An interesting and non-western perspective on the situation in Xizang 西藏 (more commonly known in the West as Tibet) from Seven Years in China.

Anyone non-Tibetan & non-Han who wishes Tibet well should stop talking about Tibet as if it were their own hippy hideout, their own yoga mat, their own vegetarian restaurant.

By pitching the Han against the Tibetans, you’d only be creating trouble for the people who live there, and propagating a scene that isn’t true.

Tourists complain about the modernization of Tibet and blame it on the Han. I too liked more the more natural Tibet of the past but who am I to decide? 99% of the Tibetans are happy with the supermarkets, the well-built roads, 4×4 vehicles, Chinese restaurants and the money that can be found in the Tibet of today. The Tibetans want development and modernization. Why tourists who flew into Tibet expect to see the Tibetans go on foot instead of ride in vehicles is beyond me.

I had somewhat of a Tibet fixation during my second year of university. I read a number of the Tibet related books in the McPherson Library. Most dealt with Tibet’s role during the Great Game and a few were first hand accounts by foreigners living in Tibet during the 1950 Chinese invasion. There was even a Chinese government publication from the 80’s showcasing Tibetan development and integration into the “New China”. Given the age of the publication (I believe 1983) it was rather propagandist in tone.

Honestly, despite the titles I read, I can’t recall much about Tibet these days, other than from other people I’ve met who have traveled there. Strangely enough, their sentiments echo those of Han Girl, the author of Seven Years in China. She also makes a point that many foreigners entering Tibet are expecting (or in many cases, wanting) to see Tibetans on foot, carrying on a traditional manner similar to their life hundreds of years ago. I can find this view embedded within a number of travelers I’ve met during my time in this country. They seem to be expecting a ‘traditional’ China in both landscape and culture. Something that they may have witnessed in movies or through Chinese cultural displays in their home country. What they find is strikingly different. Traditional landscapes do exist in the countryside, yet the people inhabiting these places are hardly enduring these environments by choice. And the cities, well, the cities are a dynamic display of modern Chinese culture, a phenomenon I find far more interesting, although, at times, somewhat depressing, as it can highlight rather brightly the negative human trait of greed and selfishness.

This is the 21st century, and Xizang remains a predominately poor corner of the world. The completion of the railway in 2007 (and absolute engineering marvel…the cars are pressurized) will usher in an era of unprecedented access to Xizang. The domestic tourism industry in China is booming and cheap railway tickets will bring in hordes of Chinese tourists eager to spend their coastal currencies. The issues are the same issues I have with other tourism supported areas of China. Large, urban operated tour companies appear to benefit the most, leaving a small piece of the pot for local residents. It is possible that discrimination against Tibetan minorities will result in the most profitable tourism based industries being run by Han people. Nevertheless, development is essential. I often butt head with people over this, given that, for some odd reason, many view development (even within the context of sustainability) as somewhat of an evil term. A term that involves Golden Arches, GM, Disney and other western cultural icons. Some people like to misinterpret development as ‘westernization’ or to the fringe types ‘imperialism’. I don’t believe anyone is in the right to deny this area development for the sake of maintaining authenticity. Rural conditions here are awful and I would much rather see Tibetans dressing up as Tibetans and doing staged Tibetan things if it meant an increase in the standard of living. In fact, it is doubtful that you will actually see any true ‘authentic’ culture displays in China from any areas which have tasted the tourism carrot. A search for authentic regions will land one in poorest regions of China. Not surprisingly, these places are also the most depressing and heartbreaking. Develop, although sustainably and responsibily (as if that is an easy thing to accomplish).

To counter the above arguments, it should also be noted that human rights in Xizang are hardly transparent, and it is possible that we are privy to a very limited amount of information regarding this matter. For instance, TruthaboutChina recently posted regarding protests by Tibetan Monks (one of which was imprisoned for 33 years).

Three Tibetan activists on Friday marked their 11th day on a hunger strike to oppose the choice of Beijing as the 2008 Olympic host.

The hunger strike was being led by 75-year-old Palden Gyatso, a Tibetan activist who said he spent 33 years in a Chinese prison for his involvement in the independence movement.

He is demanding China first end its ”military occupation” of his homeland before it hosts the Olympics.

”I’m glad I’m able to contribute to the movement somehow,” he said from a tent on the grounds of an 18th-century cemetery in downtown Turin.

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