ANGRY over the jailing of 21 brethren in a pro-independence protest, nearly 100 young Tibetan monks strode down the dirt path from their monastery last week to rally at China's government offices in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa. ``We told them they must free our monks,'' a Buddhist explained later from Drepung Monastery, a vast maze of whitewashed chambers on a hillside outside Lhasa.
``But the Chinese policemen were very angry, they hit us with their guns,'' said the maroon-robed monk, one of 92 Drepung novitiates who joined the march.
The monks were beaten with rifle butts and electric prods, thrown into trucks by some 300 heavily armed police, and taken to a Lhasa jail for questioning.
Since Sept. 27, Tibetan Buddhist monks - some shouting pro-independence slogans and hoisting Tibet's sacred flag of lions and the snow mountain - have sparked three major demonstrations demanding the return of Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and an end to 37 years of Chinese communist control.
The recent clash between activist monks and Chinese authorities underscores the deeply conflicting visions the two groups hold for the future of Tibet - visions stemming from traditions of religion and nationalism that have evolved over centuries.
The protests - in which six police and at least seven Tibetans were killed - mark the most serious anti-Chinese outbreak in Tibet since March 1959, when Chinese troops crushed an uprising by thousands of Tibetans and the Dalai Lama fled to Dharmsala, India.
More than any single group in Tibet, monks embody the ancient theocratic society that communist leaders have sought to eliminate since China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) subjugated Tibet in 1951 after a year-long campaign.