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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Tibetans' rage is directed not at communist rule, but the consumerist

Tibetans' rage is directed not at communist rule, but the consumerist threat to their traditions and sacred lands.

Pankaj Mishra The Guardian " As for religious freedom, the Tibetans have had more of it in recent years than at any time since the cultural revolution. Eager to draw tourists to Tibet, Chinese authorities have helped to rebuild many of the monasteries destroyed by Red Guards in the 1960s and 70s, turning them into Disneylands of Buddhism. Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism have even inspired a counterculture among Chinese jaded by their new affluence.

Indeed, Tibet's economy has surpassed China's average growth rate, helped by generous subsidies from Beijing and more than a million tourists a year. The vast rural hinterland shows few signs of this growth, but Lhasa, with its shopping malls, glass-and-steel office buildings, massage parlours and hair saloons, resembles a Chinese provincial city on the make. Beijing hopes that the new rail link to Lhasa, which makes possible the cheap extraction of Tibet's uranium and copper, will bring about kuayueshi fazhan ("leapfrog development") - economic, social and cultural.

Tibet has been enlisted into what is the biggest and swiftest modernisation in history: China's development on the model of consumer capitalism, which has been cheer-led by the Wall Street Journal and other western financial media that found in China the corporate holy grail of low-priced goods and high profits. Tibetans - whose biggest problem, according to Rupert Murdoch, is believing that the Dalai Lama "is the son of God" - have the chance to be on the right side of history; they could discard their superstitions and embrace, like Murdoch, China's brave new world. So why do they want independence? How is it that, as the Economist put it, "years of rapid economic growth, which China had hoped would dampen separatist demands, have achieved the opposite"?

For one, the Chinese failed to consult Tibetans about the kind of economic growth they wanted. In this sense, at least, Tibetans are not much more politically impotent than the hundreds of millions of hapless Chinese uprooted by China's Faustian pact with consumer capitalism. The Tibetans share their frustration with farmers and tribal peoples in the Indian states of West Bengal and Orissa, who, though apparently inhabiting the world's largest democracy, confront a murderous axis of politicians, businessmen, and militias determined to corral their ancestral lands into a global network of profit.

However, Tibet's ordeal has been in the making for some time. Before the railway line speeded up Han Chinese immigration, China's floating population of migrant workers, criminals, carpetbaggers and prostitutes conspicuously dominated Tibetan cities such as Lhasa, Gyantse and Shigatse. Half of Lhasa's population is Han Chinese, who own most of the city's shops and businesses."

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