An article in today's NY Times [http://tinyurl.com/3879sv] relates how Tibetans are resisting China's efforts to control their traditional culture. At a recent summer festival, beside a resentful silent treatment against Chinese MCs's cheering efforts, the Tibetans are also subtly resisting by refusing to wear fur.
The ceremonial wearing of animal fur has been raised to the status of a political issue in western China, since the Dalai Lama released a statement two years ago urging Tibetans to reject the longtime practice as inconsistent with Buddhism. Reportedly, the Dalai Lama was responding to complaints from Indian conservationists that Tibetans’ fondness for skins from tigers and other endangered species was hastening their disappearance.
As word of the Dalai Lama’s suggestion spread across western China, some Tibetan communities responded by publicly burning their furs, while others simply stopped using furs in ceremonies. This perceived act of obedience to a man whom the Chinese government has long vilified as a “splittist,” meaning secessionist, appears to have angered the authorities.
Zhou Hongyuan, deputy governor of Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, denied that participants had been ordered to wear animal skins and furs, but he supported the practice. “We are an ethnic region, and we want to create a festive atmosphere and promote our uniqueness,” he said. “It has been our tradition for thousands of years to wear fur.”
Members of Tibetan performance troupes who came here from towns in Qinghai said local officials had urged them to continue wearing their traditional outfits. Judging from the appearance of one group after another, however, the call went almost completely unheeded. During several days of festivities, a visitor was hard pressed to find any conspicuous displays of fur.
Asked if he was wearing any animal fur, the man exclaimed, “Absolutely not!” What ensued was a very careful conversation in which the man insisted that wearing fur was against his religion, and then acknowledged receiving “teaching” on the practice two years ago.Where had the teaching come from? “That’s not convenient to say,” the man’s wife and fellow dancer put in. Asked if their instruction had come from the Dalai Lama, the couple’s faces lit up, and the man reached out to eagerly shake hands. “The government told us we have to wear fur, but we’re not going to do it,” he said. There are 32 people in our troupe. We’ve agreed that just one of us will wear a small piece.”
The dancers were not alone in their circumspection. With Beijing constantly on guard for anything that smacks of separatism, people here seem to measure their words carefully.
At a monastery perched on a hill high above this town where he receives visitors, Yushu’s holiest Tibetan Buddhist monk, Aenpo Kyabgon, gingerly parried questions about the fur controversy, saying he had avoided the festival altogether.
The monk, who grew up in India and now lives in Australia, was allowed to enter the country recently with a warning against engaging in politics. “I don’t believe in saying you must or mustn’t do something,” he said elliptically. “These things depend upon the individual. But from the Buddhist spiritual point of view, we definitely have to refrain from certain things, such as violence in killing animals.”