Tibetans living in Lhasa and in western China’s Qinghai and Sichuan provinces celebrated the Dalai Lama’s birthday last week with prayer gatherings and public picnics in honor of the exiled spiritual leader and open defiance of Chinese bans, local sources said.
In Qinghai’s Rebgong (in Chinese, Tongren) county in the Malho (Huangnan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Tibetans closed their shops and burned incense to observe the July 6 event, a source living in the area told RFA’s Tibetan Service.
“They also organized picnic outings with friends and family to celebrate the joyous occasion, which coincided with the blossoming of many different kinds of flowers in the area,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Attempts to share photos of the Dalai Lama online were meanwhile blocked in Qinghai’s Golog (Guoluo) prefecture, as authorities clamped down on social media and the internet, another Tibetan source told RFA.
“The Chinese were very strict about online content sharing around the time of the Dalai Lama’s birthday,” the source said, also speaking on condition he not be named.
“Many Tibetans were posting images of the Dalai Lama, together with birthday greetings and songs of praise, on [the social media platform] WeChat. But when they tried to share that content with other WeChat users, they were unable to do so,” he said.
In western China’s Sichuan province, which together with Qinghai includes parts of historical Tibet’s northeastern Amdo region, monks at Ngaba (Aba) prefecture’s Andu Yakgo monastery held prayers for the Dalai Lama’s health and longevity, a source in Ngaba said.
“Even though the monastery’s monks were on summer retreat, about 60 of them came together on July 6 to hold a special ceremony at the monastery,” he said.
Festival ordered closed
And in Sichuan’s Kardze (Ganzi) prefecture, residents of Tawu (Daofu) county’s Nagtren village defied Chinese orders to shut down an annual horse race and incense-burning festival whose date this year fell by chance on the politically sensitive birthday, a source in Kardze said.
“County officials and other local authorities said the horse race should be held a few days later. But local Tibetans defied the order and were met [at the festival site] with a massive deployment of security forces whose intimidation and threats disrupted the event,” the source said.
In Tibet’s regional capital Lhasa, meanwhile, Tibetans conducted prayers and openly visited area monasteries, including the city’s central Jokhang temple, despite the presence of plainclothes security officers and other informers stationed nearby, another source said.
The Dalai Lama, who turned 82 this year, fled Tibet into exile in India in the midst of a failed 1959 national uprising against Chinese rule, and displays by Tibetans of the Dalai Lama’s photo or public celebrations of his birthday have been harshly punished in the past.
Sporadic demonstrations challenging Beijing’s rule and calling for the Dalai Lama’s return have continued in Tibetan areas of China since widespread protests swept the region in 2008.
Reported by Kunsang Tenzin, Sangye Dorjee, and Lhuboom for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Richard Finney.