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Tibetans and Hans: stand together through thick and thin
2008-03-31 | By Wu Qi | China Features


"I will never forget their kindness. Without their help, I might have lain dead in the street," said Tan Yan, a middle-aged Han doctor from Lhasa, the capital city of southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region after hiding in a Tibetan's home for four days.

Tan Yan's clinic was in East Beijing Road, downtown Tibet, a badly-hit area during the riots in the city. About two o'clock in the afternoon of March 14, Tan Yan took a phone call from a friend. His friend had just been attacked near the Jokhang Temple by a gang of Tibetans, and had had a lock of his hair ripped out. He warned Tan that "the city might be in chaos" and told him to close up the clinic and go home to seek safety.

Putting down the telephone, Tan Yan only half believed what his pal had told him. Suddenly there was the sound of commotion from all around. Tan ran out, and what he saw petrified him. Clouds of black smoke puffed into the sky in Barkhor Street to the west of the clinic. Some cars were burning furiously not far away. Some men in Tibetan clothes were willfully beating and stabbing passersby with sticks and knives. Others flung stones and homemade petrol bombs at shops along the street. And they were heading for Tan's clinic.

"How I regretted having turned a deaf ear to my friend's warnings," said Tan Yan. In a blue funk, Tan shouted at his three Tibetan nurses at the clinic to "shut the door." No sooner than the four had slammed down the iron roller door of the clinic than a sound as if from the depths of hell rang out. Bricks and stones had smashed against the door like snowdrops. "Bang, bang, bang" -- the sound shook Tan Yan's heart with fear.

"They yelled outside and we hid in the clinic daring not to breathe," said Tan Yan, "At the time, we thought we might be finished."

Then, Tan heard urgent knocks on the back door of the clinic. A man shouted from outside "Open the door. Come and hide in my home."

It was Langge Doje, a Tibetan neighbor. Tan saw a ray of hope. Tan quickly opened the back door of the clinic. The 43-year-old well-off Tibetan businessman patted Tan on the shoulder, and reassured him"Don't be afraid." Langge Doje led Tan Yan and the three nurses through a narrow corridor to get into his home.

The mob hammered on the door of the clinic for another 10 minutes before they gave up and left. It was Tan's good luck that they had failed to set fire to the clinic.

Inside Langge Doje's home were his family members and some relatives, preparing to have dinner. They came over and offered steaming hot buttered tea to the horror-struck Tan and the nurses to help them get over the shock.

"It is too dangerous to go out. Don't go home, stay here. You will have food so long as we have anything to eat," ordered Langge Doje, looking across the window at the crazy scene in the street.

"I live in the eastern suburb of Lhasa. I have to go along Jiangsu Road and Stone Lion Road, where the mobs staged the riot. It was really dangerous to go back home," said Tan Yan.

In the next four days, Tan Yan and the nurses stayed with the Langge Doje family, eating Zangba,which is made of highland barley flour, Tibet ghee and sugar, and drinking Tibetan butter tea.

On March 18, Langge Doje went out to see what was happening in downtown Lhasa.. Feeling that it was now safe, Langge Doje put his heart at rest. He could let Tan and his nurses go home.

"Without their help I do not know where we would have hidden. Even if I had any place to hide, I might have starved to death," said Tan Yan, full of gratitude.

Tan was not the only Han helped by Langge Doje.

Langge Doje runs two hotels in the Duodi Road and Zangre Road in Lhasa, respectively. When the riot broke out on March 14, he called up staff at the two hotels, asking them to try their best to help the Hans. Seven Hans took shelter in the hotels in the afternoon, all either workers from neighboring building sites or tourists.

Finding the Hans hiding in Langge Doje's hotels, the mobs tried to force an entrance. Langge Doje heard of it and ordered his staff to stand in their way. The seven Hans were able to stay safe in the hotels.

"It is wrong to beat up people and set fire to things," said Langge Doje, although the mobs were his Tibetan brothers. "They did things offensive to god and reason. I feel I have a duty to save the victims. I just had to do that."

In the unrest in Lhasa, which China claims was masterminded by the Dalai group, at least 18 civilians and one police officer have been confirmed killed and 382 injured. Rioters set fire to seven schools, five hospitals and 120 residences. A total of 84 vehicles were burnt and 908 shops were looted. Damage is estimated at more than 244 million yuan (about 34.59 million U.S. dollars).

In face of the beating, smashing, looting and arson in the riots, people of different ethnic groups and religions chose to stand side by side without regard to their own personal safety.

On March 14, Losang Cering, a Tibetan doctor of the regional People's Hospital, rescued a six-year-old Han boy Wu Cheng'an, who was trampled by rioters and suffocated. His ambulance was intercepted by a mob of a dozen wielding knives and clubs. Rebuffing the demand of the mob to hand over the Hans, Losang Cering clutched the boy to his chest and was hurt, needing seven stitches on the left of his face, and suffering a broken cheekbone and cerebral concussion.

On the same afternoon, Feng Bixia, a Han businesswoman from Shaanxi Province who came to Tibet 10 years ago, was hacked in the chest and had her left ear pierced in the street when escorting a seven-year-old Tibetan boy and his elder sister back home.

"It is no accident that the Tibetans and Hans threw themselves into the breach to help each other. It proves once again the solidarity of the ethnic groups cultivated over thousands of years. We have weathered the test of violence," said Gesang Yexe, president of Lhasa-based Ancient Tibetan Books Publishing Company.

"I am saddened to see so many buildings burnt, so many innocent people hurt and so many people injured to protect us from the rioters," said Yexe Luozhui, a resident of Shasa Resident Committee, in downtown Lhasa.

"I am 74 years old now. I experienced the cruel oppression of serf owners and led a dog's life in old Tibet before 1951. Only in socialist new Tibet after the peaceful liberation in 1951 do I enjoy a happy life. We will never tolerate any attempt to separate Tibet from the motherland and breach the harmony and stability in Tibet," he trotted out.

Over the past five decades since the liberation of Tibet, the central government has given priority to developing the local economy and improve people's life. The population increased from 1.14 million in 1951 to the present 2.8 million in the plateau autonomous region. Tibetans account for 92 percent of total number of people among 40 ethnic groups living in Tibet. The average life expectancy was lifted from 35.5 to 67 years.

In the past 18 years, Tibet has maintained a 12 percent annual growth rate in the local economy. The living and production conditions have improved markedly. The compulsory education, medical insurance and minimal living allowance systems have covered the region.

"During the violence, we had our hearts in the mouth, and could not eat or sleep well. We dared not go into the street. Children could not go to school. I am simply wondering what these lawless people want to do. Why they would not allow us to live a good life?" said Longahoi, a retired staff worker of the People's Hospital of Tibet.

"Harmony and stability are the top priorities," said Qiangba, director of the Qichi Street Resident Committee of Changdu County, Lhasa.

"Thanks to long-term social stability and preferential policies of the central government to boost agriculture, we have been busy producing more grain and getting rich. Now we live in larger houses and have bought trucks. Our wallets have swollen up. Who would dislike such a life? Without stability, we will have nothing like this at all," said Nornai, deputy director of the Lan Nyiba Resident Committee of Changdu County, Lhasa.

A man surnamed Peng, who has done business at Barkhor Street for nearly 10 years, said that businessmen of all ethnic groups have always smoked the calumet together in the place.

"We are living under the same sky. Everyone with a conscience knows we cannot hurt the innocent for no reason," said Peng. "All I expect is to resume normal conditions as soon as possible and do business in a stable and harmonious surrounding."

Zhoigar a granny in her 60s in Lhasa, showed up each morning as she used to do with her beloved doggie to pray around the Potala Palace with her hand prayer wheel.

After lurching around the palace three times, Zhoigar would go to the teahouse to the west of the palace to have a rest and chat with friends. Half an hour later, she fished out a mobile phone from her bag asking her family what vegetables they'd like for dinner. After that, she would hurry to the nearby farm produce fairs at the foot of Yaowang Mountain.

"It is so painful that I could not come out to pray at the palace in the riot days, as the lawless people threw our life into confusion," said Zhoigar. "My wish is that each day, I might come round as the sun rises to go and pray in the fresh air of Lhasa."

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