Tibetans in China chose to forgo traditional Lunar New Year, or Losar, festivities this week, opting instead to mourn and pray for compatriots who burned themselves to death during the year to challenge Chinese rule, sources said.
Prayers were held in Tibet and across Tibetan-populated areas in Chinese provinces as Tibetans marked the New Year on Monday, according to the sources.
In northwestern Qinghai province, monks gathered at the Zilkar monastery in Yulshul (in Chinese, Yushu) prefecture’s Tridu (Chenduo) county to conduct prayers “for those who have died for Tibet and also for those who are languishing in prison,” a local source told RFA’s Tibetan Service.
“They expressed their solidarity with those brave men and women who died in the self-immolations,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Other Tibetans joined the monks at the monastery and made offerings for those [who died in the burnings],” he said.
Ninety-eight Tibetans so far have set themselves ablaze to call for Tibetan freedom and for the return from exile of Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama since the wave of fiery protests began in February 2009.
China accuses the Dalai Lama and Tibetan exile leaders of orchestrating the burnings from their base in India, but they deny the charge, blaming the protests instead on what they call China’s repressive policies in the region.
In Tsigorthang (Xinghai) county in Qinghai’s Tsolho (Hainan) prefecture, “hundreds of monks of the Atsog monastery, along with other Tibetans, decided not to celebrate Losar and focused instead on religious activities to mourn those who died in self-immolations,” another source said.
“They lit butter lamps in front of a photo of the Dalai Lama in the temple and prayed for his long life and for those who have died. They also burnt incense and placed offerings in fire for those who sacrificed their lives for Tibet.”
Similar scenes unfolded in Tibetan-populated prefectures of other western Chinese provinces, sources said.
“A group of Tibetans in the Bora area of Sangchu (Xiahe) county in Gansu province refused to celebrate Losar,” an area resident reported.
“Instead, they started to perform long prostrations around Bora monastery without wearing ornaments or colorful dress” traditional for the season, he said.
Tibetans living in the area of Lithang in Sichuan province’s Kardze (Ganzi) prefecture also boycotted festivities, while in Rebgong in Qinghai’s Malho (Huangnan) prefecture, “Chinese officials tried to promote an image of festivities by raising festival gates in front of the county office and other local government offices and crossroads,” according to another source.
“But the Tibetans refused to dress for the holiday or purchase festival items, and Tibetan traders did not supply festival items like fireworks,” he said.
“Instead, most of them confined themselves to religious activities and prayed for the self-immolators.”
In Tibet’s regional capital Lhasa, so many Tibetans went to the city’s Jokhang and Ramoche temples to pray and make offerings that “authorities had to close the temples early … and many went home disappointed,” another source said.
Chinese authorities in the Lhasa area meanwhile distributed meat and butter to rural families, hoping to persuade them to celebrate the New Year,” a local resident reported to an RFA Tibetan Service call-in show.
“At the same time, security restrictions were further strengthened with the deployment of additional armed police and Public Security Bureau personnel in the Jokhang and Barkhor areas in downtown Lhasa.”
Lobsang Sangay, the political leader of the India-based exile government, the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), had earlier urged Tibetans not to celebrate Losar in light of the “continuing tragic situation” of Tibetans setting themselves ablaze to protest Chinese rule.
“Instead, when this year’s holiday falls on February 11, I ask you to perform only the customary religious rituals like visiting temples and making offerings,” Sangay said in a statement.
Reported by RFA's Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Richard Finney.