I would like to start my blog with the history of Tibet because it is a very important aspect of any country when trying to understand their particular culture. It is important to be aware of the real struggle the Tibetan people have gone through for many years.
We can begin with the 19th and 20th century; a period in history when Tibet underwent many changes:
1895 – Dalai Lama XIII – announced (de-facto) that Tibet is an independent Government, not belonging to the Chinese Government.
1950 – Communist Party of China, led by Mao Tse-Tung, entered Tibet and crushed the smaller Tibetan Army. They took over control of Tibet, and demanded that they accept new Chinese power and occupation of their territory. Unfortunately for Tibet, in 1951 they were forced to sign the Tibetan-Chinese agreement and Tibet became a National autonomous region, under the rule of the Communist Party.
1959 – Dalai Lama XVI and other political activists leave Tibet and move to India as refugees in order to avoid being killed. Most of the Dalai Lama’s followers had to leave Tibet with him.
During the Chinese Cultural Revolution, the Chinese Army destroyed most of the temples in Tibet, which lead to the discussion of the violation of human rights.
From 1987 until today, there have been many protests and uprisings surrounding human rights issues. Particularly in 2008, right before the Olympic games in Beijing. Global attention was focused on the Tibetans lack of rights to travel to other cities and countries.
Unfortunately, today the situation stays much the same. Local people in Tibet struggle for their rights and because they no not hold Chinese passports, it is made very hard for them to obtain visas to other countries. Their national flag, anthem and other national symbols are strictly prohibited as well as celebration Tibetan holidays. Tibetan Buddhism is very different from all other types of Buddhism, so it is seen as a threat, and all the followers are physically punished for it.
Today, tourism in Tibet is very popular, and brings more than 15 million tourists each year. People travel there for many reasons: some of them are looking for relaxation, for spending some time away from the crowded cities, for religious purposes, etc. That was the way as I have pictured Tibet until I began my research. Today, more and more people, especially young Chinese travelers are going there for the purpose of adventure. Tibetan people complain that many Chinese tourists are very rude to them and disrespect their privacy by taking pictures of them on the street without asking their permission. On the one hand, the Government sees the positive aspect of mass tourism because it increases the employment rate, creates better infrastructure and so on, but on the other hand, Tibetans are afraid of loosing their uniqueness, their culture and religion, and with that, their rights. That’s why there are so many protests going on now; they do not want to loose their identity and to become a place for the adventure mass tourism. That way, not many people will come there for the relaxation and religious purposes, for meeting the local population and exchanging knowledge. Also, by the rapid increase of tourists, Tibet will have to adapt to the culture of foreigners who arrive without any respect for the local culture. Many unique attractions in Tibet are already in danger of being destroyed by mass tourism. Unfortunately, each time Tibetans try to express their obviously negative opinion on the current state of affairs, they find themselves in prison. The Government reaction is very aggressive even on the small peaceful actions of locals; they are all accused of “separatism” (act that can damage Communism), which is a very serious offence that can lead to the life sentence of death penalty.
Those are the main causes of mass protests in Tibet. People have only two options; either they express their opinion and are tortured or killed, or they set themselves on fire in protest and die for the freedom. Today, they believe that they have nothing to loose. There are already more than 140 people who burnt themselves; some of whom were only 15-16 years old.
I believe that everything is in our hands – in the hands of travelers. If we participate in this solution all together, we will be able to stop mass tourism in order to show the respect to locals. I hope that one day the sustainable tourism will appear in Tibet and will help to protect Tibet’s beauty and uniqueness. We, as tourists, can stop it; it is not too late.
If you are very interested in learning more about this situation in Tibet or of the country’s history, you can follow the links below:
http://www.tibetwatch.org/uploads/2/4/3/4/24348968/culture_clash_-_tourism_in_tibet.pdf – interesting report on the situation in Tibet