One week after a 7.1 magnitude
earthquake struck the remote county of Yushu, 13,000 feet high on the Tibetan
plateau, China staged one of its largest-ever public displays of grief.
At ceremonies across China, tens of
thousands of officials, soldiers and well-wishers gathered in silent tribute to
the 2,064 who were killed in the earthquake on 14 April.
Chinese flags flew at half mast
across the country as Hu Jintao, the Chinese president, led the country’s
all-powerful politburo in expressing the country’s “profound condolences”.
Newspapers drained their pages of
colour; all entertainment programs were dropped from television and millions of
Chinese observed three minutes of silence to mourn the victims of the Yushu
Conspicuously absent from all the
televised ceremonies were any Tibetan Buddhist monks. The monks, thousands of
whom poured into the quake zone from surrounding areas to help, said Wednesday
they had been ordered to leave the region — an apparent sign of the Communist
Party’s unease over the leading role they played in the relief effort.
Yixi Luoren, the head of the
Gengqing Monastery in Sichuan province, said 150 monks from that temple had
been sent to the quake zone but 120 of them had left on orders from the Religious
Affairs Bureau and the Communist Party United Front department in Ganzi
prefecture, where the monastery is located.
“They told us to do so on the
phone,” he said. “The authorities didn’t tell us the reason, but we
assume they might worried that there are too many people there and wanted us to
come home safely.”
The Beijing-based Tibetan poet and
activist Woeser said Han and Tibetan acquaintances in the quake zone told her
that similar orders were given to monks from several other monasteries. She
said the monks were upset and not willing to go but had no choice.
“Local officials told them
through translators in Tibetan ‘You’ve done everything already. You’ve done too
much. You have to leave Yushu now, otherwise there will be trouble,'” she
In the past, Beijing has demonized
Tibetan monks for their loyalty to the Dalai Lama, their exiled spiritual
leader, whom the government insists is trying to fight for independence for
The government said this week it is
concerned that separatist forces could disrupt the quake relief work, but has
not specifically accused monks of doing so.