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Resurgence of Tibetan New Year celebrations despite March 10 security build-up

March 12, 2011

Many Tibetans in Tibet boldly marked Tibetan New Year (Losar) at the
March 5-6 weekend, in preference to Chinese New Year, despite official
restrictions and an entrenched security presence. There is evidence that
in some Tibetan areas Tibetans have begun to mark Losar again with more
vigor as an expression of their cultural identity, despite official
pressures otherwise.

The current political climate in Tibet is particularly tense in the
build-up to the March 10 anniversary of the Tibetan National Uprising in
1959 - which is also the third anniversary of an unprecedented wave of
overwhelmingly peaceful protests that swept across the Tibetan plateau,
to be met by a brutal crackdown.

The Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) has been effectively closed to foreign
tourists for the month of March. Chinese travel agents say they have
been told not to receive foreign visitors around March 14, the third
anniversary of when four days of peaceful protesting in Lhasa turned
violent.

Celebrations in Amdo of Losar

In Ngaba (Chinese: Aba) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (TAP) in Sichuan
province (in the eastern Tibetan area of Amdo) many Tibetans ignored
"official" celebrations of the New Year a month ago and set off
fireworks and made incense offerings on Saturday (March 5), the first
day of the Tibetan New Year. This was despite intense security in the
area, where at least 10 Tibetans were shot dead during a protest in
March, 2008, near the major monastery of Kirti.

Tibetans in Tibet celebrate New Year at different times, and in Amdo and
some parts of Eastern Tibet, New Year is celebrated at the time of
Chinese New Year. The authorities have sought to encourage this and to
discourage spontaneous gatherings of Tibetans to celebrate the Tibetan
New Year, Losar, particularly following the unrest from March, 2008.
Some Tibetans feel that this results in the downgrading of Losar's
significance in favor of celebrations of the Chinese New Year. In 2009,
some local authorities, including in Ngaba, sought to prevent any
unsanctioned celebrations of Losar by ordering that Tibetan New Year
celebrations should be brought forward by one month to coincide with
Chinese New Year.

But there is evidence that in some parts of the Tibetan area of Amdo,
Tibetans have begun to celebrate Losar again with more vigor, for
instance in Chentsa (Chinese: Jianzha) county, Mahlo TAP, Qinghai
province, an area where Tibetans have a strong sense of cultural
identity, and where Chinese New Year celebrations were not taken as
seriously as Losar this year.

A Tibetan source from Ngaba said this weekend: "Most regions of Amdo
have their New Year one month earlier and hold many related festivities
accordingly, but in Ngaba the annual incense offering was not made at
that time, and there were not many fireworks, so that festivities
appeared restrained. But on Saturday (the first day of Tibetan Losar
according to the Tibetan calendar), most of the Tibetans in Ngaba, monks
and villagers, performed the incense offering that traditionally marks
the first day of the year, and the ceremonial drawing of the first
water, and let off even more fireworks than for a normal new year's day.
There were fireworks on the hilltops and in the town streets, and
lamp-lit gatherings of people, as if to demonstrate that today is the
[real] Tibetan New Year, which seems to suggest that the earlier
celebration of the New Year a month before had not been voluntary."

Another Tibetan from Amdo who is in exile and in contact with Tibetans
in the area said: "This year people celebrated Losar in many parts of
Amdo, particularly monks in Rebkong (Chinese: Tongren, in Malho TAP,
Qinghai) and Labrang (Chinese: Xiahe, in Gannan TAP, Gansu). This is
because it represents a unique connection to unity between Tibetans in
different areas of Tibet. The celebrations are not always in traditional
style, but they are strongly Tibetan, for instance they are gathering
friends together, wearing their best clothes, visiting local monasteries
and burning incense."

The significance of Losar

Losar is a five-day festival marking the new year in the Tibetan
calendar during which Tibetan families come together to reflect and
celebrate the past year as well as look forward to the coming year.
Since 2008, Tibetans have chosen to express their feelings through the
way in which they commemorate Losar. In 2009, a movement within Tibet to
abstain from celebrating the new year as a gesture of mourning for those
who lost their lives became an unprecedented and highly significant
statement, akin to people in the United States deciding to forego
Thanksgiving, or to the people of China choosing not to mark the Spring
Festival.

This year, Tibetan bloggers have engaged in much discussion on the
regional variations when it comes to celebrating Losar, as well as the
conflict in celebrating Chinese New Year. In a blog written to mark
Losar and translated by High Peaks Pure Earth, the Tibetan writer Woeser
referred to the views of some young Tibetans "who believe that
incorporating some customs of Chinese New Year into Tibetan people's
lives is not at all inappropriate."
(http://www.highpeakspureearth.com/2011/03/three-provinces-of-snowland-losar-tashi.html).


Tight security in build-up to March 10 with closure of Tibet, "Jasmine"
protests

In Lhasa, security was tight over the Tibetan New Year, with government
officials being told they were not allowed to go to monasteries at that
time, according to one source in contact with Tibetans in the city.

Both Tibetan New Year and the effective ban on tourists to the region
coincides with the heavy-handed response by the Chinese government to
the "Jasmine (molihua) Revolution" of spontaneous gatherings of people
in dozens of cities across China. Lhasa is on the list of 41 sites
detailed in blog, Facebook and Sina Weibo/Twitter feeds by organizers of
the peaceful movements for reform and free expresson in China, although
it is not known whether any such gatherings have taken place there due
to the tight security and choking off of communications.

The Jasmine Revolution gatherings, inspired by the uprisings and
sweeping change across the Middle East and North Africa, are the latest
push for democracy in a movement feared by authorities and have led to
an intensified security crackdown in China, and the blocking of
communications. Foreign journalists have been beaten up in Beijing,
where tension is particularly high because of the meetings of the
National Peoples Congress this week, which bring together the country's
most senior Party, state and regional leaders, including those from Tibet.

Bloggers in Tibet discuss Losar

In 2009, one year after the protests began on the March 10 anniversary,
Tibetans marked the beginning of the New Year by 'mourning' and in
somber reflection on the crackdown following the protests that swept
across Tibet in 2008. Tibetans began to post blogs and comments about
celebrations or commemoration of Tibetan New Year (Losar), and continue
to do so in the blogosphere today.

In a post translated by High Peaks Pure Earth, which monitors and
translates Tibetan blogposts, the Tibetan writer Woeser wrote from
Beijing about reasons for the variations in commemorating Chinese and
Tibetan New Year. She wrote:

"In the past few years, there has been a lively debate among Tibetans on
the internet about the displacement of New Year's celebrations. One of
the opinions is that 'the displacement of New Year's celebrations in
Amdo (Gansu, Qinghai) and Kham (Tibet) was caused by the historically,
geographically and climatically transformed environment, but that the
actual atmosphere of the celebrations has become more Tibetan.' I have
always believed that since we know that our New Year has been somewhat
displaced, we should try to gradually replace it; yet, after engaging in
profound discussions and thus gaining a more comprehensive
understanding, I now think that it is not really a question of
displacement and replacement, but whether the choices we make are
imposed or natural."

High Peaks Pure Earth also reported that this year many Tibetan bloggers
are calling for unity and solidarity among Tibetans as well as
expressing their sorrow at the impact of the crackdown. In one
translation published by High Peaks Pure Earth, a Tibetan who identifies
him or herself as "Dortse" writes the following poem:

"Losar, who inherits this sorrow?

Everyone says it is a joyful time.

But who has busted or emptied our home?

All those brothers and sisters who have passed away,

May their souls float on the top of the Potala this Losar?

When Losar comes, my heart is filled with sorrow."

Another blogger wrote: "If in all parts of Tibet only one Losar is
commonly celebrated, then it will help to have a common language and
unity among us! So many good things will come out of it. So let us
spread the benefits by celebrating a common Losar..."
(http://www.highpeakspureearth.com/2011/03/one-tibet-many-tibetan-new-years.html).


In exile, the Dalai Lama has drawn attention to the courageous and
peaceful actions of Tibetans in Tibet since March, 2008. In
commemoration of the March 10 anniversary, Tibetans in exile gather
every year at the main temple in Dharamsala, India. In the last two
March 10 statements, the Dalai Lama has opened with a strong assertion
of the inspiration provided by the conviction of young Tibetans in Tibet
who have engaged in peaceful protest and expressions of their views. In
his statement last year, the Dalai Lama said that it was "inspiring"
that "a new generation of Tibetans continues to keep Tibet's just cause
alive." He said that: "They have been able to keep up their courage and
determination, preserve their compassionate culture and maintain their
unique identity... I salute the courage of those Tibetans still enduring
fear and oppression."

The Dalai Lama will deliver his March 10, 2011 statement on Thursday at
the Tsuglakhang Temple in Dharamsala, India, his home in exile.

March 10 anniversary details

The March 10 anniversary marks the day when tensions after the Chinese
invasion of Tibet finally erupted in Lhasa in 1959. Thousands of
Tibetans gathered outside the Dalai Lama's summer palace, the
Norbulingka, as rumors that the Chinese were planning to abduct him
spread throughout Lhasa, which was teeming with pilgrims following the
annual Great Prayer Festival (Monlam Chenmo). During the week that
followed, demonstrations in support of the Dalai Lama and against
Chinese rule escalated into a mass protest throughout the city. On March
17, 1959 the PLA started sporadic shelling of the city, and that evening
the Dalai Lama escaped and began his flight into exile. On March 20,
1959 the PLA was ordered to re-take the city. After two days of
fighting, the Chinese flag was hoisted above the Potala Palace. Both
sides renounced the 17-point agreement. By March 28, 1959, which since
2009 the Chinese authorities have celebrated as "Serf Emancipation Day,"
the Tibetan government was dissolved. Thousands of Tibetans had been
killed, and thousands more followed the Dalai Lama into exile.
(http://www.savetibet.org/documents/reports/great-mountain-burned-fire-china%E2%80%99s-crackdown-tibet).
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