Chinese Dismayed by Tales of Tibet Violence
March 25, 2008; Page A10
SHANGHAI — Peng Jianwei moved from his hometown in central China to Tibet as a teenager seven years ago, hoping to strike it rich on the country’s Western frontier. Now, his dreams are in ashes. His girlfriend was killed, her parents badly injured and the shop where he worked burned to the ground during riots in Lhasa 10 days ago.
In the early afternoon of March 14, the day the capital of China’s Tibet Autonomous Region erupted in violence, a crowd of Tibetans broke into the clothing store owned by Mr. Peng’s girlfriend’s family, doused stacks of shirts and jackets with gasoline and set the piles on fire, says Mr. Peng. The details of his story couldn’t be independently corroborated.
|Liu Guobing says Tibetan activists burned his clothing store.|
Mr. Peng’s girlfriend, Liu Juan, and her parents, Liu Guobing and Wang Xinping, were hiding upstairs. As the fire spread, Mr. Liu and Ms. Wang jumped from a second-story window. Ms. Liu, who was 20 years old and the mother of their 9-month-old son, apparently was overcome by the smoke. Her body was found inside the burned-out shop the next day, says Mr. Peng, who wasn’t in Lhasa at the time of the attack.
Mr. Peng spoke in a telephone interview Monday from Mr. Liu’s bedside in the First People’s Hospital of the Tibet Autonomous Region in Lhasa. Mr. Peng, 24 years old, says he related events as described to him by Mr. Liu. Mr. Liu, who is being treated for spinal injuries, was unable to speak on the phone.
Cases such as the Liu family’s are fueling anger against Tibetans among the Han Chinese, the country’s predominant ethnic group. Han are also voicing frustration with foreign media, which they feel are ignoring their suffering and instead focusing on Tibetans’ grievances with the Chinese government.
For most of China’s Han majority, the anti-Han violence is the central story of the past 10 days of unrest in China.
China’s government has been highlighting the ethnic violence, in part to justify its use of force to restore order. Demonstrations began in Lhasa on March 10, the anniversary of a failed 1959 uprising by Tibetans against Chinese rule. After marchers were arrested, more protests ensued, turning violent on March 14.
Witnesses said Tibetans — many of whom are angry with government restrictions on civil rights and religious freedoms and feel economically disadvantaged — set fire to large numbers of Han-owned businesses as well as a mosque. Chinese authorities have denied journalists access to the restive regions, and almost every day there are conflicting accounts of deaths and injuries by the Chinese government and the Tibetan government-in-exile.
Tales of the suffering of Han Chinese and Muslims at the hands of Tibetans have become a staple of China’s government-controlled press. First-hand accounts of their stories have been relatively rare in Western news reports, in part because of the difficulty of reaching people by phone in Lhasa.
Many of the stories of Han Chinese targeted in the violence echo with the disillusionment of people who believe that what they see as their pioneering spirit and desire to help develop China’s West have been betrayed.
Fan Yunhua, 35, left his hometown in Sichuan province and moved to Tibet last November. He opened a small store selling cigarettes, alcohol and drinks using nearly $30,000 he had scraped together from friends and relatives. The shop was on East Beijing Road, not far from Jokhang Temple at the center of Lhasa’s old quarter, and served tourists and local Tibetans.
“Folks at home all said it’s easy to do business in Tibet,” says Mr. Fan.
On March 14, Mr. Fan and his wife locked themselves inside their shop as crowds gathered on the streets around them. At around noon, a group of Tibetans broke the door open, Mr. Fan says. Some began knocking bottles from the shelves. Mr. Fan says he and his wife were dragged outside. The details of his story couldn’t be independently corroborated.
Seven or eight people began to beat his wife, and as he tried to make his way to help her, he was hit in the head with “a cellphone-sized rock,” he says. A Tibetan woman rescued his wife and dragged her to shelter by a fire truck. His wife and some other Han shopkeepers hid for two days before being escorted from the neighborhood by paramilitary police, Mr. Fan says.
Mr. Fan says he fled and made his way to a hospital where the wound in his scalp was closed with 20 stitches. The couple is now staying in a government-run shelter for victims of the violence. “I still want to do business here. I still like the city. But it depends on whether the government will be able to guarantee our safety,” he says.
China’s government is acting to reassure the Han population, deploying large numbers of police in Lhasa and elsewhere. Heavily armed police even patrolled the southwestern city of Chengdu over the weekend. The authorities also are highlighting their efforts to bring rioters to justice.
At a news conference in Beijing on Monday, the Public Security Ministry said it had detained five Tibetan men and women in their early twenties on Sunday and Monday. The authorities said the five had confessed to two separate crimes of setting fire to a boutique and a car-repair shop in Lhasa, resulting in the deaths of at least seven people — Han Chinese and Tibetans — including an 8-month-old boy.
When Mr. Liu hit the ground after jumping from his burning store, he couldn’t move, and was slapped in the face by a Tibetan man, Mr. Peng says. His girlfriend’s mother broke an arm in the fall. The two were pulled from the scene by other Han Chinese civilians and policemen and taken to a hospital, Mr. Peng says.
Mr. Peng says he and the Lius could understand some of the Tibetan language but couldn’t speak it and had “very good relations” with their Tibetan customers. But, he says, he had witnessed previous altercations between Tibetans and Hans.
Mr. Peng says he believes the riots were masterminded by the Dalai Lama and were aimed at disrupting the Beijing Olympics in August — an assertion repeatedly made by the Beijing government and denied by the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists, who is in exile in India. Since the unrest started, the Dalai Lama has said violence isn’t the way to advance the Tibetan cause.
Now, Mr. Peng says, he hopes the government will offer compensation for his and the Lius’ losses. Mr. Peng says he and Mr. Liu are still too shaken to discuss their plans for the future. “This is a sad place. We don’t want to stay here. But we may have no choice,” Mr. Peng says. “We don’t know if we can start it over.” The main concern now, he says: how to care for his son, who is now staying with relatives in his hometown in Hunan.
–Jason Leow in Beijing contributed to this article.
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