TONGREN, China - A Tibetan monk crouched in the quiet courtyard of a nearly deserted monastery and bitterly recalled the words he and his fellow monks have been forced to recite every year at government-organized classes: "I love this country."
The "patriotic education classes" have been imposed on the monks for the past decade, but the young monk in the centuries-old Rongwo monastery still can speak his own mind to a journalist.
"We want freedom," he said. "We want the Dalai Lama to come back to his land."
The monastery is located in the valley town of Tongren, in Qinghai province, about 600 miles north of Lhasa, where antigovernment protests last week were put down by riot police. The town is a mix of Tibetans and ethnic Chinese.
Just inside the monastery's main entrance, Tibetan pilgrims walked in quick circles around a prayer room that displays, among sacred objects, a large photo of the Dalai Lama. Outside, unmarked police vans were parked in a vast gravel lot.
The abbot of the monastery ordered the monks not to protest, saying that joining the Tibetan uprising would only hurt them.
When asked whether he agreed, a tortured expression crossed the face of the young monk, and he pressed a thumb to his lips in thought. Finally he said: "If I don't agree, there is nothing I can do."
The monk, like many other residents of this region, was fearful of giving his name to a foreign journalist.
His friend, another monk, spoke only Tibetan and communicated by bringing journalists into his cramped bedroom, where he pointed to a large color photo of the Dalai Lama taped to a wall.
Caught between their abbot's orders and their desire to join other Tibetans in protest, about 100 monks climbed a hillside above the monastery on March 16. There they burned incense and set off fireworks, while riot police massed outside the more than 700-year-old monastery, businesses closed and Tibetans ducked indoors. The night was peaceful, though.
In the morning, shops opened as normal and children walked to school past groups of armed police taking a jog down the main streets. Dozens of riot police lounged in a hotel lobby at breakfast before going out to patrol, passing strolling Tibetans in traditional dress. The monastery remained quiet.
The Chinese government has scrambled to shut down China's Tibetan areas since the unrest in Lhasa. Authorities have shipped in truckloads of armed police, set up blockades to keep out foreigners and turned Tibetan communities across remote western China into armed camps, with the monasteries at their center.