At the end of the day, there is no Shangri-La and El Dorado, or even Atlantis or the Lost City of Z. These only exist in the fascination of the colonizers, a figment of their imagination stemming from an exploitative greed. We talk of colonization as a thing of the past. We read about it in the history books, and one would expect that we have learned our lessons from history. But as I write this, a cultural genocide is still taking place in Tibet.
For over sixty years, China has occupied Tibet, killing and disappearing thousands of Tibetans, stripping it off natural resources and degrading the unique culture of the place. The Chinese occupation is not only physical in nature but aims at assimilating the unique Tibetan way of life into that of mainland China. This has decimated much of the culture and has redefined what it means to be Tibetan. The Chinese doctrine occupies the minds of the Tibetan, who is limited not only in how she practices her religion, but what she says and thinks of. Tibetans are closely monitored through cameras on the streets, in monasteries and almost every imaginable place of human congregation. People are wary of what they search online, lest they land on a website with an image of the Dalai Lama, a crime that can land them in prison. The Freedom in the World Report (2017)
, ranks Tibet as the second least free region of the world, only trailing behind Syria. And while Syria has received a lot of international attention (rightly so), Tibet hardly gets any airtime on the major news outlets.
The plight of the Tibetans, their desire for self-determination, falls on deaf ears, as the world and its attention rarely falls on this part of the world. Any attempt of dissidence is quickly dealt with by the Chinese administration, who have already imprisoned countless political prisoners. The Dalai Lama, leader-in-exile and the public face of the Tibetan people, has failed to draw international support for the Tibetan cause. Sure his message of non-violence and peace garners large audiences, but who will stand up against the economic and military might of China? In a world dictated by geopolitics and economics, the voice of a simple, peaceful population holds little weight.
The occupation of Tibet is a strategic one for China. Tibet is a place teeming with natural resources, which are now being extracted to fuel the growth of the Chinese economy. The water that trickles from the glaciers of Tibet, gushes as rivers throughout South Asia, providing water to much of the population in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Tibet, and China. Through occupation, China now controls the floodgates that can mean life and death for billions of people.
I was fortunate enough to have visited Tibet, though one can argue, and rightfully so, that the Tibet that I witnessed, was just an echo of its past glory. I have seen, what the Communist Party of China wants me to see. While I have tried to piece together the essence of Tibet, I am wary of the prism of propaganda that shrouded my vision. That being said, the Tibet I met was a land of haunting beauty and incredible human perseverance. Every place of worship that was burnt down by the Chinese during the “Cultural Revolution”, has been meticulously restored. Tibetans strive to uphold the sanctity of their land and waters, conserving mountains and glaciers, and designating lakes as holy, thus preventing any use and abuse. Tibetan is still the language of choice, despite the Chinese government’s attempts to limit the teaching of indigenous languages in schools.
What is it going to take for Tibet to be free, for China to decolonize the territory and restore the right of Tibetans for self-determination? This might seem a daunting feat, and resistance to Chinese domination, futile. But I am sure, this was the same for any independence movement, civil rights, and suffrage movement of the past century. The Free Tibet movement has done a phenomenal job at advocacy and lobbying for the Tibetan cause of freedom. Their Introduction to Tibet is a great resource for understanding the scope of the issue.