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March 10, 1959: Echoes of Pain, Resilience, and Unity - A Letter to Fellow Freedom Fighters

This blog is authored by Tseyang, President of Students for a Free Tibet Boston, Co-Director of Coalition of Students Resisting China


March 10, 1959. This day has been imprinted in my mind and the minds of millions of Tibetans across the world.


The 1950s PLA invasion of Tibet sparked numerous armed uprisings throughout the northeastern region of Amdo and the southeastern region of Kham. In the height of this resistance, a rumor spread throughout Lhasa that His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama had been invited to attend an opera at a Chinese military camp alone, and that this invitation was China’s attempt to kidnap him. The following day, thousands of Tibetans from all walks of life surrounded the Potala Palace chanting “Free Tibet” and “Long Live the Dalai Lama,” using their bodies as human shields to safeguard His Holiness and our homeland. The Chinese army in their proclaimed “liberation” of Tibetans, opened fire at the crowd and committed murder on the most holy site in Tibet. The Tibetan government estimates a death toll of 430,000 Tibetans during the uprising, and many more were arrested as political prisoners and subject to unimaginably cruel torture. My grandpa was among the many who had taken arms and was later tortured for defending his home.



While I have not experienced March 10, 1959, my earliest memories of the Tibetan Freedom Movement are filled with the roar of annual March 10 protests. I recall being wrapped up in the Tibetan flag as early as I could walk, chanting “Free Tibet” and “Long Live the Dalai Lama,” the same words that Tibetans in Tibet had shouted in front of the Potala Palace but this time in front of the Chinese Consulate of NYC. I recall marching and carrying harrowing photographs that managed to escape the media blackhole of colonized Tibet. These photographs contained Tibetans burning themselves alive, skin charred, eyes widened, calling for freedom in Tibet. I recall returning home restless and unable to sleep the following days from nightmares, inheriting the pain felt by 1959 Tibetans, the pain of losing loved ones, losing a homeland, losing freedom. 65 years later, March 10 and stories of resilience and resistance in the face of catastrophic loss continue to fuel our movement. 


While Tibetan youth have not experienced March 10, 1959, we have seen the 2019 Hong Kong protests. We have seen Hong Kongers take to the streets in incredibly innovative ways to defend their democracy. In a world where world leaders and the international community have become terrified to challenge the Chinese government, Hong Kongers, much like Tibetans in 1959, rose to the occasion unafraid. 


In examining 1959 Tibet and 2019 Hong Kong, we see the tremendous power of large-scale grassroots action in sustaining a freedom movement and inspiring generations of activists. They have shaped what it means to be a Tibetan, or a Hong Konger in exile. When we show up in mass numbers, we offer the world the clearest picture of our collective will for freedom. 


Our recent grassroots collaboration in the APEC Conference protest seized the attention of many media outlets and demonstrated this will to the international community. It also depicted the lengths the CCP feels emboldened to travel to. Transnational repression transcends geographical borders and endangers Tibetans and Hong Kongers around the world. From hiring people to attack Tibetan youth protesters in San Francisco to designating bounties on Hong Kong activists in exile, we see how oppression is no longer confined to areas of Chinese governance, no longer confined to Tibet and Hong Kong. The laboratory of oppression has expanded. Our identities, our existence are under attack. 


Now, more than ever, it is important that we stand together. Our cross movement solidarity is our most powerful weapon. We fight together for a world where genocide will never be ignored. We fight together for the existence of our identities and cultures. We fight together because beyond the dehumanizing propaganda the CCP disseminates about our communities and our histories, we recognize the pain that the CCP has caused our loved ones. We are armed with the truth that stands defiantly beside us and illuminates our hope for freedom and democracy.


I am certain that we will see a Free Tibet, a Free Hong Kong, a Free East Turkestan in our lifetime. We must not stop fighting until that dream becomes a reality.


In Solidarity,

Tseyang


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