Two days before the first anniversary of the deadly riots that rocked Lhasa, life appears normal in the holy city, with crowds of pilgrims to the Potala Palace and major monasteries, and businesses gearing up for a prosperous year.
Lhasa resident, Phunchok, 60, followed the pilgrim's route clockwise around the Potala Palace early Thursday. She stopped in front of the imposing hilltop structure, put her handbag on the ground and her prayer wheel on its top, kowtowed and whispered a prayer.
"I hope this year will bring health, peace and good luck to everyone," she said.
Policemen and soldiers of the People's Liberation Army are patrolling Lhasa's streets to ensure no recurrence of last year's deadly riots. Lhasa residents are hoping the sensitive period will end soon -- and in peace.
An elderly Tibetan holding a prayer wheel walks on the famous market street, Pogor near the Jokhang Temple in central Lhasa, capital of southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, March 10, 2009.(Xinhua/Gong Bing)
For five decades, March has been an eventful month for the Tibetans.
When riots broke out in Lhasa in March 1959, Shagakhamtrulm Yeshepeldan was 20 and had been a Living Buddha for six years at Drepung Monastery in the western suburbs. Terrified at the armed monks around him and the distant gunshots from downtown Lhasa, he followed the 14th Dalai Lama to India.
"I'm a devout Buddhist," said Shagakhamtrulm Yeshepeldan. "But everyone was saying the Communists would deprive the Tibetan people's religious freedom and would ban Buddhism forever. This was totally unacceptable, so I decided I couldn't stay in Lhasa any more."
Fifty years after his flight, Shagakhamtrulm Yeshepeldan said what he heard was rumor. "I was misled by the rumor and there was a high price to pay -- 35 years struggling abroad."
Shagakhamtrulm Yeshepeldan spent those 35 years in India and Switzerland, doing manufacturing and nursing jobs. Life abroad was different from what he was used to as a Living Buddha, with people waiting on him and following his orders.
An elderly Tibetan holding a prayer wheel walks on the famous market street, Pogor near the Jokhang Temple in central Lhasa, capital of southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, March 10, 2009. (Xinhua/Gong Bing)
He learned the pains and hardship of the serfs living in manors of old Tibet.
"Particularly, after I fled to Switzerland in 1967, I realized how dark and backward the feudal serfdom of old Tibet actually was," he said.
In those years, he began to understand the social system of old Tibet, which integrated religion with politics, went against the tide of global development, he said.
"Take religion for example, its value lies in leading people to be kind and pray for well-being in the afterlife. Monks should serve the people, while politics is inevitably associated with the worldly power. How can these two be integrated?"
In old Tibet's social system, however, monks and nobles practiced a dictatorship, he said. "The monks coveted worldly power, manipulated politics and interfered in every aspects of social and political life. How can they serve the people like that?"
Since he returned to Tibet in May 1994, Shagakhamtrulm Yeshepeldan has spent five hours a day traveling from his home in the eastern suburbs of Lhasa to the Jokhang Temple and the Potala Palace. From time to time, he revisits the hillside Drepung Monastery, with which he was once so familiar.
"A few Tibetans, monks included, may still believe in the DalaiLama and his group. My life experience tells me the Communists, not the Dalai Lama, represent the interests of the absolute majority of Tibetans."
AFTERMATH OF RIOTS
Riots broke out in Lhasa between September 1987 and March 1989, followed by a year-long enforcement of martial law.
The more recent riots of March 14, 2008, are still fresh in many people's minds.
Encouraged by the booming tourism spurred by the 2006 opening of the railway to Lhasa, Tibetan tour guide Tseten Dorje bought a secondhand cross-country vehicle for 150,000 yuan (22,000 U.S. dollars) and hired a driver. His net profit was 80,000 yuan in 2007.
The riots of last spring dampened tourism last year, Tseten Dorje made only 10,000 yuan. Most of the time, his vehicle was parked at his home in downtown Lhasa.
"It's March again, and tourists are so few in Lhasa," he said. When business is bad, Tseten Dorje said he makes only 1,200 yuan a month, far from enough to support his jobless wife and daughter, a high school student.
"The 'Tibet independence' forces, led by the Tibetan Youth Congress, are going too far," he said. "Didn't they ever think how much hardship and pressure they brought to ordinary Tibetan families?"
"I hope this March will be peaceful and quiet," said Minyag Kungze, abbot of Mindroling Monastery in Shannan Prefecture. "Ordinary Tibetans need to live a peaceful, carefree life."Source: Xinhua