The earthquake that devastated northwest China's Yushu has unleashed a quiet contest for influence between the government and Tibetan Buddhist monks who say they speak for the people of this arid mountain region.
The Chinese government, which is run by the Communist Party, has responded to Wednesday's disaster with a heavily-publicized rescue effort. Beijing is eager to show that its growing wealth and strength give it the means to surmount natural disasters that would paralyze other developing nations.
The thousands of soldiers and rescue workers in orange jump suits carrying out the government rescue and relief effort are joined by hundreds, if not thousands, of Tibetan Buddhist monks in crimson cloaks and jackets. Many
"We're organizing ourselves. We don't need the government to take care of everything," said Cairang Putso, a 28-year-old local monk who was helping to look for survivors in the mud-and-brick homes that crumpled in the earthquake.
"It's easier for us to help Tibetan people."
The monks are part of an unofficial relief effort that has underscored the ethnic and religious politics of this mainly Tibetan area, where many locals resent the central Chinese government and Han Chinese presence.
"We monks were the first ones on the scene to help people after the earthquake, not the officials and soldiers," said Duojia, a 25-year-old monk from the Gyegu monastery in Yushu.
"We've done more than the government, because we know our people so well."
He and hundreds of other monks from the monastery were helping locals identify kin among hundreds of corpses that the monks had helped assemble on a covered platform, while monks seated in front recited Buddhist prayers for the dead.
Other Tibetans have flocked online, posting mournful poems, calls for solidarity, and images of traditional Tibetan butter lamps on Tibetan-language websites in China. One China portal oriented to Tibetans is publishing only in black and white, to mourn the dead.
Friday, April 16, 2010