HONG KONG—Scores of Tibetan residents of an earthquake-damaged western Chinese county are protesting local government plans to take possession of choice properties to reconstruct ravaged homes, schools, offices, and other sites, Tibetan sources say.
Some properties claimed by the authorities suffered no damage in the April earthquake, which left nearly 3,000 people dead, according to Tibetans in Yushu county, Qinghai province, as well as Tibetans in exile who said they have been in touch with relatives there.
“The local government has forced local residents out of their houses—they said they had to clean the area to build office buildings, schools, and parks, and they are planning to take away the sites for our homes and our fields,” one Yushu resident said.
“This has upset the local Tibetans, and they have argued the land has belonged to them for generations. So they have been going to the local government office in their hundreds over the last few days,” he said.
“Every day there are about 100 Tibetans protesting and appealing for the right to return to their land and fields, but the local authorities didn’t listen.”
Another Tibetan from Yushu said that one of his friends had seen "several hundreds" of Tibetans at the
He said he was unsure whether Tibetans or monks had been taken away by police, but suggested that "people don’t want to talk about it out of fear."
The man said many local Tibetan families are unwilling to accept the government's offer of 80 square meter (860 square foot) homes
as compensation for handing over their land.
“We Tibetans always have big families with many family
members living together. Therefore, an 80 square meter unit is too small
for them,” the Yushu resident said.
A photo provided by a local resident shows a monastery damaged by the April 14 earthquake in Gyegu town, Yushu county. Credit: Local resident
A local police officer, contacted by telephone, confirmed that incidents were occurring but said, "I don’t have any clear information for you.”
But an official at the Yushu county government office said in a telephone interview that more than 1,000 Tibetan protesters had been stationed in front of the building for days, demanding a resolution to the land dispute issue.
The woman, who did not give her name, said officials had been dispatched to talk to the protesters.
“[The petitioners] wanted to speak with some officials and they were able to do so. But not [Chinese Vice President] Xi Jinping. The incident is still unresolved. They say
their land has been taken away by the government and they want it
back—want their homes back. They have petitioned here every day, though there are
less people today,” she said.
No Tibetans had been arrested, the official said.
Police blocked Tibetan protesters from approaching Chinese Vice
President Xi Jinping when he visited the area on Wednesday, another
‘The best sites’
An undated photo sent by a local resident shows that most of the buildings in Gyegu town were reduced to rubble following the earthquake. Credit: Local resident
A Yushu native who now lives in the United States said his family who remain there have complained that the “local government selected the best sites for the construction of government offices, schools, and public parks.”
“The Tibetans who are government employees are following government instructions, but the others have appealed to revoke these decisions. They also protested … and argued with the officials that whether they have lived 10 or 20 years in the area, they will not move from these sites.”
“Even during the Cultural Revolution, many Tibetans lost their loved ones but they insisted on staying on the land of their ancestors.”
Another Tibetan who now lives in New York, and who still has family members living in Yushu, said that the Chinese government had begun to construct small apartment units for relocation far from Yushu, which he described as ill-suited to the local Tibetan lifestyle.
“Local Tibetans are trying to stop the government from building these small
apartment units. They prefer assistance from international charity
organizations or would rather slowly build their own houses than
live in these government-provided small dwellings.”
Praise for monks
The Yushu native said Tibetans from the area are largely self-sufficient and praised Tibetan monks for their quick efforts in providing relief materials to victims of the April 14 earthquake.
“Some victims didn’t get anything from the government even three or four weeks
after the earthquake because the relief materials had to go through
many checks and verifications. Tibetan monks hand-delivered relief supplies to each victim without delay.”
Kunga Tashi, the Chinese liaison officer in the office of Tibet in New
York City expressed regret that Tibetan monks had been forced by the government to leave the disaster area soon after the earthquake.
“The religious beliefs of Tibetan monks maintain that good deeds should be done for ordinary people. But to expel them from the disaster area for
an unclear reason has injured their souls and may lead
to some kind of instability in the long run,” Kunga Tashi said.
Soon after the quake, China's powerful propaganda department called for curbs on reporting of "negative news" about the earthquake that struck Yushu.
In its April 25 directive to news organizations, the central propaganda department warned state media not to focus too much on the relief work carried out by Tibetans themselves in the worst-hit regions of the remote province.
"Talk of the earthquake in 'scientific terms;' do not criticize the earthquake forecasting agency; do not focus too much on the efforts by Buddhist monks to help the victims; and give extensive coverage to the appeals for donations organized by state-owned CCTV," the directive said.
Tibetan residents of Yushu said state-run media coverage of the rescue and clean-up operation was already far from reflecting the situation on the ground.
China's official Xinhua news agency says about 2,700 people died in the quake, while Tibetan estimates are much higher.Original reporting by Choegyi for RFA’s Tibetan service, Tang Qiwei for RFA's Mandarin service, and RFA's Cantonese service. Tibetan service director: Jigme Ngapo. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Translated from the Tibetan by Karma Dorjee, and from the Chinese by Jiayuan and Shiny Li. Written and produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han and Joshua Lipes.