When Red Guards arrived in Tibet in 1966, intent on creating a classless society, they unleashed a decade of revolutionary violence, political rallies, and factional warfare marked by the ransacking of temples, the destruction of religious artifacts, the burning of books, and the public humiliation of Tibet’s remaining lamas and scholars. Within Tibet, discussion of those events has long been banned, and no visual records of this history were known to have survived.
In Forbidden Memory the leading Tibetan writer Tsering Woeser presents three hundred previously unseen photographs taken by her father, then an officer in the People’s Liberation Army, that show for the first time the frenzy and violence of the Cultural Revolution in Tibet. Found only after his death, Woeser’s annotations and reflections on the photographs, edited and introduced by the Tibet historian Robert Barnett, are based on scores of interviews she conducted privately in Tibet with survivors. Her book explores the motives and thinking of those who participated in the extraordinary rituals of public degradation and destruction that took place, carried out by Tibetans as much as Chinese on the former leaders of their culture.
Heartbreaking and revelatory, Forbidden Memory offers a personal, literary discussion of the nature of memory, violence, and responsibility, while giving insight into the condition of a people whose violently truncated history they are still unable to discuss today.