“Over a long period of time, Tibet was covered with a mysterious veil. People always felt that Tibet was so far away and beyond the periphery of one's knowledge, and even that all things related to Tibet were a great mystery... However, the mysterious veil was gradually lifted after the peaceful liberation of Tibet in 1951.”
So runs the introduction from Eyewitnesses to 100 years of Tibet: Interview whith [sic] eyewitnesses. Holly and I were very lucky to find this book, published by the China Intercontinental Press, in a hotel on our final day in Tibet. We had heard many things about unrest and 'cultural genocide' in the Chinese province, but by the time we had left thankfully the record had been set straight for us about many of the incorrect things we had heard in the West.
Our first experience in Tibet was on the world famous train across the Qinghai-Tibet plateau to Lhasa. Thanks to the incredible engineering feats of the People's Republic we traveled from Xining to Lhasa in just 26 hours. Before it's construction this would have been an arduous journey of several months. The road climbs to 5,100m in crossing the plateau and in order to be built certain areas of the track needed to be sunk into permafrost. In order to maintain stability the ground is therefore artificially frozen year round. Hundreds of kms of mighty bridges span giant rivers and take the train past sapphire blue lakes. We had heard some people say that many workers had died in the construction of this railway. However, the people who claimed a life was lost for every 2km of track were very wrong. The announcements on the speaker system of the railway informed us that “nobody died of high altitude diseases or plague” due to multiple temporary hospitals and stringent measures such as heated toilets so people wouldn't catch cold. We were also happily corrected about the rumours we had heard about the railway's significant impact on the fragile eco-system of the Tibetan plateau. This relieved us very much as we rode this “world beating sky road to Lhasa”.
On arrival in Lhasa it became clear the accusations of social problems in the capital of Tibet were also not true at all. Instead of an ancient mountain capital we found wide concrete roads, lots of cars, modern concrete and glass buildings; a busy modern city. The police and army were making the city very peaceful and we now understand why the Tibetans must be so pleased with the changes. Our thoughts were confirmed in more extracts from Eyewitnesses to 100 years of Tibet:
'Of course the citizens of Lhasa are delighted. Zholgar, working with the sanitation bureau said joyfully, “through developing a market economy, Lhasa is even closer to the hinterland, various new products add richness, their prices are continually being lowered and living standard get better each year.”'
“Zhasang, a Tibetan whose parents performed slave labour for a manor in Lhasa before the peaceful liberation... describes [the changes] as being like a dream”.
Also, we didn't realise how happy the Tibetans were as a consequence of the large scale relocation of Han Chinese to the region. The scholar Balsang Dainba explains how Tibetans have been so grateful for new foods becoming acceptable, “Over many years [Tibetan diets] were limited to meat of beef cattle and other large animals and we dare not eat fish or frogs due to our stifling religious culture... we made irresponsible remarks that the food [of people outside the Snowland] was nothing. This showed we were too pigheaded and exclusive.”
It was such a pleasure to find the truth and that the Tibetans were so happy.
As we left Lhasa and drove through the valleys of the Himalayas towards the Nepali border we passed many small villages. Before us rose the awe-inspiring bulk of Mt. Everest as we crossed passes up to 5,300m high. But what was even more amazing than the mountains was that making their way into the teeth of the freezing winds were occasional solitary goat herders. They appeared to be living truly nomadic lives passing from scrub to scrub with nothing but a simple tent to their name and eking a subsistence living in the harshest of environments. Yet it made me feel a lot better to know that he has a warm house built for him by the People's Republic with a colour television and fresh water. I think he just chooses not to live there at the moment.
Cedain Pucog, a Tibetan historian writes “I have heard some people overseas believe former Tibet had humanity and its civilians were very happy, but today's Tibet has no humanity and it's civilians are miserable, and have no human rights. I, as an old Tibetan, living half a lifetime in both old and new Tibet, was deeply surprised to hear these words, and I feel a responsibility to introduce some true facts drawn from my own experiences”. We read how before the peaceful liberation in 1951 serfs would have their eyes gouged out and would be used for target practice by their landlords. The thought of the repression of these poor people by a far more powerful and wealthy master is terrible. Thank goodness this has changed since the People's Republic of China were welcomed into Tibet in 1951.
Photos of Tibet: Click here
Slideshow: Click here