Al Jazeera report on Chinese response to the Tibetan emergency

Thanks to Annie Dibble for forwarding this –

By Melissa Chan in
  • on April 20th, 2010

    The most fascinating development from this quake disaster has been the ad-hoc congregation of monks from across the provinces to help with relief efforts. 


    The most fascinating development from this quake disaster has been the ad-hoc congregation of monks from across the provinces to help with relief efforts. 

    They’ve come in the thousands to Yushu county, by bus or motorbike, their presence as visible as government-dispatched rescue workers. And they’ve brought with them food or shovels, come in prayer – or to direct traffic. 

    Up on the hill overlooking the city on Saturday, many of them joined together to chant prayers for the dead during the mass cremation, and scouring the place, we didn’t see a single government official present. 

    The government had stepped back to let the spiritual leaders do their work. This being China, I found that incredible.

    While events occur where Tibetan Buddhist monks gather in large numbers, such as during festivals or during occasional public teachings, they are always monitored and organised in conjunction with local authorities and police. 

    Historic differences

    The level of distrust is high between Chinese and Tibetans, and for Beijing, the memory of the riots in this region two years ago is still fresh and frightening.

    The government is concerned with stability, and worries over any kind of assembly of peoples, be they Tibetans or dispossessed farmers.

    Robert Barnett, director of the modern Tibetan studies programme at Columbia University, says the gathering of monks had been a tradition for hundreds of years.

    They would meet in Lhasa every spring, rebuilding the river dykes to stop flooding. 

    “[But now] for this mass civil engagement to happen under the current Chinese administration, which has tried increasingly to keep the monks away from the rest of society, seems very remarkable.”

    Surely authorities are looking at the situation very closely, and very nervously.  Why they even allow this to be happening is a mystery. 

    Many monks are meeting for the first time. Different sects and branches of Tibetan Buddhism that rarely interact are now united in one cause.

    In the coming days, if not already, they will exchange ideas and opinions, and surely, one can imagine, they will start talking about things.

    Things such as the rioting two years ago, or things about the Dalai Lama, or perhaps dissatisfaction with Chinese administration in Tibetan areas.

    Already, monks from Serda Lharong monastery in Sichuan province are pulling together names of the dead, in an independent effort to verify the official tally.

    This kind of action is exactly the sort that has brought trouble to Sichuan earthquake activists. 

    It will be worth keeping an eye on how the government responds in the coming days and weeks to this sudden blossoming of civic action from a group of people they’ve always had deep suspicions of.

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