First, we heard of a huge fire breaking out at the Serthar Tibetan Buddhist Institute (known Seda Larung Wuming in China) in the Kartse (Garzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Sichuan Province.
The fire was reported at 7.30 pm on January 10.
Serthar, is said to be the largest Buddhist institute in the world with 10,000 nuns and monks (in an earlier posting on Serthar, A 'spiritual' revival in China or another gimmick? I quote some sources speaking of 40,000 monks and nuns).
Then, images of a new fire, also in Tibet (but in the neighbouring Yunnan province) appeared in the media; the fire is said to have engulfed 200 'traditional' houses in Dechen county.
|Fire at Serthar|
It is said that some 450 people joined the rescue operations. Weibo showed people in uniforms as well as monks walking through the debris with the fire raging in the background.
These 2 fires have something in common. They represent 'New Tibet' (or Tibet with Chinese characteristics).
In a posting earlier this month, I speak of the 'spiritualization' of the Chinese society (see The Year of the Horse: a Prediction).
The Serthar Institute is the main example of this 'spiritual' search, with thousands of Chinese joining Larung Gar as a monks or nuns.
The other aspect of 'New Tibet' is what I have called the Disneyfication of the Land of Snows: 14 millions Han tourists in the Tibetan Autonomous alone!
A couple of days before the Yunnan fire broke out and engulfed the town of Dukezong, China Tibet Online invited Chinese tourists to visit the spot:
|Shangri-la before the fire|
A touch of spirituality was even added with the very name 'Shangri-la'. Why should these two symbolic sites of 'New Tibet' burn at the same time?Shangri-la, a place where the majority people believe in Tibetan Buddhism, is full of religious atmosphere amid the sutra streamers everywhere.Shangri-la has an area of 11,613 square kilometers populated with near 130,000 people who are mainly Tibetans.
The prevalent religion is Tibetan Buddhism believed by not only Tibetans but also people of the Naxi, Yi and Bai ethnic groups.
Shangri-la is one of the main sites on the plateau for 'Tibet tourism' where hundreds of thousands of Chinese visitors rush every year in search of some exoticism.
Probably a coincidence!
Incidentally, a Communist cadre who served in the two 'burning' places in Eastern Tibet (in Kartse in 1995-96 and Aba in 1996-2000) has been sacked. He was close to the former security tsar Zhou Yongkang.
Li has got the boot after being suspected of corruption, according to the Chinese media. It is the latest move against people close to Zhou, himself under graft investigation.
Xinhua has announced that Li had been removed from his post as head of an advisory body to the legislature in the southwestern province of Sichuan for suspected severe violations of discipline: "Authorities are investigating his case according to procedure,” Xinhua added, citing a statement from the Communist Party’s powerful Organization Department.
Li Chongxi was the chairman of the provincial committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. He is the third senior Sichuan official to fall under suspicion in 2013.
This has no connection with the fires.
One more story about 'fire'. The great Indian Guru Padmasambhava is said to have been able to set on fire the robe of the Chinese Emperor, just by reciting powerful mantras.
Again no connection with the Serthar and Shangri-la fires, though both these mishaps have been 'miraculous', in the sense that there was no casualty.
Blaze in Tibetan town of Dukezong unlikely arson, authorities say
South China Morning Post
Authorities in Dukezong, the Tibetan town in Yunnan province that was largely destroyed in a fire over the weekend, said it was unlikely the blaze was started deliberately.
The possibility of arson has been mostly ruled out but an investigation was still under way, Xinhua reported.
Some people living in the town in Shangri-la county, which is about 1,300 years old, have questioned the speed of the response of emergency services.
A 30-year-old woman, who gave her surname as Wang, said that when she arrived at the scene of the blaze at 3am on Saturday, more than an hour after the fire had started, there were only two fire engines in the area. They had not begun spraying water on the flames, she said.
Other residents said firefighters arrived 30 minutes after the blaze broke out.
Chen Tianchang, a fire captain, told Xinhua that firefighters were at the scene in five minutes but that there were delays in tackling the blaze.
He said the old town did not have any firefighting equipment until several years ago and that water pipes were built above ground so as not to damage the town's historic character.
"To avoid water in the pipes freezing and breaking them, no water was stored in them. So it took time to fill them with water," he said.
Wang said: "I'm not sure why, but they only began hosing the fire about 15 minutes after I arrived, that's about 11/2 hours after the fire had broken out … Nothing is left. Luckily nobody was hurt. The old town will never be the same again."
A building she owned, which had been let out as a cafe and bar, was destroyed in the blaze.
She said her losses could well run into millions of yuan.
No injuries were reported in the blaze, but at least 2,600 people were evacuated from three neighbourhoods of the town with cobbled streets.
At least 240 buildings burned down, affecting 335 households. Cultural relics and Tibetan art works were destroyed. The cost of the damage was initially put at more than 100 million yuan (HK$128 million).
The fire broke out at 1.30am on Saturday morning and took just under 10 hours to bring under control, Xinhua reported.
Most of the houses were made of wood and the windy weather made the fire spread quickly, Zhang Zhijun, deputy chief of Deqen Tibetan autonomous prefecture, was quoted by Xinhua as saying.
"About 2,000 professionals were deployed to fight the fire, which was burning wildly and causing chaos," he said. "The fact that nobody was hurt shows the way it's handled was scientific."
Chen Limei, who works at a hotel 500 metres from the blaze, said that because tourists would probably avoid the area, some hostels were allowing homeless residents to stay for free.
"It's really cold out there so people need help," she said.