In remote China, Tibetans break silence

TONGREN, China – A Tibetan monk crouched in the quiet courtyard of a nearly deserted monastery and bitterly recalled the words he and his fellow monks have been forced to recite every year at government-organized classes: “I love this country.”

The “patriotic education classes” have been imposed on the monks for the past decade, but the young monk in the centuries-old Rongwo monastery still can speak his own mind to a journalist.

“We want freedom,” he said. “We want the Dalai Lama to come back to his land.”

The monastery is located in the valley town of Tongren, in Qinghai province, about 600 miles north of Lhasa, where anti-government protests last week were put down by riot police. The town is a mix of Tibetans and ethnic Chinese.

Just inside the monastery’s main entrance, Tibetan pilgrims walked in quick circles around a prayer room that displays, among sacred objects, a large photo of the Dalai Lama. Outside, unmarked police vans were parked in a vast gravel lot.

The abbot of the monastery ordered the monks not to protest, saying that joining the Tibetan uprising would only hurt them.

When asked whether he agreed, a tortured expression crossed the face of the young monk, and he pressed a thumb to his lips in thought. Finally he said: “If I don’t agree, there is nothing I can do.”

The monk, like many other residents of this region, was fearful of giving his name to a foreign journalist.

His friend, another monk, spoke only Tibetan and communicated by bringing journalists into his cramped bedroom, where he pointed to a large color photo of the Dalai Lama taped to a wall.

What the monks wouldn’t say, a Buddhist nun from Taiwan would.

“There is no religious freedom here,” said Shi Chuan, who had spent the past month visiting the monks in Rongwo. “They have no way to express themselves. It’s like they have their hands

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