April 2, 2008

Defending Tibet's Identity

The increase of resistance by Tibetans since March can't be simplified into a dialogue only about religion. This report points to the economic and cultural devastation brought to ethnic Tibetans by the Chinese. Of course, reasonable people can understand why any group would not want to become subservient to another by threat of imprisonment or death. So I ask again, where is the left?
Tibetans see 'Han invasion' as spurring violence
By Tim Johnson McClatchy Newspapers
Posted on Friday, March 28, 2008
BEIJING — To hear Tibetans tell it, a rising tide of Han Chinese migrants is flooding into their homeland, diluting its character and taking many of the jobs
Authorities offer a different story. They say that Tibetans looking to stir up trouble are exaggerating the magnitude of the Han Chinese migration. They say that ethnic relations in Tibet are harmonious, and that political motives underlie the March 14 rioting. Even if more Han Chinese are moving to Tibet, they say, it's lifting the fortunes of the whole region.
"Their business activities have greatly enriched and promoted Tibet's economic development," said Tanzen Lhundrup, a scholar with the government-financed China Tibetology Research Center in Beijing.
[...] The unrest is now thought to be bigger in scale and more widespread than the late 1980s social strife that led to the declaration of martial law in Tibet.
[...] Han migration into Tibet began early in the decade and speeded up in 2006 with completion of a $4.2 billion railway across permafrost on the Tibetan Plateau that linked the remote "Land of the Snows" with the rest of the nation for the first time.
"It's been accelerating at a dramatic rate since 2000," said Ronald Schwartz, a Tibet scholar at Memorial University in St. John's, Canada. He said that Han Chinese stayed in urban areas. "If you go out to the villages, you won't see Chinese people. You only see them in Lhasa, Shigatse and the cities."
[...] Lhundrup […] said that supporters of the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists, had latched on to the migrant issue as one of their banners for independence.
"The issue of migration into Tibet is an excuse by the Dalai clique to serve its own political purposes," Lhundrup charged.
Schwartz noted, though, that the majority of Han settlers and merchants in Tibet retain residences elsewhere, so they aren't tallied in official numbers.
[...] Tibetans in exile say that the flood of migrants dilutes Tibet's distinct cultural identity. They say the ethnic Han bring development but also new lifestyles that weaken — and even defile — values in the Tibetan capital, which brims with monasteries and temples.
"Lhasa is a holy place. You never heard about these brothels, karaoke bars and discotheques before," said Tashi Choephel, a researcher at the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Dharamsala, India, the seat of Tibet's government in exile.
[...] While commerce draws Han Chinese to Tibet's cities, Beijing also has pumped billions of dollars into the region, creating new government jobs.
Tibetans say they're strongly disadvantaged in getting those jobs because they don't speak Mandarin Chinese well, and that creates resentment against the Han.
"They are not tied into economic networks. They don't have contacts to get the jobs that have dropped into Lhasa," Schwartz said.

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