March 14, 2008, Lhasa

(Robert's Space)  My personal experience on March 14 in Lhasa (note: This blog post was copied from elsewhere; attempts to post this blog post in China ends with eventual deletion).

[in translation]

March 14, 2008 will be a day that will be forever remembered in Tibetan history, and even in Chinese history.  In March 2008 of this new millennium, a mob openly burned temples and shops and assaulted members of other ethnic groups.  In an instant, black smoke rose over all Lhasa as the people grew anxious.

The newspapers ceased publication, the offices were not operating, the shops were shuttered and there were no vehicles in the streets ... could this be happening somewhere in the People's Republic?  Such was the very public provocation made by the mobsters in Lhasa.

At 14:00 on the afternoon of March 14 (and that was when time stopped), I received a telephone call from a friend at the Lhasa public security bureau.  He asked me where I was.  I said that I had just left the Archival Research Office of the P***** Palace Management Office where I had been doing some research.  He told to look outside immediately.  In the direction of J****** Temple, I could see thick smoke rising up.  Then I heard the screeching sirens of police vehicles and ambulances.

By the time that I reached the intersection of R****** Temple and the Lhasa Public Security Bureau, the smoke from the R****** Temple had enveloped the street.  I could still see the red flames darting above the black smoke ... then an ambulance belonging to the armed police darted out of the thick smoke and sped down Sela Road towards the Armed Police Hospital.  I saw some police officers wearing steel helmets seated on both sides the ambulance.  I imagined that someone must have been seriously injured.

According to an authoritative source, the mob was characterized as young Tibetans in their 20's who have been paid to take action.  They started by chanting slogans and then they followed the plan to set fire on cars near the R****** Temple.  Then they attacked the shops in the area.  They broke in, looted and set fire to several dozen shops.

By the time my vehicle reached the R****** Temple, the ground was full of rocks that were one to two kilograms in weight.  A taxi in front of me did not get away in time, and it was burned down to a hulk.

In truth, the vandalism, looting and arson broke out all of a sudden.  The police in charge of maintaining order were taken by surprise and could not respond.  They did not even carry guns to protect themselves.  More than 20 police officers were injured and hospitalized.

I took my passenger back to the Tibet Autonomous Region Institute of Social Science where she worked.  At the front entrance, we saw her husband about to go in to work.  We told him not to bother.  A short time later, the government issued an emergency notice to order all activities stopped in the city.  By this time, all the shops around the R****** Temple were shuttered.

I passed by the Lhasa Public Security Office.  There were many police officers in the courtyard, and the ground was covered with rocks.  I imagined that the place must have been subjected to an earlier attack.  I was later able to confirm that.  A businessman called me at 14:33 and told me that he made it home after some effort, and he had been nicked in the face by a rock.

I went home, and I watched the heavy smoke in the direction of  J****** Temple continue for more than two hours.  I was really concerned about the fate of the R****** Temple, because it was erected by Princess Wencheng during the Tang Dynasty.  As such, it witnessed the friendship between the Han and Tibetan peoples for over a thousand years.

At 14:40pm, a leader from an authoritative department sent out an SMS:  "Do not go outdoors."  I was moved by those four words.  At 15:35, a friend with the Tibet Military District sent an SMS: "Please look after your personal safety.  Unless your work requires,  you should not go out.  I am concerned about you!"

My home is near the intersection of Zangre Road and Najin Road in Lhasa.  My driver wanted to pick up his wife in the neighborhood of P***** Palace.  I told him to be careful.  Since cars cannot travel on the streets, he decided to walk the five kilometers to pick up his wife.  After he left, I went to the second floor of the house and checked the situation.  Suddenly, I saw black smoke rising up nearby right at the intersection of Zangre Road and Najin Road.  I immediately called my driver to tell him about this latest development.  But suddenly I could not get through to him by phone.  I kept calling and calling but I had no luck.  Finally, after more than a dozen attempts, I got through to him.  He said that he has reached the building where I live.  The gates there were closed so that only people can come in and out . He said that the vehicles at the intersection of Zangre Road and Najin Road have been taken over by the mob.

I had previously worked as a reporter for ten years.  After some thought, I decided to take a risk and see things for myself.  At 17:54, I went to within 200 meters of the blaze.  I saw some mobsters about to set fire to the cars in front of the Baiyi Supermarket.  At the intersection, a car was still aflame.  There was a crowd of 200 to 300 spectators.  At 17:56, the police vehicles arrived with the sirens blaring.  The mob of about a dozen rioters scattered.  The special police did not give chase, because two more taxis were burning at the intersection with the Xinjiangsu Road 300 meters ahead.  Then I saw a Han woman racing down the street past me with blood streaming down her face.

I observed that the store front of the Baiyi Supermarket, which is the largest supermarket chain in Tibet, on Najin Road was almost totally destroyed.  The store interior was a mess.  None of the surrounding shops were spared.  At Zangre Road, a Tibetan ceramic store still had its iron gate halfway up, as they did not seem to be worried about being attacked by the mob.

A taxi sped my side quickly.  But its glass window was already smashed and it fell on the ground.  This seemed to signal that it was a wasted day of work for the taxi driver.

By this time, the SMS's came one by one to warn me about paying attention to personal safety.  A businessman called me and wanted to know how long the disturbance will last.  If it lasts too long, he is not going to do business in Lhasa.

On the major roads of eastern Lhasa, there are many Lhasa government and party offices.  Black smoke was rising from that direction.

I reported the situation to my mother living faraway in the mainland.  She was worried about me.  She wanted me to make sure to pay attention to personal safety.  I am grateful for my parents' concern.

I suddenly remembered what one leader in charge of public order had once said: "Since the superiors demand that the police officers not fight back when attacked, many 17- or 18-year-old armed police officers got injured.  They suffered injuries for the sake of the nation ..."

A hundred years ago, Lu Xun said that it was hard to look at the faces of spectators and therefore he quit medicine to become a writer.  Today at the scene of the riot, I can see many people who hung around watching the "big movie" with the mobsters setting fire to cars ...

As soon as the mobsters scattered, the spectators also scattered immediately because they did not want to get hurt either.  I was no exception.  But I had been a reporter once.  I was sorry that I could not follow the militia and armed police officers around to experience the "disturbance" personally so that I could use my eyes and pen to record the various criminal activities.  But I saw what I saw and even though I am not a reporter anymore, I will put their crimes under the sunlight for people to see.

After I read what I wrote above, I went back to check the global news release from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at 5:23am on March 14, 2008:

On the afternoon of March 13, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Qin Gang held a regular press conference during which a reporter asked: "Recently, there have been many demonstrations on the issue of Tibet.  I imagine that there will be even more such events.  Will this change the position of China with respect to the issue of Tibet?"

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson said: 

Recently, a small number of Tibetan lamas have been causing trouble repeatedly in the hope of creating social disturbances.  This is a political plot hatched carefully by the D**** L*** group to split Tibet out and destroy the normal, harmonious and peaceful lives of the people of Tibet.

Through the work done by the local government and the temple democratic management committees, the situation in Lhasa has stabilized once more.  I want to emphasize that democratic reform began 49 years ago in Tibet and millions of peasant slaves were liberated.  There have been some earth-shattering changes in Tibet over the past 49 years.  It is the common desire of the various ethnic tribes in Tibet to have national unification, ethnic unity and social harmony.  The plot of the D**** L*** group is destined to fail, because the progressive development of Tibet cannot be stopped by any force.

Then this other bit made me pensive for a long time.  He said:

How do you know that more things are about to happen?  What is the basis for your reaching such a conclusion?  I can tell you that the Chinese government is resolute in defending national sovereignty and the integrity of its territory.  The various ethnic groups in Tibet are also resolute in supporting national unification and ethnic unity.  We will firmly oppose all attempts to split Tibet away.  What you hope to see will not happen."

"What you hope to see will not happen."  This sentence was like a stab in my heart.  In less than 8 hours after this statement was made public, Lhasa saw the most serious disturbances since 1987.  I felt that the statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman was like a joke.

From a different angle, was the pointed question from the reporter an example of bitter medicine?

At 20:20 this evening, there were several explosions outside.  How many public security and armed police officers will be sleepless tonight?

How many more disturbances?  How long will the disturbances last?  How many reflections have been made?