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Lions Roar : July 2017
This is hardly what the Dalai Lama has in mind when he pro- poses a “middle way” to secure his people’s freedom—auton- omy within China that protects Tibetans culture, religion, and national identity. The reality today is the opposite: cultural and religious self-expression is increasingly suppressed in a society where government cameras and plain-clothes police watch over monasteries and public squares, and where scrutiny of Internet and mobile phone use is widespread. Escaping the Chinese government’s unrelenting propaganda campaign is equally difficult. “Tibet,” says Burnett, “is a propa- ganda state with a heavy military garrison as its backup.” “Old Tibet,” the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) wrote in a 2015 white paper, was “savage, cruel, and backward, like the dark society of medieval Europe” before the communists embarked on a “peaceful liberation” of the region. Now the CCP wants the world to believe that its rule has propelled Tibet from the darkness into the light. Mostly, the propaganda campaign focuses on China’s expan- sive plan to develop the economy and purportedly improve the standard of living for Tibetans. Since Tibet’s annexation, the Chinese government has spent an estimated $100 billion in the region, mostly on roads, train lines, bridges, airports, and other infrastructure. Along with the money have come people. The Chinese authorities claim that Tibet’s Han population numbers some 245,000, a figure that critics call laughably understated. Han Chinese, both tourists and residents, have been pouring into Tibet since the first high-speed train line to Lhasa opened in 2006. The numbers are expected to soar in the future as new high-speed rail lines come on stream. As it is, the official Chinese media has reported that 21 mil- lion tourists, almost all of them from China, visited Tibet in the first three quarters of 2016, compared to fewer than three mil- lion indigenous Tibetans. The government’s tourism strategy emphasizes secular elements in Tibetan culture and “red tour- ism”—the marketing of sites with revolutionary significance for the Chinese Communist Party. Critics say that little of this spending is making it into the pockets of ordinary Tibetans. The nascent tourism industry and most of the services in the fast-growing cities are controlled by Han Chinese. Most construction material is imported from China. Overall, most of the new jobs go to Chinese immigrants, who now make up 22 percent of the population of Lhasa. “It’s all a show, a facade, a house of cards,” says Tencho Gyatso about the economic development plan. “It is not there to sustain what is important to Tibetans.” Instead, she and others argue that the influx of money and Han Chinese immigrants is marginalizing Tibetans in their own country—and making Chinese assimilation harder to resist. Forced resettlement and natural migration patterns are uprooting hundreds of thousands of rural Tibetans and moving them into the growing cities, which will soon be dominated by ethnic Chinese, according to the Tibet Policy Institute. “In another 40 or 50 years,” concludes Penpa Tsering, “we could have a Tibet with a Han majority population.” The drive for economic development is also damaging Opposite left: Tibetan onlookers try to prevent Chinese soldiers from removing the body of a man who has just self-immolated in protest. Tibetans take great risks to re- trieve the bodies of self-immolators so traditional post-death rituals can be performed. Middle: Apartment buildings sprout up in the suburbs of Lhasa. The rapid urbaniz- ation of Tibet is driven by Han Chinese immigrants and rural Tibetans seeking eco- nomic opportunity. Beijing has spent $100 billion to develop the Tibetan economy. Above: The “Freedom in the World” report calls Tibet the second most oppressed society in the world. Number one is Syria. PHOTOABOVERIGHTBY:AP/THECANADIANPRESS LION’S ROAR | JULY 2017 71