Tibet

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Background 

The Tibetan plateau has been inhabited for at least 20,000 years. 

Despite the fact that "Great Tibet" was a loose federation of five or so kingdoms, it had been regarded as a sovereign nation for many hundreds of years prior to the Chinese occupation that began with the 1949/50 invasion. 

Today the Tibetan cultural area makes up 25% of Chinese geographical territory.  Large parts of Tibet such as Amdo and Kham comprise a great part of the Chinese provinces of Xinjiang, Qinghai, and some of Sichuan, having been incorporated into China before the invasion.  Therefore, what has been designated the Tibet "Autonomous" Region (TAR) comprises only 1/4th of the land of Tibet, but it occupies a position of particular strategic importance. 

At the juncture of Ladakh, Kashmir, Mustang, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, India, Bengal, Mongolia and China, Tibet despite its forbidding geography had cultural, linguistic, economic, and political relations with each one of those states.  Despite the rare periods during which it held an inferior feudal position with regard to China -- the famous patron/client arrangement -- a majority of historians agree that Tibet was for centuries an independent country, thought it was rarely centralized.  As recently as 1918, a Chinese army was repulsed from the Kham border.

It is estimated that there are 6 million Tibetans.  Only 2 million inhabit the TAR.  Four million live outside that region, most in what is now China. 

According to Indian estimates of the 1990s, there were only 120, 000 Tibetan refugees living in exile in different parts of the world, most --  80, 000 to 90, 000 -- in India.  Countries such as Canada, Switzerland, and the USA have also become havens for Tibetan exiles.  Nepal and India have been generous in donating land for monasteries that function today as "incarnations" of those destroyed in Tibet during the ruthless Cultural Revolution and its aftermath.   Currently involved in improving their economic links with the Peoples' Republic of China, both those countries have felt it necessary to curb their public support of Tibetan cultural and religious activities.   

For reasons given above, anthropologists and merchants use the word Tibet in a very wide sense meaning "Tibetan ethnographic area." This region, which is as big as the USA, extends from areas of Siberia, Buryata, and Mongolia in the north, to the Himalayan kingdoms of Nepal and Bhutan plus the recently incorporated Indian provinces of Sikkim and Mustang, and the rest of Himalayan India in the south.  It also includes Ladakh, Lahoul, Spiti, and Kinnaur in the west, the Tatar regions of Manchuria, part of Yunan and a good deal of Sichuan [formerly written, Szechuan,] China to the east.  There are Tibetan communities in the hills of Burma (Myanmar) and Laos, too. 

Called Bhot by Tibetans, the Mongols called the high plateau To-Bhot (high Bhot) which in European languages became Tibet.  In Nepal, the people of Tibetan heritage are called Bhotia

Until very recently, Tibet was a culture that relied on subsistence agriculture and herding.  Except for caravans of traders, people mainly lived in the numerous valleys, in small communities that exist in relative isolation. 

Armies detoured around it as far as was possible.  When they did not, large segments of the population picked up and moved out of their way.  In that way, Tibetans settled in Turkestan, Mongolia, Nepal and other areas.  

  • From East Tibet to Thailand:  The Lisu.

Travel to Tibet

According to Stephen Batchelor (The Tibet Guide: Western and Central Tibet. Wisdom Publications, 1998) if you are considering a visit Tibet know that,

"By visiting Tibet, tourists contribute much needed foreign exchange to the [People's Republic] Chinese government only a small percentage of which is likely to reach the local [Tibetan] people.  On the other hand, it is also true that worldwide sympathy for the plight of Tibet has increased enormously ever since foreign visitors have been allowed freedom of access to the country.  The Dalai Lama has personally encouraged people to go to Tibet to see the situation there for themselves.  . . .  ." AND " . . ., if you stay in small Tibetan-run hotels, eat at Tibetan-run restaurants and shop in Tibetan stores, you can contribute directly to the local indigenous [ie. Tibetan] economy."

We should realize that since 2003, when the government of the People's Republic of China decided to import 100 non-Tibetan tourist guides to the most frequently visited Tibetan areas, thousands of Chinese have relocated to TAR.  Some of these newcomers have learned the financial benefits of dressing like Tibetans, so it is not always easy for travellers to follow the above suggestions.

History

Before the seventh century CE, there were no written records.  Notched sticks and knotted cords were in use as aids to memory.  There may have been a form of picture writing, and certainly pictures and symbols were used for religious and ritual purposes. 

In 622, King Srong.tsan (pron. Songtsen) Gam.po who conquered territories in China and India, sent his minister Thomi Sambhota (regarded an incarnation of Manjushri) to collect sacred books from India.  As a consequence, a written Tibetan language was developed that is derived from the Devnagri script used for Sanskrit.  The originally brush-formed letters with horizontal heads have changed little though they are carved into blocks of wood for use in printing.  A half-cursive form with "cornered letters" developed into the more current headless form. 

Although the first Buddhist objects reached Tibet from Nepal in 461, it was Songtsen Gampo who firmly helped establish Buddhism.  In this he had the help of two of his wives, the princess Bribsun (pron. Tisun, a.k.a. Bhirkuti,) daughter of King Jyotivarma of Nepal, and the princess Wen Ching (or, Wen Chen) from imperial China.  He also had a Tibetan wife, who can be identified in images by the child in her arms.  Some scholars believe that the two "foreign" women are the actual inspiration for the cults of the Green and the White Taras, respectively.

  • The Jokang temple was made for the precious Buddha statue, Yeshe Norbu or Wish-fulfilling Gem, brought by the Chinese queen-consort.
  • 7th-centuryTibet via the study of a silver jug.

In 639, the same ruler founded Lha-ldan (God's ground,) the city that is known as Lhasa (freq. pron. Hasa.)  Succeeding kings favored Buddhism, and during the eighth century, invited Indian scholars to Tibet.  When Kamalashila came, the monastery of Samye was built for him.  

The fifth of the Tibetan kings, Khri-srong De-tsan (Trisong Deutsen) set an influential example when he abandoned Bon, the traditional beliefs, for Buddhism.  Under his rule in 747, Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche) arrived from the south-western regions.  During his short stay his impact was widely felt, for besides translating many volumes of the Kanjur (the Buddhist canon,) his personal influence firmly established the tantric Buddhist tradition.

Relations With China

By 763, repeated incursions by the Chinese had increased tensions, so King Trisong Deutsen ordered a force of  200,000 men to proceed from A-sha to confront them.  After defeating the Chinese army at the border, the victorious Tibetans continued on to the capital city which, at that time was Ch'ang-an (present-day Xian in Shanxi province.)  The Chinese emperor, Tai-Tsung (763-804) had to flee for his life.

These events occurred during the reigns of Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne (768-814) ruler of a greater France, and of Haroun al-Rashid (786-809) who is characterized as the pitiless Caliph of Baghdad in The Thousand and One Nights' Entertainment.   Tibet and China had eventually agreed on the treaty of Ch'ing-shui in 783, which established the boundary between the two countries as the Tatu River;  all land in the Kokonor region west of T'ao-chou was to be ceded to Tibet.

In 790, the Tibetans recaptured four Turkic garrison towns that they had lost to the Chinese a hundred years before (in 694.)   Inspired by this victory, the Tibetan army continued as far west as the Pamirs, the Oxus River and the lake to its north that had long been called by the caliph's subjects, Al-Tubbat -- Arabic for "the Tibetan" [lake]. 

Alarmed by this advance, the Caliph allied himself with China in order to keep Tibet in check.  Attacked by these allied forces, the Tibetans held on without substantial loss of territory despite considerable loss of life. 

These events occurred during Japan's Heian period (794-1192,) while in the region of Burma-Cambodia, the Khmer civilization (800-1432) that eventually produced Angkor Wat emerged, soon to dominate southeast Asia. 

After assuming the Tibetan throne, Tri Ralpachen (806-841) sent troops towards the Chinese border, but through the intercession of Buddhists in both countries a peaceful resolution was eventually accomplished.  Solemn and inclusive religious ceremonies sealed the peace treaty that was signed in 821.  

Besides the Buddhist invocation to the Triple Gem, the celestial bodies were called upon as witnesses to the agreement.  The text of this unprecedented and praiseworthy treaty was inscribed on stone pillars in the manner of Indian ruler, Ashoka (272-231 BCE.) 

There are at least three of these public announcements:  

One was erected outside the Chinese emperor's palace gate in Ch'ang-an (Xian, in Shanxi province.)  The Tibetan counterpart was erected the next year --  822, before the principal entrance to the Jokhang in Lhasa.  Its western face bears the inscription of the treaty in both Tibetan and Chinese. The eastern side bears an edict concerning the nature of Sino-Tibetan relations.  On the north are the names of the seventeen Tibetan officials who participated, and on the south are the names of the eighteen Chinese officials.  The third pillar was erected in 823, at Gugu Meru right on the border between the two countries. 

The edicts publicly reaffirm the boundaries established by the earlier (783) treaty of Ch'ing-shuil, and were to have restored the formal ancient relationship of mutual respect and friendship forever. 

The Lhasa pillar is still standing and 1, 200 years later, we can still read: 

Tibet and China shall guard the present border and the territory over which they each hold sway.  All to the east of the present boundary is the domain of Great China.  All to the west is totally the domain of Great Tibet . . .  .  Tibetans shall be happy in the land of Tibet; Chinese shall be happy in the land of China.

 

Oppression of Buddhism, and then, Revival 

Beginning in 899 under King Lang-dharma, there was widespread persecution of Buddhists, which some historians attribute to concern over a decline in political authority.  The consequences of that oppression was a period of about 5 generations during which there was some social and cultural decline and confusion.  However, Buddhism was firmly re-established after the arrival in 1050 of Atisha, who had come from Bengal to settle at the great monastery of Thoding.  This revival was complemented by the work of the intrepid Tibetan, Marpa the Translator and his devoted student, the yogi Milarepa. 

Various monasteries then exerted predominant influence, but the original stream is known as Nyingma.  Sakya lamas were the next to establish their monastery and tradition, followed by the Kagyu who were the first to publicly announce incarnated lamas.  Change came with reforms instituted by Tsongkhapa, who in 1407 organized a conservative form of  Buddhism usually referred to as Gelugpa. 

In return for helping Buddhism reach the Mongols,* the Gelug lama, Sonam Gyatso, received the abbotship of Ganden near Lhasa and the title in 1576, of Dalai Lama (Ocean, or Wide-wisdom, Teacher.)   During the reign of the fifth Dalai Lama, the Mongols exerted such influence in Tibet that some local rulers even called for Chinese intervention.  In response, Gushri Khan decided to invade Tibet and in 1645, established the Dalai Lama as monarch.

The Dalai Lama, also called Gyalpo Rinpoche (Precious King,) is one of those considered to be an incarnation on earth of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara.  The Tashi or Panchen Lama, though, is considered the incarnation of Buddha Amitabha.  The former, being closer to sentient beings in experience, perhaps held greater secular power, and he was situated in the capital Lhasa, in his palace and monastery called the Potala.  

The Tashi Lama at Tashilunpo, though he is also considered an emanation of Buddha Amitabha, was "only" spiritual advisor to the former. [link is to 1902 drawing by S. C. Das.]

The various 7 or 8 regions of Tibet were administered by both lamas and laymen. There were local rulers,  aristocracies and landholders, as well as territories administered by monastic institutions or labrangs.  Besides various ministers of state, there was a national assembly, the Tsongdu, and a lesser assembly that was always in session.  Administrative subdivisions were divided into prefectures, each under two men -- one a layman, the other a lama.  They collected taxes in kind -- sheep, barley, wool -- and were responsible for judicial duties and communications.  Under these local sub-prefects were the village headmen and elders who were appointed.

We have accounts by travelers such as the Italian, Marco Polo, some Arab and  Turkish traders, and there may also be evidence of earlier Roman contact.  However, the first documented European contact came in 1661 with the Jesuit Antonio Andrada.  Six years later an Austrian traveled to Lhasa followed by the Belgian, D'orville.  In 1774, British East India Company agents reached the Tashi Lama at Shigatse

In the 19th-century, Europeans were prevented from entering Tibet, and expelled if caught. They managed to visit the Forbidden City anyway.  The Bengali Indian scholar Sarat Chandra Das whose dictionary is well-known, obtained Tibetan texts, and the American W. W. Rockhill collected geographical information.  When Indian officials tried to open trade with Tibet, they were refused and fighting broke out in Sikkim. 

The Tibetans were repulsed by the British; the Chinese intervened, and a treaty was signed which the Tibetans refused to recognize. When a Mongolian Russian, Dorjieff, interested the Russians in Tibet and the Dalai Lama tried to play Russia off against the British, the "Great Game" was afoot.  

Russian arms began arriving in Lhasa and British interests were threatened when conflict again broke out on the Sikkim-Tibetan border.  After fruitless negotiations, Col. F. E. Younghusband managed to enter Tibet in December 1903 with armed British troops that reached Lhasa in August.  Finally, a treaty resulted which included trade concessions.

Though the Russians and British agreed to stay out of Tibet, the Chinese were not included in the picture.  Though a large segment of  Tibetan territory had been under Chinese influence as for example, western  Szechuan, for the most part Tibet had been able to exert its independence as the Chinese situation deteriorated severely in the 20th century. 

Under the Communists, a treaty was signed, which Tibet, defenceless in the community of nations, could not avoid.  Then the Chinese broke the conditions and moved great numbers of troops and Chinese settlers into Tibet. 

Interference was followed by fighting, most notably in the eastern part of Tibet. Then the Dalai Lama fled to India as did many other people.

All in all, it is estimated 1.5 million died as a consequence of the invasion. The Cultural Revolution period of the 1960's was especially damaging.

A conservative estimate of the number of Tibetans living in exile in lands other than China is 150, 000. 

In an effort to undermine the attachment felt by the people of Tibet for its religious leaders, many of whom had left, the PRC government began to intervene in the selection of reincarnate lamas, most notably the Panchen Lama whose monastic status is higher than the Dalai Lama's.

In Jan. 2000, the present (17th) Karmapa, Ugyen Trinlay Dorje was obliged to flee in order to be able to fulfill his religious aspiration. 

Today, roads, dams and railroads are being built with slave labor.  The environment is being ruined and the natural resources robbed.  News regularly emerges with the testimony of fleeing refugees, of atrocities being committed on the land, the animals and the people.

"In 1950, the forested areas of eastern Tibet were annexed to China and renamed as parts of Sichuan and Yunnan [for example, Kartse.] Tibet's forests became the PRC's second largest timber source, and an intense programme of clearance began. It is estimated that in 1950 forests covered 9% of Tibet, but that by 1985 the total area had been reduced to 5%. In Kham, between 1950 and 1985 forest cover was reduced from 30% to 18% -- an estimated reduction of 40%. In U'Tsang and Amdo there was a 50% reduction. Roads continue to be built to make the forests accessible for logging. By 1985, 15% of U'Tsang's forests and 50-70% of those in Kham had been opened up by road. " ~ Tibet Facts 3

~ I am indebted to John Brzostoski's article at  Art of Tibet. 

*Some links are to historical maps from the University of Texas' Perry-Castaneda collection.

  • Aug 2/08, The Deccan Chronicle, "The Tibet that refuses to go away" by Madhuri Santanam Sondhi

    Despite the indifference of the international community it still requires strenuous efforts on the part of the Chinese government to legitimise her occupation of Tibet. The extent of China’s anxiety may be measured by the depth of her historical revisionism, suggesting for example, that China "acquired" Tibet when both were under Mongol rule in the 13th century, as though India, some centuries ahead, could claim sovereignty over Burma as a fraternal colony of Britain.

    In the 19th century, Tibet had a special priest-patron (spiritual-political) relationship with China, different from the latter’s usual tribute system, which modern, i.e., post-Christendom western, scholars translate as China’s "suzerainty" over Tibet.

As a hermit kingdom Tibet avoided foreign dealings, but as a Buddhist pacifist country she needed a defence umbrella, as does post-war pacifist Japan today. She took it from powerful friendly neighbours Mongols, Manchus, Nepalese, tacitly, perhaps, British India.  She was in all other ways completely self-governing.

In Europe’s medieval period, the religious and temporal rulers had an ambiguous, often competitive, relationship, their fluctuating fortunes determining the extent of interference in one another’s ecclesiastical and political affairs, but neither could claim suzerainty or sovereignty over the other, especially after the establishment of the modern state system. Thus China sought to influence procedures of selection of important lamas as religious-cum-political authorities, but on entry into the international system, both countries became bound by the rules of modern nationhood.
Nationality is grounded in many factors, ethnic, geographical, cultural, linguistic, historical et al, and on all counts Tibet has a clear claim to national Statehood.

In 1913, the 13th Dalai Lama declared Tibet independent, issuing stamps
and passports and creating other paraphernalia of a modern sovereign
state
. (Outer Mongolia became independent in 1911, got linked to the
Soviet Union in 1924 and re-emerged as a democracy in 1992. Inner
Mongolia was demographically Han-ised and integrated into China as an
"autonomous" province.)

Tibet’s independence was recognised by neighbours such as Russia and British India with whom she had treaty relationships. The independent Tibetan entity lasted over three decades.  Hence the entry of the PLA into Tibet in 1949 was, according to UN law, an act of aggression into another sovereign territory. The continuing occupation and exploitation thereafter bears all the marks of a classic colonial enterprise. It is not only overseas imperialism that deserves the name: Russia and China were and the latter still is, a land empire
with adjoining colonies.

The 1914 Shimla Treaty, negotiated between a sovereign Tibet, a sovereign China and the British Empire in India, resulted in the MacMahon Line between "inner Tibet" and India and a demarcation between "outer Tibet" and China.  However, the Chinese representative merely initialled and did not sign the treaty.  China keeps India on the defensive by harping on the fact that the MacMahon Line is an imperialist boundary. British imperialism’s fairly orderly withdrawal from her colonies could not have been possible if the successor states had not respected the boundaries, however inequitable, it left behind.
India and Pakistan abide by Radcliffe’s lines: even China did not absorb
Hong Kong till the British lease lapsed. The outstanding post-colonial
illegality is China’s brutal military occupation of Tibet, and India’s
anomaly is to recognise the boundary but not respect the status of the
other "high contracting party."

With contestable historical and legal claims, China embarked on a ruthless policy of re-structuring Tibet, absorbing good parts of her territories into Chinese provinces, altering her demography from fully ethnically Tibetan to a Han majority. Having failed to eliminate Buddhism from the plateau, and having failed to live with it, the signs now are that China regards Buddhism itself as subversive of her legitimacy. Tibetan government employees are required to be demonstratively atheist to keep their jobs.

After leaving Tibet in 1959 the 14th Dalai Lama re-asserted Tibet’s Constitutional independence, repudiating the 17-point Agreement of virtual surrender which had been signed under duress by his representatives in Beijing. With dwindling support from India and the international community in the face of force majeure, he, at Strasbourg in 1988, announced his "Middle Way"
compromise, a modern version of the pre-1913 status quo ante, accepting
Chinese sovereignty in foreign affairs and defence, but demanding genuine administrative and religio-cultural autonomy for the shrunken TAR (Tibet Autonomous Region), and the right to speak for all Tibetans, i.e., including the majority outside the TAR.

If earlier China used northern Tibet for her nuclear base cum dumping ground for wastes, and mined the country for ores and depleted her of forest cover, today the large immigrant Chinese population is generously serviced with modern infrastructure and urban comforts. Similarly, the plateau is now the object of a belated concern for her ravaged ecosystem, but Tibet and her neighbours are still threatened by China’s plans to divert rivers originating in Tibet to water mainland China’s arid regions.

The Dalai Lama, despite his refusal, or inability, to conduct either terrorist campaigns or satyagrahas in occupied Tibet, keeps the issue simmering in the international community by his sheer presence. It does not attract the same attention as Palestine, probably lacking, as His Holiness puts it, an oil dimension. Still, even though the Middle Way formula cuts no ice in Beijing, China over the past decade responded to international pressures and resumed a farcical round of talks with his representatives.

However, as China’s military-industrial complex grows, so does her stonewalling: Lodi Gyari, leader of the Tibetan delegation said in Paris on the eve of their last trip, "in recent times the Chinese side has been coming out with statements and actions that not only do not contribute to the creation of a congenial atmosphere, but are direct attempts to undermine the Tibetan position and discredit the person of the Dalai Lama." On return his brief public statement simply announced that "both sides expressed in strong terms their divergent positions on a number of issues."

To manage the approaching Olympics so that embarrassing pro-Tibet
demonstrations as at the Games venue in Athens be not repeated in
Beijing, Hu Jintao calls for harmony, but the Dalai Lama underscores the
need for Chinese rulers to overcome their overweening harshness and
arrogance.


The Chinese hope that the Tibetan problem will go away with the Dalai Lama, whenever that happens. But India still needs the Tibetan card. The Tibetan Youth Congress, though kept on a non-violent leash, is very active. The Friends of Tibet, a group of Indian supporters, last month organised a well-attended international conference in Delhi for an independent Tibet, with resolutions demanding recognition for the Tibetan government-in-exile and for the UN according to its 1993 declaration, to move for the decolonisation of Tibet.

Finally, more than a "card," the Tibetan cause is a compelling moral cum political and strategic issue, powered by the energies of cultural and religious identity. China herself does not treat the case as closed.

Liberation Day?

The PRC celebrates the anniversary of the invasion of Tibet, calling it Tibet Liberation Day.

Government of Canada's Department of External Affairs

January 2009: Declassified federal documents (1940s-1960s) concluded that at the time Chinese forces invaded Tibet, from the standpoint of international law Tibet was an independent state.

"No matter how zealously the Chinese government tries to rewrite history, fifty years after the 1959 Tibetan Uprising, history will not be erased," said Canada Tibet Committee Executive Director Dermod Travis. "It is the height of absurdity that the Chinese government has chosen to celebrate their military invasion as 'Serf Emancipation Day' when Canadian government reports and memoranda lay waste to any claim that China was liberating the Tibetan people when they invaded Tibet."

In a November 1950 memorandum to Ottawa, Canada's High Commissioner to India, Warwick Chipman, noted: ". . . if China owned Tibet, there would certainly be no point in sending an army to conquer it. The sending of an army is surely a confession that the matter is not domestic."

Five days later,  Canada's External Affairs department was circulating a legal opinion on the international status of Tibet. The opinion contained in a 1950 memorandum stated: "The question is, should Canada consider Tibet to be an independent state, a vassal of China, or an integral portion of China.  It is submitted that the Chinese claim to sovereignty over Tibet is not well founded. Chinese suzerainty, perhaps existent, though ill-defined, before 1911, appears since then, on the basis of facts available to us, to have been a mere fiction. In fact, it
appears that during the past 40 years Tibet has controlled its own internal and external affairs. Viewing the situation thus, I am of the opinion that Tibet is, from the point of view of international law, qualified for recognition as an independent state."

"Tibetan history will not be erased," Travis said. "Despite the 'Patriotic Education' campaigns forced upon Tibetans by the Chinese government to this day, the Tibetan people will continue to resist any attempt to extinguish their history, their culture, and their spirit."

As the Canadian Legation, Chungking, China advised Ottawa in 1944:
". . . there is no doubt that official China is determined to 'swallow' Sinkiang, Tibet, Outer Mongolia, Kansu and Sikang, no matter what the people living in those regions may feel about the matter." The Legation added: "The Chinese do not see that the attempt to compel the Tibetans to allow themselves and their country to be incorporated as an integral
part of China is most definitely an act of aggression."

The documents prepared between 1944 and 1969, posted at the CTC website
(www.tibet.ca), include memorandums [sic] updating the Canadian government on
Chinese military aggression in the area, a 1950 National Defence document "The Strategic Importance of Tibet", and a 1961 letter from His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Prime Minister John Diefenbaker.

(The Canada Tibet Committee is an independent non-governmental organisation of Tibetans and non-Tibetans living in Canada, who are concerned about the continuing human rights violations and lack of democratic freedom in Tibet.)

2005: A Train to Lhasa

  • 2007.07.31 Callers Decry Impact of Tibet Railway (RFA)

    Residents of Lhasa say they have seen little benefit from a new U.S. $5
    billion railway connecting the Tibetan capital with the Chinese frontier
    city of Golmud, a year after its completion and in spite of strong
    economic growth in the region.

    “Since the opening of Qinghai-Lhasa railway on July 1, 2006, I and all
    other Tibetans in Lhasa have been overwhelmed by the frightful explosion
    of the Chinese population in the city,” a woman caller from Lhasa who
    identified herself as Dadon told RFA’s Tibetan service.

    “In Lhasa, wherever you go, you get the impression of overcrowding,
    whether in the markets, the bus stations, or holy sites. Even the
    railway stations seem to be full of people,” Dadon said.

    The joy and excitement reported in the Chinese-controlled official media
    are “out of the question.”

    Influx of tourists

    More than 1 million tourists traveled to Tibet in the first six months
    of the year, a rise of 86.3 percent over the same period a year earlier,
    local tourism figures show.

    According to the state news agency Xinhua, tourists brought 990.3
    million yuan (U.S. $130 million) in revenue to the Himalayan region, an
    increase of 92.1 percent from the year before, the agency quoted
    statistics from the tourism bureau of the Tibet Autonomous Region as saying.

    It added that of the 1.1 million tourists, just 73,000 were from
    overseas, and they spent U.S. $24 million.

    Tourism officials attribute the growth in tourist numbers to promotional
    efforts and the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, which began operation on July 1,
    2006, Xinhua said.

    The railway has also slashed the cost of distribution of goods moving in
    and out of the region, which saw an economic growth rate of 14.7 percent
    in the first half of the year, the highest over the past decade.

    Gross domestic product (GDP) reached 14 billion yuan (U.S. $1.84
    billion) in the first six months of 2007, 2.2 percentage points higher
    than the same period of last year, according to the Tibet Regional
    Statistics Bureau. It cited the fastest growth rates in the industrial
    and service sectors, areas that typically draw large numbers of Han Chinese.

    Dadon said ordinary Tibetans had seen little benefit from the railway,
    however.

    “If the railway brought progress for us, we could be happy and excited
    but that is not happening. We are worried. There could be some benefits,
    such as more business for the Tibetan traders, but those are
    insignificant if you take the whole picture of Chinese benefits in terms
    of business and employment into account,” she said.

    “We have personally witnessed the Chinese tourists becoming permanent
    residents,” she said, adding that Han Chinese migrants were moving fast
    into formerly Tibetan neighborhoods and businesses.

    Another caller, a Tibetan man from Lhasa, agreed: “Despite all the
    Chinese propaganda, there is deep skepticism about the aim and whose
    purpose it is serving,” he told RFA. “The Tibetans are certainly not the
    direct beneficiaries.”

    Chinese job-seekers on board

    “Now many Tibetan residents in Lhasa are very apprehensive about the
    explosion of Chinese population. They feel and realize that the Tibetan
    population is being driven into the minority, and is becoming a
    powerless segment of society.”

    A Tibetan-American student recently back from the region praised the
    high standards on board the train, which reportedly employs few
    Tibetans. But she saw few Tibetans among its passengers.

    “About 98 per cent of passengers in the train that we traveled on were
    Chinese. They could be tourists or seeking jobs or starting businesses
    in Lhasa. We got the impression that most of them were going for jobs in
    Tibet,” she said.

    The world’s highest railway line linking the Tibetan capital of Lhasa to
    the rest of China carried 1.5 million passengers into Tibet in its first
    year.

    This year, Tibet expects to host three million tourists bringing in 3.4
    billion yuan (US $447 million), according to the regional development
    and reform commission.

    ~ Dolkar for RFA’s Tibetan service, trans. Karma Dorjee.  Ed. for Web by Luisetta Mudie & Sarah Jackson-Han.
  • Tibet Links
  • Shangri-la, shmangri-la ! Pam Logan to the LA Times. July 4, 1994.
  • Plight of Tibetan women
  • Pierre Sozogno's 1996 photos. (French text.) Kathmandu to Lhasa.
  • Dawa Norbu. China's Tibet Policy. Surrey:  Routledge/Curzon Press, 2002. ISBN 0-7007-0474-4.  US $125.
  • Francois Aleta's web site (French and English.) A picture (not to mention, music) is worth a thousand words.
  • En francais:  
    • Blanchard, E., L-M. et T.  Tibet: Les cavaliers du vent.  Rennes:  Les editions ouest-france, 2002.  (For the most part, well done! However Blanchard is in error when she states the tulku [incarnation] system originated with the Gelugpas in the 17th C.)
    • Pommaret, Francoise. Le Tibet: Une civilization blessee. Paris:  Gallimard, 2002.

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