Jamyang Kyi was born in a village in Mangra county (Chin: Guinan), Tsolho Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (Chin: Hainan), Qinghai province, a region Tibetans refer to as Amdo. She graduated in 1984 from the department of teacher training at the Hainan Minorities Technical School, Qinghai. Since then she has been working for the Tibetan department of Qinghai TV, as a presenter, translator, writer and director amongst other duties. In 1993, she took a correspondence course from the Qinghai Province Institute of Education where she graduated in 1996. Jamyang Kyi has pursued a parallel career as a singer and enjoys great popularity. She has developed her own style, blending traditional and contemporary techniques. She has released five collections of songs and three VCDs. In addition, she has dedicated herself to social studies, focussing in particular on issues related to Tibetan women and children. She has published many articles on the subject, some of which have been influential in the Tibetan diaspora. She writes under the pen name Mengzhu (Dream Pearl). On 1 April 2008, Jamyang Kyi was arrested at her office by the Qinghai Provincial State Security Bureau. According to sources, she was believed to have passed on information abroad through a friend. Later, two computers were seized from her home, and she was found to have viewed "overseas websites". Jamyang Kyi was charged with "suspicion of endangering state security". She was bailed on 21 April 2008 after having to pay a substantial fine. The following is an edited and slightly abridged English version of an interview with Jamyang Kyi which was conducted by Tibetan writer Namlo Yak on 17 March 2007. The Chinese original version was published on the website Sacred Fire of Liberty (www.fireofliberty.org)(1).
Q: Can you briefly explain how your career as a singer developed?
After I left my place of birth, there were lot of gossips and many people tried to sow discord between me and my family. From 1996, when I started producing my second collection of songs "Shangri-la", I was really stressed and couldn't sleep a full night. I had financial problems; I am not a rich woman, the costs for recording music are very high and the payments for the recorder [sound engineer] and music teacher, including their meals every day, were almost unaffordable. Moreover, as a rule when you want to record you must pay for the power supply and recording costs up front. So whether you are in good or bad health, whether your voice is in a good or a bad condition, you just have to do it. And that was how things were at that time in my life.
Q: How much are you prepared to give for your artistic style? And what is the intention behind your arrangements?
Jamyang Kyi: I didn't take the easy way, I wanted to follow my own path, do something others had not done before, create a completely new approach. I mastered modern [singing] techniques while using a core of [traditional] folk songs; I blend both. The singing style of the simple and proud-hearted people of my homeland does not leave much room for innovation, but I'm [still] very grateful for [the heritage] I received from the start from my homeland. Now I have perfected my art and engaged with many interesting things. I deeply regret that I had no good opportunities to study music. It is not something you can hurry; you must take your time to study music.
Q: What laws have the People's Republic of China (PRC) made concerning arts? Have they made laws directed at artists?
Jamyang Kyi: I am not a specialist in this field. I don't know if they have created special rules for performing arts or not. However, I know that when you want to release a song the audiovisual publishing house will first examine the contents. They check the lyrics and decide whether you can continue publishing [or not]. If the words and content pass through [are acceptable] then the audiovisual publishing house will assign you a number. But none of it is free; you have to pay the publishing house again for releasing your song. This is called "Publication through Cooperation".
Q: You are famous as a singer, but you have also had your news job for 22 years. What changes have you seen in Tibet in your job in the last 22 years?
Jamyang Kyi: I have no special experience, even though I have had this news job for 22 years. I said the same thing when I gave a speech at Columbia University(2). I am not an expert, I have not studied journalism, but I have had enough experience to know that things are difficult for the brothers and sisters who work on the Tibetan language programmes for the TV station. [Still], their efforts in overcoming difficulties have resulted in us getting Amdo-language(3) satellite programmes.
But there are many reasons why I don't like the news job. We were interested in television; from the start, we saw it [as a medium to] express our nationality, our civilization, our power and our existence. What changes have I seen in the media in Tibetan areas? Well, the technical equipment has changed and also the Chinese officials here have changed a lot. Now they enjoy a more luxurious lifestyle, before they were very simple. I have seen this with my own eyes.
Q: Today China says it wants more development in Western China including Tibet. There are two ways of looking at this, it could be good or it could be bad. How do you think everyday people in Tibet feel about this development? How will the development affect China?
Jamyang Kyi: Although we can't say the normal people haven't gained anything from development, at the same time, many rural people, including people in the TAR in the PRC, are unable to send their children to university. Due to this fact, we cannot say people have greatly benefited.
I personally also think that the caterpillar fungus(4) has not actually benefitted the Tibetan people at all. The income they receive from it is very small and it pales into insignificance when you consider the grasslands they have destroyed by picking the fungus.
Q: Tibetans do not have much technological expertise. There are not many talented Tibetans in this field. Furthermore, they do not have enough practical experience so I am very worried about the Tibetan ability to be self-reliant. Do you think my worries are well grounded? Are they reasonable? How do you think we can turn this difficult position around?
Jamyang Kyi: Your fears are well grounded. I think it will be hard to reverse this situation; therefore we should support these kinds of study and build special Tibetan technology schools. We should cultivate the specialists that our society needs. It is very important to do something about this situation.
Q: At the moment, there seem to be two voices of Tibet, one from each centre of Tibetan activity. Both the PRC, and the international 'Free Tibet' organisations are talking about Tibet- which do you find more credible? Which is of more help to Tibet, from inside or from outside? Aside from politics, what are the most important issues for Tibet?
Jamyang Kyi: I think the countryside needs more schools, every child should have an education, and every village needs a specialised technology school. We also need to cultivate and improve the standard of publications and film and television, literature and art. We need to create schools in cities where subjects are taught in our mother tongue, so that children understand their own history, especially if they are growing up in the cities.
Q: The PRC has signed many international laws which stipulate in explicit terms that it is our human right to publish critical content. Do you have any practical experience or ideas about how Tibetan intellectuals could use this human rights legislation?
Jamyang Kyi: I don't know the law. But I believe there are Tibetan intellectuals who do know about it.
Q: What do you think about the law that says Tibetan women should contribute to society, and what about their responsibilities to their children? Do you think there is a contradiction between these things?
Jamyang Kyi: Our daughters' education is restricted from childhood and this creates the perception in many women that the society has not got much bearing on their lives. Consequently, women feel no connection to issues such as the development of society and the rise and fall of their nation. We foster this belief in our daughters too. It is believed that women should only be concerned with rearing their children, clothing them and feeding them well. Besides this, they teach their children many traditions that influence women's personalities and their [sense of] independence. We will need outstanding mothers and remarkable women, yet we must change the way women adhere so strongly to past practices and value systems. Tibetan females are like women all over the world. They need equality and authority. They need to receive equal education if they are to have dignity, and so they can nurture excellent sons and daughters. Women aren't adequately provided for in society. I want this to change, but it is hard.
Q: I understand, your family is very harmonious, and both husband and wife are quite successful in career terms. Would you please tell us the secret of it?
You must judge things from your own point of view, use your own experience to think about life, and use your own eyes to look at the world. Never ignore your own experiences; you need to tell others what you need and what you don't want. Physiological differences mean men cannot always understand what you need, especially the 'material women' ubiquitous in today's society. So your husband thinks you are just a woman. He just brings material satisfaction to you, but never thinks about your spiritual needs. If you ignore yourself, in the long term, you will be swept away by the violent wind of destiny.
If you want to be a useful person to our society and our people, first of all you must be a person with your own dignity, then study diligently and learn to think independently as much as you can. Broadly speaking, study is like a weapon [you can use] to protect yourself. When you use independent thought to reason with others, you truly find yourself and become an independent person. Thus you have the capacity to protect your own life and dignity.
Lastly, I would send a word to women: do we use our lives correctly if we come to this world just to be housewives? And are we not betraying our great mothers who devoted their lives to us? Notes:
1: TibetInfoNet thanks Namlo Yak for authorising publication, as well as Mr Denis Burke for his collaboration in the preparation of this Update.
2: In March 2006, Jamyang Kyi performed at a Tibetan New Year celebration and attended a Tibetan symposium held at Latse library and Columbia University in New York City.
3: One of the three main dialect groups of colloquial Tibetan language.
4: On caterpillar fungus (Tib: yartsa gunbu) see: Yartsa gunbu, Tibet's underground cash cow