This disturbing image encapsulates the plight of Tibetans as a colonized people, it also reflects how Chinese people have been indoctrinated into seeing the people of Tibet and its Buddhist culture as an exotic and exploitable curiosity. Tourism to occupied Tibet is a fundamental and prized economic component of China’s strategy that seeks to assimilate, marginalize and eventually eradicate Tibetan national identity. There exists too an inherent racism that regards Tibet’s people as ‘inferior’, its culture strange and backward, little wonder then that these Chinese tourists show a contemptible disregard for this Tibetan prostrating here in respect of and devotion to Buddha.
There is a cynical and politically motivated effort by China’s regime to reduce Tibetan Buddhism to the role of a tourist attraction, utterly controlled and reshaped to provide a colorful form of entertainment, a photo-opportunity, proof indeed of that trip to Lhasa! Meanwhile as camcorders record such ersatz Buddhism and countless ‘selfies’ are taken at Tibetan Buddhist centers, in monasteries across Tibet the teachings of Buddha are being violently repressed. China’s tyranny over Tibet is most keenly observed by the transformation of monasteries as places of Buddhist study and practice into detention centers, every aspect of their administration and daily activity is under the scrutiny and interference of Chinese officials. Paramilitary forces often based nearby, checkpoints, barbed-wire and machine guns enforce the twisted dictates of the Chinese authorities.
Such a dark reality is of course kept far from the gaze of tourists, who are permitted only to experience the shallow, distorted and utterly deceptive Chinese state-approved version of Tibet. To gain a more informed insight we need to listen to the voice of Tibetans, which is why we reproduce below and account from Theurang, which appeared on the Facebook account ‘Tibet For Tibetans’
“During the summer, my homeland is filled with swarms of Chinese tourists. The rush of tourists means that elderly Tibetans are having difficulties circumambulating the monasteries. Covering their heads in robes, monks and nuns stand by gaping at the tourists in silence. When I see these images, when I think about them, I suffer from intense pain and despair. Anger and resentment boil in my heart. Today, under the crushing boots of foreigners, my homeland is suffering from degeneration and decay. Like swarms of ants unleashed by anthills, these increasing number of tourists are making preparations to settle themselves permanently on our lands. What makes me laugh and cry at the same time is to witness the smiling faces of the Tibetan masses lured by hard cash.
Even the leaders of the nomadic villages have signed contracts to sell their lands. In the next two to three years, these visitors who call themselves tourists will settle permanently on our lands. When tourist vehicles arrive, ruddy-faced Tibetan women and snot-nosed Tibetan boys rush into action with their horses. Holding their breath, desperation in their eyes, they carry Chinese tourists on their horses and walk up the mountains. Holding fifty-Yuan notes in their hands, smiles written all over their faces, they kill their time waiting for the arrival of other tourists. When I see them, I wonder how a race that once conquered two-thirds of the world’s territory has now been turned into a bunch of soul-less slaves serving other people. My dear fellow-countrymen, if we cannot paint the bones of our ancestors in gold, the least we could do is not to throw their gray hair in the wind. Tourists visiting from surrounding areas carry cameras of different sizes in their hands.
Crowds of monks, elderly folks and ‘servicemen’ bearing horses gape at the tourists when the latter take pictures of nomadic villages and rivers. One of the tourists pointed his camera at the strange-looking eyes of these Tibetans and took their pictures. When I saw this, I wondered: ‘When the tourist returns to his place, where would he advertize this picture and what sort of caption would he give it?’ These thoughts gave me intense pain and despair. Why do these tourists point their cameras on the faces of elderly Tibetans and take their pictures? Do these tourists not have a sense of ethics and morality? If we turn around and point the camera on their faces and take their pictures, wouldn’t they run away from us saying we are violating their rights? The fact that they keep taking pictures of our people, our mountains and our villages—despite knowing that such actions are unethical, immoral and illegal—clearly shows what kind of status our people enjoy.
They treat us like animals lacking the ability of speech. They treat us as wage laborers who could be swayed in any direction by the lure of hard cash. They treat us as a race of ignorant barbarians. My dear fellow countrymen, as the saying goes, if sons fail to inherit the legacy of forefathers or if the thread fails to inherit the legacy of needles, others would keep trampling on our heads. What would happen if you visit a Chinese city and randomly point your camera on the face of a Chinese and take his picture? What consequences would you have to bear if you selfishly take pictures of homes, belongings and other precious objects of a city? How would the whip of laws chase you away if you trample upon the rights and liberties of people living in a city? Why can’t the standards of law and ethics of the cities be applied equally in our nomadic grasslands? Why can’t camera-holding tourists riding in cars and masses on horses enjoy equal status if human rights have a universal resonance? Like in the cities, why can’t we put up signboards in nomadic grasslands declaring, ‘Taking pictures, peeing and spitting are strictly prohibited here!”