Tibet On The Swift March Of Modernisation: Yuba Nath Lamsal
In August 2014, China’s State Council Information Office and Tibet’s provincial administration jointly convened a conference in Lhasa with the theme of “Development In Tibet: Opportunities and Alternatives”. More than 100 international guests from 30 different countries attended the event and acquired first hand information on the newer developments while sharing views on different aspects of Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) of China.
The event was first of its kind ever organised by the Chinese authorities in Tibet’s capital Lhasa with the objective of providing international guests and participants ranging from analysts, members of academia, scientists and environmentalists to journalists an opportunity to see through their own eyes and acquire firsthand information as to what Tibet is today. The participants were startled to see the level and scale of development and modernisation of Tibet over the last six decades since Tibet was emancipated from feudal serfdom and granted self-governance of Tibetans. They found Tibet quite different from what they had earlier conjured up about this mystic land. Participants from western countries were more amazed as the visit and interaction completely changed their perception on the situation of Tibet, also known as the roof of the world.
Western people shape their opinions on other countries mostly based on the media report. So is with Tibet. Western media always portray Tibet as an impoverished province with poor human rights records and low development index. After the event, one of the participants, who hailed from the western hemisphere, said, "It has become clear that Western media often look with jaundiced eyes while reporting on Tibet and see everything blurred in China”. According to him, despite many positive developments taking place in Tibet, Western media are found to have demonising Tibet and China often with imaginative and fabricated stories and the reality does not match with Western media reports. His claims are true, to a large extent, as Tibet is quite different and better than what the Western media often claim. When Tibet was under feudal serfdom prior to 1951, it was definitely backward and a primitive province in terms of human rights and development level. But it is no longer true now as Tibet is on the path of swift modernisation and prosperity with better quality of life, freedom and prosperity.
‘Seeing is believing’ goes the maxim. One who sees Tibet with one’s own eyes only believes what Tibet is and how it has undergone social and economic transformation over the last six decades. One must visit Tibet once in their life to see the perfect compatibility of development with nature and culture. As a part of familiarising the foreign media with the latest developments and trends in Tibet, China’s information office of the state council, organised a trip to TAR for a delegation of Nepalese and Indian journalists recently. Amazed by the level of development and efforts for conservation of nature, art, culture and religious tradition by Chinese government, an Indian journalist opined, “Tibet has undergone a big and positive change, which has totally changed my mind about Tibet”.
Vishal Gulati of India Abroad News Agency (INAS), who has closely watched and covered the Tibetans in India and their activities in Dharmashala of India, said in a public interaction with Tibetan authorities, “I had the impression earlier that there is religious prosecution in Tibet and people are deprived of their rights but I now have found just the opposite as people here are enjoying full religious freedom and other rights”. Gulati is right as Tibetan authorities have fully guaranteed religious freedom and religious shrines of all faiths have been well protected and conserved. Jokhang Temple and Potala Palace, which are the key shrines of Tebetan Buddhism, are bustling with thousands of pilgrims every day fully practicing their faith. More than three thousand people including Tibetans visit Potala Palace for religious purpose.
In fact, Tibet now has witnessed phenomenal change and transformation in terms of economic, social and cultural development. It has seen sound economic growth, social harmony, cultural development and greater degree of environmental sustainability over the years. Tibetan culture is deeply rooted in everybody’s mind and lifestyle despite modernisation and economic transformation whereas Tibet’s record of conserving natural scenery and environment is one of the highest in China. In general, Tibetan people are happy with their government and their own quality of life. In other words, Tibet is where antiquity and modernity have met one another and perfectly coexisted. The TAR administration knows very well that sustainable development can be effectively advanced only when economic development and modernisation go hand in hand with conservation in compatibility with deep-rooted and long-cherished Tibetan traditions and social and cultural values as well as its natural serenity. As a result, Tibetans are living in perfect harmony with nature and their social and cultural values, thanks to Chinese central government’s especial priority attached to conservation of nature, culture and advancement of physical development of Tibet Autonomous Region and Tibetan people.
Now a new Tibet has emerged with economically self-reliant and socially confident people. Lhasa can be compared with any other modern city in the world whereas Nyingchi or Lyngzi Shigatse, Nagri and Chamdo are other fast growing cities in Tibet. TAR government is planning to develop Nyingchi as the second largest city in Tibet.
After the emancipation from feudal serfdom, Tibetans have become masters of their own destiny. According to a white paper issued by the TAR government, the self-rule and autonomy are the basic foundation of Tibet’s social development and a fundamental aspiration of all ethnic people of Tibet. Within the framework of socialist democracy with Chinese characteristics, Tibet has embarked on a road to modern democracy, under which civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights have been duly respected and protected.
Tibet is a mosaic of different ethnic communities including Tibetans, Monbas, Naxis, Hues and Hans, who live in perfect harmony and co-existence despite the fact that Tibetan ethnic group, constitutes the overwhelming majority. All ethnic communities have proportionate representation in political, social and administrative mechanism and the people participate actively in all activities and governance of all levels. Tibet is the perfect example of self rule based on regional and ethnic autonomy. The Chinese constitution itself has guaranteed ethnic autonomy in Tibet and the provincial government is constitutionally obliged to ensure ethnic autonomy and self-rule.
Economic development and modernisation is the fundamental theme of both the central government and Tibet’s provincial administration right from its emancipation in 1951. With policy and financial support from the central government, the TAR provincial government has enforced development projects, which have achieved widespread support from the Tibetans. According to first deputy secretary of Tibet committee of Chinese Communist Party Wu Yinghe, development projects that the TAR government has initiated have set time-bound goals which have been achieved within the targeted period.
Wu said Tibet has achieved tremendous progress of lifting people out of poverty and raising their quality of life over the last six decades. “As a result, overwhelming majority of Tibetans have come out of poverty which had dogged them for centuries and they are now enjoying comfortable life”.
TAR has guaranteed the Tibetans with quality education, medical care, housing and other social securities, while perfectly maintaining ethnic and communal harmony, coexistence and cooperation in Tibet. The average life expectancy in Tibet has been close to 65, which is almost double of that in 1950s, thanks to free medical services being provided to poor, farmers and herdsmen, who were earlier not able to afford quality health care services. Tibet has achieved considerable development over the years in social sectors including education, health and social securities. TAR government provides totally free education up to the secondary level (12th grade) including three-year pre-school, six year-primary school and three-year-middle school and three year secondary school. According to government’s statistics, 99.59 per cent children of school-going age are enrolled in primary level of which 98.75 per cent reach middle school level and 72.23 per cent students complete secondary level. Tibet has 100 per cent literacy among the young and middle-aged population.
The most amazing aspect of Tibet’s modernisation is its transport and infrastructure development. All counties in Tibet now have access to modern highways. Fast-speed railway has already linked Tibet with the rest of the China, which has now been extended to Shigatse and the construction work to further extend it to close to Nepal border is underway. With the modern transport and communication connectivity, Tibet is no longer a secluded and mystical place but very much part of the global village closely linked with every development taken place in the world. According to the TAR government’s white paper, Tibet has gradually evolved from a closed society to one that is open and market-oriented being incorporated into China’s national market system. While goods from all over China and the rest of the world freely flow into Tibet, TAR’s own unique products, too, are exported and traded in large quantities not only other parts and provinces of China but also across the world. Tibet’s foreign trade stood 3.319 billion US dollars in 2013. As Tibet has opened up itself with the rest of the world, more tourists visit Tibet every year. In 2013 alone, 12.91 million tourists visited Tibet of which 220,000 were from overseas.
Tibet has definitely achieved miraculous progress over the years due mainly to special priority accorded by the central government to the development of Tibet. Anyone who visits China can see with his/her own eyes the forward march of Tibetans for development and modernisation. The wheel of history always marches forward and it does not reverse. And so has been in Tibet. The wheels of history cannot be turned back and reversing the present trends of development would mean pushing it back into the old feudal serfdom. Tibetans are happy and satisfied with their life, political system, stability and the pace of economic development. This is the path chosen by Tibetan themselves. Tibetans are now masters of their own destiny. It is none of the business of outsiders and fugitives to poke nose in the affairs Tibet as Tibetans are firmly marching ahead with their own system, tradition, culture and after all with their own decision and determination. Let this forward march continue further in future to transform Tibet into world’s one the most prosperous parts. Being a closest neighbour, Nepal has already benefited from Tibet’s development and will benefit more in future. Let us wish and contribute more for Tibet’s stability so that this part of China becomes more prosperous in future, from which Nepal could further benefit.