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Tibetans, the police and China

I travelled recently to Tongren, an ethnic Tibetan town in Qinghai Province where two men set themselves on fire last week. I wanted to pass along a few sections of my article and some images of the place:

"If they gave us more freedom there probably wouldn't be more self-immolations," said a 37-year-old businessman who lives at the outskirts of Tongren.

Speaking on Tuesday, the man said that two days earlier he'd tried to drive into town only to be turned back by police. It'd been a day since the latest self-immolation and he figured the roads would be open.

"They weren't letting Tibetans in," said the man, who like everyone else interviewed asked that his name not be used, for fear of official retaliation. "The police said, 'You can't come in now, you should come back in three or four days.'"

Confronted by police from China's dominant Han ethnic group telling him he couldn't enter a majority ethnic Tibetan town, the businessman said, he had no choice other than to grit his teeth and turn around.

"It was difficult to accept," he said.


One ethnic Tibetan who works for the county government that oversees Tongren said he was sent to the town on March 10 to help "educate" locals during a period that marks both the 2008 tumult and a 1959 Tibetan uprising against Chinese forces. The failed effort in 1959 forced the Dalai Lama to escape into India.

"The government is providing a lot of services to the common people here," said the 48-year-old bureaucrat. "Some common people are doing these sorts of things" — self-immolations — "but if they want to oppose the government they will not win."

Asked how he as an ethnic Tibetan felt about the situation, the man crossed his arms and said, "I'm a cadre, it's not convenient for me to talk about these things."


"It's not only in Tongren, every Tibetan area now has police," he said.

Pushed again for his personal feelings, he said, "Of course the situation is sad. It's the same everywhere. But when these things occur, the government must manage the situation."

"Tibetans from Aba and Tibetans here are the same, and the reasons for the self-immolations are the same," said one ethnic Tibetan in Tongren, a 35-year-old man who's doing a project to document traditional arts in the area.

When a McClatchy reporter first met that man in October 2010, following marches by local students against increased Mandarin language classes, he was unhappy about the government's approach to Tibetan issues. On the whole, however, he came across as open and talkative.

On Tuesday, his easy smile was gone. Speaking in a van pulled over in a farm field by a river — he'd refused to meet in Tongren itself — the man tugged at his neck and constantly looked around for police.

"There is a lot of undercover security," he said, adding in a near-whisper that, "The situation has changed."


"We don't dare speak about these things because as soon as we do, the police will take us away," said a 37-year-old monk from the Rongwo monastery in Tongren.

As he spoke those words, an ethnic Tibetan woman listening to the conversation broke into tears.


Although he was speaking in a teahouse with no obvious security presence, the monk on Wednesday said that he had to be careful.

"It's very difficult now for monks from Rongwo monastery to come outside," he said. "There are cameras watching where we go, and later on they will of course ask us where we went."

Asked whom he meant by "they," the monk would not answer. He said only that life at the monastery hasn't been comfortable lately.

"If we were not in pain, we would not be setting ourselves on fire," he said.


Postcards from Wukan, a few days late

I'd wanted to post these from the elections in Wukan, but my work on Saturday ran late, Sunday was taken up with travel back to Beijing and then yesterday I was at the National People's Congress. So, just think of these as having been delayed a bit in the mail.

Xue Jianwan, the daughter of Xue Jinbo, a Wukan activist who died in police custody in December. When I took this photo on Friday, Xue said she was going to continue her run for office in Wukan despite official pressure to drop out of the race. She appeared to back out of the race the next day, a development that's since been confirmed. 

Villager watching a video of Wukan protest leaders making speeches last year, as the village headed toward open revolt against the local government. The large group of men watching the TV at this stand on Friday seemed to quiet down a bit when Xue Jinbo flashed across the screen. Two of the other protest leaders, Lin Zuluan and Yang Semao, were elected head and deputy head of the village commission on Saturday.

Yang Semao being interviewed in front of the village commission office on Friday.

Early Saturday morning. Guards at the entrance to the local school used as a polling station.

Lin Zuluan on Saturday. I saw him sitting or walking by himself a lot during the day (Update: Though outside the frame of this particular photograph, I think someone was sitting next to him). I suspect he might have been caught between the officials present, from nearby city of Lufeng and elsewhere, and the scrum of press that gathered every time he started talking with someone.


IMG_1066Voters starting to trickle in.


Xue Jianwan is in there somewhere.

More press.







Votes being counted.


As vote count wrapped up, Lin writing notes before speaking to crowd.

Lin and Yang, not long before results announced.

Lin pushes through the press on the way home.





I saw this fishing boat starting to sink in December, when in Wukan during the protests.  I walked by it on Friday and it was completely under the water. Am not sure if this makes sense to you, dear reader, but for me it was a poignant note -- that the significance of the Wukan story is still unknown, submerged down there under the water, where it can still be partially seen but not fully understood.





(Note: Most of my shots of individual voters were vertical and I'm having trouble getting them to post -- will update with them when I figure out how.)

Postcards from the National People's Congress

Wanted to pass along some quick shots from the NPC, the annual meeting of China's rubber stamp congress. 

Ceiling in auditorium of Great Hall of the People.

Firemen on Tiananmen Square.

Radio booth.

Guard on Tiananmen Square.

National People's Congress. Great Hall of the People.

Wen Jiabao. National People's Congress. Great Hall of the People.



"China Rises" is written by Tom Lasseter, the Beijing bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers.

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