Tibetan keeps memory of martyrs alive

Updated: 2015-05-08 10:38

By Liu Kun in Wuhan and Xu Jingxi in Beijing(China Daily USA)

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Tibetan keeps memory of martyrs alive

Tiering Drolma shows an award certificate she received during her 12-year service with the PLA in her younger years. Provided to China Daily

Woman uses toothbrush to clean cemetery monuments

Every year during the run-up to Qinming Festival, a stooped, gray-haired woman can be found on a ladder cleaning the monument in the martyrs' cemetery at Yichang, Hubei province, with a toothbrush.

Qingming Festival, or Tomb Sweeping Day, falls on April 4 or 5 and is the traditional Chinese occasion when people visit their ancestors' graves and pay their respects. Tiering Drolma, a 76-year-old Tibetan living in Yichang, pays her respects to the martyrs by meticulously cleaning their resting place with a toothbrush.

This has become her routine over the past 11 years, and it usually here takes about a month to clean all the sculptures in the cemetery.

Tiering Drolma said she felt compelled to carry out the voluntary cleanup after seeing a number of foreign tourists shake their heads as they looked at one of the sculptures during a visit to the cemetery in 2004.

"A girl who knows English told me the foreigners' complained that the sculpture was too dirty to take a photograph of. I felt ashamed, and decided that I wouldn't let the situation happen again," she said. "The martyrs sacrificed their lives for us, and we shouldn't forget them."

She said she remembers the debt of gratitude she owes to the People's Liberation Army. Born into a family of serfs, she started working for a feudal lord at the age of 7 but was mistreated.

She saw a glimmer of hope when the PLA entered the Tibetan city of Qamdo when she was 15. She managed to join the ordnance regiment and served for 12 years, during which she took part in battles against bandits and repaired roads.

She was transferred to civilian work in Qamdo in 1966, and married a soldier from Yichang. She followed her husband and settled there in 1987, and now supports herself with a grocery store.

Tiering Drolma was especially grateful for the help she received from a platoon leader surnamed Zhang. He accepted her into the army and took care of her as if she were his sister, but died in a battle against bandits at the age of 23, leaving her heartbroken.

She was excited to find a sculpture on the monument in the cemetery that looks very much like the platoon leader.

Tiering Drolma gives a warm welcome to Tibetan students who study at the China Three Gorges University in Yichang. To ease their homesickness, she cooks for them and makes buttered tea, a traditional Tibetan drink, in her room in a bungalow.

The 33-square-meter room is her grocery store, kitchen and bedroom. A three-shelf bookcase is attached to the wall.

"The books and magazines are free to borrow," said Tsering Drolma, who is illiterate but has a thirst for knowledge.

Jiang Yihua, her neighbor, said she is moved by the Tibetan woman's kindness.

"She is a really good person. I always see her set up two tables in front of her house to serve Tibetan students and talk to them. She also sponsors those in need so they can continue to study," Jiang said.

"Sometimes we think it's silly for her to spend what she earned from here lifelong hard work on strangers and live in a damp bungalow. But she always replies that it's what she should do."

Many of the Tibetan students she helped are doing well back in their hometowns, and she loves to hear from her young friends when they gain promotions and marry.

Champa Tenzin, one of the Tibetan graduates, visited Tsering Drolma in December, bringing her goat's milk and skins, and hiding 2,000 yuan ($320) under her pillow.

As he said goodbye, the young man, who now works at a hospital in Shannan prefecture in the Tibet autonomous region, held Tsering Drolma's hand and said: "Thank you for making me delicious buttered tea, which I missed so much while studying in Yichang, and giving me a home here."

Contact the writers at xujingxi@chinadaily.com.cn