Chinese authorities in Tibet have tightened restrictions on a major annual festival in the regional capital Lhasa this year, banning participation by students and government employees, local sources say.
The festival, called Ganden Ngachoe, commemorates the passing of Tsongkhapa, the fourteenth-century founder of Tibet’s largest Buddhist school, the Gelugpa, and is traditionally celebrated with displays of lamps and prayers offered by monks in the city’s three main monasteries.
This year’s ceremony marks the 600th anniversary of the religious leader’s death in 1419, and is being held over two days, Dec. 20 and 21. It is being observed simultaneously in a large gathering in India by exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, making the event politically sensitive in Tibet.
Speaking to RFA’s Tibetan Service on Friday, one Lhasa resident said that a recent notice sent out by Chinese authorities forbids participation in religious ceremonies during the festival period by Tibetan students, school officials, and government employees.
“The notice says that if anyone is found taking part in these events, they will be held responsible, and will face consequences for their involvement,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Also speaking to RFA, a second source in Tibet said that students’ parents are being held responsible for their children’s compliance with the government order, adding that this year’s restrictions may reflect official concerns over the event held in India this week.
“The ceremony marking Tsongkhapa’s 600th death anniversary is therefore a sensitive day in Lhasa,” the source said, also speaking on condition he not be named.
Government efforts to block Tibetan students’ participation in religious events led earlier this year to the canceling of holidays falling on politically sensitive dates, including the March 10th anniversary of a 1959 Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule, the source said.
“March 10 fell on a Sunday this year, and classes were held over the weekend in an unusual move by the government,” he said.
“Similarly, the Dalai Lama’s July 6th birthday fell on a Saturday, and students were made to come to classes that day to keep them away from ‘wayward distractions.’”
“Preventing Tibetan students from visiting places of worship and from taking part in religious festivities is a deliberate attempt by the Chinese government to separate them from the influence of Tibetan religion and culture,” he said.
“This is an effort to Sinicize young Tibetans at an early age.”
Armed Chinese police in uniform and in plain clothes now swamp the streets of Lhasa during sensitive political and religious anniversaries to keep a close watch on pilgrims and worshippers, the source said, adding that this tight security and surveillance have now become so pervasive that Tibetans consider it “a part of their daily lives.”
Public assemblies at monasteries in Tibetan regions of China have greatly increased in size in recent years, observers and participants say, as tens of thousands of Tibetans gather to assert their national and cultural identity in the face of Chinese domination.
Chinese security forces, fearful of sudden protests by Tibetans opposed to Beijing’s rule, often monitor and sometimes close down events involving large crowds, sources say.