Earthquake Death Toll 1,484; Tibetans Begin Cremating Victims (Updated)

As the death toll from the Qinghai earthquake rose to 1484, Buddhist monks began cremating bodies of the dead, in a break from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition of “sky burial.” AP reports:

About 1,000 monks were on hand on a mountain beside Jiegu, the hardest-hit area by Wednesday’s earthquake, to chant Buddhist prayers as the bodies were set on fire.

While the cremation took place, rescue workers were still searching through rubble in this remote western region in a bid to find any remaining survivors, with officials saying the death toll had climbed to 1,144.

The quakes struck an ethnic Tibetan area, where people traditionally perform sky burials, which involve chopping a body into pieces and leaving it on a platform to be devoured by vultures. But one monk, Zewang Jimei, said the large number of corpses made that impossible.

“This is very special as there are too many bodies from earthquake victims, and we can’t have sky burials for all of them at the same time,” Zewang said.

“There are not enough vultures for all these bodies, so the bodies will become very dirty and it is not good for the souls to rest in peace,” he said. “Therefore, we think the mass cremation is the best funeral for all these earthquake victims.”

Al Jazeera has footage of the cremations:

The New York Times looks
at simmering tensions between the local Tibetans and the Chinese rescue teams sent in to help:

The Buddhist monks stood atop the jagged remains of a vocational school, struggling to move concrete slabs with pickax shovels and bare hands. Suddenly a cry went out: An arm, clearly lifeless, was poking through the debris.

But before the monks could finish their task, a group of Chinese soldiers who had been relaxing on the school grounds sprang to action. They put on their army caps, waved the monks away, and with a video camera for their unit rolling, quickly extricated the body of a young girl.

The monks stifled their rage and stood below, mumbling a Tibetan prayer for the dead.

“You won’t see the cameras while we are working,” said one of the monks, Ga Tsai, who with 200 others, had driven from their lamasery in Sichuan Province as soon as they heard about the quake.

“We want to save lives. They see this tragedy as an opportunity to make propaganda.”

Meanwhile, a report from the Daily Telegraph says that monks believe the government is downplaying the death toll:

…Monks were struggling to cope with regular deliveries of bodies at Jiegu monastery, where they were piled three-deep.

Ge Laidanzeng, a 20-year-old monk, said at least 1,000 corpses had arrived at their temple alone, and that four other monasteries had each collected a similar number.

“The government is downplaying the number,” he said.

Ge predicted that, when all the bodies were retrieved from the wreckage of the town, there would “definitely be more than 10,000 dead.”

Update: See also:
– “Hu Flies to Quake Area as China Steps Up Propaganda Efforts” from Business Week
– “Thoughts from the earthquake zone” from Malcolm Moore at the Daily Telegraph
– “Dalai Lama asks China to let him visit quake-hit region” from AFP
– “Beijing moves to thwart unrest” from Asahi Shimbun

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