China’s Tibetan areas have been troubled by unrest since 2008, when protests swept the plateau, followed by a series of self-immolations which continue to this day. The Chinese state, as part of its arsenal of responses, has intensified urbanization, hoping that economic development and cultural contact will lead to assimilation and stability. However, cities are also becoming sites of resistance to assimilation and focal points of unrest, as well as arenas for internal power struggles about what it means to be Tibetan in contemporary China.
The scale of urbanization in China’s Tibetan areas can be seen in Qinghai province, home to 1.3 million Tibetans. Xining, Qinghai’s capital, is the largest city on the Tibetan Plateau, with 2.3 million residents, including roughly 120,000 Tibetans. Qinghai will be home to seven new cities by 2020, as the province seeks to urbanize nearly half a million people and create a new network of transportation and communications infrastructure. As it is in China’s Tibetan areas elsewhere, urbanization is increasingly an integral fact of life for Tibetans in Qinghai. This new reality is creating anxieties around linguistic and cultural continuity, and the very survival of the Tibetan people.[Source]