The Changing Face of Tibet
Talking to Paul Golding of FTC London about his trip to Lhasa, one of the things he noticed while there was the extremely rapid changes that are taking place in terms of Chinese population-influx, and the demolition of traditional Tibetan buildings, these being replaced with standardised Chinese units. As he commented, if you want to have some idea of what the streets of pre-invasion Lhasa used to look like, then you really need to go there pretty soon, while some of the traditional landmarks still exist. If you leave it too long, there may be nothing left to see.
We tend to think of the Chinese occupation as being a historical fact, and one that hasn't changed much in half-a-century. However, that is not a true picture of events. During the first few decades of Communist occupation, the impact on Tibetan life and culture was present, but not overwhelming. In the last few years, all of that has changed, with the Chinese taking a new, highly-aggressive policy in terms of integrating Tibet into mainland China, and destroying all features that make it a country and culture in its own right. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa.
With strong financial incentives in-place to encourage immigration, the influx of ethnic Chinese into the Tibet has now reached the point where Tibetans are a minority in their own land. These Chinese settlers are offered a huge range of priveleges by the Beijing Government, priveleges which are neither enjoyed by the ethnic Tibetans, nor by people in mainland China.
At the same time, the pace of demolition and rebuilding has accelerated to the point where entire streets are being razed to the ground, and being replaced with anonymous concrete or metal units, in the space of a few days. Most of this would appear to be wanton destruction of perfectly-serviceable buildings, the motive presumably being to erase any and all landmarks with historical significance to the Tibetan national identity.
A further reason behind the demolition - and - replacement programme would seem to relate
to surveillance. New structures are designed to allow easier surveillance
by video-camera. Outdoor spaces are planned in such a way as to make
any gathering of people, however small, plainly visible to the Authorities.
To this end, many of the traditional outdoor-markets of Lhasa have been
razed, and replaced with wide, empty squares and walkways, devoid of any interest to the passer-by.
It's interesting to note that whilst the Chinese are keen to encourage tourism in Lhasa, not suprisingly in view of the Western money it brings-in, the number of Tibetan visitor-attractions is now rapidly dwindling. Many of the streets in Lhasa are now almost a copy of similar utilitarian, unattractive streets in Beijing, some even bearing similar names. The Potala palace remains the central feature of the city, although it now functions as a museum instead of as a centre for goverment. Perhaps of greatest concern, even the ancient and charismatic buildings around its base are now being replaced with ones of Chinese design.
These changes are, of course, making life harder for ethnic Tibetans in their own land. With the tourist-trade being increasingly denied to them, and job opportunities in the commercial sector intentionally favouring those who form part of the Beijing-subsidised influx of Chinese immigrants, Tibetans' outlook for the future is a bleak one.
Now, more than ever, Tibet needs Western political support. China invaded that land by force over fifty years ago.. yet now, in the 21st Century, the very survival of the Tibetan way of life is under a new and pervasive threat, more so that it ever has been.