Tibetans in Tibetan-populated areas of China and in exile have largely skipped traditional New Year, or Losar, festivities this year in protest against China's heavy-handed crackdown on 2008 protests against Chinese rule.
But Chinese authorities have insisted that festivities go on, with official media broadcasting Tibetan New Year celebrations and devoting broad coverage to what China calls positive developments in the region.
Meanwhile, two young Tibetan women have been detained after staging brief protests in front of Kardze’s Public Security Bureau (PSB) headquarters, sources said.
'On March 2-3, the sixth and seventh days of the Losar period, “authorities in the Kardze area ordered performance groups to tour different towns and villages and present cultural programs to mark Tibetan Losar festivities,” one resident said.
Each group was escorted by People’s Armed Police officers and official reporters, traveling in three vehicles, the man said, describing the response by local Tibetans as “very cold.”
“Despite Chinese insistence and threats, hardly any Tibetans attended the officially orchestrated shows,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
One group was sent to the Rongpa Tsal subdistrict of Kardze, close to the Thargyal monastery, second-largest in the area.
“Before the performance group arrived, hundreds of posters were put up urging Tibetans not to attend the shows,” the source said.
The same group then went to the Lopa subdistrict, another source said, also speaking on condition of anonymity. Again, they were met with posters and leaflets urging resistance and calling for Tibetan independence.
“In some of the posters, the Chinese authorities were threatened with violent retaliation for their crackdowns on peaceful Tibetans,” the source said.
“Even government employees at the subdistrict and township levels were warned not to attend the shows. They were told that if they did, they would pay with their lives,” he said.
“The proposal for a cultural performance at Rongpa Tsal was initiated by the local Tibetans themselves,” he said. “Everything went well, and there was no problem.”
Sources described members of the performance groups as a “highly paid, elite” group of Tibetans, many of them the children of government officials and led in every case by Han Chinese.
After the incidents at Rongpa Tsal and Lopa, performances were canceled in Kardze’s villages and smaller towns, with the dance groups going only to the larger towns, several sources said.
Kardze residents previously reported that monasteries had rebuffed cash payments from the authorities to finance Losar celebrations.
“My niece protested at around 10:20 a.m. and was quickly taken away by Chinese police,” Yeshe Dorje said, citing information from local family members.
“The other young girl appeared at the same place in the afternoon around 1:00 p.m. and protested. She too was taken away.”
Yeshe Dorje said he was unable to obtain further details about the protests, calling the presence of Chinese forces in the area “overwhelming.”
Kardze and other Tibetan areas of Sichuan province have seen repeated Tibetan protests following demonstrations in March last year in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, that led to violent riots.
Tibet’s government-in-exile said more than 200 Tibetans were killed in the subsequent region-wide crackdown. Chinese authorities say police killed just one “insurgent” and blame Tibetan “rioters” for the deaths of 21 people.
Security has meanwhile been tightened in recent months throughout Tibetan areas, as officials brace for the possibility of unrest during several sensitive dates.
These include Losar, the 50th anniversary of the failed March 10, 1959, uprising against Chinese rule that prompted the Dalai Lama's flight to India, and the first anniversary of the 2008 protests.