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Tibetans In China Boycott New Year In Protest

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Tibetans In China Boycott New Year In Protest

World

Tibetans In China Boycott New Year In Protest

Tibetans In China Boycott New Year In Protest

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Monks from this monastery in Qinghai province were at the center of anti-Chinese protests last year. i

Monks at this Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Tongren, in China's northwest Qinghai province, were at the center of three protests against Chinese rule last year. Across this area of Qinghai, Tibetans are choosing not to celebrate Tibetan New Year in commemoration of the protests. Louisa Lim/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Louisa Lim/NPR
Monks from this monastery in Qinghai province were at the center of anti-Chinese protests last year.

Monks at this Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Tongren, in China's northwest Qinghai province, were at the center of three protests against Chinese rule last year. Across this area of Qinghai, Tibetans are choosing not to celebrate Tibetan New Year in commemoration of the protests.

Louisa Lim/NPR
Young monks chant sutras. i

Young monks chant sutras. Louisa Lim/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Louisa Lim/NPR
Young monks chant sutras.

Young monks chant sutras.

Louisa Lim/NPR
At monasteries in the area, the Dalai Lama's picture is openly displayed i

At monasteries in the area, the Dalai Lama's picture is openly displayed — an act of defiance against the Chinese authorities. Louisa Lim/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Louisa Lim/NPR
At monasteries in the area, the Dalai Lama's picture is openly displayed

At monasteries in the area, the Dalai Lama's picture is openly displayed — an act of defiance against the Chinese authorities.

Louisa Lim/NPR
Pilgrims prostrate themselves on the ground as an act of worship at a monastery in Tongren. i

Pilgrims prostrate themselves as an act of worship at a monastery in Tongren. Louisa Lim/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Louisa Lim/NPR
Pilgrims prostrate themselves on the ground as an act of worship at a monastery in Tongren.

Pilgrims prostrate themselves as an act of worship at a monastery in Tongren.

Louisa Lim/NPR
Pilgrims turning prayer wheels as they walk the prayer circuit at a monastery in Tongren. i

Pilgrims turn prayer wheels as they walk a monastery's prayer circuit. Louisa Lim/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Louisa Lim/NPR
Pilgrims turning prayer wheels as they walk the prayer circuit at a monastery in Tongren.

Pilgrims turn prayer wheels as they walk a monastery's prayer circuit.

Louisa Lim/NPR

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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