Caught Between a Crackdown and a Tibetan Welcome

From The International Herald: Michael Benanav talks about his journey to the Sichuan/Tibetan border where he encountered calm and spirited greetings despite the recent violence.

While I was staying in the town of Ganzi, a small clash erupted; according to residents, a group of some 20 monks and their supporters were vocally but nonviolently protesting the arrest of a Buddhist nun who had phoned India — banned since the events in Lhasa — when they were attacked by soldiers. Local rumors alleged between one and five protesters beaten to death, with no soldiers hurt. (The Tibetan government-in-exile names three killed.) Stores on the usually lively streets were promptly shuttered, many people stayed indoors, and police vehicles cruised around broadcasting messages of Chinese-Tibetan unity from loudspeakers.

Despite all this, I felt perfectly safe. The soldiers ignored me, and the Tibetans were as genuinely, enthusiastically welcoming as any people I had met anywhere on the planet. I understand how one who wasn’t there could question my judgment, could think I’m naïve. But for the hours in Ganzi immediately after the episode of excessive force, there was no real menace in the air, and no sense of a riot or rebellion simmering below the surface. The soldiers generated a temporary tension when they marched by, but townspeople mostly viewed them as an insult or a nuisance, not an imminent threat. In all, everything felt calm.

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