Beijing Women's Conference

The following article is from the Winter, 1996 issue of the Snow Lion Newsletter and is for historical reference only. You can see this in context of the original newsletter here.

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Kelsang Wangmo, a Tibetan woman living in Australia, was one of only nine Tibetans permitted by the Chinese to participate in the 1995 Beijing Women's Conference. She writes of extraordinary persecution by her Chinese hosts and of wonderful support from the women delegates of many nations. What follows are excerpts from her moving story.

At first, we were so scared. I was depressed as we came in to land.What a big responsibility I had, to speak for all Tibetans. Would all Chinese hate us? Would I hate them? But when I met Chinese people they were ordinary human beings, most of them were friendly, it was just the officials who were intimidating.

In our hotel, far from the conference, there were men in suits on our floor, always there. Were they hotel staff or security? At first everything was confusing. We felt safe in the hotel, later we weren't so sure. All we knew was that at 7:30 in the morning was a bus that would take us all the way across Beijing to the outskirts, where the conference was. Once we reached Huairou, it was so big, and confusing, it took us a day to find the other Tibetan women.

The first thing we decided to do together was the silent protest. People said we should be gagged; we used scarves, the official Chinese scarves each delegate was given as part of the Chinese welcome package. We were scared, but we thought they can't do anything to us, it can't be illegal to be silent.

It was powerful. We said our prayers, filed through, and let the delegates and the media see us. From that silent moment onward we never stopped talking.

The Chinese security were furious. They jostled and pushed. They were everywhere, poking their lenses at us, standing so close, so insolent, their gaze so cold. They were so intimidating that everyone, even those who didn't know anything about Tibet, could see for themselves what we are up against all the time.

The Chinese were so stupid. They intimidated us in full view of everyone. We didn't have to prove that we were persecuted, it was so obvious. That's when our buddies volunteered to stay with us, and it was for them a powerful experience too. They had to take the harassment, and experience the fear too. Some stuck with us bravely, some found it too much..

Our chubas caused instant response. To be dressed as a Tibetan woman meant, from NGO delegates, constant hugs and support, people coming up and introducing themselves, wanting to know why we were being given such a hard time. It never stopped. Sometimes it would be hundreds of women, or thousands, in a room so packed we could hardly get in and we were the speakers. And the media, there were actually thousands of them, always wanting an interview, always asking us what we planned to do next, so the nine of us, the only Tibetans who made it to Beijing, would split up so as to respond to all the requests to explain.

Women, western women came from nowhere to be our buddies, to be with us everywhere, even to accompany us to the toilet, once everyone saw how intimidating the Chinese security people were. It wasn't all the Chinese, just the officials who were trailing us everywhere, jostling us, harassing us, filming everything. It was so scary. I grew up with stories about how Chinese take people away. So we had our buddies, some of the stayed with us through everything, they gave up their plans to go to sessions so we could have some protection.

We knew we must look strong in the face of the Chinese officials, although we were often crying. And we knew we must never let them provoke us into anger. If we got angry we knew the Chinese government would make sure all the world knew they had provoked us successfully. They thought that if they intimidated us we would be overcome with fear and not hold workshops. If it were not for the support of so many women, they may have succeeded.

Above all, the Chinese authorities wanted a fight between Tibetans, between the delegation from the Tibet Autonomous Region and ourselves. But we had the blessings of His Holiness, and his teachings to guide us, and we never let the harassment make us angry.

The Chinese Tibetans came to us. We were the speakers at a women in development workshop. It was packed so tight we could hardly get in, and 85% Of the women there were from the Chinese Tibetan delegation. At first everything went well, but then the Chinese Tibetans demanded to speak, to take over the meeting. Everyone was yelling, it was so hot, we were in tears. They yelled at us that we were liars, not true Tibetans, shameless.

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we started getting invitations to meet the governments. The Dutch, the Swiss, the Swedes, Norwegians, and Danes wanted to meet us. Everywhere, it was our story they wanted to hear.

I went to one woman, and took her hand and said to her: Please don't do this, we are sisters, this isn't a quarrel between Tibetans, our quarrel is with the Chinese. We were all in tears. Next day the Chinese media reported everything in reverse of the truth. They said we had refused to answer questions. Later I did meet three or four of the Chinese Tibetans and everyone was friendly. As we parted we held hands. From their eyes and hands we could feel their sympathy, but they couldn't say anything.

The biggest incident occurred while we were near the Australian tent. They called us so many names, shameless Tsangpa beggars. We were scared. We went in to the Australian tent, but they came in after us, determined to have a big confrontation. I just cried. The Australians all held us close, and each other, to protect us. They put us in the center, and held us, surrounding us, but still the screaming went on. What to do? I just kept saying my mantra, the mantra of compassion for all living beings.

They sent word to get the ambassador and his official car to get us away, and that is when he was jostled too, which is what made it a diplomatic incident, and big headlines. Even when we were in his car, they were hitting on the windows, demanding to get at us. So many people now have seen the Chinese government reveal its face.

The Australian embassy went out of its way to be on hand in case of trouble. We never expected to have much contact with any of the governments, but then we started getting invitations to meet the governments. The Dutch, the Swiss, the Swedes, Norwegians, and Danes wanted to meet us. Everywhere, it was our story they wanted to hear.

When it was time to leave, I met a Tibetan woman, part of the Chinese delegation. We both knew she was under surveillance, and her behavior would be reported on. We said goodbye politely, and I said I looked forward to meeting her in a free Tibet in the future. You do your best, I said, and so will I. Nothing in her face gave away her true feelings, but she gripped me so strongly with her hands. We are sisters. ä_æ

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