HEZUO, Gansu, April 11, 2008 -- Xin Zilong, one of a few successful businessmen in a heavily Tibetan plateau county in northwest China's Gansu Province, now has to live on government handouts. Both his grocery and his house were destroyed by rioters on March 16.
The three-story building of his shop was among 261 private businesses burnt in the riot in the Tibetan Autonomous county of Maqu, and only a scorched brick and steel structure remains.
The 43-year-old Han entrepreneur was born and grew up in Maqu, one of the worst hit spots in the riots that occurred outside Tibet.
"The building is my everything. The ground floor was my grocery, the second floor for storage and the upper floor my living space," he said.
Xin managed to escape. However, he lost everything in his shop and house, which he estimated to be worth 1.4 million yuan (200,000 U.S. dollars).
"I hid in the toilet on the third floor when I heard rioters break into the shop. Then I smelt fire downstairs," he said, recalling the terrifying moment on March 16.
Rioters shouting "Tibet independence" slogans also attacked government office buildings and schools that day. Most shops along the main street where the county government office is located were ransacked, and many were burnt down.
Xin said that he had received 1,000 yuan (142 U.S. dollars) in subsidy as well as two bags of rice and a bottle of cooking oil from the county government.
"The government is evaluating my business loss. I will I would soon get a loan for rebuilding the house," said Xin.
Growing up with Tibetans in Maqu, Xin said "I have a lot of Tibetan friends here and in many other Tibetan areas in Gansu. Many called to console me after the tragedy."
"The riot would not mar our friendship," he said.
Wan Daike, deputy county head of Maqu said that the government's investigation found that the riot on March 16 was fanned by two dozen instigators, and joined by 200 followers.
The small county with a population of 46,000 suffered an economic loss of 104 million yuan (15 million U.S. dollars), which was about the county government's half-year fiscal income in 2006.
The Police Headquarter Command Post in the county was the first target of the rioters, said Wang.
Scraps of a burnt fire engine, which is the only one in the small county, stood in the garage of the headquarters building. The vehicle was torched along with five other police cars in the riot.
"There were ten police on duty in the building that day. They were driven to the third floor, and some of them were forced to jump out of the building from there," said Wan. Twelve policemen and three firemen were injured.
"I saw rioters surround a police officer, beat him on the head and try to stab him with knives. I rushed to stop them and shielded the injured man with my body," said Cuchim Gyamco, a Tibetan monk from a subsidiary of Labrang Lamasery in Gansu.
Cuchim was an intern at the county hospital, which is opposite the police building. He begged the rioters for mercy, and managed to take the injured policeman to a safe place for treatment.
Ma Gahu, a Muslim restaurant owner said he was also helped by a Tibetan friend to escape danger in the riot. His restaurant was looted and smashed.
The destruction caused by rioters in Maqu impressed more than 20 Chinese and foreign journalists in the media group invited by the Information Office of China's State Council, who arrived in the Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, where Maqu is, on Wednesday morning for a four-day trip.
"It is regrettable to see the result of people's hard work destroyed, no matter what ethnic groups they are from," said Lucy Hornby, a Reuters reporter.
Konstantin Shepin from Russian News and Information Agency said that based on what he saw in Maqu, the rebuilding work is hard in such a remote county.