China Tightens Security in Gansu Ahead of Major Buddhist Ceremony

Chinese security forces are ramping up their presence in a Tibetan-populated county of northwestern China’s Gansu province in advance of a major religious ceremony and the politically sensitive 80th birthday of exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, sources said.

The ancient Kalachakra ritual, conducted by senior Tibetan religious leader Jetsun Jamyang Gyatso, is scheduled to be held from June 26 to June 30 in Sangchu (in Chinese, Xiahe) county in Gansu's Kanlho (Gannan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, a local source told RFA’s Tibetan Service.

Kalachakra, which means “Wheel of Time,” is a ritual that prepares devotees to be reborn in Shambhala, a celestial kingdom which, many Buddhists believe, will vanquish the forces of evil in a future cosmic battle.

A preliminary blessing ceremony on June 16 was attended by several hundred devotees, later drawing a show of force by large numbers of armed police, RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Several truckloads carrying security forces from [neighboring province] Sichuan and [Gansu’s capital] Lanzhou were seen moving toward the site of the Kalachakra teaching, with many in the vehicles carrying weapons,” the source said.

“This has created tension in the Tibetan community, and many who had planned to attend the ceremony are now being deterred by fears of a crackdown,” he said.

Concern over protests

Possible links between the event and the coming birthday of the Dalai Lama, who often conducts the Kalachakra ritual outside Tibet, may also have alarmed authorities fearful of protests by large crowds, another local source said, also speaking on condition of anonymity.

“The Chinese authorities are suspicious of the Kalachakra ceremony because it was scheduled so close to the 80th birthday of His Holiness the Dalai Lama,” the source said.

Chinese authorities are tightening restrictions across Tibetan-populated regions in advance of the Dalai Lama’s July 6 birthday, posting warnings against celebrations of the politically sensitive event and blocking public gatherings that could be linked to it, sources said.

The Dalai Lama, who turns 80 this year, fled Tibet into exile in India in the midst of a failed 1959 national uprising against Chinese rule, and displays by Tibetans of the Dalai Lama’s photo or public celebrations of his birthday have been met with harsh punishment in the past.

Sporadic demonstrations challenging Chinese rule have continued in Tibetan-populated areas of China since widespread protests swept the region in 2008, with 141 Tibetans to date setting themselves ablaze to oppose Beijing’s rule and call for the Dalai Lama’s return.

Reported by Lhuboom for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Richard Finney.