Catching up with Tibet’s most popular blogger isn’t simple. Tsering Woeser is under constant surveillance, so we agree to meet on a street corner in Beijing. The subterfuge seems pointless: Woeser is easy to spot. Her slightly hippy style sets her apart – for our meeting she has chosen dangling earrings and a glass pendant in Buddhist colours, bought on her last visit to the Tibetan plateau. Its blues, reds and yellows remind her of the colours of the banned Tibetan Snow Lion flag. “I mentioned it to the shopkeeper as a joke,” she says. “He was shocked. Of course, I bought it.”
By birth, upbringing and education, Woeser should be a Tibetan at ease in the Chinese system, a successful member of the Tibetan elite. But this vivacious woman, who looks much younger than her 44 years, is the most outspoken Tibetan voice in China, a fierce critic of Beijing rule in the deeply Buddhist Himalayan region. Her views have won her widespread fame among Tibetans in exile – and, not surprisingly, the attention of the Chinese security apparatus. These days, her books are banned and her movements are monitored. She was detained by police last year during a trip to her birthplace to see her mother. None of this deters her. “If it happens, it happens. I write what I write.”
What she writes is not only poetry but a blog that openly criticises Chinese rule in Tibet. It is already in its fifth incarnation. After it was closed down repeatedly by the authorities in 2006 and 2007, she posted it on an overseas server. Then, after the riots a year ago in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, in which 22 people were killed – mostly ethnic Han Chinese – and unrest spread across Tibetan regions, the overseas blog was hacked and closed down twice. Undaunted, she resumed writing about “Invisible Tibet” on woeser.middle-way.net.