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China silences Tibet folk singer Drolmakyi PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 09 June 2008

LA Times, DAWU, CHINA -- These are dangerous times to be a Tibetan folk singer.

Drolmakyi learned that when she opened the only place to listen to live music in this dusty little town perched high on the Tibetan plateau.

The 31-year-old single mother, a singer, a member of the local government council and a well-known figure around town, had grown up tending yak in the mountains and hadn't forgotten her nomadic roots. At the nightclub, she and her friends would put on swirling robes and coral beads as fat as grapes and belt out ballads aching with nostalgia for the old Tibetan ways.

"She sang from the heart," said her mother, Caito, who insists that Drolmakyi's music wasn't political. "My daughter always said we must keep Tibetan culture and language. That's all."

On March 30, Chinese authorities arrested Drolmakyi as she was hanging laundry from the balcony of her apartment. She didn't even get to say goodbye to her three children, ages 9 to 13, who were playing outside. They came back and found their mother gone.

At least six other Tibetan cultural figures were arrested in recent months under similar circumstances with no warning or formal charges. Friends and family say they eventually secured their releases by paying large fees and promising to keep quiet.

What made the arrests especially odd was that Dawu, which lies in the Golog prefecture, about 150 miles outside the Tibetan Autonomous Region, saw none of the protests against Chinese rule that swept through other ethnic Tibetan areas beginning in mid-March. The cultural figures who were arrested had no direct involvement in protests.

The Golog prefecture is an enclave of 120,000 ethnic Tibetans and fewer than 10,000 ethnic Chinese in China's Qinghai province. Tibetans call this region Amdo and consider it part of their historic homeland. The remote location, at least 12 hours up a partially unpaved road from the nearest train station, has kept Chinese influence to a minimum.

Until March, Golog's Tibetans enjoyed relative freedom. Behind the cash register at most restaurants hung portraits of the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader whose image is banned in many other parts of China. Shops openly sold posters and lockets with the Dalai Lama's photo, even copies of his speeches.
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