For anyone selfish or unthinking enough to take a vacation to Lhasa its likely they will join a tour to Sera Monastery just north of the Tibetan capital. There they can see monks enjoying Buddhist debate, marvel at the traditional architecture and absorb the peaceful environs at which Buddhism is flourishing.
Meanwhile behind that staged show of supposed cultural freedom a darker reality exists for Tibetans, although you would not come into contact with that during your tightly controlled and monitored time at Sera.
Image: Eric Baculinao
We wonder how such tourists would feel about their Tibet trip had they been in attendance at a March 13 meeting in Sera during which a panel of Tibetan collaborators (Lhakpa Tsering ‘Lhasa, Monastery Management Committee Director’, Tsetan Dorje, ‘Manager Sera monastery’ and Jampa Kelsang, ‘Media and Education Committee Director’ Sera Monastery) addressed some three hundred monks. Insisting that they should “… feel grateful to the Chinese government and show their loyalty to the nation by obeying the country’s laws,”.
Image: Tsering Woeser
Surrounded by Chinese paramilitary police, security officials and ‘management’ staff the monks were ordered to stand against what was described as ‘sepratism’. They were also warned of a series of prohibitions regarding online activity, including posting any information the regime considers sensitive.
Image: Tsering Woeser
The meeting concluded with an exultation ‘re-pay China’s generosity in Tibet and demonstrate loyalty to Beijing and love for the top leadership of China’s ruling Communist Party.’.
Sera monastery is in truth no longer a center for Buddhist learning, like monasteries across Tibet it is an indoctrination facility, placed under a suffocating control by the thought-police of the Chinese regime.
Image: Tsering Woeser
It also has another function, one that exploits the wonderment, gullibility and ignorance of those who travel to Lhasa for an exotic vacation. It’s calculated and tightly controlled illusion of a thriving Tibetan Buddhist culture is an important propaganda tool to manipulate and deceive.
We’ve long taken the position that tourism to occupied Tibet serves the interests of the China’s regime and bank-balances of Chinese dominated tourist businesses. Those seeking the ‘spiritual experience’ of visiting Tibet are exploited, manipulated and suffocatingly controlled by the Chinese authorities. What they are allowed to see is an ersatz version of Tibetan culture, engineered by the same regime which, away from the stage-managed tourist hotspots, wages a genocidal assault upon Tibetan national and cultural identity.
Our just criticism and opposition on this issue occasionally results in weak responses from those who attempt to justify tourism to Tibet by claiming their presence enables information on the plight of Tibetans to reach the wider world. This reasoning held some credibility in the late 1980s and 1990s but no longer. With the instant access of the internet (informed by the knowledge, testimony, courage and sacrifices of Tibetans inside Tibet) the dire circumstances endured by Tibet’s people is freely available, 24/7 via a few taps of a mobile device or laptop.
The fact is that travellers are lead by a leash along well worn and safe tourist routes, constantly monitored, meeting approved Tibetans and exposed to China’s distorted version of Tibetan culture. They do not see the torture centers, visit forced labor camps, or witness the misery of Tibetans forced into concentration settlements.
Of course that inconvenient reality is not what tourists to Tibet are paying top dollars for. They come for the illusion of a Buddhist Shangri-la, which the Chinese tyranny is more than happy to fabricate, while milking them as cash-cows and promoting its propaganda narrative.
Does your heart break with sympathy for those whose dollar funds enable them to fly off to an exotic vacation in occupied Tibet, who are over the next few weeks being denied tourist visas by the Chinese regime? March is that time in the political calendar of Tibet which marks the Lhasa Uprising of 1959 and a number of subsequent protests against illegal Chinese rule. Well we cannot have those gullible tourists being exposed to the sights and sounds of Tibetans daring to dissent against Chinese tyranny. Best a travel ban is applied. But hey folks! It will be lifted on April 1, a day dedicated to fools! So if you still want to be exploited, deceived and monitored in Lhasa or some other Tibetan location then get your applications in now. You can even tell yourself that you’ve visited Tibet, when in reality you have traveled to the world’s largest open-prison, in which Tibetan culture is being eradicated and its people violently oppressed. Happy holiday!