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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.



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China has 1,300 MILLION people. Of this # 5 Million are Tibetans.

Tibetan nationalists claim 1/3 of Modern China as their occupied homeland, but would probably settle for the current Tibetan Autonomous region, which "only" consists of a mere 1/7th of Modern China's land area.

UNFORTUNATELY for the Tibetans, that 1/7th is the SOURCE OF VIRTUALLY ALL the major rivers in China.

Giving Tibet independence would grant a foreign nation life and death control over China.

While the plight of Tibet is truly sad, the notion that China could ever give them independence is ludicrous for that reason alone.


Been a month since the last post...the PRC is one of those places you have to periodically "phone home" from or people who have been in that part of the world start to wonder if you've had a "medical emergency" that required your "immediate treatment" in a "specialized medical facility".

Somewhere wayyyyyy rural and off the tourist trail.


Making China understandable here.在這裏讀懂中國!

Fire Extinguishers

Thanks for the post. Really interesting and informative. I shall look forward to reading more from you in the future.


Thanks for the post. Really interesting and informative. I shall look forward to reading more from you in the future.


Gux, it's hard to get 'proof' if the area is sealed off to the rest of the world. No independent media, no UN, no one except for Chinese state run news agencies.


"It is beyond comprehension that there is such a lack of info on the terrible repression in Tibet."

Let me ask, if you have so few info on what happens in Tibet, why does it *have to* be a terrible repression ?
What does the monk say except "Boohoohoo they asked me where I went ! This is the proof of the terrible repression." ?
What does the businessman say except "Boohoohoo I can't enter the town ! This is the proof of the terrible repression." ?

The lack of info is not an excuse to create some biased anti-China info. Not an excuse either to believe what is said. The events of march 2008 were a magnificent proof that Western medias transformed the events to make the world believe the Chinese were the bad guys.


Thank you for being one of the only voices trying to make this know. It is beyond comprehension that there is such a lack of info on the terrible repression in Tibet. Great work, much appreciated!

Tendar Tsering

Good job Tom, you are an icon in our media family

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

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