Tsering Woeser
I Think of Returning to the Ruins
but It’s Already in Vain

Tsering Woeser
The Demolition of Yabzhi Taktser
April 25, 2018.

Sound recording of Woeser reading her poem “I Think of Returning to the Ruins but It’s Already in Vain”

Recorded February 21, 2021, Beijing
Duration: 3:21 minutes
Courtesy of Tsering Woeser


[1] Shideling (also known as བཞི་སྡེ་གྲྭ་ཚང་། Shide Dratsang ) is an important Buddhist college in Lhasa of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. It was damaged during the Chinese communist military conquest of 1959, and then again in 1966 during the Cultural Revolution, and fell to ruin in the years following. In 2016, the ruins were completely demolished, and a new building resembling the old one was built in its place. It is said, this new building is going to become an exhibition hall promoting patriotism. 

[2] Yabzhi Taktser (ཡབ་གཞིས་སྟག་འཚེར།) is a title given to the family of the fourteenth Dalai Lama. According to tradition this is also the name of this mansion. After the family of the Dalai Lama moved from Amdo to Lhasa, they built this mansion and gave it this name. It is located in the center of Lhasa, close to the Potala Palace. In 1939, the four-year-old Dalai Lama, after being declared the reincarnation of the thirteenth Dalai Lama, he was invited to Lhasa by the Tibetan government and people. The Dalai Lama’s family later shifted their residency to the Anduo Nong district of Lhasa. The Tibetan government built a mansion for the Yabzhi Taktser family, located to the east of the Potala Palace; it was completed in 1941. In 1959, after the Dalai Lama and government officials had to flee Lhasa, becoming refugees in exile in a foreign country, the mansion of Yabzhi Taktser was confiscated by CCP authorities. In the years that followed, it was given various names: first it was the Second Guest House of the Autonomous Regional Government; then during the Cultural Revolution it was the Headquarters of the Headquarter of Revolutionary Rebels and served as the stronghold of one of the two main Red Guard rebel factions, receiving Red Guards from all over China to Lhasa; later the compound was divided into multiple residences, and it became the Grand Tibet Workers Dormitory.  In April 2018, it was demolished. And replaced with a replica made out of reinforced concrete. It is said to be a hotel.

I think of returning to the ruins but it’s already in vain.
Where’s Shideling, that I’ve entered countless times?1
Where’s Yabzhi Taktser, that I’ve entered so many times?2
Can a building so full of joy and sorrow be demolished with such ease?
Can a courtyard reverberating with laughter and weeping be covered with such ease?

Faced with so many replicas, I must keep my mind sober.
They really can’t resist covering up the scars of the past—
in the blink of an eye, in the flickering of a dream. Please, do not supplant
every single past disaster with false images. Texts and images
engrave every detail in memory, including the traces of bullets.

An autonomous land was reduced to a land without sovereignty,
from gradual collapse, now suddenly to this rapid demolition.
This increasingly crowded map is overwhelmed with unnecessary death
and rebirth. What kind of invisible force is behind this?
What new chapter is being rewritten?

A land without sovereignty is a land that has to be abandoned, it’s a land
where a dove occupies a magpie’s nest, where we unite as one in this moment of adversity.
Remember, cause and effect inevitably recirculate—please do not abandon
your beliefs and prayers. The true master has never truly been absent.
I merely wish to record this landscape that it may remain before it is destroyed.

And I would rather gather these counterfeits, which cover up the historical ruins,
and turn them into a memorial. But after a second thought,
wouldn’t that mean to acquiesce? To surrender yet again?
Just let me repeat the names of all the ruins,
let me try to recall the stories of all the ruins.

I promise, I will resurrect them in words. I’ll use the language
of the occupier, and like some form of archeology,
the nominal Lhasa shall be distinguished from some other Lhasa.
An immortality that cannot be returned to zero, an existence that is wild and intractable,
regardless if it is past or present, regardless if it exists or is lost.


May 23, 2018 Lhasa

translated by Ian Boyden, January 26, 2021