Having your tongue pulled out of your mouth

Having your tongue pulled out of your mouth

The website Sangdhor.com plays an active part in the online Tibetan literary world and there have been a number of literary debates on this website. Many writers also keep their personal blog on Sangdhor, including Mila Tsitsi, whose writings are much favored by other writers. Mila Tsitsi is the penname for a writer whose writings are direct, transparent and frank about the issues surrounding him. So far he has published 25 pieces, received 287 comments and been viewed more than 17,840 times.


Having your tongue pulled out of your mouth

Mila Tsitsi

A few days ago, I went to visit a relative who is a prisoner at the Chadam Labor and Reform Camp in Gormo (Golmud). After going through the procedures, the prisoner was brought to the other side of the window. We picked up the phones on each side and started a conversation. But at that moment, a guard said, “You are not allowed to talk in other languages, only Mandarin.”

After I came back home, I did an Internet search regarding the prison rules, and it was clearly stated that in fact minority prisoners are allowed to speak their native language. The one condition is that there must be a policeman who can understand that language.

There is a story in an article translated by Mekbhu. When a little girl who had just started school about a month ago was on her way to school from her home, suddenly a very pretty toy she had was stolen by someone. She grabbed that person’s sleeve and screamed in Hebrew, “Give me my toy.” That person didn’t understand and said, “If you speak Yiddish, I can give you the toy.” But the little girl only spoke Hebrew. She didn’t speak any Yiddish.

My relative and I were in the same situation as that little girl. Without listening to the Armed Police, if we persistently speak Tibetan and do not speak Chinese, can two of us get back the “toy”? Or we may become the toy of the other party. In fact we didn’t have anything like the confidence that the Hebrew-speaking girl had. It was really embarrassing.

In writing, I can throw off words like slicing knifes and arrows to show off my courage, but in real situations, I become timid like this. What to do now?

I had never spoken to a relative in Chinese before, so I was like a deaf person for a moment. But the half hour of our allotted conversation time was passing quickly, so I miserably used my broken Chinese to greet him and told him what’s happening at home, without any proper introduction or conclusion.

In “Under the Totem Pillar” the Chinese writer Gao Xiaogang wrote, “Wherever a person who has mastered their native language talks in another tongue, there is a process of translating the other language into their native language when he thinks.” I really like this idea. Often when I speak some broken Chinese, the words don’t naturally come to my mouth.

The motivation of what you are trying to express first comes through in Tibetan language. Then it is translated into Chinese. Actually, it is just like donkeys dropping dung, these Chinese words jumping out of one’s mouth. The grammar [of Chinese] is also like Tibetan. For example,  ‘I’ ‘go’ ‘to’ ‘work’. ‘You’ ‘drink’ ‘liquor’ ‘come’, and so on. He also writes, “In every language, there is a unique way of viewing the world.” It is so true.

Just looking at how we greet someone, there is a fundamental difference between Tibetan and Chinese. The Chinese say, “Have you eaten?” and Tibetans say, “How are you?” When Tibetans scold someone, they say, “May your father and mother die,” whereas Chinese say, “your aunt’s buttocks”, “your mum’s buttocks”, or “your sister’s buttocks”. Thus, many buttocks are thrown around as bombs.

Recently, when Professor Kun Qindong from Beijing University scolded the USA, he drew paintings with many buttocks. This is nothing else but two ethnicities viewing the world differently.

Rebkong Dorje Khar says, “Tibetan is a language that Tibetans use to express their thoughts and ideas.” In my view, in many contexts Tibetan language is being pushed aside. For example, during the annual examination for government positions; when a court is handling a conflict; on the packaging of toothache medicine or headache pills; and on lotion bottles or toothpaste cartons.

Now, isn’t it planned for the teaching medium to be changed from Tibetan to Chinese? Recently a friend said that the new governor of Temchan County, Yang Yongzhou, called the Tibetan director of the Education Bureau and said, “From now on, don’t recruit Tibetan teachers in the Tibetan schools. Gradually in the education system, Chinese is becoming the main language and Tibetan will be less important. That way it will be easy for Tibetans to take the civil service exam.” The Tibetan director showed some disagreement in his manner, but the governor said, “Tibetan teachers can’t be taken from the local area, or from Malho, Hainan and so on. They must be from Haidong prefecture.” He seriously said this, like a dog vomiting out rotten intestines. (Genetically he is Tibetan, but he is a Haidong person who has become Chinese from his mouth to deep in his bones).

Compared to those issues, I can accept having to talk in Chinese with my relative in prison. Thinking once more, in front of the golden yoke of national law, prisoners have to carry that yoke on their mouths, hands, necks and backs, but the law allows native language when family members visit their relatives in prison. Why don’t they implement this? This is not only disrespecting the rights of the prisoner, but also not respecting the rights that family members have. Likewise, we let such needle-size profits and powers go to others. So we find ourselves in a situation in which we can’t even take care of our own alphabet.

In the end, what I want to say is that there are about seven to eight years to go before my relative’s prison term ends. His mother, grandparents and two great grandparents, who are in their 90s, don’t know any Chinese at all. They will not able to speak a single word to him for seven or eight years.

Taking away a person’s language is not the same as taking the bread out of someone’s pocket, and it’s not the same as taking a person’s bag off their shoulders. It is like having your tongue pulled out of your mouth.



Source: http://www.sangdhor.com/blog_c.asp?id=5539&a=milazizi
(Translated by Reb Sa)



  • Dear Kelsang Choedon,

    Since the writer only talked about the conversation in Tibetan, we don’t know the possibility of sending letters in Tibetan. Anyway, we will try to find out and let you know.
    Again, thanks for your commentary.

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