WASHINGTON—Thousands of Tibetans in China’s Qinghai Province have clashed violently with security forces in a protest over alleged graft by officials in remote Yushu Prefecture, sources have told Radio Free Asia’s Tibetan service.
An official from the Yushu Prefecture government who asked not to be named confirmed that a clash had occurred in Dzato (in Chinese, Zado) County on May 20-21. But the official described the incident as “not serious.” Further calls to prefecture and county government offices during business hours went unanswered.
Other sources, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said several hundred security forces from outside the area had been brought in to guard county government offices after a violent clash in which shots were fired and some county government offices were burned.
Reports of casualties in the clash couldn’t be independently confirmed. Yushu Prefecture, in Qinghai Province, is a traditionally Tibetan area now under Chinese administration.
The clash erupted after Dzato County officials levied a “tax” of 1,500 yuan (U.S. $181) per person from neighboring Tibetan areas before allowing them to visit the area to collect a medicinal fungus known as yartsa gunbu in Tibetan (in Chinese, chong cao, and in Latin, Cordyceps sinensis), local sources said.
The fungus, which grows only at extremely high elevations, has been used as a supplement for centuries to enhance stamina and cure various ailments. It is a key Tibetan medicine and brings high prices throughout East Asia.
Local Tibetans accused the Chinese authorities of pocketing most of the money, which they say totaled more than 650,000 yuan (U.S. $78,500)—of which Dzato County received only 200,000 yuan (U.S. $24,200). The rest of the money remains unaccounted for, sources said.
A number of Tibetans who had traveled to Yushu Prefecture to collect yartsa gunbu but were barred from doing so demanded their money back, sources said. Officials refused and instead summoned security forces who beat members of the crowd, striking some with electric prods.
Yushu Prefecture comprises 300,000 people, 98 percent of whom are ethnic Tibetans. Its territory is vast, comprising about 260,000 square kms. Dzato County is one of China’s poorest areas, without paved roads or electricity.
Original reporting by RFA's Tibetan service. Service director: Jigme Ngapo. Written and produced for the Web in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.