Friday, February 27, 2009

Ryan Pyle Blog: Tibetan Monlam Festival


It's a very special time of year as we are entering the beginning of the Tibetan Monlam or New Year Festival season. The pictures above are my contribution to the topic, shot in February 2006, the work won an honorable mention in the PDN World in Focus travel photography competition the same year. I visited the Tibetan village of Xiahe in southern Gansu province. It's home to the storied Labrang Monastery of the Yellow Hat Tibetan sect and one of the Big Five monasteries in Tibetan Buddhism.

My reason for writing is because this Monlam season is bound to be a special one because this year marks the fiftieth anniversary of China's "emancipation" of Tibet, the Monlam festival this year could very much spark the masses to mobilize. Emotions may run high. Actions last year's violence may be replicated in some areas.

Or the opposite may happen, TOAL SILENCE.

Edward Wong, New York Times correspondent in Beijing, wrote an article in yesterday's paper indicating that government officials have been handing out money to Tibetans asking them to hold loud noisy celebrations and parties to celebrate the Monalm; perhaps to show that everything is normal, perhaps to draw the ever lucrative tourists from the East of the country. At the same time as enticing domestic tourists and persuading large parties, the government has completely banned foreigners from Tibet. I know, I'm at a loss for words as well.View The Full NYT Article Here

On the one hand the government is clearly concerned about another uprising witnessed last March in Lhasa. Security forces have increased their readiness, huge portions of Tibet and the surrounding provinces that have Tibetan majorities have been closed off to outsiders. China watchers are just sitting and holding our breath, much like the officials in Beijing I am sure. On the other hand China enjoys to trump up it's valued minorities and drag them out in front of television camera's to show how great the "Party" treats it's minorities; but what if they don't come out? A strategy the Tibetans might try this year?

While the Monlam starts in late February this year, the final days of the festival, which fall around March 7-11, will be the one's to watch as they are the most festive; were much of the singing, dancing and large public gatherings occur. Will the silence really stand, or could the government officials actually force Tibetans to celebrate their own New Year Festival? Only time will tell.

I don't think anyone will disagree with me when I say that this situation between the Tibetans and the Chinese government is becoming increasingly bitter and tense. While the Dali Lama, and many Tibetans, have given up hope of having their own country they now are focused on living within China and maintaining some autonomy and religious freedom, but to the Chinese bureaucrats even that seems like too much of a concession to make.

I had high hopes for China-Tibet dialog after Hu Jintao was nominated as the President of China a few years back, he had served as Communist Party Secretary in Lhasa during the late 1980s, but apparently the time he spent there, which included a massive uprising in 1989, hasn't prepared him for dealing with today's issues and sensitivities. There seems to be nothing us China watchers can do but sit back and watch it unfold. My only hope is that this year there is no loss of life.

Ryan Pyle


  1. Hi Ryan,

    I just stumbled upon your blog - beautiful photographs and insightful writing.

  2. This Ridiculous World,

    Thanks for the comment. It's a difficult situation that calls for patience and communication. Both parties seem further apart now then at anytime before. Never easy.




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