SPECIAL REPORT

Ethnic integration an uphill struggle

The Lhasa Pureland Football Club was set up only last year but it has already notched several achievements.

It has won an amateur-level tournament in Tibet and earned the right to represent the region at a national competition next month in Guangdong province. It is also recognised as China's highest-altitude football club.

But club chairman Cidan Duoji, 39, is hoping for another achievement: Attracting a good mix of ethnic Tibetan and Han Chinese players. Currently, about 90 per cent of the 40-member squad are ethnic Tibetans.

LACK OF UNDERSTANDING

They don't understand Tibetan art and culture and have many weird questions.

MS DONGLAI, an art student, on her ethnic Chinese friends.

Mr Duoji said the club has been trying to recruit ethnic Chinese players from across the country, although Lhasa's high altitude is an obstacle. "We want to use the team as a platform for ethnic interaction. We want to show how blissful Lhasa and how peaceful Tibet is," he said.

Club captain Losang Sanchul, 29, said the ethnic Tibetans in the team mingle well with players of other ethnicities, including one from the Hui minority group.

However, the eight players assembled to meet the foreign media on a recent visit to the club's home-ground stadium in Lhasa were all ethnic Tibetans.

Ethnic integration also does not seem to run deep at the Tanbaramdan Thangka Art School, which has around 80 students learning the traditional art form.

Mr Danzeng Pingcuo, who runs the school founded in the 1980s by his father Tanbaramdan, said almost all its students are ethnic Tibetans. He said this is because the subjects of Thangka art are the Buddha, influential lamas and other deities, which make it advantageous for students to be Buddhist and Tibetan.

One of the students, who gave her first name as Donglai, joined the school last year after quitting a civil service job in neighbouring Sichuan province that paid around 3,000 yuan (S$615) monthly.

While her family is supportive of her interest in traditional Tibetan art, Ms Donglai, 24, said her biggest discouragement comes from her ethnic Chinese friends.

"They don't understand Tibetan art and culture and have many weird questions. They don't understand why I am so serious in my Buddhist faith," she told reporters.

Kor Kian Beng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 20, 2016, with the headline 'Ethnic integration an uphill struggle'. Print Edition | Subscribe