HONG KONG—Deep in Tibetan Kardze, in China’s southwestern Sichuan province, Chinese authorities continually remove images of Tibet’s exiled leader, the Dalai Lama, from display in a monastery. But the monks, despite a massive Chinese security presence, just keep replacing them.
“Things are really very tough for Tibetans at the moment,” one lama told an undercover journalist who traveled to the region in April, just weeks after a deadly crackdown on anti-Chinese protests that began in Lhasa and spread to neighboring Sichuan, Qinghai, and Gansu provinces. “We are not free, and it was inevitable that there would be a backlash.”
Beijing, he said, “has changed a lot of things in the lives of Tibetans—our cultural activities, the way we live our lives, the economy. It's as if they want to change who we are completely.”
Video shot secretly in the Kardze [in Chinese, Ganzi] Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture shows Buddhist monks at home in their monasteries.
Wei Si, a pseudonym for the journalist who recorded it, was interrogated on several occasions, and he feared he would face arrest.
The road to Kardze is liberally dotted with Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and temples. Such places would normally welcome strangers or travelers, but since the recent unrest in Tibet, they have been forced to close their doors.
At one monastery, every lama voiced hope that the Dalai Lama would be able to return to Tibet.
Monks said a group of reporters arrived a few days ago but were turned away by Chinese security forces at the gates. Such incidents have become commonplace since the Tibetan protests against Chinese rule that began in Lhasa on March 14.
Rail link, police patrols
A new rail link—extended amid great fanfare from Qinghai to Lhasa—has in some ways made things worse for Tibetans. Many lamas are leaving the country to take refuge overseas, mostly in India.
In one video, monks welcome Wei into their monastery, leading him behind the main altar where a banned photo of the Dalai Lama is prominently on display.
Chinese authorities repeatedly removed the photo, one lama said, but every time they did so the monks would put up another one. At a cost of 10 yuan, or about U.S. $1, it’s an affordable expense, he said.
In most shots, Wei tried to obscure the identities of the lamas by photographing them from the side. One senior monk, however, was defiant. “I am so old I am not afraid of anything,” he said, looking directly into the camera.
“I still support the Olympics—because it's a good thing, and will bring honor to the Chinese people,” he said, referring to an international outcry against hosting the summer Olympic Games in Beijing given China’s heavy-handed treatment of Tibetans.
Asked about the Dalai Lama, the lamas said he remains their leader and support—and all voiced hope he would return to Tibet. Because of reincarnation, the Dalai Lama will always be with us, they said. “That is why we are still hopeful,” said one.
Original reporting by Wei Si, for RFA’s Mandarin service. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Written and produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.