Video: Massive display of military force at Tibetan monastery

Police at Kumbum Monastery in front of Tibetan butter sculptures
Police at Kumbum Monastery in front of Tibetan butter sculptures

16th February 2017

Hundreds of soldiers and police deployed around Kumbum Monastery during key religious festival

Video obtained by Free Tibet shows hundreds of armed troops deployed outside a prominent Tibetan monastery during a major Buddhist festival.

Soldiers and police lined outside the front of Kumbum Monastery in Amdo on 11 February in a show of force during Monlam Chenmo – the Great Prayer Festival.

Monlam Chenmo is one of the most significant events of the year in the Gelugpa school of Buddhism and Tibetans travel great distances to attend its prayer rituals.

This is not the first time that such a large detachment of security forces has been deployed at Kumbum Monastery during Monlam Chenmo. In 2015, an intimidating and obstructive military presence disrupted the festivities. One Tibetan said: “I was so afraid that I forgot to pray", while another wondered whether they were “supposed to watch the army or watch the prayer festival".

Soft power

According to Chinese state media, some 20,000 people gathered at the monastery this year to see its annual display of butter sculptures.

Butter sculptures, a series of statues representing Buddha, human figures, landscape, animals, plants, and  mystical stories, are a speciality of the monks of Kumbum.

The practice of crafting these statues out of butter dates back hundreds of years and Tibetans take pride in the combination of geometry, colouring, ornaments and sculpture required to create the intricate designs. The sculptures attract thousands of devotees from across the Tibetan plateau and from China.

Some of the designs can be seen below.

Take action

Free Tibet’s ‘Beyond Belief’ campaign supports Tibetans' struggle against China’s interference in their religious affairs. Sign the petition to call on political and religious leaders to tell China that they will do the same and will never recognise any Dalai Lama it appoints.