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India and China
Team Dispatch

A Safe Bet: Life in Tibet Could Be Better
June 17, 2000

If you've been following Andrew's dispatches about the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile in Dharamsala, India, maybe you've been wondering why we didn't venture into Tibet to see firsthand what life is like there. Well, we simply weren't interested in supporting the Chinese occupation of the country and their outrageous abuses of the Tibetans' human rights.

In 1950, communist leaders in China decided that they should "liberate" the Tibetan people from their Buddhist leaders. As Andrew has told you, the Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader, and more than 100,000 Tibetans escaped to India where they continue to live in exile in Dharamsala today. The Chinese communists were zealous about their new beliefs - and one of those beliefs was disdain for all religion. As a result, they disapproved of much of the Tibetans' traditional way of life, a culture shaped by Buddhist thought. Between 1959 and 1979 the Chinese destroyed all but 10 of Tibet's 1,600 monasteries. Many monks were outright executed. Others were sent to work in labor camps. And ill-conceived agricultural reforms were imposed on the Tibetans, just as they were on the people of China. According to the Tibetan government in exile, almost one fifth of the population of Tibet, some 1.2 million people, died as a result of Chinese policies. And many Tibetans who survived simply ended up languishing in prison camps. As Andrew has told you, some of these prisoners are younger than you.


occupation - the seizure and control of a foreign territory, especially by force
prohibited - forbidden, not allowed
visa - a legal endorsement to enter a foreign country
zealous - enthusiastic, over-eager

In the past, the Chinese haven't been very interested in letting foreigners into Tibet to see what's going on there. For many years, visits from foreigners were simply prohibited. Later, foreigners were allowed in, but only if they were part of a state-sanctioned tour group. Nowadays independent travelers are allowed in, but there's a lot of paperwork to do first. You've got to apply for a special travel visa to enter the area through the Tourist Administration of the Tibetan Autonomous Region once in China, or through the Chinese Consulates in the United States. This visa will prove that you have permission to enter Tibet but unfortunately you won't be allowed to travel through the region at will. Most of it is still closed to foreign travelers. Foreigners are only allowed to visit Lahasa, Shigatze, Naqu, Zedong, Zhang Muxhasa and they are only allowed to travel along the main roads between these places.

When we refer to the abuse of fundamental human rights, just what are we talking about, exactly? Take a look at the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In an ideal world, these are the fundamental freedoms that every single person on the planet would enjoy. The United Nations is working to make that happen.

Also, the application fee for a visa like this has become more expensive lately and it's impossible to know if the Chinese will suddenly raise it again just when you try to get one. And then throw in the fact that the Chinese have made it almost prohibitively expensive to either fly into Lhasa or to take a bus there. Travelers to the region have also reported that they've been forced to pay the same fees, say for a visa or for a bus ticket, over and over again to different government officials in various locations.

Andrew learned a lot about Tibet from his visits with the Dalai Lama and the other Tibetans in exile in Dharamsala. Hopefully the next time we pass by this way, Tibet will once again be an independent nation and their fascinating culture, based on Buddhist principles, will once again be thriving. Then we'll be thrilled to take a look. But we won't hold our breath until then.



Kavitha - Following the Flower of Hinduism: Part I - The Mysteries
Kavitha - Following the Flower of Hinduism: Part II Monkey - Headed Gods and All
Jasmine - Hug A Tree - It May Be Your Last Chance
Team - Making a Difference: Wanna Go To Burma? Think Again!

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