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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."


May 14, 2010

Co-operation between monks and the government has been curtailed

FOR Tibet's rebellious monastic community, the earthquake that killed
more than 2,000 people in a remote county on the Tibetan plateau on
April 14th became a rare opportunity to forge some trust with the
government of China. In an unspoken truce, the authorities allowed
monks from far and wide to to join the relief efforts. Chinese troops
watched impassively as columns of red-robed Buddhists bearing the flags
of their monasteries deployed near the epicentre. But mutual suspicions
have been quick to resurface.

The devastation struck Yushu, a county in Qinghai province, which
Tibetans view as part of their historic territory. The government has
seen the recovery efforts here as a chance to show its care for an
ethnic minority suffused with misgivings about Chinese rule. The prime
minister, Wen Jiabao, delayed an overseas trip and the president, Hu
Jintao, cut short a trip of his own to fly to the disaster area and be
photographed with grieving Tibetans. Just as it did after a far more
destructive earthquake in Sichuan province in 2008, the government
declared a national day of mourning, which was observed on April 21st.

But official goodwill has its limits. Tibetan areas, including Qinghai,
had been under a security clampdown since March 2008, when anti-Chinese
protests and riots flared across the plateau. The government is still
in no mood to give leeway to Tibetan dissenters who, it fears, might
seize on any inadequacies in the relief mission to whip up public
anger. One of China's senior leaders, Jia Qinglin, said on April 19th
that "hostile elements abroad"--often code for the Dalai Lama and his
supporters--were trying to "sabotage" the relief work.

Four days later, police in Qinghai's capital, Xining, detained a
prominent Tibetan intellectual, Tagyal (he has a single name, as do
many Tibetans). He had joined seven others in signing an open letter to
residents of the disaster area. It referred to the earthquake as
another blow to Tibetans; on top of "armed force and cruelty". And it
urged people to give donations only to "trustworthy" agencies--implying
that government bodies are too prone to corruption.

Tagyal's letter seems to have been the last straw. The authorities were
already enraged by a book he wrote under his pen name, which he had
been circulating informally in the past few weeks. "The Line Between
Sky and Earth" praises the activism of monks during the Tibetan unrest
of 2008 and calls for passive resistance as a way of pressing for more
freedoms. Its message was particularly striking because Tagyal had been
regarded by many Tibetans as someone who shared official China's
disdain for Tibetan religion. Police have informed Tagyal's family that
he is suspected of "inciting separatism". Concerns about his book might
have helped to inspire a campaign the government launched to prevent
"illegal publications" from disturbing the relief effort.

The authorities have reason to worry about the loyalties of this
earthquake's survivors. Some have been scrabbling in ruins to recover
photographs of the Dalai Lama. The government has ignored the exiled
Tibetan leader's suggestion that he be allowed to visit Yushu. Woeser,
a Tibetan writer living in Beijing, says survivors become excited
whenever they spot an aeroplane overhead, hoping the Dalai Lama might
be on board.

Monks, unfettered by the altitude sickness suffered by many of the
emergency workers sent from other parts of China, made valiant
contributions to the rescue. But the government appears to have lost
patience with them. Within a week of the earthquake, officials were
making it clear that those from outside the county should return to
their monasteries. Woeser says that many monks have decided to play
safe and withdraw.

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