Despite the crackdown on the Tibetan plateau, many Tibetans are engaging in new protests and risking their lives and freedoms to convey information to the outside world about the unfolding situation. The following letter, from a Tibetan in Lhasa, reached ICT today and is published below in full.
The letter, which represents one educated Tibetan’s view on the situation, confirms that many Tibetans in Tibet have well informed views on the current situation, and are deeply frustrated by the narrowing lack of political space to express these views.
Voice of a Tibetan on March 14 unrest in Lhasa
“With recent unrest in Lhasa, there has been massive coverage on international and domestic medias, but none of these trying to give a truthful and clear picture of the causes that contribute to these events, As a Tibetan who has been living and working in Lhasa, I believe it is important to consider the following factors that I believe led to the recent unrest in Lhasa
1) Han immigration to Tibet
* Most of the business opportunities are taken by Han Chinese – 70″ of business are owned and operated by the Han. * No true autonomous policy exists in Tibet. Whereas other autonomous counties, prefectures, and provinces in China have adopted policies that ensure benefits to local people, no such policies seem to exist in the TAR. Local officials within the TAR are afraid that they will be branded as Tibet sympathizers and loose their positions if they try to instigate any such policies. * While the government promised that the new railway to Lhasa would bring prosperity, tourism, and cheaper goods to the region, the reality is that it has brought so many new settlers to Lhasa that the demand for, and consequently the price of, everyday commodities has sharply risen. Meanwhile, the benefits from the increase in tourism go mainly to Han immigrants because Han tourists prefer to travel with Han guides and companies. More than 70″ of hotels, restaurants, shops, tourist vehicles, and travel agencies are owned and operated run by Han immigrants. Levels of unemployment amongst Lhasa Tibetans remain high due to the increase in migration to Tibet.
2) Religious Freedom
* Despite Beijing’s claims that religious freedoms are granted in Tibet, what exists is little more than a facade designed to fool tourists to the area. Students, government employees, and Tibetan Communist Party members are forbidden to visit monasteries and attend religious ceremonies and festivals – there are even cases of government employees being fired from their jobs for visiting monasteries. * All materials related to the Dalai Lama are forbidden in Tibet. This is the rough equivalent of forbidding Catholics to have anything pertaining to the Pope. These rules are enforced by random inspections and searches of houses and stores, looking for objects such as pictures, books, recording and other materials that could be associated with the Dalai Lama. * Monks are forced to write denouncements of the Dalai Lama and attend classes in patriotic and political education. * The number of the monks is very tightly controlled by a government branch called the ‘religious affairs department.’ To be admitted in a monastery one needs a recommendation letter from one’s own township, county government and permission of religious affair department. Even worse, Beijing has recently put a new law on the books, which states that all high lamas must be approved by a government committee in Beijing. Think of this as the rough equivalent of the US government appointing the leaders of churches. * Beijing even installed their own “Panchen Lama,” after making the Tibetan chosen child and his family mysteriously disappear. The true Panchen Lama and his family have never been seen again. Tibetans of course have no faith in Beijing’s chosen Panchen Lama, who has himself denied being an incarnate lama. The government then made it compulsory for each family to send at least one member to attend the welcome ceremony upon his visit to Lhasa. Those who did not send at least one member of the family to pledge their respect were fined. * Monks are always discriminated and targeted as the primary danger to the state, and any religious activity carried out without prior government approval is handled exceedingly harshly. For example, in 2007 two statues were built without permission of the government near the sacred Mt. Kailas. The army was later sent to destroy them, and those who constructed them were punished.
2) Dilution of Tibetan Culture and Identity
* Due to policies encouraging massive immigration to Tibet, Tibetans have become a minority in their own land. * Most of the subjects in school are taught in Chinese only. Tibetan language is taught only up to middle school. Nowadays it is even impossible to post a letter with an address written in Tibetan. * Young people and office workers are encouraged to use Chinese language instead of Tibetan, so the younger generation is starting to lose their own language and culture. Many young, urban Tibetans are ashamed to speak Tibetan, prefering to speak Chinese as a sign of their education. Even for those who wish to study Tibetan language and culture, there are virtually no resources available to do so. * Any person who starts a Tibetan language center or school is constantly under suspicion and surveillance by the government. Such institutions are frequently shut down ostensibly due to their association with foreign organizations. According to the law of the People’s Republic of China, all 56 minorities in China are entitled with the rights to preserve their own language and culture. But, in Tibet, any efforts at doing this result in suspicion and repression from the government.
3) Provocative Propaganda in the media
* Official Chinese media is always childish with their false accusations of the Dalai Lama. They try to claim he is responsible for a situation which has been entirely created by the government. The government should look to the Dalai Lama for a peaceful solution to the problem. The only reason why there is even a semblance of control in Tibet is because the Dalai Lama has requested that people remain calm and not commit violence. If the Dalai Lama instigated these riots, I can confidently say that the situation would be much, much worse. The Chinese media may fool their own population, which has no source of news other than the government, but the rest of the world is not fooled, as information is available everywhere. * Tibet has become a proving ground of sorts for Chinese officials looking for further promotion. Those who promote very harsh policies in Tibet are often posted to higher positions–current President Hu Jintao is a classic example. After a reign of terror in Tibet, the communist party promoted him straight to President. * The government constantly promotes the image of the Communist Party as the saviors of the poor Tibetan people from serfdom and slavery, condemning the old society of Tibet. If this were truly the case, people would of course be loyal to the government. The fact that people are unhappy enough to rise up and riot should be a clear indication of how people truly feel about the policies imposed on the Tibetan people.
4) Unrestricted Exploitation of the Natural Resources of Tibet
* With fast economic growth and ever increasing demands for energy, Tibet’s resources have been exploited without proper rules and regulations. The beneficiaries of this environmental exploitation are all wealthy business groups from eastern China, especially Hong Kong. Meanwhile, the nomads and farmers whose land and water are destroyed receive virtually no compensation. Even worse, they do not understand the health risks of drinking contaminated water from mining sites. There have been several incidents where nomads’ animals died after drinking such water. * Deforestation is occurring on a massive scale in Gonpo area, where it contributes to downstream flooding on the Brahmaputra River. Ironically, this area has been dubbed the ‘Grand Canyon Nature Reserve,’ even while huge swathes of forest are being cut down. * Local culture, faith and lifestyles are not considered by the government when approving mining projects. Last year, the government approved a mining project on one of the nine sacred mountains, leading to a demonstration and ultimately a riot. In Chamdo, huge copper mines have dislocated nomads from their traditional pastoral lands with no compensation. * The government is forcing over 100,000 nomads to give up their traditional way of life and move into rows of housing that the government has built. They claim they are protecting the sources of the ‘Great Rivers’, but this couldn’t be less true. The Chinese should look for the sources of pollution further downstream, where they support the industry on which the Chinese economy is built. The nomads near the sources of these rivers have been there for thousands of years, and the rivers were always fine. Only with China’s economic boom have they become so polluted as to no longer support aquatic life.
Above are some of the main causes that contribute to the dissatisfaction and unrest in the Tibetan community. Instead of simply blaming the unrest on the Dalai Lama, the government should look closely at the situation with an open mind and enter into negotiations with Dalai Lama. What we are seeking is a genuine degree of autonomy (not to be confused with an independent Tibet), where Tibetans have the right to govern themselves within the Chinese system and preserve their own cultural and religious identity, while having equal economic opportunities to those afforded to the Chinese. As long as Tibetans can live happy, prosperous lives, we don’t care what flag what we do it under. (Lhasa, XXXX xxx Mar 22, 2008)”