*Karma Phuntsok Namgyal
From the day of invasion of Tibet since 1949, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) tried to fully integrate and assimilate it into mainland China despite antagonism and adverse opposition from Tibetans and international community. The Chinese leadership implemented the policy of suppression to create unity out of fear which they failed to achieve. The process of integration has kept changing with different leaders bringing newer strategies. Since President Xi Jinping came to power, poverty alleviation has been introduced as key priority in Tibet and other minority areas under Chinese rule to win their loyalty to speed up the process of integration. In Xi Jinping’s own words, he stated “key effort in the work for Tibet should be spending on ensuring national unity and consolidating ethnic unity with realizing long-term and comprehensive social stability”.
A mass tourism project in Tibet has been used as a key tool to fulfill the interest of a rigid authoritarian regime of Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Analysts say “the Beijing is using tourism in Tibet to claim progress in livelihoods of Tibetans and to dispel international criticism over its rule in Tibet, which is still viewed by some as the unlawful occupation after the Chinese military overran the region in 1951”.
Tibet’s economy depends on China’s central government subsidy. Tibet’s financial revenue has been negative for the last 21 years from 1968 to 1989. Apart from its governmental agencies, the survival of Tibet’s economic entities, such as factories, relied on the central government’s financial support. For example, from 1952-1979, the year of launching nationwide reform and opening-up program, China’s Central government earmarked 6.094 billion Yuan in aid of Tibet.
In 1960s international agencies like the World Bank, International Finance Corporation (IFC) and International Developmental Association (IDA) increased their loans for tourism purposes for many underdeveloped countries were encouraged to give tourism a conspicuous place in their development. Tourism in Tibet was promoted in response to stabilizing Tibet after the Cultural Revolution. In 1980, Tibet Tourism Administration Bureau and China Tourism Travel Agency in Lhasa were established after an increase in number of inbound tourists and domestic tourists to 1,056 and 2,466 respectively.
After 1983 China became a member state of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO). In 1984, the Chinese Communist Party Central committee and the State Council decided to put nine provinces and municipalities directly under the Central Government. These nine provinces include; Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Sichuan, Guangdong, Shandong and Fujian. The state department also allowed Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock Breeding and Fishery to undertake 43 projects in aid of Tibet, involving a total of 480 million Yuan, which included projects related to Energy, Communication, Tourist facilities, Industries and Cultural education. 
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, tourism was identified by the Chinese policy makers as a key to economic development in the minorities’ areas. In order to stabilize the widespread political and social movements in Tibet against CCP. The government forcefully restricted travellers in Tibet. Since then the international tourist declined in huge numbers. Ragadi, Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) Deputy Party Secretary in 1995 said “The focal point of the policy opening the door wider in Tibet should be towards the inner part of country…. We should encourage the trader, investment and economic unit, and individual to enter our region to run different sort of enterprises”.
China’s 9th Five Year Plan recognized tourism as the pillar of TAR revenue generator in 1996. Previously the main generator of revenue was through mining industry. Tibet’s rich natural resources led the Chinese State- Owned Enterprises (SOEs) to mine in Tibet for a long time. However due to continuous anti-mining protests in Tibet and strong criticism from international community such as the United Nations, the government changed Tibet into a tourist Mecca. However, there are still lot of places in Tibet where Chinese do mining.
Since then, Chinese arriving into Tibet in mid-1990s are more commercially oriented invasion in the Tibetan region. The intentions of early influx of Chinese migrants were more political, ideological and administrative, whose movements were tightly guided by the state. Though the current wave of development was made with the motive to transform Tibetans culture into a marketable asset, to marginalize the real Tibetan culture and commodify every possible thing from human to their belongings. In 2005, 1.8 million tourists reached Tibet and 1.67 million were Chinese tourists. The first Tibet tourism development plan was drawn up thereafter.
The initial rise of Chinese tourists into Tibet was due to the completion of 1,965km Gormo-Tibet railway and high-speed railway from Beijing to Lhasa in July 2006. A number of Chinese tourist’s inflows into Tibet also increased with an extension of the railway line to Shigatse, which opened in August 2014. A number of new roads and airports have also been built in recent years. TAR now has five airports: in Lhasa, Ngari, Nyingtri, Chamdo and Shigatse. The airport in Ngari, which opened in 2010 has greatly improved access to Tibet’s south-western sites of pilgrimage, such as Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar. It paved greater access for pilgrims. Opening up of Ngari has prompted commercial development on a scale which side-lines the pilgrims and threatens the traditional sanctity of the site.
First to connect China to Tibet and with other provinces of Tibet succeeded by creating facilities such as a camp of doctors for high altitude problem, harsh weather and blazing sun on the way to Tibet. Increase in the element boost the revenue to 2.77 billion Yuan in 2006. Moreover, in 2007, the revenue double folded to 4.85 billion Yuan with inflow of 4.02 million tourists. On 14th March 2008, a major Tibetan protest erupted all over the Tibet against the Chinese illegal occupation and retaining their right. Despite this incident lead to cessation of tourism industry until 1st October 2008, by the end of 2008, the tourist industry had 2.25 million tourists with a total revenue of 2.259 billion yuan. The tourist industry is not naming to stop at any point, it is booming in both numbers of tourist and contribution to GDP.
So far, six Tibet Work Forums have been held in 1980, 1984, 1994, 2001, 2010 and 2015 all of them in Beijing. The objectives for 2015 are to maintain the pace of leapfrog economic development, significantly narrow the gap between the per capita net income of farmers and herdsmen in Tibet and the national average, significantly increase Tibet’s ability to provide public services, further improve the ecosystem, greatly develop Tibet’s infrastructure, achieve unity and harmony among all ethnic groups, maintain social stability, and make a more solid foundation for building a moderately prosperous society in all respects. However the question remain unanswered, where the per capita of Tibetan remained the lowest in China and herdsmen were force to shift to towns and cities which they say “comfort life”, but the Tibetans have to use their own savings too and take out loans, so they end up with debt. The comfort were belong to Chinese, who end up controlling Tibetan in their own land.
On 12 and 13 August 2014, China organized a conference titled, ‘Forum on the Development of Tibet’ in Lhasa. Out of the 100 or so participants, about 40 were international participants from about 30 countries. The main objective of the forum seems to be in ‘bringing Tibet to the world and helping the world have a better understanding of Tibet’ which has always been fake narrative, which has propagated since the invasion of Tibet. On that occasion, those who were present at the forum from outside China are most likely to be cold hearted to His Holiness the 14TH Dalai lama, such as Lord Davidson’s line in making political statements criticising the Dalai Lama including N. Ram (Lin 2014) and Jean Michel Carre, a French documentary filmmaker (Guo Lethe 2014b). However Tshering Chonzom Bhutia, associate fellow at Institute of Chinese Studies in Delhi said “Even after numerous Google searches, has found no reports in the Western or international media directly reporting from the event. As mentioned earlier, Western media, at least in the UK tended to focus on the more controversial aspects of the forum”. The upbringing of such events has nothing on paper, which indicates that ‘Forum on the Development of Tibet’ wasn’t for Tibet factor rather focus on image of China’s toward the world, where the invitation of foreign diplomats was very much selectively done.
The 50th anniversary of foundation of TAR was held in September 2015 and the Chinese government had issued a white paper, “Successful Practice of Regional Ethnic Autonomy in Tibet”. China’s development in Tibet claims to reach per-capita income of household as 2,254.3 Yuan but it still remains the poorest region whereas the average per capita income of household in China was 21,966.2 Yuan in 2015. Also international trade balance in TAR is -80% of GDP in 2015. Whereas Tibet is China’s “cash crop”, the generous China claims developing Tibet and generating high revenue is not benefiting Tibetans at the level Tibet economy has reached.
The number of tourists in Tibet keeps adding up to millions, according to Kor Kian Beng China Bureau Chief in Lhasa. According to him, 24 million tourists in TAR have registered in 2016 and more than 95% of tourist to Tibet are Chinese. The Chinese government in TAR expects substantially boom in the number of tourist in coming years.
One of the key China’s national interest is uniting Chinese and all minorities in a dignified status in the eyes of the international audience. However, this national interest is always hindered due to apparent actual conditions in restive minority regions.
Chinese migration in Tibet
People are less likely to migrate to a region where the social system, ownership system, and language are different from what they had been accustomed to in their locale. Hence the development in Tibet was not merely meant for tourist attraction but to create a homely feeling for the Chinese in order to encourage their migration to Tibet. Lhasa Municipal People’s Government Census Claim, “There are approximately 160,000 permanent residents and another 133,000 migrants living in the city area of Lhasa in 2009”.
China’s increasing numbers in unemployment and population in major cities are one of the key factor causing migration. According to my interview source “Since 2013 massive increase in numbers of Chinese graduate student has created fear to the Chinese government that the state won’t able to employ them which might bring revolution against them. To reduce such contrary views among young Chinese against the CCP, they were offered a package of cheap housing facilities and other perks for working in Tibet in various development sectors, projecting the bright side of Tibet as a Tourist destination, which inspired many Chinese and I have seen these happening in my hometown”. In Mao Ying’s Ph.D. thesis, she says “they were also offered higher wages than working in other parts of China.”
Dumping of Chinese migrant workers and garbage in Tibet are of same quantities, which not only lead to destruction of environment but also assimilation of Tibetan culture. China is one of the only few countries that practise residency registration that requires people to transfer their registered residence whenever they change their address. Reforms to the residency system are China-wide; the influential hardliner, Luo Gan is said to be one of the members of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CCP Central Committee involved in initiating these reforms. The new regulations also make it easier for Chinese workers to settle permanently in Tibetan areas. Investors and students can obtain permanent resident status after three years residence according to regulations made public in October 2000. Prior to that there is no such visible account of Chinese military, industrialists, labours, other official migrate to Tibet. The main victim are Tibetans, who have become a minority in their own land and economically marginalized.
Effects of tourism on Tibetans
It is well perceived that the development in Tibet has given new life to places but took lives of Tibetans. Tashi Wangchuk, a Tibetan language activist was imprisoned by the Chinese government for the alleged case of separatist activities. Tashi Wangchuk gave a video interview to New York Times reporter, Jonah M. in 2015. The New York Times stated that “Chinese authorities on Tibetan plateau had been slowly eradicating the Tibetan language from schools and the business world”.
According to 2016 census, 37.33% of Tibetans in TAR are illiterates, which mean more than 1 million Tibetan can’t read and write. Whereas, the biggest sector in Tibet has shifted from primary to the tertiary sector. These automatically barred employment opportunities for Tibetans in tourism. Francoise Robin a Tibetologist from France said “Travel agents and other people who work in the tourism industry are mostly Han Chinese”, and mentioned “The Tibetans… are among the last in line to benefit.” Wang Songping, Deputy Director of the Tibet Tourism Development Commission said, some 97,000 ethnic Tibetans are employed in the tourism industry and their average incomes have risen from 5,000 Yuan in 2006 to 8,100 Yuan in 2017 out of 3.2 million Tibetans in TAR. That clearly indicates limitations to Tibetans in getting employment in tourism industry because the increasing number of Tibetans were forced to shift to town and cities from their nomadic life. Therefore, many ordinary Tibetans feel excluded in their own land, leaving them with few options. As a result of such policy, young Tibetan girls landing into prostitution businesses is increasing in Tibet. Even in this business Tibetans are segregated from the Chinese prostitution. In a Tibetan county, a young Tibetan girl said, “Before we came here, we were told we were going to be singers in the biggest song and dance place in the city of Lhasa,” But when she arrived in the Tibetan capital she found that she with her sister had been deceived. She added that, “It turned out we became prostitutes, we tried to escape once, but we were caught by the boss and brought back here. Now we have no money so we have to stay here. “
Another interview was given by a foreigner about her travel experience to South China Morning Post. She said “I paid the travel agent 200 Yuan a day for the guide but Tibetan tourist guide received only 50”. The remaining go to a government-run travel agency. According to my Interviews with Tibetans who escaped Tibet and recently visited their homes in Tibet and others who have constantly stayed in touch with their families. One interviewee is from Dingri Shekar County mentioned that his hometown became a popular tourist destination for westerners in late 1990s. His hometown crosses the way to Mount Everest and Mount Kailash. His friend who works in Tibet as tour guide wants to remain anonymous said that his friend in Lhasa faced great difficulty to obtain guide license, made lots of condition to him, specifically if he breaches the condition he will end up in prison.
Whereas in Tso-ngon prefecture which is the birth place of the 14th Dalai Lama, Tibetans are facing a decrease in their income after 2008 protest. The Chinese government restricted foreigner tourists who usually chose to live in Tibetan run guest-houses and hotels. Chinese tourists preferred Chinese run hotel and guest-houses as they provide better facilities than hotels run by Tibetans. A Tibetan from Tso-ngon said “my cousin has started such business during the peak of tourism. Later, he was forced to stop facilitating homestay for tourists because the Chinese official felt that it will affect the propaganda policy of China.” He also said that “for Chinese, our Tibetan culture and landscape are to use and not to embrace”.
The similar views are shared among many Tibetans whom I have interviewed said that development and tourism industry have decently eased their livelihoods, mobility and etc. But, their main concerns are the loss of their identity in future because of the large number of Chinese migration, inter-ethnic marriages, use of Chinese language as the medium for communication and most important environment and landscape destructions. A book, “Bodh Kham Nyulwa” by Ajam, who visited many places in Tibet said that there is a new dimension of Chinese migrants in Tibet. Chinese migrants who are poor and daily labourer from mainland China settled in Tibetan nomadic areas with Tibetans nomads. There are many cases of Chinese Muslim men marrying to Tibetan women. Therefore, Han Chinese migration to Tibet and Chinese Muslim marrying Tibetan women are directly and indirectly causing the assimilation of Tibetan culture. It is difficult to foresee an accurate result on assimilation because of absent of records on the numbers of Chinese labourers engaged in development projects, industrial sectors, government and military in Tibet. Though the Chinese government saw labour abundance in Tibet yet the labour productiveness is less. The reason causing such inefficiency is due Chinese government’s policy forced the Tibetans to shift their traditional occupation for which they are proficient. Such policy has taken away their livelihoods and also made them inefficient.
As Jin Wei says “Human capital nurturing is the key to Tibet’s development problems. Tibet should formulate preferential policies aiming at attracting medium and top talents to work locally and prioritize basic education and middle vocational education. Assistance policy should aim at increasing Tibet’s human capital stock, and improve growth of Tibet’s self-development capability.”Which basically means to cease the cultural and traditional based education and shift to a commercially oriented education, however the formulation and making of such policies is not in hand of Tibetan it is totally governed by CCP.
A theme park intent to showcase the integration of the minorities into the one happy Chinese cultural family and the unity of the Chinese peoples announced in 2012.The park is based on ’Grand princess Wencheng Opera’ based on the life of Chinese wife of the 7th Century CE Tibetan Emperor Songtsen Gampo, to show the historical inseparable relation with Tibet. It is staged at the outskirt of Lhasa in the ‘newly’ built Potala.The Princess Wencheng stage performance tells the story of this Tibetan-Han marriage. A Chinese professor, Ma Rong said “the park would reduce tourist pressure on the Jokhang Temple and the Barkhor in the heart of old Lhasa, helping to protect the city’s heritage.” But, according to Francoise Robin “cultural performances shown to visitors are either favourable reinterpretations of Chinese history or Chinese versions of songs or dances.” Therefore, it is all propaganda to direct Tourists in their favor of history and moreover to popularize their creation to build a faith in such false stories.
All travel agencies’ websites show amazing landscape pictures of Tibet and different tourist packages depending on the season and duration. The minimum duration is 27 minutes and the maximum is 30 days in TAR for International tourists, where you need to have a certified guide who will be the Chinese government’s watchdog. Moreover, Bhutan and Norway have more restriction due to sensitive matters. The intention is not to give time to interact with Tibetans about any political and social issues. It also mentions that tourism industry is ceased in February and March due to Tibetan uprising day which falls on 10th March every year.
A travel agent recently posted on Instagram about the launching of 4G internet connection and building of optic fibre wall are current developments trends in Tibet. This new internet facility in Tibet has been fully advertised around China as most Chinese are addicted to the internet based survivalist. In China 2012, 11/11 is celebrated as e-commerce day. Chinese travel agency relies heavily on the electronic and sell Tibetan culture online, which is often referred to as e-culture.
To cater to more affluent tourists in Tibet, international hotel chains such as Intercontinental and St Regis were constructed and by 2020, 10 more five stars are likely to be built, said Mr. Wang Songping, Deputy Director of the Tibet Tourism Development Commission. He also says “We hope we’ll get 24 million tourists this year and 35 million tourists by 2020,” “Switzerland of the East”, it is seen by authorities as a flagship project for its ambitious plans for Tibet’s tourist sector. Transport links are being developed to cater for the influx, including a motorway opening next year, and a high-speed rail line from the capital Lhasa, expected to open in 2021.
The supply of habitual Chinese product by penetrating the prices and fancy packaging dominant the grocery market in Tibet. The prime purpose is to encourage domestic tourists to bring Chinese foods in Tibet. A Chinese friend told to a Tibetan who recently came to India that “Tibetan are considered to be dirty, arrogant and always angry.” A Chinese run travel agency in Tibet also quoted in its website that “stay in a decent hotel, don’t eat in Tibetan restaurant, don’t drink these local waters and don’t be shocked to see how unhealthy Tibetan are.
The vice-chairman of Tibet’s government, Mr. Penpa Tashi, gave a briefing to the visiting journalists on the Tibet’s history that skipped over the March 2008 protest as he projected Tibet as a positive example of ethnic unity in China. He further said that “everyone in Tibet is joining hands. Without ethnic unity, the achievements in Tibet would not have been possible.” In an interview given to The Straits Times, an English newspaper, a Tibetan called Sanchul gave a different picture. He was travelling with a group of Tibetan friends, and said that he wasn’t bothered by the deluge of China tourists. “We rarely interact with them anyway,” said the 40-year-old man. That contradicts with the statement made by officials. It indicates no joining hand with the ethnic unity propaganda, whereas for non- intervention to such official statements by not allowing any foreign journalist and researchers.
A foreigner visits Lhasa and, standing under the front side of the magnificent Potala, says to himself in amazement, “the nationality that built this palace must have been mighty indeed” then same foreigner walks around to Lukhnag, the small park in the back of the Potala and sees all of the destitute Tibetan drunkards, shakes his head, and says to himself, “this nationality is finished. There’s no hope for these people”. The real situation of Tibet and Tibetan has projected through above statement yet the CCP continuously market only the cover of books as development has done huge merit to Tibet and Tibetan.
Generating money through Buddhism
More than 300-400 million Chinese are Buddhists and the number is still rising. Therefore, the Chinese government claim that it has built many new monasteries in different parts of Tibet to revive Buddhism in Tibet. By employing monks in these monasteries in Tibet, China claims Tibet as a centre of Buddhism in China. Ironically the biggest institute for Buddhist study, Lharung Ghar, was destroyed which bring to a conclusion that CCP is onto the creation of a new kind of superficial Buddhism.
Åshild Kolås, in her book, she says the TAR government also gives a “salary” to monks and provides subsidies to monasteries as its payment to government employees and monks in other Chinese regions. All monks who are officially registered in monasteries and temples in China receives a salary with ranks parallel to cadres in administration. Their salaries are paid by the government.
Language and tourism
The incompetence of Mandarin among Tibetans lessens their potential to survive in tourism sectors. Different works related to tourism industry such as navigation, transportation and documentation requires high proficiency in Chinese language or English that forced many Tibetans to learn Chinese.
Initial procedure of cultural destruction of tourism enterprises can be found in Kolas First Chapter which outlines the historical account of the (re)naming the place as “Shangrila” from Gyalthang (a Tibetan native name) and it kept going to all the other major spot. The continuation of such event makes everything sounds Chinese or linked to their narration.
According to Tibet Statistical Bureau 2015, in 2014, 86% magazine available in TAR is in Chinese language whereas 14% is in Tibetan language, 38.63% books published were in Tibetan language with the guideline set up by the Chinese Government, Tibetan language versions appear to be published less frequently. Even in XZTV (Xizang TV) Tibetan broadcast is directly translated from Chinese language and it happens frequently in Radios, too around 80% of news etc.This translation work begs the question of authenticity of contents. Different travel agencies’ websites have different interpretations of auspicious tourist spots by linking with government’s propaganda. It shows “Tibetan culture” is reconstructed as marketable commodity for tourists to create a homely feeling to the Chinese tourists when they visit Tibet and others minority region.
Tibetan movement in Tibet
A Tibetan said in Washington, a monthly magazine in English, that, “Tibetans living in four provinces of Tibetan inhabited areas faces a tremendous number of restrictions to visit pilgrim sites in TAR. It has become more difficult for Tibetans to move around, much less leave the country. Their Tibetan ethnicity is written on their ID cards in the form of number, which police inspect at checkpoints outside Lhasa and at the border of the TAR. It is difficult for most Tibetans to enter Lhasa at all, especially the pilgrims who once prostrated their way to the religious capital.” Tsering Woeser, a Tibetan blogger said “I cannot get a passport, just like many other Tibetans, it is almost unthinkable that this regime that controls us will ever grant us a passport, which should, in actual fact, be a fundamental right that every citizen enjoys. Last year, Lhasa gave out passports to anyone above 60 years of age, albeit only for the period of one week. As a result, the office in charge of passports was full of the grey-haired, limping elderly; and it was clear that they were all heading for the foothills of the Himalayas to visit relatives, pay homage to the holy land of Buddhism, as well as to fulfil that dream that no one speaks of but everyone knows. I am sorrowfully thinking that I may have to wait until I am 60 years old until I get hold of a passport”, the Chinese nationalist movement has not spared any Tibetan even it is not a political act.
To conclude, the development and tourism industry has modernized Tibet in short period of time. Policy of the Chinese government is directed towards making Tibetans a big part of money and power oriented China.
China is forging a nationalist movement in Tibet and other minorities regions rule under the CCP. Nationalist movement here refers to China’s effort to integrate all ethnic minorities under the umbrella of one China. This endeavour alienates authentic histories and unique culture of all ethnic minorities. Chinese government acts as a cultural broker for Tibetans in selling their version of history and party’s narrations to international and Chinese tourists.
The main reason Chinese government divert from the facts and dilute the authentic history and culture of Tibet is to promote China’s one nation propaganda. Involvement of Tibetans like Che Dalha and Lobsang Gyalsten as officials in the Chinese government reinforces the Chinese one nation narrative to the world.
Although Tourism has helped Tibet to achieve leapfrog economic progress with 10.6 percent growth rate in the first half of 2016, the highest of the country’s provinces and regions. It has also registered double-digit growth rate for the past 23 years. But, Tibet is still considered to be the poorest province in China with per capita income of household as 2,254.3 Yuan in 2015 where the average per-capita income is 21,966.2 Yuan.
History is the witness that shows how China behave toward Tibetan and other minority to gain the dignify superpower in world, China showcasing every development in positives light whereas the victim of development has visibly been Tibetan. Studies done by Tibetan in Tibet, unemployment rate, literacy rate, UNDP report on environment and Chinese government all have different number of tourists visiting Tibet. The layman is not aware of such add-on in the number of total visitors in Tibet while China count in way that is 10 times in number of tourist such that a person who landed in Lhasa and went to Shigatse and came back to Lhasa is count as 3 number of tourists. That is how the numbers of tourist has been broadcast since long.
From an anonymous source, which claims that Tibet is considered to be a big market of organ transplantation, attracting many Chinese to visit Tibet for medical purposes. China must take serious precautions for Tibet as their focus on commercializing Tibetan culture might lead to capitalization of human beings. Rich Chinese people end up taking advantage of impoverished Tibetans who can only escape poverty through such measure. China must carry further investigation on this issue before it brings the greatest destruction in Tibet.
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*Karma Phuntsok Namgyal was an intern at the Tibet Policy Institute. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the TPI.