Gansu Tibetans Face Race Ban

Chinese authorities may prohibit horse-racing festivities following a standoff at a Tibetan monastery.
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A horseman shoots an arrow as part of a performance at the Lithang Horse Festival, Aug. 1, 2006.
A horseman shoots an arrow as part of a performance at the Lithang Horse Festival, Aug. 1, 2006.

Tibetan nomads living in the remote western Chinese province of Gansu may have their annual horse-racing festival canceled this year following the siege of Kirti monastery in neighboring Sichuan.

"[Chinese authorities] have taken it upon themselves to cancel the horse race, even though there haven't been any problems in Machu [in Chinese, Maqu] county," said Tsoge, a spokesman for the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) based in northern India.

"This is after the Tibetans of Ngaba prefecture [in the southwestern province of Sichuan] were subjected to that cruel and inhuman incident," he said.

An official who answered the phone at the Machu county tourism bureau said no final decision had been made, however.

"This hasn't been decided yet," the official said. "[The Tibetans] haven't said they want to cancel it."

And an employee who answered the phone at a major travel agent in the provincial capital of Lanzhou said they still had had no confirmation of whether the event—a huge event on the local calendar and a popular tourist attraction—would be going ahead this year.

"They haven't had [horse-racing] in the past couple of years," the employee said. "I'm sure that this is as a result of the March [2008] incidents."

"They canceled it last year, and we haven't heard about this year yet."

He said tourists were still being allowed to travel to Machu county, however.

Horse racing

Tibetan horse-racing festivals take place across the Kham nomadic regions of western China every summer, drawing thousands of spectators.

The authorities in Sichuan's Lithang (in Chinese, Litang) canceled the annual horse race in 2007 after the previous race ended in a violent dispute over alleged government fixing of the result.

Thousands of nomads pitch their tents at the scene of such races, which also boast markets, entertainments, and competitions to test bravery and horsemanship.

Chinese security forces launched a huge military crackdown in the region after a monk from Kirti monastery in Ngaba prefecture of Sichuan died in a self-immolation protest on March 17.

Exile sources say that authorities have detained more than 300 Tibetan monks at a besieged monastery in Sichuan, taking them away in buses and brutally beating local Tibetans who attempted to come to their rescue.

Since the protest, monks at Kirti have resisted a forced campaign of “political re-education” following the protest, sparking clashes between police and local people trying to protect the monks.

Reported by Hainan for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.





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