“Lhasa: A New Area of Racial Segregation”

If you’ve read this blog more than once or twice you’ve probably noticed that I post things from Woeser, translated by High Peaks Pure Earth, pretty much constantly. She occupies a unique space in China, and her blog Invisible Tibet is a clearinghouse of information about what’s happening in Tibet, coming more or less straight from Tibetans themselves. Recently she’s been writing about Lhasa and the way restrictions there are coming to constitute apartheid. These are really serious claims she’s making, but it should be obvious that they aren’t being made lightly. If Tibet isn’t quite the same as South Africa or, as she says in this article, Jews under the Third Reich, it’s certainly gotten far too close for comfort.

As she says:

Apart from setting up security checkpoints around Potala Palace, in the old town of Lhasa and in monasteries, defences have been established on various levels including at airports, train stations and motorways; non-Lhasa residents who do not have all kinds of paperwork and certificates, “cannot enter Lhasa, unless they have wings”, as expressed by a Han Chinese tourist.

However, if one is not Tibetan, one can come by plane, by train, by car, by bike or one can even walk into Lhasa without problems. Of course, any people from countries other than China have already been indirectly refused entry into Tibet. If one searches for “Lhasa” on Weibo, one’s senses are assaulted with Chinese people from various places happily going to Lhasa to enjoy themselves. A little dog who has been referred to as “Xiao Sa” is most popular because it joined some Chinese cyclist halfway to Lhasa and followed them all the way into the city. This is why some Tibetans pungently wrote on Weibo : “Lhasa welcomes you, but it does not welcome Tibetans.”

Some Tibetans have described the bitter experiences of their families on Weibo: “My 19-year-old Tibetan nephew arranged to cycle along the Qinghai-Tibet route with three of his Chinese classmates but when they reached Lhasa’s Umatang Township in Damzhung County, his classmates could pass whereas he was stopped because he was Tibetan. Only with a certificate from a county-level or above unit would he be allowed to enter Lhasa. I made some phone calls to inquire and found out that as a non-Lhasa Tibetan if one wants to job, do business or visit relatives in Lhasa one needs all kinds of certificates and guarantees. Otherwise after passing a certain deadline, one is directly sent back to one’s native place. Anti-terrorism measures that divide ethnicities are easily implemented when there are only a few people, but what if there are many?”

This reminds people of the Second World War when the Nazis implemented policies of “anti-semitism” against Jews. In fact, Tibetans have already started sarcastically calling Lhasa a “Jewish district under Nazi rule”. The “elimination of Jews” back then and the “elimination of Tibetans” today has led many young Tibetans to spread the following sentence on Weibo about history repeating itself: “just like the Jews said who had to wear the Yellow Badge on their chests: we are unarmed and defenseless, but in the big world out there, no one is brave enough to step forward to help us.”

For the past many years, non-Lhasa residence, regardless of their cultural, economic or religious backgrounds, have always been relatively important parts of Lhasa’s societal structure. Business people from Amdo, Kham, Changthang, from different areas across the the whole of Tibet have operated businesses in Lhasa, monks have made pilgrimages to Lhasa and according to traditional customs, stayed in one of Lhasa’s three main monasteries to study. Traditionally, Lhasa has always been considered the centre, it has always been the holy land that all Tibetans yearn for; but today, it has turned into a place that “eliminates Tibetans”.

Referring to nomad resettlement camps as ghettos has become pretty uncontroversial as the scope of government resettlement projects and the grimness of the camps has become more apparent, but Lhasa itself as a ghetto… The way the Tibet issue has been evolving since 2008 has gotten more and more disturbing, and it’s hard to see what could break this impasse. If massive demonstrations in 2008 and now more than 50 self-immolations over two years have failed to spur some kind of positive change, what can?


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Filed under ethnic conflict, Tibet

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