Tashi Phuntsok, an exile Tibetan and dean of a private school in Connecticut, writes about his experience touring his homeland for the first time in 2007 here at Phayul. His experiences talking to Tibetans rings extremely true- I’ve had conversations just like these at various places in Amdo and Kham:
I later learned that I had to introduce myself by showing my American passport to convince them that I was a fellow Tibetan from exile. The moment they learned that I was a genuine fellow brother from exile, unvented emotions poured out. My guide in Kandze introduced me to a young man who spent two years in prison for taking part in a peaceful demonstration; he’d witnessed the execution of two of his friends who were accused of organizing the demonstration. A nomad in Tromgyal, a village several hours from Kandze, moaned that his son was still serving in prison for participating in a demonstration in Kandze. On our way from Tromgyal to Nyishul, plain-clothed Chinese police stopped our minibus and searched the bus for a Tibetan woman, whose photo was held in one of policemen’s hand.
We arrived at the Nyoshul Monastery. There were no Chinese in this remote and 4500 meter elevated region. I distributed Chaney, holy grains blessed by the Nechung Oracle in India, to the monks and nuns in Nyishul monastery. As they scrambled for Chaney, they asked me how His Holiness the Dalai Lama was. Amidst the rugged Khampa vernacular, I heard a nun speaking to me in an immaculate Lhasan dialect. I later asked her how she ended up in this part of Tibet. She’s one of the singing nuns, who defied the Chinese authority by singing a song declaring their allegiance to the Dalai Lama in the Draphci prison in Lhasa. With pressure from the Chinese authority, she was not accepted back to her nunnery after being released from the prison. In pursuit of her spiritual quest, secretly she moved to eastern Tibet, outside of TAR, where there is slightly more freedom to practice religion. I heard similar sad stories from individuals in Lithang, Nyarong, and Nagchukha. These are the region outside of TAR.
The situation in Lhasa, the Capital City of Tibet, was even more tense. This tension was not noticeable until I began interacting with the local Tibetan communities, which I wouldn’t have been able to do without my faithful guide. Tibetans were desperate and frustrated to see that they are becoming second class citizens in their own country. The majority of Tibetan youths are illiterate or semi-literate. Except for Barkor Circuit Bazzar, major portion of the city was overtaken by the migrant Chinese. When I asked my guide why Tibetans didn’t take loans from the Government to start up businesses to compete with the Chinese settlers, he grumbled, “That’s easy for you to say, you live in a free country.” He took me to the new Lhasa Railway Station; it was an impressive structure that you would think any resident of Lhasa would be proud of. “This used to be residences and an agricultural field,” said my guide. “They were thrown out of here with a compensation of only twenty-eight thousand yuan. They’re now begging in the streets of Lhasa. The Chinese called this a development, but for us Tibetans it’s a nail in the coffin. The train brings over three thousand Han Chinese to Lhasa a week, and most of them will stay here for good, because of the Government subsidy.”
Beijing claims that Tibet is still over 90% Tibetan, but I don’t know anyone who has been there and come away with even the slightest inclination to believe those numbers. Again, this isn’t about the individual Han who move to minority regions- who can blame them for seeking a better way of life, especially when they may not be aware of what the Tibet problem really is? This is about a government which only speaks to minorities in the language of violence, and whose attempts to “integrate” these regions with China by way of massive Han settlement is aggravating the issues.