Tibet’s Lithang Horse Race Festival Reopens After 10-Year Ban

But local Tibetans say the Chinese-run event was merely political propaganda.

Runggye Adrak calls for the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet, Aug. 1, 2007.

A popular Tibetan horse race festival has reopened in Lithang in western China’s Sichuan province after being banned for 10 years following a protest calling for the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet, Tibetan sources say.

The festival, which traditionally draws large crowds for eight to nine days, was allowed by Chinese authorities to run for only three days this year, though, a Tibetan living in India told RFA’s Tibetan Service.

“The festival also saw a heightened presence of Chinese security forces, including Public Security Bureau officers and armed police,” Lithang native Geshe Jamyang Nyima said, citing local sources.

This year’s festival began on Aug. 1 and was organized not by Tibetans but by Chinese authorities to showcase the living standards of Lithang residents, Nyima said.

“While participants in the festival were all volunteers in the past, this year the Chinese government handed out payment of 200 yuan [U.S. $30 approx.] to everyone taking part, including participants in cultural performances,” he said.

“This was political propaganda, and nothing else,” Nyima said.

The Lithang festival had been closed for 10 years following the Aug. 1, 2007 protest by a Tibetan nomad named Runggye Adrak, who had taken over the stage to address the large crowd through a microphone, urging China to allow exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama to return to Tibet.

“After that, the Chinese banned the festival,” Nyima said.

Sentenced in November 2007 to an eight-year term for “inciting to split the country” and “subverting state power,” Adrak was released in July 2015.

Adrak’s detention following his 2007 protest drew hundreds of Tibetan protesters into police and government office compounds in Lithang, prompting police at one point to threaten to shoot into the crowd.

Authorities managed to negotiate an uneasy truce, but security forces then converged on Lithang in large numbers, and local Tibetan Communist Party officials in the area were replaced with Han Chinese.

Adrak was severely beaten and tortured in detention, and was later confined in Sichuan’s Mianyang prison, the India-based Tibetan Centre for Human Rights (TCHRD) and Democracy said in a statement following his release.

Reported by Guru Choegyi for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Richard Finney.