Footage and video have emerged of three peaceful, large-scale vigils and demonstrations involving hundreds of Tibetans in Yulshul (Chinese: Yushu) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai province (Tibetan area of Kham), despite the intense security restrictions in the region, an important center of Tibetan Buddhist culture and religion. The gatherings were on a Wednesday (February 8), which is known by many Tibetans as Lhakar Day, considered the Dalai Lama’s ‘soul day’, meaning that Tibetans seek to wear traditional clothes, speak Tibetan, eat in Tibetan restaurants, and buy from Tibetan-owned businesses (see: http://lhakar.org).
The Yulshul area is a strong center of Tibetan cultural identity, with a number of important monasteries and cultural sites. It was devastated by an earthquake in 2010 which left thousands dead and 100,000 homeless. Tibetans have been marginalised still further following major Chinese reconstruction into a ‘new city’, leading to new tensions. (ICT report, The Kyegu earthquake: six months on).
Hundreds of Tibetans, mainly young lay people, gathered in Shordha (Chinese: Xianda) town in Nangchen county, Yulshul, for an all-day prayer vigil on February 8 during which they chanted long-life prayers and slogans for the Dalai Lama, and ate barley flour or tsampa, the traditional Tibetan food staple. In a video released by VOA’s Tibetan service, people can be seen lining a road in the town, chanting prayers and burning incense (VOA, 8 February 2012). While armed security personnel were deployed in the area, no confrontation was reported.
In nearby Kagyu temple, hundreds of people gathered in a similar prayer vigil, according to VOA. Armed security personnel were also reported to have surrounded the area, but did not disrupt the proceedings, according to the same sources.
In a separate protest Wednesday morning, nearly 1,400 Tibetans peacefully demonstrated in Tridu (Chinese: Chen duo) county, Yulshul. The demonstrators were initially made up of a group of 400 monks from Sekhar monastery attempting a “solidarity” march to Gatoe township, according to RFA. However, the monks were soon joined by approximately 1,000 local lay people after Chinese security personnel were deployed to the area and halted the procession.
The monks carried banners calling on authorities to respect Tibetans and the Tibetan language, according to RFA (RFA, Defiant Tibetans Hold Protests – 8 February 2012). The demonstrators also called for freedom in Tibet, the return of the Dalai Lama, and the release of political prisoners, including the 11th Panchen Lama, Gedun Choekyi Nyima, according to VOA (VOA, Thousands Protest in Yushu – 8 February 2012). No detentions have been reported, although they may since have occurred.
Tridu county was the site of Sonam Rabyang’s self-immolation protest on February 9. It is thought that he survived, but his current whereabouts is unknown (ICT report, Eighteen year old nun who self-immolated in Ngaba dies – 12 February 2012).