Authorities in western China’s Sichuan province have blocked plans by Tibetans to observe the 100th anniversary of the birth of famed Tibetan writer and thinker Gendun Choephel, as Beijing continues to crack down on public assertions of Tibetan cultural and national identity, according to local sources.
The action came despite recent moves by Beijing to present Gendun Choephel to Tibetans as a "progressive" figure in modern Tibetan culture, an analyst said.
A restaurant gathering to discuss Choephel’s life and influence had been scheduled for Aug. 24 in the main town of Ngaba (in Chinese, Aba) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, a Tibetan resident of the area told RFA’s Tibetan Service on Friday.
“But local authorities objected a few days before the event,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“It was planned by a group of young monks from different monasteries in the Ngaba area and by young local laypersons, and the monks and other Tibetan youth had raised the needed funds,” he said.
“But when Chinese authorities learned of the plan, the organizers were told they could not hold their event.”
Local Tibetans were disappointed by the officials’ action, the source said.
“The local community liked such discussions on Tibetan culture, and the events had become popular,” he said.
Choephel, a brilliant but controversial writer who lived from 1903 to 1951 and wrote both in Tibet and in India, had recently been held up to Tibetans by China as a “progressive” figure in modern Tibetan culture, said Columbia University Tibet scholar Robbie Barnett.
“But there’s a problem for China if they want to promote him in that way, because although he presented very serious and substantial criticisms of the Tibetan establishment of his time, he also supported independence,” Barnett said.
“So he was certainly ‘progressive,’ but I think that his view of history would not quite fit the current [ruling] Chinese Communist Party model.”
China has jailed scores of Tibetan writers, artists, singers, and educators for asserting Tibetan cultural and national identity and language rights since widespread protests swept Tibetan areas in 2008.
A total of 121 Tibetans have also set themselves ablaze to date in self-immolation protests challenging Beijing’s policies and rule, with another six setting themselves on fire in India and Nepal.
Reported by Jolep Choephel for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Richard Finney.