Communist China’s efforts to ruthlessly exploit Tibet’s culture for the purpose of propaganda and profit continue unchecked, not content with marketing Tibet‘s challenging and beautiful landscape (well the truncated and annexed fabrication it calls the Tibet Autonomous (sic) Region) as some form of Shangri-la playground; for eco-tourists, climbers, cyclists, canoeists, hikers and photographers (or anyone else so possessed of selfishness that they are prepared to overlook the tyranny in order to gain some exotic experience) the communist authorities are assiduously marketing Tibetan culture as a key commercial enterprise. Having invaded, annexed and violently suppressed Tibet and its people, in true colonialist fashion it is now engaged in profiting from supposedly authentic cultural enterprises by manipulating and exploiting foreign (and Chinese) tourists. It is a reminder of the humiliating tragedy that befell the native cultures of North America, their traditions and lifestyle assaulted by a vicious and intolerant colonizer, gaoled within the crippling misery of reservations, a fate which is being which is being enacted upon Tibet’s nomads who are being forced to live in what are effectively concentration settlements.
Those sepia images of native American peoples, that performed in any number of ’Wild West Shows’, retain a disturbing resonance today. Forced through oppression and conquest to scratch a living by displaying their horsemanship or ritual dancing to the beery applause of the very people who had stolen and eroded their lands and culture. The photographic archive of those times reveals, not only the dark stain upon the history of the United States, but graphically exposes the cynical and exploitative nature of colonization and arrogant imperialism of the dominant power. As evidenced by China’s actions inside occupied Tibet such expansionist corruption is not consigned to those yellowing pages of history, Tibetans are facing a similar shameless process, that seeks to extract maximum profit, through the callous perversion of Tibetan culture. Nowhere is the this more nauseatingly demonstrated perhaps than in the so-called National Minorities Park in Beijing, in which China’s grotesque parade of peoples it has subjugated is paraded for the questionable appreciation of tourists, who consume the lies without question, knowledge or worse, conscience.
Apart from the commercial advantages of promoting Tibetan culture, the Chinese regime is always keen to seek maximum propaganda advantage too for presenting its occupation in a positive light, by peddling the usual disinformation mantra of improved economic educational and health for Tibetans, since the jackbooted arrival of China’s storm troopers in 1949. It recognizes the value of tourism in that context and China’s Department of Propaganda has been unsleeping in its efforts to encourage visitors to occupied Tibet, knowing that perceptions and attitudes may be shaped to conform to the ideological lie that is China’s version of Tibet. A significant component of that sly conjuration is to exploit Tibetan culture and present a Sinocized version that echoes the official propaganda, corrupting and exaggerating authentic Tibetan customs into a theme park performance. Indeed Tibetan towns like Lhasa and Shigatse have become little more than entertainment venues in which tourists are moved around a number of precisely controlled and presented stages, removed from the grim reality of China’s oppression of Tibet, while carefully exposed to images approved by the occupying regime.
Central to that effort is the illusion of a vibrant and happy Tibetan culture, to endorse and legitimise the baseless claims made by China that its rule in occupied Tibet is benign and beneficial. “In Lhasa, we and our companions stayed in a stylish hotel with all that one would expect from a world-class facility. By appearance, the personnel were entirely Han. Our city tour guide was Han. Our bus drivers were Han. The people on the streets of Lhasa seemed to be 75 percent Han except inside the Jokhang Temple and in a small, two-block-long, open air market near the Temple. In the circuit around the Temple Chinese run all the high-end shops and almost all the outside trinket stalls.” (Testimony From Ms Linda Thom Foreign Tourist To Occupied Tibet 2007)
Visitors are also China’s ‘useful idiots’ in that they have a potential to disseminate propaganda fabrications among family, friends, colleagues, and more significantly across social network platforms such as Facebook and Twitter and upon personal Blogs. Yet those considering visiting occupied Tibet should realize that tourism is a significant contributor to China’s colonization, securing employment and business opportunities for its colonizers. Moreover, it is a powerful tool of manipulation and disinformation that serves China’s objectives to affirm Tibet as being an inalienable part of China.Assisting the creation of a perverse mirage of contented Tibetans, seemingly free to enjoy their culture. Beyond the satisfied myopia of the tourist however the erosion and exploitation of Tibet’s traditions, including its very language continues apace. The suffocating excesses of Chinese occupation has forced Tibetans into extreme choices, similar to that experienced by native peoples of America who were given stark options by the colonizing white man. As with the plight of those peoples, Tibetans face educational, health, economic and cultural apartheid, having become tourist curious in their own land, some are forced into an industry that exploit the very culture from they sprang. Their movements restricted, religion under assault and denied civil and political freedoms, the people of Tibet are witness to a cold-hearted profiteering of their lifestyle as tourism spreads, bringing with it a range of additional social problems and ever more Chinese settlers.
The cultural genocide that is being waged against Tibet has been accelerated to dangerous levels of intensity with the construction of the railway from so-called Qinghai (actually annexed Tibetan region of Amdo and parts of Kham) to Lhasa. Since its opening in 2006 it’s presence has permitted and encouraged a massive increase of Chinese tourists and migrants to the Tibetan capital, 4.38 million up to 2010, according to official Chinese sources. Foreign tourists boarding the train will not realize that the railway serves too as an economic and security artery maintaining China’s despotic military grip over the region. It is not so well known that the rail line’s communication system itself is part of China’s surveillance and intelligence network, called Golden Shield, which monitors and processes information on untold millions. Nor are the some 12, 000 tourists and colonizers brought each day to Lhasa normally aware of the military posts which line the rail route, another strategic reason for the line’s creation.
“The train we rode had a capacity for 885 passengers and was about 85 percent full. The Chinese run eight trains in and eight trains out of Tibet daily which means that 12,000 riders come and go each day. My husband and I guessed, by observation of all cars, that our train carried about 90 percent Han Chinese, perhaps 5 percent ‘long noses‘ (Europeans) and the remainder Tibetans.” (Testimony of Linda Thom foreign tourist in occupied Tibet 2007)
Tourism is a major component of China’s effort to further exploit and undermine Tibetan national identity and culture, it benefits virtually entirely the colonizers, marginalizing even further Tibetans. It insidiously promotes China’s propaganda and seeks to legitimise its baseless claim over Tibet by manipulating tourists and presenting distorted images of Tibet’s culture. Visitors to occupied Tibet should in no way consider they have witnessed the real Tibet, instead they are exposed to a cynically constructed and ersatz distortion of Tibetan culture, while the genuine traditions of Tibet are suppressed and eroded. Rather than becoming willing collaborators in that odious process those contemplating a vacation to occupied Tibet should ask themselves if they wish to stand in solidarity with Tibetans in Tibet, who resist the assault upon their culture and denial of national freedom, or endorse and support China’s occupying regime by sustaining and encouraging the colonization of Tibet.
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