Those less spiritually pilgrims wandered through the ornate complex here in the mountain town of Xiahe to gaze upon towering Buddha statues bathed in incense. Some tourists indulge in distinctly unenlightened and Buddhist forbidden pursuits ie. smoking cigarettes and pouting at smartphones in the high-tech vanity ritual known as the selfie ( i.e. taking a self portrait of oneself to prove you are there).
Behind closed doors though,, many of the monastery’s resident monks complain about intrusive government policies and that they say are strangling their culture and identity. “Even if we’re just praying, the government treats us as criminals,” said a young monk, who like others interviewed recently spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid government repercussions.
Such frustrations, many monks say, are what have driven more than 120 Tibetans to set fire to themselves since 2009, including 13 in the Labrang area, in a wave of protests that has gone largely unreported in Chinese news media.
International human rights advocates say that rather than address the underlying grievances — including Beijing’s deeply unpopular campaign to demonize the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan leader — Chinese authorities have instead upped the anti by punishing the relatives of those who self-immolate and imprison others who blog or disseminate any information contrary to the Official Word.
Monks agree, describing an unseen web of controls that keep potential troublemakers in line: ubiquitous surveillance cameras, paid informers and plainclothes security agents who mingle among the busloads of tourists.