While Chengdu is relatively calm, all roads West of here are closed to everything but military traffic. Unrest resides just beyond the blockades, in the areas with large Tibetan populations. With no journalists present, it’s hard to know exactly what’s going on in the Tibetan region. All we have to go on are word-of-mouth reports, as collected by Western journalists and reported in Western papers on-line. The Chinese papers are full of lies and distortions about the situation in Tibet, when they say anything at all. For example, they claim the Dalai Lama is calling for Tibetan independence, which he is not. They also have not reported the numbers of Tibetans killed by the police and military. They blame all the problems on “criminals” and the “Dalai clique” who are orchestrating the protests from India.

We know it’s not just Lhasa that has seen protest actions, but also Gansu and Qinghai Provinces to the North, and in Sichuan Province, where we live, there have been protests and Tibetans shot by police in Aba, Garze, and Luhuo, at least. We know that there have been protests as most recently as this past Tuesday, March 25th, in Garze, Sichuan when at least one monk was killed, and one critically wounded, and there are rumors that there is renewed fighting in Lhasa as of Saturday, March 29th. This is being talked about as perhaps the biggest uprising against Chinese rule since 1959, when the Dalai Lama fled Tibet. We have no idea how many Tibetans have been killed and rounded up. The latest figure from the Tibetan government-in-exile is 140 Tibetans killed. The Chinese admit to imprisoning up to 1,000 Tibetans, although the number is likely higher.

When I say Chengdu is calm, I should qualify that. Until yesterday, there have been half a dozen or more riot cops stationed at the front gate of our University every evening, plus an increased police presence on campus and throughout the city. There were also rumors of a bus bombing in Chengdu, which circulated widely and were countered by the police and media. This rumor was enough to cause an author scheduled to speak about Chinese writer and anarchist Ba Jin to cancel her trip here from Beijing.

Yesterday we walked around the Tibetan section of Chengdu, one of the city’s more interesting neighborhoods.. Because we are so close to Tibet, there are many Tibetans living here. People there seemed fairly low key yesterday, although many complain of not being able to call relatives who live further West. The phone lines are blocked. The Chinese like to control information.

There is a large police presence in the neighborhood, and all roads in are closed to vehicle traffic. Marked and unmarked police cars and motorcycles with flashing lights and lots of cops occupy major intersections. There are police cars and SUVs throughout the neighborhood, with their mars lights flashing constantly. Some cop cars are simply parked, with cops just sitting there, blue and red lights flashing. Police SUVs patrol up and down, with cops staring at everyone on the streets and in the shops and little restaurants. Generally you don’t see many police in Chengdu, so this is a pretty heavy presence, no doubt meant to intimidate the local population.

In terms of our personal lives, there have been some developments. Some of our emails are now turning up blank if there is any reference to Tibet, or if there are any links to news stories about it. Internet access to stories is also restricted, so if we try to click on a story, sometimes the page turns up blank and we get booted off line. It’s pretty creepy. If you write us any emails, please refer to Tibet in a coded fashion, such as T_bet.

It’s certainly a strange time to be in China. This police state is being put to the test in the run up to the August Olympics. The torch lighting ceremony in Greece was interrupted by protestors from Reporters Without Borders, who unfurled a banner with the Olympic rings depicted as handcuffs, protesting the lack of journalist access to events in Tibet. Still, the Chinese insist on running the torch over the Himalayas and right through Tibet.

In response to international pressure, China allowed a delegation of reporters to travel to Tibet, but this carefully managed show was interrupted by a large group of monks at one of the monasteries telling the reporters that “Tibet is not free,” and talking about the harsh crackdown by the Chinese. The monks in Tibetan monasteries are forced to recite political propaganda and denounce the Dalai Lama.

We feel safe, although somewhat uncertain about our status. We’ve been very vocal in emails and on our blogs about what is going on, and what things look like from here. Lara just did a radio interview about the situation with a community radio station in Portland. The only thing we are risking is deportation. It’s my guess though that as long as our protests are kept to the world outside China, they’ll tolerate it. Time will tell.

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