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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Tibetans In China Boycott New Year In Protest

February 27, 2009

by Louisa Lim (National Public Radio)
February 26, 2009

Listen Now
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=101147214

All Things Considered, February 25, 2009 · In the Tibetan areas of
China, whether to celebrate Tibetan New Year — which began Wednesday —
has become a politically loaded decision.

The New Year is the first in a number of upcoming politically sensitive
dates, which has led China to seal off its Tibetan areas from the
outside world.

Anti-Chinese protests erupted last year in Tongren, in China's
northwestern Qinghai province. Now, a mood of quiet desperation prevails
in the town, where the sound of resistance is silence.

That was the sound heard at the stroke of midnight, when the world
ushered in Losar, or Tibetan New Year. The silence is in stark contrast
to last year, when the hillsides were ablaze with the crackle and bang
of fireworks.

"We're not celebrating this year," said one monk, as conch shells rang
out for prayers.

Remembering The Protests

Many Tibetans in China are boycotting New Year celebrations as a
symbolic act to commemorate those who died or were detained when
protests against Chinese rule swept across the Tibetan plateau in 2008.

Violent protests broke out in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, followed by a
series of demonstrations in Tibetan areas. Beijing says at least 19
people died in those protests; the Tibetan government in exile puts the
figure at 200.

"Our hearts feel sad. People suffered so much," said "Zhaxi," another
monk whose real name was withheld to protect his identity.

Monks held three separate protests in Tongren last year.

"One night they arrested 250 monks here," said Zhaxi. "They used wire to
bind their wrists together. One was sentenced to death. Some got five
years or 10 years in jail."

Monasteries And Defiance

On the surface, everything seems normal inside the monasteries, with
monks chanting sutras amid the smell of yak butter candles.

But over the past year, these monasteries — which were at the center of
the protests — have become the target of patriotic education campaigns.
During these campaigns, monks have been forced to denounce their exiled
leader, the Dalai Lama.

And beneath the surface, tensions run deep. Zhaxi says undercover
security agents disguised as monks were stationed in the monasteries. He
talks of his hatred — not of the Chinese people, he stresses — but of
the Communist Party.

"The government pressure on us is very high. We are too terrorized, so
we become monks. At least we have a belief. It's not good to hate that
much," Zhaxi said.

During visits to four monasteries, pictures of the Dalai Lama were
openly displayed, a symbol of resistance to Chinese rule. The heightened
security, including police presence and increased troop deployments in
Tibetan areas, means protests are less likely this year. For one monk,
"Cerdan," whose real name was withheld to protect his identity, openly
showing the Dalai Lama's picture has become a test of will.

"Even if there are problems, we'll display his picture. Even if they
kill us, we'll display it," he said.

Divide Between Chinese, Tibetans

China is countering this defiance — and the refusal to celebrate New
Year — by holding its own party. State television staged a four-hour
gala, a song-and-dance spectacular, to mark Tibetan New Year. The
Tibetans who carried the Olympic torch to the summit of Mount Everest
last year even make an appearance, their voices shaky with pride and
nerves.

The torch relay, which was so controversial overseas, sparks feelings of
patriotism among Chinese. For some Tibetans, it serves as a reminder of
what they feel to be their colonization. That difference shows the gulf
between Tibetans and their Chinese neighbors, a gulf which is ever wider
following last year's protests.

On this topic, many Chinese believe Tibetans should be more grateful. A
Chinese man who asked to be identified only as Mr. Wang due to the
sensitivity of the subject, spoke for many when he voiced his views.

"There are a lot of policies that favor Tibetans. But under the
instigation of a minority, they are seeking independence from this good
country. They really shouldn't do that," he said.

In less than two weeks, another sensitive date looms: March 10, the 50th
anniversary of a failed Tibetan uprising, after which the Dalai Lama
fled into exile. But Tibetans at a monastery in Tongren are looking
further ahead.

"What will happen when the Dalai Lama dies?" one monk asked. Then he
answered his own question: "The Chinese will pick the next one, and then
everything will be finished."
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