Scenes from Qinghai, Tibetan China: Now Closed To Foreigners

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Just back from a trip to the Tibetan areas of Qinghai province, where things are very tense in the wake of the new year holiday. Celebrations were largely aborted by Tibetans to commemorate the shootings in Lhasa last year where ordinary Tibetans believe that thousands of their compatriots were killed. Official Chinese figures say 19 died, mostly innocent Chinese shopkeepers, while the Dalai Lama’s government in exile puts the figure in the hundreds, many of them Tibetans. Whatever the truth, it’s what the ordinary Tibetans believe–and the rage it inspires– that counts. The boycott infuriated the Chinese authorities, but more on that later when we’ll have a story about what seems to have been a wide scale act of civil disobedience. That could be repetaed in the Tibet Autonomous Region proper from February 25th onwards when the official Tibetan new year begins. (Tibetans outside the TAR don’t much choice but to celebrate according to the Chinese lunar calendar).

We meant to go on to the town of Xiahe in neighboring Gansu province and visit the huge Labrang monastery (the site of disturbances last year that left a number of monk dead) but we were told by several people that the way was blocked and foreigners were being taken off buses or turned round and sent back. (Update: the government has now announced that all Tibetan areas in Qinghai, Sichuan and Gansu provinces are closed to foreigners, so it looks as though we got in just in time).

Anyway, this is a somewhat random collection of images that I find particularly interesting because of the accompanying sounds. Through a series of statistically unlikely failures, several cameras were out of action and I had to borrow my daughter’s point and shoot. Next time I’ll take a better camera. Promise.

First comes prostration, then ¬†series of shots of prayer wheels, then different kinds of prayer and chanting. I do realize that the interior shots of monks chanting sutras together are very dark, but think it gives a flavor of what makes up the day to day work of the monks. I also particularly like the wild horn that sounds like a seriously angry elephant. Last is a shot of a little fella who was out memorizing his sutras (that’s the folded paper between the wooden boards he’s holding). It was a couple of degrees above zero and he and all the other trainee monks only had their robes for warmth. A hard life.