Free Tibet! Free Tibet. Free Tibet? It is well understood in the Western world that Tibet is the punching bag of the Chinese government, it is oppressed by a dictatorship and the culture is being raped and pillaged by their overlords.
Except, talk to a Chinese person and you’ll get a drastically different perspective. On my 44 hour train ride from Chengdu to Lhasa I met an English teacher from Chengdu and his 5 travel mates. All incredibly nice and well educated and they asked me what it is with Westerners feeling so much sympathy for Tibet. They are fully confused with our attitude towards their region. They fully believe that the Chinese government is trying to help the poor and backwards Tibetans that want to be modernized.
I got off the train completely confused. Thinking maybe the American propaganda machine has taken Tibet as their little ‘project’ and the reality is much different.
Then I got here.
Tibetans are incredible people, they surpass the hype about their friendliness and beauty. And they are prisoners in their own country – they are not allowed passports so they cannot leave China, military is EVERYWHERE stalking the small lanes and holding their AK47s in tiny 16 year old hands, pictures of the Dalai Lama are illegal, free speech is impossible and Tibetans are completely marginalized – they are second class citizens in their own country/province/region – whatever you want to call it.
It is the systematic destruction of their culture. Incentives by the Chinese government encourage migration of Chinese to Tibet, all high ranking posts are only offered to ethnic Chinese and the Tibetans continue with smiles on their faces and prayers in their hearts.
I have been converted. It only takes one day in Lhasa to be convinced. Tibet is a special and magical place that, if the Chinese government has their way, will fade into the cultural wasteland that is modern China.
I don’t know the answer and neither does anyone else. In the meantime, we can visit and appreciate the beauty of this region and its people…while it still lasts. I can only imagine in 2 years there will be rice terraces and cable cars holding 50 Chinese on a package tour up Everest.