Tibetan monks dressed as demons perform during a Tibetan New Year ceremony at the Yonghe Temple, also known as the Lama Temple, in Beijing Tuesday. Tibetan New Year is usually a time for festivities in the country’s ethnically Tibetan areas. Photo: AFP
The country's Tibetan-populated regions are in a party mood as the Tibetan New Year, or Losar, falls today, striking a stark contrast with the call by the "Tibetan government in exile" to cancel celebrations.
Decorations decked Lhasa's main streets, and local people were busy with last-minute preparations for their most important festival of the year.
Yonten, the head of publicity and education with Drepung Monastery on the outskirts of Lhasa, told the Global Times that families have cleaned up the buildings, prepared heaps of food and purchased new Tibetan garments as the Tibetan Year of the Water Dragon drew near.
"Markets in the city were crowded Tuesday with shoppers snapping up fruits, beverages and other goods for the holiday. We will get up before sunrise tomorrow morning in brand new clothes," Yonten said.
The festival, which falls on the 29th day of the last Tibetan month of the year, features family reunions and torch and firework displays.
The square in front of the Potala Palace at the heart of Lhasa has been spruced up with an ornamental garden, red lanterns and a huge chiema, a box containing five kinds of cereals - including roasted highland barley flour mixed with butter, fried barley and dromar refreshments - adorned with a butter sculpture in the shape of a sheep's head.
The chiema is prepared in every Tibetan home and is served to every guest.
Yonten said he will bring some good barley wine as gifts for his neighbors and share a feast of beef, mutton and wine with them.
"Later at night, bonfire parties will be held with Tibetans singing and dancing. Nothing will stand in the way of celebration," he added.
The festivity continued despite a call by exiled Tibetan "Prime Minister" Lobsang Sangay Tuesday for the celebration to be cancelled.
In a post on the website of the "Tibetan government in exile," Sangay asked Tibetans to observe traditional and spiritual rituals for monks who allegedly died of self-immolation.
Western media reports claimed that at least 22 Tibetans have set themselves on fire in China over the past year, with at least three doing so in Sichuan Province this month.
Denying further reports saying that the actual number was far less, officials with Sichuan's publicity department said no self-immolation cases took place this year.
Xiong Kunxin, a professor at Minzu University of China in Beijing, told the Global Times that actions of looting, smashing and self-immolation incited by some religious extremists and separatists actually go against Buddhist doctrine.
"They are using religion to incite separatism in Tibet and other Tibetan areas in China, while in fact Buddhism attaches great importance to the respect for life," Xiong said.
Noting the importance of tackling religious problems properly, Xiong said it was critical for local governments to manage temples and monks well so as to solve the problems at the root.
Monastery management committees with officials stationed there were set up in every temple in Tibet last year.
Meanwhile, local authorities reiterated the importance of the security and stability of Tibetan areas ahead of the Tibetan New Year, urging officials at all levels to enhance their safety work during the holiday.
On January 23, the first day of the Spring Festival, a group of rioters and Tibetan separatists chanted "Tibet independence" slogans and smashed government office buildings in Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan.
Liu Daoping, Party chief of Ganzi, described the situation as a "fierce battle" against the Dalai Lama clique, which was accused of masterminding the unrest.
Jiangbai, a 35-year-old Tibetan living in Gaba village of Ganzi, was having a comparatively quiet and less festive Tibetan New Year this year as there will be no major celebration held in the village as in previous years.
"Last year, we had a big celebration activity for the New Year, while this year we heard of no such event. But it doesn't ruin the mood for the festival as our families will also get together, enjoying delicious food and watching the special gala show for the Tibetan New Year on TV," he told the Global Times.
Monks were given several days off at temples in Gaba to visit their families.
Xu Wen and agencies contributed to this story
By Li Qian in Ganzi and Zhu Shanshan in Beijing