Tom Lasseter has become the second journalist to make it into Ngaba, currently ground zero of the struggle between Tibetans and the Chinese government. His entire piece should be read, but here are some bits:
The young man’s hands began to shake, and he tugged at his fingers to keep them still. The 20-year-old ethnic Tibetan was terrified of the police finding out that he’d spoken about the Buddhist monks who’ve been burning themselves alive.
“They’re doing it because they want freedom,” said the man, a livestock trader who asked that his name not be used because of safety concerns.
He paused before adding, “Because we want freedom.”
A McClatchy reporter was detained for two hours Saturday when he was pulled over at a police checkpoint 15 miles from Hongyuan on the winding road toward Aba. He was released only after photos were deleted from his camera and he agreed not to stop again in Hongyuan on the way out, a condition emphasized by threats to his driver and the multiple vehicles that followed him.
Beyond issues particular to the Communist Party’s policy in Tibetan areas, the situation also may hint at the limits of the effectiveness of Beijing’s authoritarian approach toward social unrest.
Conversations at Hongyuan and outlying villages suggest that the government’s tough response hasn’t deterred angry Tibetans. Rather, it now threatens to alienate those who were accepting of the regime.
One Tibetan businessman interviewed in the vicinity said that he appreciated the roads and offices the government built. The man, who gave his name as Tsering, said he understood the pragmatic reasons that his daughter received Tibetan language instruction at school only two or three times a week, while she was taught Mandarin Chinese every day.
When talking about the self-immolations, however, Tsering, 29, was adamant. “The monks are asking for justice,” he said.
“A lot of people have been taken away by the government,” said the livestock trader, who wore a puffy neon-blue jacket and jeans. “A lot of Tibetans feel that we aren’t free. We aren’t allowed to put up pictures of the Dalai Lama. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
He was joined by a group of friends, a couple of whom wore small likenesses of the Dalai Lama at the ends of thin leather necklaces that they tucked beneath their shirts.
One of them, another Tibetan trader in his early 20s, spoke up, “We are all afraid of the government.”
A few blocks away, a policeman sat in his car and filmed every person who walked by an intersection.
Every time I read about Beijing reacting to criticism like this I can’t help but to have the same reaction- gee, I’m sure beating, intimidating, and disappearing people and disrupting their lives while lying about their icons will make them like you this time!