WASHINGTON — Authorities in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan have detained eight youths after authorities suspected them of campaigning to destroy clothes made of fur under “foreign influences.”
A source inside China—which now administers large tracts of traditionally Tibetan territory—said Tibetans planned to step up their campaign to end the use of endangered animal skins and furs after the Tibetan New Year, or Losar, on Feb. 28.
“Eight youths who started activities at Kirti Monastery were arrested and detained. They are still detained in a local police detention center, four to a room,” said one source who asked not to be named.
“They were not punished or beaten but subjected to intense interrogation,” the source said, adding that all had denied launching the anti-fur campaign “under outside influence.”
“Outside influence” is a term frequently used by Chinese officials to refer to Tibet’s exiled leader, the Dalai Lama, who recently called for an end to the use of endangered animal skins in traditional Tibetan dress.
The youths were permitted to meet relatives, who brought them food and reported no signs of beatings or torture, the source said.
The campaign to end the use of endangered animal skins and furs meanwhile appears to have spread from Qinghai to Sichuan, the source said.
“Tibetan people in Ngaba (in Chinese, Aba) in Sichuan province also started destroying clothes made of rare animal skins,” another source told RFA’s Tibetan service.
“In the Amdo area, the great prayer festival starts on the third day of local Tibetan New Year,” which fell one month before this Tibetan New Year this year, the source said. “Many people were gathered for this festival.”
Activists in Ngaba had already burned some 250 skins of fox, tiger, leopard, and otter, another source said.
“One Khampa trader who runs a store in the Lhasa market selling rare animal skins burnt his store in the presence of a huge crowd,” said a source who spoke on condition of anonymity. Khampa denotes a person born in the Kham Tibetan region.
“Before doing this, he said that he realized that life is more important than money. He regretted his past business in animal skins and vowed never again to trade in animal skins,” the source said.
Notice to local Tibetans
On Feb. 14, there was a special lama dance at Kirti monastery in Dzoge (in Chinese, Ruangai) in Sichuan province.
Before the dance, monastery officials sent a notice to all local Tibetans announcing that those who came for offerings and prayers shouldn’t wear clothes made of rare animal skins, or their offerings would be rejected, sources said.
The message explained that use of animal skins for clothing “violates our religious practices, harms the environment, and violates Chinese and international laws,” one source said.
The anti-fur campaign began in Rebkong county, Malho prefecture, in the remote northwestern province of Qinghai.
Residents began burning tiger, leopard, and sea otter skins publicly against the wishes of Chinese authorities in early February after the Dalai Lama called on Tibetans to protect endangered species in January.
“It was started by a young Tibetan named Tseten Gyal. The skins were of tiger, leopard, and sea otter,” a source in the region told RFA’s Tibetan service.
The young man, Tseten Gyal, of Sakyil village in Rebkong, began collecting traditional clothing made with the skins Feb. 8, calling for their destruction by burning.
“Soon after national security officials and local public security officials confronted him and demonstrated their dislike,” one source said. “That very night he was taken to the public security bureau office and interrogated for a long time.”
A witness to the burning confirmed that account.
“On Feb. 7, a group of Tibetans burnt animal skins for the protection of the environment and of endangered wild animals. Those included the skins of tigers, leopard, fox, and otter,” the person said. “I saw that there were a few hundred Tibetans who were either participating in the burning of animal skins, or watching them being burnt. There were perhaps about 500 to 600 people gathered.”
The authorities repeatedly asked if Tseten Gyal had any political motives for his campaign, one source said. “He insisted that he had no other intention except to protect the natural environment. The security officials forbade him to burn the costumes in skins in public places.”
“They suggested that if his motivation was the protection of animals and the environment, he should destroy the skins in his own home, and not in public,” the source said.
Angry at these restrictions, Tseten Gyal brought all the skins and costumes onto the main road in Sakyil village and set them on fire.
He was joined by other Tibetans, including a man named Gonpo Gyal, who added more skins to the blaze, said the source. The incident was also reported in Chinese on the Amdo-based Tibetan Youth Web site.
Caller echoes account
A caller from the Amdo region said the action was spontaneous, without a single organizer.
“Some Tibetans vowed in writing that they will never again use animal skins for clothes. All these activities came from personal initiative and voluntary participation,” the caller said, adding that awareness of endangered species and the need to protect the environment was growing among Tibetans.
The action in Rebkong county soon spread to neighboring areas. “Even in Tuo (Daofu) and Gartha in Ganzi prefecture, Tibetans started giving up their costumes made of animal skins and started burning them,” the source said.
The Dalai Lama appealed to Tibetans inside China during his traditional Kalachakra teachings in Amaravati, northern India, in January to protect endangered animals in Tibet and stop using animal skin on their costumes.
His teachings were heard by many exiles from the Amdo-speaking areas of Qinghai, and many more Tibetans heard the appeal via Tibetan radio broadcasts from overseas.
Original reporting in Amdo by RFA’s Tibetan service. RFA Tibetan service director: Jigme Ngapo. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written and produced for the Web by Sarah Jackson-Han and edited by Luisetta Mudie.