A traditional Tibetan horse-race festival was held this week in northwestern China’s Gansu province with official approval but under heavy guard, with large numbers of armed paramilitary police on hand to discourage anti-China protests by the crowd, according to a local source.
The tenth annual Machu Grassland Festival and Gesar Horse Race, named after a legendary warrior-king and Tibetan national hero, ran from Aug. 13 to 17 in the Kanlho (in Chinese, Gannan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture’s Machu (Maqu) county, an area resident told RFA’s Tibetan Service.
“Hundreds of people from many Tibetan-populated areas gathered together for the festival,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“But the authorities deployed armed paramilitary police and a number of plainclothes security officers to watch the Tibetans’ activities,” he said, adding, “With such a heavy security presence, the festival grounds looked like a war zone.”
Announcements were also made forbidding protests and banning the possession of weapons or fire-making materials, with festival-goers warned of “serious consequences” for breaking the rules, the source said.
Additional events including polo matches and the exhibiting of animals such as Tibetan mastiff dogs were also organized during the festival, he added.
Traditional gatherings in Tibetan-populated regions of China have greatly increased in size in recent years, as thousands of Tibetans gather to assert their national identity in the face of Beijing’s cultural and political domination.
Though China in recent years has frequently allowed the holding of Tibetan festivals as a sign of stability and “progress” in Tibetan areas, security forces often monitor and sometimes close down events involving large crowds, fearing spontaneous protests against Chinese rule.
Reported by Lhuboom for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Richard Finney.