Previously – Tibet: Inside the Occupation (A Colonized Tibet and the Attack on Religion)
It is not only the loss of material culture and the manipulation of Tibet’s physical environment that is being used to de-settle these Tibetans. Inside Tibet there is a huge imbalance in social and economic participation. After government sponsored migration to minority areas in the 1990’s, ‘Frontier Hans’ (Chinese moving to border areas for economic prosperity) grew to an unprecedented number. Although government authorities officially insist that Tibetans remain a majority, the truth is they are now only half of the population of their own region, and this number is dwindling every year. The large number of Han Chinese meant social separation from Tibetans was easy, and consequently discrimination and ethnic frustration raged. Non-Tibetans also fell easily into the job market, speaking Mandarin, the official language, and having the all-important political and professional networking links, Han Chinese gained high level official jobs and professional positions. In contrast, Tibetans struggled to gain employment. Mandarin language was instated as the official language of the region, with Tibetan being commonly dropped at primary school age. Even those Tibetans who manage to gain proficiency in Mandarin remain at a huge disadvantage as employers carry an inherent discrimination towards ethnic employees.
When sat in a restaurant eating Momos (little fluffy buns filling with meat or vegetables) with friends, a Tibetan couple came and sat down in the seats across us. After exchanging a few linguistically challenged hellos the couple became quite comfortable (offering our Momos probably helped). The gentleman gave his wife an ambiguous look, glanced at us, and reached into a small plastic bag. He brought out a pair of shoes and started pointed to their sole. A little confused we all edged forward to see what he was pointing to. His finger lay underneath a very common stamp ‘Made in China’. We nodded to him and he began speaking quite animatedly in Tibetan, he started hitting the shoe on the table and pointing to the ‘made in China’ stamp each time he slammed it on the table, shaking his head constantly. We got the message. I have no doubt that we were not the first or last foreigners that this man will try to express his emotions to. Tibetans have been trying desperately to call out to those outside Tibet about how the lives they know and wish for are being forcibly crushed around them. All we could do is nod sympathetically.
During my short time visiting, all travel into Tibet to non-Chinese was shut down. Now I think about it, we were very lucky to even get in without being registered with a tour guide group. In order to get the visa we had to organise someone to register us as travelling with a larger group. If you pay the extra it can happen but it is confirmed very last minute and you take a big risk. Mostly though, those that see inside Tibet are large groups of wealthy older couples. Restricting access to travelling means less knowledge about its conditions are spread. The Chinese authorities are not ignorant to the power that is mobilised by the young and politically active.
So what happens now? As Tibetans continue to cry out for international investigation into their situation the political leaders of the world and China remain at a stale mate. NGOs continue to promote the reality of Tibet and report of the waves of protest that have swept across the region this winter. Chinese authorities have merely responded by announcing ‘fire brigades’ are now being stationed at monasteries to interrupt these acts and also the existence of ‘Sky Net’, a surveillance network grid that hopes to again intercept self-immolators. But less reported are the government crackdowns happening in areas where protests have taken place. Self-immolators, their families, and any others who are associated with such protesters are being charged with ‘inciting murder’. On the 12th December 8 medical students were sentenced to 5 years imprisonment after participating in a protest of 1000s of students mobilised after the production of a derogatory booklet condemning Tibetans in their area.
Despite government and UN condemnations of this repression of the freedom of speech and basic human rights, China continues to violate the fundamental needs of Tibetans, as a people and as individuals. In order to take on a country that is dubbed to soon be the world’s lead economic power, stronger action is necessary. It also must come from a front of solidarity, between the international community and Tibetans, as well as across the worlds political leaders. When governments will decide to act on their duty to defend human rights over their desire for economic relations, I don’t think any of us can tell. One thing is for certain though, and that is that it is our responsibility to continue to demand them to do so.
This article was by Jessica Trevis, a recent graduate from the University of Manchester where she studied History and Sociology with a specialization in China. It originally appeared on the International Political Forum.