steaming ahead

Published: July 1st 2006
Edit Blog Post

A rather momentous event will happen tomorrow, July 1: China will officially open its railway to Tibet. It is a hugely contested issue and stands to benefit the Chinese more than Tibetans in many respects.

Most of the articles coming out of China laud the railway as a progressive step towards modernizing Tibet and building up its economy. However, given China's track record in economic development, and given the number of Tibetans already adversely affected by the railway's construction, this praise is excessive.

In brief, to mention some of the negative results of this massive $4.1 billion endeavour:

*environmental repercussions: expected widespread erosion, damage to plantlife, contamination of major rivers that flow into surrounding Asian countries; increase in garbage and litter; devastation of wildlife areas in order to build train line; by the admission of the Minister of Railways, "a devastating impact on the surrounding ecological environment"; an increase in demand for food and water, and for horses and cows, all of which will harshly impact the surrounding grasslands;

*population transfer: there is already a disproportionate amount of Chinese settlers in Lhasa; the train will only expedite the flux of settlers, further marginalizing Tibetan locals.

Gormo Lhasa railwayGormo Lhasa railwayGormo Lhasa railway

The Potala Palace is one of Tibet's most famed symbols and, moreover, to Tibetans is a symbol of their land, their religion, and their religious leader, the Dalai Lama. It was heavily shelled in the Chinese retaliation to the Lhasa uprising in 1959. It has since been renovated and now charges a hefty 100 yuan for entry to one of Lhasa's holiest places. Security is tight, surveillance cameras monitor throughout, as they do throughout Lhasa.
the line was a major investment which, realistically, will not pay off by its own volition. In order to balance the budget, China will need to further exploit Tibet's mineral resources, further remove valuable forests, and export newly identified spring water sources. The PRC also plans to build major tourist resorts in rural areas outside of Lhasa and along the train line. While some Tibetans may gain employment at these resorts, the real money will go to the Chinese government while simultaeneously displacing more Tibetans. The influx of more Chinese settlers into Lhasa will mean an increase in hotels and businesses, most of which are Chinese-owned and run.

*health: a direct connection to Chinese cities where prostitution, drugs, and HIV AIDS are more common means a very likely risk of transmittable diseases increasingly finding their way into Lhasa and surrounding areas.

*military: many view this line as a military strategy. The PRC government has announced plans to build a connection west from Lhasa, toward the Nepalese border.

For excellent reporting on this issue and recent photos , visit:

Additional photos below
Photos: 6, Displayed: 6


Drepung ruinsDrepung ruins
Drepung ruins

When I traveled in Tibet last June/July/Aug, I saw the impressive scenes that leave visitors praising the beauty of the land. I saw, also, some of the evidence of Tibet's history and the demise of the last half century.
only so muchonly so much
only so much

Religious freedom is a misnomer for what is actually permitted in Tibet. While scenes of devout pilgrims prostrating full length in front of holy buildings are common enough, the centuries-old in depth study and practise of Buddhism has been greatly restricted by the C authorities. Tourists will see a facade but will not be exposed to the many regulations and restrictions which prevent true religious study and worship in Tibet.
a showa show
a show

Last July/Aug, when I visited the "TAR" and Sera monastery, I was impressed by the fascinating tradition of debating in monasteries and nunneries. Part of a traditionally lengthy program of Buddhist philosophy study, debating has been permitted in China's Tibet and has been marketed to attract tourists, leaving them with the impression that all is thriving in Tibetan monastic studies. However, again, this is merely a superficial show of "religious freedom". Many and varied regulations limit the number of monks and nuns permitted to enter the monastery, if they are permitted entry at all. Whereas Tibetan-run monasteries and nunneries accepted monks and nuns on the basis of their desire to study and practise Buddhism, the PRC now controls all aspects of monastic life, under the auspices of a Monastery Democratic Control Committee.

Tot: 2.218s; Tpl: 0.056s; cc: 12; qc: 31; dbt: 0.0342s; 2; m:saturn w:www (; sld: 1; ; mem: 1.3mb