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Riots Fail to Undermine Harmony in Gannan
2008-03-28 | By Gong Yidong | China Features


Sun Qingyu still feels the terror of the riot that devastated his shop on March 14 whenever he recalls the events.

His ten-square-meter shop was left in ruins: the shelves were thrown down, dotted by pieces of broken glass. The cigarettes and wines, the most expensive commodities in the shop, had been stolen.

Like Sun, many other people in Maqu county of Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture on the Chinese Qinhai-Tibet plateau in northwest China's Gansu Province, experienced the same trauma.

"I heard noises outside. Before I realized what was happening, several yelling rioters waving iron rods forced their way in," recalled the dark-skinned Sun in his 30s. "They began to smash things immediately, followed by another group who did the same thing."

"I locked the door of my bedroom, but they pounded on it with sticks. My five-year-old son was scared and started crying. I had to make a hole in the corner of the room to help my wife and son flee."

On that day, Maqu became a sea of flames.

The Huanghe electrical appliances store operated by Ma Qinghua was the biggest of its kind in Maqu. However, instead of televisions and microwave ovens, the shop is now full of ashes.

"I just stood and watched as one million yuan (140,845 US dollars) worth of goods went up in flames," Ma sighed. "We attempted to put out the fire with extinguishers, but rioters brandishing knives stopped us."

Shouting "Tibet independence", carrying rocks and home-made petrol bombs or waving flags of the so-called "Tibetan government in exile", rioters stormed offices, police stations, hospitals, schools, shops and markets.

"I have been doing business in Maqu for 20 years and witnessed the development of the county. Tibetan herdsmen now have tap water and electricity, and roads are built to their houses. It is a time to enjoy life, and I can't understand why someone would ruin it," said Ma.

In the Yangguang wine shop where garbage is piled at the gate, Tang Yongqiang paused. "They slashed and battered the counters with their knives and clubs, crying 'bug off'. They not only took away trunks of cigarettes and wines, poured the tea into their own bags, but broke into the safe and stole about 10,000 yuan (1,408 US dollars) of cash inside."

When they had finished, several women rushed in to set the place on fire. Tang tried to stop them, only to be beaten and forced to hide in a toilet.

Unrest broke out in the Tibetan capital Lhasa on March 14, and spread to the counties of Xiahe, Maqu, Luqu, Jone and Hezuo City in Gannan and Aba county of Sichuan.

According to the Maqu county government, 70 percent of the shops in the county were looted or damaged by rioters, while more than 100 big stores like Ma's suffered major losses in the incidents.

In Gannan alone, 94 people were injured, and damage totaled 230 million yuan (32.6 million US dollars).

The riot in Gannan was organized and premeditated, the local government claimed, citing eyewitness evidence.

Police have found a semi-automatic rifle and ammunition in one rioter's hideout. The ammunition included 53 rounds of rifle ammunition, two pistol bullets, 129 shotgun cartridges in 10 boxes and six blank cartridges. Police also seized 400 meters of fuses and 32 knives in the hideout.

By March 24, police had arrested 294 people in Gannan, including 62 monks. More than 260 people turned themselves in to the police.

Most Tibetan living Buddhas and lamas oppose secessionism and have condemned the riots, said Jamyang Losang Jigme Tubdain Qoigyi Nyima, a living Buddha and vice-president of the Tibetan Chapter of the Buddhist Association of China.

"The violence has disrupted the normal order in lamaseries. It has been proven as having been masterminded by the Dalai Lama group. Ethnicity and religion were only deceitful camouflage. Their real motive was to disturb stability in the Tibetan areas and undermine order in the lamaseries," he said.

Mao Shengwu, acting governor of Gannan said , "the prefecture (Gannan) is marching forward by merging the traditional and modern, but the riots have held back the positive progress."

Observers noticed the theme of cultural co-existence is still strong in Gannan.

An important transit on the Tang-Tibetan Ancient Road from the Tang Dynasty (618-907), Gannan has seen comprehensive exchanges between Han and Tibetan ethnic groups in culture and trade.

In 1953, Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture was founded. It has a population of 677,000, of whom Tibetans make up 51 percent.

Due to its cold weather, high altitude and inconvenient transport, Gannan has lagged behind the other cities and counties in Gansu Province.

In recent decades, the government has tried to promote the overall development of Gannan.

One of the changes is reflected in energy. Traditionally, the Tibetans in Gannan rely on cow dung and firewood for fuel. In 2007, the Ministry of Agriculture initiated a solar energy project with an investment of 4 million yuan (563,000 US dollars). More than 12,000 herdsmen have access to solar powered ovens.

The lifestyles of Tibetans have also been transformed. In Sangke Town, of Xiahe County, 118 households have settled down in permanent houses. Moreover, Tibetan schoolchildren in Gannan are exempted from tuition fees and receive a monthly stipend of 100 yuan (14 US dollars). The government reimburses 80 percent of the medical cost of local Tibetans.

The government has also endeavored to preserve Tibetan culture. Gannan is home to Labrang Monastery, one of the six important Buddhist monitories in Tibetan areas of China. In 1985, the central and Gansu governments allocated 12 million yuan (1.7 million US dollars) to rebuild the main assembly hall that was destroyed by fire.

Now, a clinic operated by the medical school of Labrang Monastery provides medical service to both Tibetan and Han ethnic groups. "The traditional Tibetan medicine is recognized as an important treatment here," said Zhou Guake, a civil servant living in Xiahe.

In spite of the riot, the inhabitants of Gannan are still confident of the future. "The policies favorable to the people are welcomed by Tibetans, and the secessionists are doomed in failure," said Yang Xiaomei, a Tibetan deputy county magistrate of Maqu.

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