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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

A year after China quashed revolt, Tibetans simmer with resentment

February 18, 2009

Tim Johnson | McClatchy Newspapers

last updated: February 17, 2009

TONGREN, China — Scratch only a little bit, and Dorje, a Tibetan nomad,
lets loose with a tirade at the people he simply calls "the Chinese,"
the majority Han who he says will get no respite from Tibetan
frustration this year — or for generations.

"After I die," the 53-year-old grizzled herder says, "my sons and
grandsons will remember. They will hate the government."

On the cusp of the first anniversary of a mass revolt on the Tibetan
Plateau that marked the worst ethnic unrest in China in nearly two
decades, many Tibetans still seethe at living under China's thumb. Some
engage in small-scale civil disobedience. Others, including monks,
brazenly display photographs of the Dalai Lama, the exiled leader they
revere as a God-king but that China maligns as a "beast." Nearly all
gripe about a lack of religious and political freedom.

Another imminent anniversary date adds to the sensitivity of the Tibet
issue. March 10 marks 50 years since the Dalai Lama fled across the
Himalayas to exile in India after a failed uprising against Chinese
rule. Fearful of a spasm of new unrest, Beijing has closed off many
ethnic Tibetan areas to journalists and made scattered arrests of
organizers of resistance campaigns.

Tibetan monks, nomads and students interviewed recently by McClatchy
said ethnic tensions have deepened in this eastern region of Qinghai
province, which still remains open to reporters.

More than 1,200 miles separate this mountain town from Lhasa, the
capital of Tibet. Ethnic Tibetans still predominate in this region,
though, and two of the six most important Tibetan monasteries are in the
dry, arid mountains that rise at the edge of the Tibetan Plateau.

At the Kumbum Monastery, which once housed 4,000 monks but is down to
800 today, a 29-year-old monk said Tibetans were defying China by
refusing to celebrate the Lunar New Year, which Han Chinese celebrated
on Jan. 26 and many Tibetans celebrate under a different calendar system
on Feb. 25-27.

"How could there be celebrations? Last year, they shot so many of us,"
said the monk, who is not being identified to avoid reprisals against
him. "Tibetan people are trying to stand up for ourselves by not
celebrating."

Authorities in Beijing say rioters killed at least 20 people, including
two police officers, during the March 14 riots, while Tibetan exile
groups say as many as 200 people died, mostly Tibetan. The dueling
versions underscore the dramatic gap in perceptions between the two sides.

China is eager to portray ethnic Tibetan regions as stable. Residents
here said that local officials have handed out money so that Tibetans
can buy fireworks for New Year festivities even as they arrest those
urging a boycott of celebrations, seeing it as a loss of face.

Beijing says last year's revolt justifies shutting the doors on Tibetan
regions.

"Since the March 14 incident, it's true that foreign journalists find it
harder to go to Tibet. I think you all know the reasons," Foreign
Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said Feb. 12. "The government has taken
some measures. The purpose is to safeguard stability in Tibet."

Barry V. Sautman, a scholar of contemporary Tibetan politics at the Hong
Kong University of Science and Technology, said some new demonstrations
are likely this year.

"It's almost inevitable given the fact that there are monasteries and
nunneries scattered about that there be demonstrations. The police can
only be stretched so far in that vast area," Sautman said. "After all,
the Tibetan Plateau is as large as Western and Central Europe."

Another scholar said that despite some economic incentives to placate
Tibetans, especially those holding bureaucratic jobs, anger in Tibetan
regions is not diminishing.

"One could argue that resentment has increased given the harsh crackdown
on the Chinese side with the police, and the midnight arrests," said
Lobsang Sangay, a senior fellow at Harvard Law School. "A future
uprising is inevitable."

Sautman said that China's refusal to permit the return of the Dalai Lama
to Tibet after five decades is among the crucial issues that unite
Tibetans in anger.

The Dalai Lama, who won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, which was a year of
intense anti-Chinese rioting in Tibet, warned last week in Germany that
frustrations are rising again in Tibet.

"Today there is too much anger . . . The situation is very tense," the
73-year-old spiritual leader told journalists during a visit to the
German spa town of Baden Baden, according to the Agence France-Presse
news agency. "It is so tense that the Chinese military have their hands
on the trigger when they carry weapons."

Squads of People's Armed Police jog daily through the streets of Tongren
before dawn.

"There are so many of them," said a monk at another monastery in the
Tongren area. "You don't see them because they are in their barracks.
But if something happened, they'd be here in a second."

China sees the monasteries as hotbeds of dissent, and in the past year
has ordered all Tibetan monks to attend "re-education" sessions on
China's policies.

"We have to attend patriotic education sessions once a week where they
vilify the Dalai Lama," one monk said. "They've got cameras everywhere
watching us."

Another monk suggested that China contravenes its own laws by arresting
Tibetans for expressing their religious support for the Dalai Lama.

"People protest in Hong Kong and they don't get shot," he said, adding
monks think the police now use facial recognition software to identify
any one who protests in the streets.

No political solution to the Tibet crisis appears in the offing. Talks
between the two sides sputtered to a halt in November after eight rounds
of formal negotiations that began in 2002.

Despair and powerlessness are the common sentiments among many Tibetans
here. A Tibetan layperson interrupted a circumambulation of a Buddhist
shrine to speak to foreigners.

"It would take days for me to explain to you how tough our lives are
here," he said.

Dorje, the nomad, said nine villagers in his community were arrested in
recent weeks for allegedly rousing Tibetans to boycott New Year
celebrations, leaving others simmering.

The police who came, he said, warned designated village leader that if
they allowed any protest movement to emerge, "we will arrest you and
kill you and no one will know.' Everyone was afraid."
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