I keep listening to stories about the problems in Tibet. Every story I’ve heard frames the issues mostly on religious freedom, and that is partly true, I think. But I think it’s mostly about family and money.
I spent some time in Tibet about nine years ago. I vaguely supported the Tibetans and wanted them to have their religious freedom. (I still believe this but understand the issue is more complex, now.) When I got to Lhasa, I was surprised at how bad things were for the Tibetans.
The Han Chinese are distinctly different looking than the Tibetans, so it made the difference between their economic status starker and sadder. When I was there, Tibetans were generally not allowed to own a business at all. There was some wiggle room, but it was much more difficult for them to own a business. Contrast this with the Han Chinese, who not only came from a culture that had business ownership in their history in a major way, were given financial incentives to move to Tibet to open a business.
The Tibetans were, and probably still are a nomadic people mostly and they were cloistered together in Tibetan ghettos in the city or wandering around, wide eyed and looking lost.
The Han Chinese were openly disdainful of them. They were opening businesses everywhere and the Tibetans were in the way.
Then there was the kid thing. Tibetans are required to keep to the one-child policy (or at least this is what was true.) but the Han Chinese, if they moved to Tibet, were allowed to have as many children as they wanted. When I was in Kunming, in southern China, where I spent some time before I went to Tibet, there were signs that advertised moving to Tibet. They offered the chance to have more than one child and help with starting a business.
Where did the Chinese get inspiration from for this policy that was systematically marginalizing the Tibetans and over time, reducing their numbers? The U.S. policy towards Native Americans, that’s where.
When I was in Tibet, it was like getting a first hand look at what it must have been like in many areas of the U.S. a hundred and fifty or so years ago. Lost looking Native Americans wandering through industrial cities built by immigrant Europeans (for the most part.)
It was so sad to see this. It was heartbreaking. When I saw the picture of all the Chinese goods being trashed in the streets in Lhasa, that was on the cover of the New York Times yesterday, it made perfect sense to me.
In front of the big monastery in Lhasa, the one that the Dalai Lama fled from, there used to be a big reflecting pond. You were able to look at the majestic monastery than and you were able to see it’s reflection in the pond. It must have been beautiful. The Chinese had covered up the reflecting pond with tar, and made a big parking lot sized tarred area out of it. Then they parked a military plane on it. So you couldn’t see the monastery so well without also seeing an ominous symbol of Chinese control.
I’m not sure that Tibet becoming a religious monarchy again is such a good idea. The Dalai Lama doesn’t even think this is possible or good either. But the Tibetans do need the ability to open business and better ways of assimilating rather than being shut out. And it’s so sad, not only are the Tibetans not allowed to own business (except under extreme circumstances) they can’t even look at a picture of the symbol of their culture, a picture of the Dalai Lhama.