The mysterious Tibet is experiencing a cultural shock between the Lamaist Buddhism, with its spiritual leader Dalai Lama, who fled in 1959, and the Chinese modernization, the emergent power which is changing Tibet as it had not made it since the People’s Army put an end to the theocracy in 1951. The spirit against the matter.
In October 1950, the Chinese army crossed Yangtze river, advanced over the settlement of Chamdo and cut the return of the Tibetan forces. Chamdo, under Ngapoi Ngawang Jigme, was occupied. A Tibetan delegation, headed by Ngapoi, went to Beijing to negotiate an accord that would recognize both the liberation of Tibet and the right of the Tibetans to autogobernate. The compromise was signed in March, 23, 1951.
Buddhism penetrated Tibet during the 7th century coming from China and India, and was then when the king Songtsan Gambo unified the country, expanding its territory to the border of the Chinese empire led by the Tang dynasty.
The relations between Tibet and China – for which Tibet is part of it since the reign of Khubilai Khan (nephew of Genghis Khan) in the 13th century – started to deteriorate immediately. A revolt broke in the eastern Tibet in 1956, while news over the communist reforms triggered an exodus towards Lhasa, the capital. In March 1959, a rising emerged after the rumors that the Chinese authorities have decided to detain the current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, the political and spiritual leader, recognized as the 14th reincarnation of Buddha (after a system introduced since the 17th century).
Dalai Lama fled, and in June, in Mussoorie (India) denounced the 1951 accord, considered to have been written under pressure.
But 4 decades later, the Chinese government has changed the iron hand, at least in public, with the silk gloves of the economical modernization. The carrot has replaced the bat, as the development could end with the Tibetans accepting the facts valid since 1951.
The autonomous province, with 2.6 million Tibetans and three times bigger than France, has changed in the last 15 years. The mighty Potala palace, winter residence for Dalai Lama since 17th century, has remained approximately unchanged. But Lhasa has changed.
The buildings that have replaced the traditional Tibetan constructions have made the city look Chinese. Now Tibet scrapes the sky, and not only through its altitude. Already 50 % of Lhasa’s 200,000 inhabitants is formed by Hans (the ethnic group of the Chinese proper). The Hans dominate the new Tibetan economy, which traditionally was based on agriculture. Still, the Tibetan edifices of the ancient quarter of Lhasa are now protected.
In 2002, Chinese authorities freed 6 Tibetan political prisoners and invited the elder brother of Dalai Lama, Gyalo Thondup to travel to Tibet for the first time since 1959.
Today, many Tibetan peasants have their own businesses, based on credits achieved from Bank of China, like small transport companies, or campings sheltering pilgrims that go to monasteries. Many sons of peasants now receive education and the monastery life is out of their option. These younger Tibetans can speak Chinese, while in most cases their parents do not. A lot of Tibetans work in tourism or traveling agencies.
Drepung (“rice mountain”) monastery, built by the king Songtsan, is now inhabited by 500 permanent monks and 800 of part time. But it is still the pilgrimage site, at which daily arrive the believers after overcoming a tough slope, to deposit yak fat on the lamps that burn without a stop.