Chinese authorities this week forbade some Tibetans from carrying out a traditional cultural and spiritual festival that happened to be on the Dalai Lama's birthday this year.
The affected area includes Nagtran village, Lungtan township, and Tawu county, Ganze prefecture.
On Thursday morning, Chinese soldiers patrolled an area designated for the festival, according to a Tibetan in exile who has close contacts in the area.
Bangchen, a newspaper in Dharamsala, India, which is home to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile, reported Friday that the Tibetans attempted to launch a modified incense-burning festival at a different location, but Chinese troops arrived shortly after it began and quashed the burning. A photo published in the newspaper shows curling smoke coming from a distant hillside.
The festival is so important to the Tibetans in Nagtran that they secretly carried on a modified version, even during the Cultural Revolution, according to the exiled Tibetan, who asked to remain anonymous.
Since the 1980s, local residents were allowed to bring back the festival and carried it on at Geki Thang (also called Gesar Thang), a location that was established 100 years ago by 5th Zogchen Rinpoche, a well-known Buddhist master in the Kham region of Tibet. The festival includes burning a massive amount of incense, a horse race and a dance performance.
The festival falls on the 13th day of the fifth month of the Tibetan traditional calendar, which this year happens to be July 6, the Dalai Lama's birthday. Bangchen reported that the area became "like a battlefield" on Thursday, as police and soldiers "terrorized" the festival.
In 2013, Chinese police opened fire on Tibetans in the same place as they were celebrating the Dalai Lama's 78th birthday. At least 10 Tibetans were injured, according to International Campaign for Tibet.
China considers the Dalai Lama a "separatist" and attempts to prevent his influences in Tibet. His birthday is especially sensitive for the Chinese authorities. Nonetheless, many people in Tibetan areas hold different forms of celebration annually on July 6.