Whispers of the Dalai Lama
This week marks the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan uprising which led to the exile of the Dalai Lama. Tibet's exiled leader has described the situation in his homeland as "hell on earth" - a characterisation rejected by China.
At the moment, China has stopped foreigners from travelling into Tibet, but many Tibetans also live in neighbouring Chinese provinces on the Tibetan plateau. These are the only Tibetan areas that we can try to visit.
But in recent days, the Chinese authorities have detained (and sometimes harassed) many foreign reporters who have tried to get to these areas.
Still, a few days ago, a colleague and I managed to get in and out of the Tibetan plateau without being arrested. Here's what we found.
At the main gate to a monastery on the plateau, a monk in red robes sits behind a counter. My colleague and I buy two tickets and walk into the grounds - a valley full of temples surrounded by hills and prayer flags. (In order to protect the identity of the monks we spoke to, we have decided to withhold the name of this monastery.)
There is a number of men in well-pressed trousers standing around the grounds. Experience in China suggests that these men may be undercover Chinese policemen - determined to make sure there's no repeat of last year's Tibetan protests.
My colleague and I walk freely through the monastery - into prayer halls and debating chambers. We meet a Tibetan monk standing alone. No-one appears to be watching us. We've travelled almost a thousand miles for this one opportunity.
"We heard that last year there were some problems around this area. Are things quiet now?" we ask him.
"Nothing will happen," the monk says quietly, "we're all being suppressed."
"Is there lots of surveillance at the moment?"
"Who is controlling you?"
"Do you think the Dalai Lama will ever come back?"
The monk nods.
"He should come back," he whispers, "he should come back."
The whisper of a single monk is as loud as support for the Dalai Lama can get in this monastery. To China, the Dalai Lama is a corrupt, violent, feudal overlord who has spent 50 years trying to split Tibet from the motherland.
A little later, we visit a second Tibetan monastery. Two young monks escort us into a temple. They show us a framed photo of the Dalai Lama on an altar - a picture they have to hide away whenever the Chinese police come to visit.
"They come quite often, to tell us not to make any trouble," one of the monks says. "So we have to hide his picture, or else we will get fined. The police don't usually search the place. So, as long as we hide it well, we will be okay."
We drive on through frosty hillsides towards the village in which the Dalai Lama was born in 1935. We stop at a house by the side of the road. A gray metal door is half open.
"This is the place in which he was born," a Tibetan woman standing outside the house tells us. "Last year, they refurbished the whole place again, so it's like it was before."
Beyond the door, we can see into a courtyard, where there is a Tibetan mastiff on a chain, and an ornate green and gold building. But we can't go inside. We learn that Chinese police officers from the Public Security Bureau come around every day. They make sure that foreigners don't go inside.
A taxi then pulls up at the door. Four middle-aged Tibetans get out. They bang on the door in a slight panic. They tell us that they've driven for hours from Qinghai Lake to visit the birthplace of the man they worship as a god. A person guarding the house lets them inside.
My colleague and I wait outside in the wind. China condemns the Dalai Lama as a terrorist with the heart of a beast. But in this remote village, China allows Tibetans to make discreet pilgrimages to the house in which he was born.
We'd like to stay around a little longer. But villagers tell us that the police are on their way. We drive off, leaving the grey metal door and the golden rooftop behind us.
James Reynolds reports from Tibet on Radio 4's Today programme on 12 March.
PS: Onto another pressing subject - the effects of the global recession on China. As I've written here before, millions of Chinese workers have lost their jobs because the rest of the world has stopped spending. So now, the Chinese government is looking to the countryside for economic salvation. It's hoping to lure workers back to a more rural way of life.
It's well worth having a look at this TV report by my colleague Quentin Sommerville which explains the subject perfectly.