Louisa Lim is in Tibet, and seems to be running around the edges of the closed areas talking to locals- consider it yet another refutation of the ‘everything’s fine here folks!’ story that Xinhua and the Chinese foreign ministry is giving:
In one town, monks boycotted the usual Chinese New Year celebrations at the end of January as a mourning gesture, refusing to set off fireworks.
“Too many of our people died this year,” one monk told me, referring to nearly two-dozen Tibetans who have set themselves on fire as a protest against Chinese repression. Identifying details have been removed to protect those who talked to NPR.
Police cars patrol the streets here, and on the morning of the new year, security forces took pre-emptive action.
“Paramilitary forces from elsewhere were sent here,” says the monk. “There were tanks, too.”
Here, only a handful of monks are visible, selling tickets or sweeping floors. Officially, 600 monks live in Ta’er Si, but that’s less than half the monastic population before the unrest in 2008.
Across the plateau, monasteries are depleting; the authorities used administrative controls to send “unregistered” clergy home after the unrest. Official Chinese reports show the number of monks at Sera monastery in Lhasa has been reduced to 460, less than half what it was before 2008. In Drepung monastery, another major teaching center, the number was halved to 600 after the management sent home 700 visiting monks.
At a different monastery on the Tibetan plateau, wooden prayer wheels creak as pilgrims spin them. Police cars drive up and down outside the monastery. Inside, there’s no security presence. All appears calm, tranquil even. But this place has seen unrest, and panicky conversations show the underlying terror.
“We don’t have the right to speak freely,” one monk says. “We are scared. If we talk to you, they’ll arrest us.”
Another man butts in. “You speaking with the monks makes them truly scared,” he says. “They could get shot.”
He makes the shape of a gun with his fingers, and puts it to his head, pulling the trigger. Then, in case of any misunderstanding, he repeats the gesture.
Tomorrow is Losar, the Tibetan New Year, which is going to be pretty quiet compared to the normal celebrations- Malcolm Moore from The Telegraph explains why:
Instead, the Tibetan government-in-exile has said they should mourn the 22 monks, nuns and ordinary Tibetans who have set themselves on fire in the past year, some in an explicit protest at Chinese rule.
Dr Lobsang Sangay, the Tibetan prime minister-in-exile, has asked for people not to celebrate Losar, but do go to the monastery to make offerings for those who have “sacrificed and suffered under the repressive policies of the Chinese government.”