Nobel Peace Prize, a portrait of the imprisoned literary scholar and dissident painted by both a Tibetan and a Chinese artist will be unfurled, and Tibetans across the world will join Chinese people in the celebrations.
This year's Peace Prize matters in Tibet because Liu Xiaobo is among those Chinese intellectuals who link Tibet's destiny to their own -- by arguing that a peaceful resolution of the crisis in Tibet needs to involve the Dalai Lama, and is ultimately in China's interests.
At a time of wrenching social change in China, a new generation of Tibetan intellectuals, artists, writers and scholars are increasingly standing by the side of Liu Xiaobo and other Chinese dissidents. Their stories are less well-known than their Chinese counterparts, but these Tibetan writers, intellectuals and bloggers share their concerns about political repression and state control -- representing a more complex challenge to the Chinese Communist Party than before.
Kunchok Tsephel, founder of the influential Tibetan literary website, 'Butter-Lamp', and a former official in a Chinese government environmental department, is one of those individuals. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison in Tibet a month before Liu Xiaobo in Beijing was sentenced to 11 years in prison on Christmas Day last year. The 'state secrets' charges against Kunchok are believed to be related to content on his website about Tibetan culture, and possibly also to passing on news about the suppression of peaceful protests in his area.
Forty-year-old Kunchok was born into a nomadic family in Tibet, and educated at a Chinese university. He belongs to a new generation of Tibetans fluent in Chinese as well as their own language and familiar with digital technology. The views of this new generation, too young to have experienced the excesses of the Cultural Revolution nor the Chinese takeover of Tibet, are informed by an awareness of the sufferings of Chinese people and their own struggles against the state.
A common theme of their writings is the urgency for political change, with Tibetan intellectuals describing the cause of the protests not as the instigation of the 'Dalai clique' as Beijing contends, but as a result of Tibet's history since the 1950s and the shortcomings of China's Tibet policy. Liu Xiaobo has written boldly on these failings; in March 2008, his name was prominent among the original 29 signatories of a petition to the Chinese authorities calling for dialogue between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama, noting the "serious mistakes" in China's policies in Tibet, and criticizing the Chinese government's response to the protests in Tibet as lacking "a style of governing that conforms to the standards of modern civilization."
Migmar Dhundup is a tall, bookish Tibetan in his thirties who worked for an international NGO in Tibet committed to helping impoverished communities. Migmar, a quiet and reflective individual, was happiest when out in the field conducting health training or creating gardens to enable nomads to grow vegetables, and his favourite book is Ma Jian's 'Red Dust', an account by a Chinese dissident writer of his travels through Tibet. Migmar 'disappeared' in Lhasa in March, 2008, and his friends later heard that he had been sentenced to 14 years in prison, accused of passing information onto the Dalai Lama.
The Tibetan writer Woeser, who is under almost constant surveillance living in Beijing with her Chinese husband, was among the original signatories of Charter 08, a document authored by Liu Xiaobo and other Chinese intellectuals calling for reform of the political system in China. Woeser, who is a friend of Liu Xiaobo's, wrote:
Our 'fight' [today] does not signify as it did for Mao something bloodstained and violent, an armed revolution, a class struggle. Non-violence is also a struggle, a greater and more enduring fight! For each individual, this fight starts with oneself, in the present moment, in each particular detail of living. Let us begin identifying ourselves as Tibetans, for this is our duty: any effort of daily life, however small, is still a kind of struggle.
Liu Xiaobo's Nobel Peace Prize also honours individuals like Woeser, Migmar Dhondup, Kunchok Tsephel, and hundreds of other Tibetans whose silencing by the state now speaks more loudly than before. Their courage in speaking truth to power is of critical importance for Tibet's future -- and China's. It has never been more true than it is this year to say that the prizes to Nobel Peace Laureates who cannot attend the ceremony are among the most important of all.