Chinese authorities in a protest-hit county in Tibet are ordering villagers to take part in a previously boycotted annual festival in a bid to show local residents as happy and prosperous under Beijing’s rule, sources said.
The order especially targets younger Tibetans living in Driru (in Chinese, Biru) county in the Nagchu (Naqu) prefecture of the Tibet Autonomous Region, a local source told RFA’s Tibetan Service this week.
Tibetans who defy the order have been threatened with harm to their livelihood or with possible imprisonment. They have been reluctant to celebrate the festival in protest against Chinese rule.
“They are being told they should mark the occasion by joining in with new expressions of enthusiasm and excitement,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“The authorities have also ordered county residents to call family members traveling or living outside Driru to come back to join in the celebrations,” he said.
Driru, a county considered “politically unstable” by Beijing, is one of three neighboring counties in Tibet’s eastern Nagchu prefecture from which Chinese authorities fear political unrest may spread unchecked to other parts of the region.
About 1,000 Driru-area Tibetans have been detained since authorities launched a crackdown in September 2013 when Beijing began a campaign to force Tibetans to fly the Chinese national flag from their homes, sources say.
The campaign intensified in early October when villagers refused to fly the flags, throwing them instead into a river and prompting a deadly security crackdown in which Chinese police fired into unarmed crowds.
Driru residents called a halt to the county’s annual picnic festival when a wave of self-immolation protests challenging Chinese rule began to sweep Tibetan areas of China five years ago, the source said.
“However, some government officials recently arrived in Driru’s Tsala town and began to promote the festival again, specifically ordering that family members living or traveling [outside the area] should return.”
“If they fail to come back, their families will be prohibited from collecting the cordyceps fungus, and they could also be detained and put into the new prison being built in Tsamdo town,” he said.
Cordyceps, also called “caterpillar fungus,” is a parasitic fungus highly prized for its purported medicinal properties and is a major source of income in impoverished Tibetan areas.
“If Tibetan families are not allowed to collect cordyceps, we will find it very difficult to survive,” RFA’s source said.
Young Tibetans living in Tsala town, a cluster of nine villages, are now being forced to practice songs and dances for the festival, he said.
“We know that the real purpose of the [Chinese] plan is to allow senior leaders to show that the Tibetan people are happy and living in prosperity,” he said.
“We have no choice but to comply.”
Reported by Kunsang Tenzin. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Richard Finney.