The Qinghai-Tibet Highway
For some years now, Tibet has been part of the world’s fastest-growing and globalising economy – indeed Tibet, helped by government investments and subsidies, has enjoyed higher GDP growth than all of China. There has been a general rise in living standards. Many Tibetan regions have been transformed. A new “Tibetan aristocracy” consisting of ethnic Tibetan party cadres and businessmen has come to the fore.
Many Han Chinese may reasonably wonder why Tibetans, apparently showered with government largesse, are so ungrateful. But as the Gongmeng report points out, “the assistance and ‘development’ brought by the Han is often accompanied by forced change and conflicts”. The logic of development, for instance, forces Tibetan nomads off their grasslands and brings Han Chinese migrants into Tibet’s cities. The unavailability of jobs together with the undermining of Tibetan language has led to a general feeling of disempowerment among the population. And rural-urban inequality has rapidly grown.
Of course, much of the Chinese population also suffers from the humiliation of being left behind by a few lucky rich. But as Wang Hui, one of China’s leading independent thinkers, writes, the gaps of income and opportunity in minority areas are “closely connected with the difference in traditions, customs, language, and the position in the economic market that exists between ethnic groups”.
The radical dissimilarity of Weltanschauung (worldview) is crucial here. One Tibetan interviewed by the Gongmeng researchers clarifies that “a Tibetan’s prosperity is more about freedoms such as religious belief, a respect for people, a respect for life, the kind of prosperity you get from extending charity to others”. Chinese-style modernisation has imposed alien values on Tibetans, forcing them to accept “development” and “consumption” as the last word.