Defying restrictions by Chinese authorities, Tibetans living in northwestern China’s Qinghai and Gansu provinces gathered privately last week to celebrate the birthday of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, burning incense and offering prayers in small groups, sources in the region said.
Some drove far from settled areas to evade scrutiny by the police, one source in Qinghai told RFA’s Tibetan Service.
“Tibetans living in the towns and cities drove into the grasslands and pastures to hold picnics,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Others hiked up to hill-tops on their own to make offerings of incense and prayers for [the Dalai Lama’s] long life,” the source said.
The Dalai Lama, who turned 83 on July 6, fled Tibet into exile in India in the midst of a failed national uprising against Chinese rule, and displays by Tibetans of the Dalai Lama’s photo or public celebrations of his birthday have been harshly punished in the past.
Restrictions imposed ahead of this year’s birthday included warnings issued to the managers of social media chat groups, urging them to watch for attempts to organize celebrations for the Tibetans' spiritual leader.
In Qinghai’s Tsolho (in Chinese, Hainan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, the Tibetan social media platform WeChat was nevertheless “buzzing with birthday greetings and good wishes on the morning of July 6,” the Dalai Lama’s birthday, RFA’s source said.
“Many WeChat users shared a customized birthday card showing a picture of His Holiness the Dalai Lama when he was very young and carrying the words, ‘Greetings to the Great Being!’” the source said.
“The reason for these covert communications was that other, more conventional, honorific names for His Holiness are banned and censored online,” he said. “And even this greeting could lead to punishment if the authorities catch the persons sending it.”
Date 'well known'
Also speaking to RFA, a Tibetan living in Machu (Maqu) county in the Kanlho (Gannan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture said that the date of the Dalai Lama’s birthday is “well known by all Tibetans.”
“Therefore, they try to make religious offerings, including offerings of prayers and incense, and eat vegetarian food, according to their individual wishes,” he said.
Public celebrations of the spiritual leader’s birthday cannot now be seen anywhere in Tibetan areas of China, he said.
“The Chinese authorities’ ban is felt all over Tibet, and the Chinese have now deployed large numbers of armed police in the towns and cities where self-immolation protests and other demonstrations have taken place.”
“This is to prevent events like these from taking place again,” he said.
Speaking to RFA in an interview, Beri Jigme Wangyal, a Tibetan writer living in exile, said that for several days before July 6, he had seen “a flurry of birthday greetings on WeChat by Tibetans living in Tibet, composing and sharing poetry honoring the Dalai Lama’s wishes, accomplishments, and thoughts.”
“Their sentiments were so intense and deeply emotional that they brought tears to my eyes,” Wangyal said.
“I don’t want to share any of the details here out of concern for the writers’ safety,” he said.
Reported by Kunsang Tenzin and RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Richard Finney.