Authorities barred a U.S. film crew from using e-mail or leaving its hotel, and abruptly terminated its plans to continue filming at Labrang Monastery in Xiahe, Gansu province.
Authorities also ordered the eight-member crew not to talk about the police in riot gear and soldiers it saw headed toward Labrang monastery, one day before news broke of riots in Lhasa on March 14. The crew had been at the monastery for two days filming a documentary on Tibetan culture for a six-part series titled “Change in China.”
On the afternoon of March 13, sound man Spence Palermo says he passed a half dozen local police in riot gear headed towards the monastery. “On their heels were two separate columns of about two dozen Chinese soldiers each, also decked out in shielded helmets and night sticks.”
At dinner authorities informed crew members they would not be allowed to film the monastery the following day as planned. Instead, they filmed a monastery of the “Ben sect” about 40 miles outside of Xiahe. On the night of March 14, they were individually escorted to their rooms and told they wouldn’t be allowed to leave their rooms until the next morning. The next morning, Palermo heard a commotion outside the hotel and saw a convoy of Chinese military trucks.
“I figured over 400 soldiers were headed to the monastery. Suddenly there was a pounding on the door and a very irate and panicky official started grabbing my gear and hustling me down to the lobby, saying that we had to leave ‘immediately.’ We were led out of town.”
After the crew filmed at an ancient fort, its members were told they would not be allowed to return to Xiahe. Instead, their Chinese assistant went to the hotel to pick up their equipment and luggage.
“Apparently the protests had spread through the whole town and our hotel – state-run of course — had been targeted [and] all of the windows smashed out,” Palermo recalls, “[There were] fires burning on the street. The word was that under no circumstances would Western media be allowed anywhere near the town.”