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."
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.