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Tibetans speak of experiences in 3.14 Incident
26 March 2008 | By Zhan Yan, Cering Degyi | From China Features


"The rioters turned my home into ruins, leaving me and my son homeless," said Yangjain tearfully.

The 48-year-old Tibetan woman stood in the burned-out husk of her three-room apartment and surveyed the damage. The apartment was in Chomsigkang, one of the communities that sustained the most damage during the two-day riots that broke out in Lhasa on March 14.

Rioters looted and vandalized the shops run by Han and Hui civilians, and other minorities --- but not foreigners --- with stones, rods and fists and feet.

Tibetans also suffered. The streets in Lhasa are becoming more peaceful, but blackened buildings remind people of the sights, smells and sounds of the riots.

Yangjain got up at 6 a.m. on March 14 as usual to make breakfast and send her son to school. Then she hurried to her small shop, not far from home. "Children heading for school would come to my shop to buy snacks," she said.

A native to Xigaze Prefecture in southern Tibet, Yangjain has lived in Lhasa for about 20 years. She supported her family by running the shop since her husband passed away years ago.

"Although the shop is small, it provides me with hundreds of yuan every month. Residents living nearby are kind enough to patronize my business," Yangjain said.

She never expected to see her apartment and its contents, which took 20 years to accumulate, being burned to the ground in less than an hour.

"When I was in the shop and heard that someone was making trouble and setting fires, I closed my shop quickly and hurried home. I saw thick black smoke above our building, but it was only when I got to the building that I realized my home on the second floor was on fire. I cried and tried to rescue some of my belongings, but the fire was too big for me."

The first floor of the building was rented to shops. The rioters set fire to shops run by Han and Hui, and the flames rose to the second and third floors.

Blackened pots, bowls and remnants of a burned quilt lay strewn about Yangjain's former home. She picked up a square frame and said: "This is my television."

In her home's Buddha worship room (almost every Tibetan home has such a room), the burned Buddha statues were lying on the floor.

"I've saved money through hard work and borrowed tens of thousands of yuan to buy this apartment. The debts are not paid off, but the apartment and belongings are gone," said Yangjain.

Chomsigkang market, visible through the windows of Yangjain's ruined apartment, was one of the busiest markets in Lhasa, full of hawking and haggling. Now, only five migrant peddlers were seen selling vegetables and cigarettes from pedicabs.

Although outwardly, life has returned to normal, there are fewer people on the street than usual. In random interviews with Tibetan civilians, most said that they would avoid going out unless they had urgent business. Some said that they dared not go downtown to walk clockwise around the shrines, almost a daily religious ritual for some Tibetans.

Basang in Lhalu Community recalled her encounter with the violence when she was passing Xuexincun Road. She saw some young men driving away shop owners with stones, knives and rods and then begin carrying boxes of rice and milk out of the shops, like they were "taking away their own goods."

When she scolded them, saying "You are so shameless. You rob others," a group of seven or eight told her to shut up or they would set her home on fire.

Slin'nam Wanggyai, living at Nagaqen Road Northern Community, recalled he saw "black smoke billowing" and heard "horrifying howling" in the area.

"They attacked and drove away the shop owners ... then they smashed the shops and moved goods outside to burn, while howling like ghosts. We could not understand what they said, as they mostly were not Lhasa locals."

Slin'nam Wanggyai showed pity on the victims. "I didn't understand why they were doing this. Though we dared not go near to watch, we could see they were attacking the Han and some victims were beaten bloody. They run the shops to make a living. The mobs were just lawless."

Rumors circulated among ordinary Tibetans when the incidents occurred on March 14. "We didn't know what happened. Rumors say the rioters would rush into your home to find out whether you've rented rooms to Han," said Slin'nam Wanggyai.

"We heard rumors that you could escape from harm by hanging a piece of white hada [ceremonial silk scarf regarded as a token of respect] on your door. Some of us hung two or more pieces. Other rumors said it would not work and some shops run by Han were also destroyed, despite having white hada on the door. Maybe the mobs could discern that the shops were not run by Tibetans, like the beauty salons or Muslim restaurants," he said.

"The smell of the fire lingered for days."

Only a few shops resumed normal operations in the community, which was another of the areas seriously affected by the riots, including those run by Tibetans or shops near the station of the security staff.

Most civilians are still somewhat fearful. Cering Lhamo said that she could go out and walk clockwise around the shrines now and felt relatively safe at the sight of security staff.

The rioters killed 18 and injured 382 civilians, according to the Tibet Autonomous Region government.

Some rioters turned themselves in to the police.

Zhoima from Nyingchi Prefecture confessed that she obtained "hundreds of yuan" when about 50 people smashed and looted the shops in Xuexincun Road in the afternoon of March 15.

Talking about the future, Yangjain said: " My son and I are living temporarily with relatives. I don't know what to do. I pray to the Buddha that the heartless bad men be punished for what they have done."

>> ChinaView Full Coverage on the Riots in Lhasa <<

>> People's Daily Full Coverage on the Riots in Lhasa <<

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