Thu, Mar 17, 2016 - Page 12 News List

A long road traveled

Tashi Tsering came to Taiwan in 1998 to raise awareness about the plight of Tibetans. Eighteen years later, he is still at the forefront of the movement

By Ho Yi  /  Staff reporter

In 2009, some 3,000 supporters joined the march to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan Uprising. Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) showed up to show her support for Tibet’s pursuit of autonomy.

“Taiwanese have changed a lot since I came here. At the beginning, they thought I was weird. Now they think people from the Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission are weird,” Tashi says.

LET’S SIT DOWN AND TALK

For the past 18 years, Tashi has organized and taken part in numerous activities advocating the Tibetan cause, including a one-man protest during the Nagano leg of the 2008 Summer Olympics torch relay in Japan, which resulted in 23 days detention.

His perspective has changed, however, after an incident taking place at an international forum on Tibetan issues held in Taipei six years ago.

“There was a Chinese student at the forum, really angry at all those professors criticizing China. But in the afternoon, she broke down in tears, saying there must be something wrong with her government and that she wanted to apologize,” the activist says.

Since then, Tashi learns the importance of communicating with people from China face-to-face, and holds his temper even if the other party starts “insulting the Dalai Lama.”

Taiwan is “strategically important,” he says, because many Chinese come here to study and sightsee, presenting an opportunity to discuss issues silenced in China, such as the brutal suppression of protesters in Tibet and the reason behind the more than 150 self-immolations by Tibetans since 2009.

“If you organize an event in the US, it doesn’t make as strong an impact. Here, you talk to Chinese tourists and they return homes within a few days, and maybe talk about what they saw and heard in Taiwan,” Tashi says.

“I speak Mandarin now, so it is my responsibility to speak on behalf of Tibetans and talk to the Chinese people about what has been happening in Tibet. I may not be able to do great things, but at least I can talk to one Chinese a day,” he adds.

RETURNING HOME

As a Tibetan who has grown up in exile, Tashi says the younger generations of exiles have retained their sense of urgency about preserving their identity and returning to their homeland. So far, the majority of exiles support the Dalai Lama’s willingness to settle for “genuine autonomy” for the Tibetan people. Yet, younger Tibetan activists increasingly espouse the goal of complete independence for Tibet.

Tashi says the future is uncertain — especially after the Dalai Lama passes away.

“And when the pro-independence voice becomes louder, Beijing will face bigger problems than it does now, since Tibet will not be the only one that fights for independence,” he says.

Striving to achieve independence, Tashi is under no illusions about the herculean task that lies ahead.

“TYC’s uniform is ash-colored. It means that we will strive for independence until our bodies turn ashes,” Tashi says.

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