The Obscenity of Tibet Tourism

Smile For the Propaganda!
Smile For the Propaganda!


The equation is simple, visiting Tibet as a tourist does not in any meaningful way benefit the Tibetan people, it may well be a wonderfully exotic personal experience, one that draws the admiring attention of friends and family, but it does not service Tibet or its culture.

There was a time when those considering a trip to the region could ease any prangs of conscience, about entering a nation under oppressive occupation, by drawing comfort from the views of the Dalai Lama, who has advocated tourism to Tibet, on the basis that people could see for themselves the situation. That may well have had some arguable credence in the late 1980s and 1990s when there was less global awareness and understanding of the situation inside Tibet. Since that period however the nature and degree of cultural erosion and suppression waged upon Tibet has become common knowledge, the Internet, mobile technology, and the courageous efforts of Tibetans have enabled a fuller exposure of life inside ‘Prison-Tibet’. News of political protests, arrests, instances of torture, arrest and killings are reported almost immediately, freely accessible to anyone with access to a computer.

Enjoying The Illusion
Enjoying The Illusion


Today those making the journey to Tibet do so in full knowledge that they are visiting a culture facing annihilation, a people denied civil, political and religious freedoms and exposed to a harrowing range of human rights abuses, including the forcible sterilization of Tibetan women. Of course not all visiting Tibet are moved by issues of human rights and justice for Tibetans, the motivation is more based upon personal gratification, a chance to experience the mysterious and satisfy some sense of the curious. All understandable qualities of course, however it’s the human and political context that operates inside Tibet which raise serious questions as to the ethics of visiting a nation under the draconian grip of a totalitarian regime. Would those happy to photograph Tibetans in prostration in front of the Jokhang in Lhasa have been comfortable with a guided tour of Cape Town during the height of Apartheid in South Africa?

Blind To The Reality
Blind To The Reality


Yet a powerful form of myopia appears to descend upon those who choose to see Tibet, not as a region under oppressive siege, but as an ultimate ‘Shangri-la’ destination, seems the mountains and turquoise skies disable any sense of ethical responsibility. Apart from this worrying abdication of moral awareness, in pursuit of personal adventure and satisfaction, those who visit Tibet should be aware that in so doing they are supporting an increasingly dominant Chinese presence. While there may be limited and isolated financial gain for a few Tibetans, the overwhelming beneficiary are those Chinese businesses which proliferate in the Tibetan capital and other towns such as Shigatse. Nearly all related enterprises, transport, tour-services, hotels and restaurants are Chinese controlled or owned, the tourist dollar misses ordinary Tibetans almost entirely and finances those who exploit Tibetan culture for profit.

Wish You Were Here?
Wish You Were Here?


The tourist to Tibet also furnishes the communist Chinese regime with political support, by choosing to visit she or he is declaring that they are insufficiently concerned with human rights issues or the occupation of Tibet to deter them. Moreover, in agreeing and complying to the suffocating constraints imposed upon visitors they are in effect endorsing China’s control over Tibet. Yet by conforming to such controls they expose themselves to a stage-managed propaganda view of Tibet, one carefully engineered to plant the thought that all is well under Chinese occupation. Take the comments of Mark Niew, Australian freelance writer, whose tourist trip was eagerly exploited by China’s Ministry of Propaganda Xinhua

“I watched monks chanting and local people coming to pray. They wore traditional clothes, prayed and visited temples seemingly of their own free will. Although I do not understand their language, I was moved by the atmosphere,”

Propaganda Performance Complete With Traditional Colors of Communist China's Flag!
Propaganda Performance Complete With Traditional Colors of Communist China’s Flag!
What a tragedy that tourists such as this have no chance to explore the reality beyond the cosmetic deceptions on display. However, with little opportunity to communicate directly with Tibetans, under the ever watchful scrutiny of Chinese security, tourists to Tibet are allowed an illusory and selective perspective, designed to reinforce the disinformation of progress and stability inside Tibet. As a part of that propaganda drive  China ‘s intensified flights to Tibet, including services Beijing to Lhasa, so increasing tourism potential and making it easier for foreigners to make that formerly arduous journey. The benefits of such a development will certainly not reach the people of Tibet, who are increasingly exploited as a tourist curiosity in their own nation, oppressed and abused beyond the camcorder intrusions of thrill-seeking tourists.


Published by:


A not-for-profit network of individuals who support justice, human rights and independence for the peoples of Tibet and East Turkestan. Based in a number of countries subscribers are actively engaged voluntarily and are wholly supportive and active on the issue of Tibetan independence. We are not a hierarchical organization, there are no offices, nor do we receive or pay salaries, we do not make money from merchandising sales, and rely upon the kindness of individual donors to finance ongoing research and campaigns.

Categories MiscellaneousTags , , , 15 Comments

15 thoughts on “The Obscenity of Tibet Tourism”

  1. Thanks Jigme, some people will appreciate such information, however tourism to Tibet supports Communist China’s occupation and colonisation there. Don’t go to ‘Prison-Tibet’

  2. Thanx Angie for your post.

    The costumes you see here are just that, ‘theatrical’. staged for what was a propaganda performance, arranged interestingly enough for the benefit of a tourist party visiting Shigatse.

    Indeed they are the colors of communist China’s flag, and if you monitor any propaganda media output on Tibet, you will soon observe that at almost every opportunity this combination is employed, ranging from crass exposure to more subtle featuring.

    What we see here is not authentic Tibetan dress, not in color, or style, but a theme-park design as required by the communist authorities. Hence the red and yellow.

    1. The first point to consider here, beyond the known fact that communist China is very determined to exploit and distort Tibet’s culture for political purposes, is that of reference. There are countless Chinese websites, mostly tourist related, that claim to feature genuine Tibetan costumes. These are a cartoon version, grossly exagerrated, often featuring the aforementioned dominance of yellow and red. While these colors feature in Tibetan jewellery, as amber and coral, when used in clothing is softer and generally more subtle. But it is the obvious pairing of bright bold yellow and eye-piercing red which saturate most propaganda exercises related to Tibet. Like the ‘cossack-style’ circus-trousers in that image they are very un-traditional indeed.

  3. Angie, you raise a great point here, before addressing the thorny issue of tourism impacts,in terms of cultural degradation and who benefits in terms of economics, Tibet has to secure its rghtful independence.

  4. I agree that Tibet has a bad record of human rights, but lots of local people are depending on the tourism to survive. I found it unfair to criticize those who enjoyed their stay in Tibet.

    1. It is Communist China, the regime which grants tourists a permit to visit occupied Tibet, and controls, exploits those who visit, is responsible for the violent suppression of the Tibetan people. Being a tourist in Lhasa, Shigatse, or other Tibetan location, legitimizes Chinese rule in Tibet, profits the dominant Chinese businesses, and sends a message to the occupying regime that people relegate the survival and human rights of Tibetans below self-interest and self-gratification at holidaying in an exotic place. Would the same tourists have happily posed with gypsies in Nazi-Occupied Poland, or had a vacation in an oppressed black township n Apartheid South Africa?

  5. We read your article, But feel that travelling in Tibet is one of the best things you can to for Tibetans.

    We have heard the same arguments about traveling to places like Burma. They simply just do not resonate. For many Tibetans the income they receive from travelers is their life blood, and they flows on to their family and friends. As you travel in Tibet, Tibetans themselves will tell you how grateful they are to have travelers there, and how there life was better when there was more tourism. Discouraging people to travel to tibet is only doing a disservice to the people you intend to support.

    1. Of course if Nepal was under foreign occupation and Nepalese culture facing extinction you would not have that rather callous and fact-less viewpoint. Tourism in Tibet benefits only the communist Chinese colonizers inside occupied Tibet.

  6. How about this? Create a resource of all that isTibetan owned so that tourists avoid Chinese owned. Imagine if tourists continued to visit and snubbed the Chinese occupation at the same time?

    1. Hello, Thanks for taking the time to contribute, it’s an interesting and potentially good action. However, the nature of China’s occupation of Tibet, its totalitarian control, the manner in which tourists are controlled, plus the reality that while handful of Tibetan business is linked to tourism, the overwhelming majority are run by Han-Chinese colonizers. In addition some shops/traders appearing as Tibetan are backed/managed by Chinese business.

  7. What do you think of someone wanting to help out in an orphanage in Yushul county?

  8. You know I really understand your viewpoints. But most people who want to visit your country are aware of the situation and are sympathetic. If I were a Tibetan I would be relieved to see outsiders.

    1. We hope that the article makes clear our position and exposes the role of tourism as just another tool of exploitation and oppression which is eroding Tibetan culture while supporting Chinese colonization of Tibet. Do we recognize and support the individual’s freedom to choose, despite that awful reality, to take a vacation there, sure! We hope however that people will give serious consideration of the very genuine concerns and decide not to be part of such a process of cultural assault.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s