Sections of the town famous for its Tibetan Buddhist monasteries have come to resemble an armed camp. A few blocks from the entrance, paramilitary police stood behind riot gates with shotguns and assault rifles. Three large troop-carrier trucks sat on the side of the road, flanked by more men with guns. Up ahead, traffic wound through further riot gates and troop positions not unlike those used in counterinsurgency efforts.
The security was so dense that it was impossible to speak with clergy or, indeed, anyone in Aba because of the risk of bringing danger to those interviewed. The Internet had been shut off and efforts to send text messages from Aba failed repeatedly.
Police roadblocks and patrols in the region begin just outside the city of Chengdu, hundreds of miles away. Even in that sprawling metropolis, Chengdu’s main Tibetan quarter is stacked with police who stand guard outside restaurants and shops that sell incense and religious paraphernalia.