Dalai Lama Seeks Halt to Fighting Over Prized 'Caterpillar Fungus'

A Tibetan holds a knife at the scene of clashes over 'caterpillar fungus' in Rebgong county in China's Qinghai province, May 17, 2013.
Photo courtesy of an RFA listener.

Tibet's spiritual leader the Dalai Lama has expressed regret over deadly clashes among Tibetan groups in China over access to areas of a parasitic fungus that is prized for its purported medicinal properties.

The Dalai Lama made the rare plea this week following the latest violence over the harvesting of “caterpillar fungus" between two main rival groups in northwest China's Qinghai province that left at least two people dead and three others wounded on May 30.

The fungus, indigenous only to the 1,000-mile-long Tibetan plateau running from western China to Nepal, enters the larva of the caterpillar moth, mummifies its prey and eventually grows out of the head of the caterpillar. It is highly valued for its purported medicinal benefits and as a libido booster in China.

The Dalai Lama called for a halt to the disputes among Tibetans over access to areas where the fungus grows, saying these quarrels have become a "crisis."

"We have heard that when such incidents occur, some thoughtless and ignorant persons, acting on excuses or on whatever comes to their mind, take up guns and knives to harm others in disregard of a sense of loyalty to the brotherhood of all Tibetans," he said.

"Likewise, in some area in which fungal caterpillar is harvested, there have recently been cases of conflicts and of some places joining together against others, causing crisis situations.  I feel sad when I hear of these things."

Reminding the Tibetans that "violence is contrary to the beliefs and conduct of all who believe in karma and in Buddhism," he said, "these acts also obstruct the efforts I have been making all my life to turn Tibet into a peaceful and violence-free land."

"Therefore, out of sheer care and concern, I appeal to all of you—monks and laypeople both—to immediately cease these actions that bring disgrace to the Tibetan people. When similar disputes occur in the future, you must resolve them."


Chinese security forces arrive at the scene of clashes in Rebgong county, May 30, 2013.
Chinese security forces arrive at the scene of clashes in Rebgong county, May 30, 2013.

The May 30 clash over the caterpillar fungus occurred in Rebgong [in Chinese, Tongren] county in Qinghai's Malho (Huangnan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, sources told RFA's Tibetan Service.

"Villagers from Shadrang shot at those from Lonchen, killing two of them and wounding three, one of them in critical condition," one source said.

"On May 31, villagers from Lonchen gathered to go to Shadrang to 'take revenge' but other local people led by monks from Rebgong monastery persuaded them not to go," the source said. "Chinese authorities sent security forces on the same day to suppress the disturbances."

The incident came after a fight among the same groups about two weeks earlier on May 17 in which one villager was cut in the face and another repeatedly hacked in the neck and back.

"The fight started out with shoving and hitting, but knives were then brought out, and one villager was cut in the face. Another villager was repeatedly hacked in the neck and back, and was taken to hospital in the provincial capital Xining," the source said.

Local people had described the incidents as “shameful,” the source said.

Reported by Lumbum Tashi for RFA's Tibetan Service. Translated by Benpa Topgyal. Written in English by Richard Finney and Parameswaran Ponnudurai.


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