In my class Tourism and Ethnicity in China we have been focusing on the different ethnic minorities who live in China and how tourism is impacting their lifestyle. For my common assignment I focused on Tibet and created a National Geographic style paper about the struggles that they have been facing over the past 50 years. For those who don’t know, China has at control over Tibet since the 1950s, they consider Tibet to be part of China and under Chinas rule. Tibetans on the other hand, do not want to be part of China and in fact consider the two countries to be very different. Unfortunately for Tibet, China has too much power and they have been unable to successfully gain the freedom that they desire. What makes it worse is that the Dalai Lama, the political and religious leader of Tibet, has been living in exile for 50 years. He is doing a ton of work all over the world to gain awareness support for Tibetan human rights, but not being able to visit Tibet takes it’s toll on the campaign. In my paper I go into detail about all of these things and many more issues that the Tibetans have been struggling with for over half a century
Along with going over the history, I also talked about what life is currently like for the Tibetan people. Today, there is a total Tibetan population of about 3 million, with 150,000 Tibetans living in exile, mostly in India. It is dangerous for locals to talk about any unrest of unhappiness about the situation in Tibet, but if you were to get the opportunity they would tell you that they do not consider Tibet and China to be the same. The land is different, the language is different, as well as the food and the clothes Life for Tibetans has not been easy in the 21st century. The average yearly income for a local Tibetan was $328 in 2007 compared to Han Chinese living in Tibet who were making $1,558 a year. Aside from this, they are unable to express themselves freely for fear they might be imprisoned. Even mentioning the Dalai Lama’s name is considered a punishable offense. There is no freedom of speech and no freedom of religion, no freedom at all, really.
I also talk about how tourism has affected Tibet in particular. Tourism in China is huge, and it affects all of the ethnic minorities, but in Tibet it is a little different. Like a lot of ethnic minorities in China, Tibetans are known to cater to what the tourists want to see instead of showing them an authentic experience. For example, a lot of Chinese tourists want to see a primitive lifestyle, not a modern one, so even though Tibet has started to modernize, tourists aren’t interested in seeing that. This is something that is prevalent all throughout China. Since the Chinese government has such a strong hold and so many regulations in Tibet, they are basically 100% in charge of the tourism trade. There are a lot of restrictions for tourists who want to travel to Tibet. For example all foreign travelers can only go to Tibet if they are part of a sanctioned tour group, and can only visit sites approved by the Chinese authorities. These restrictions have not stopped people from travelling there; Tibet receives millions of visitors each year. Since tourism has become prevalent in Tibet, critics have expressed concern over the “touristification” of Tibet. Many see the massive tourism boom in Tibet as a strategy set in place by China to force Tibet to assimilate into a true region of China, and strip it of any cultural differences. There is an increasing fear that any semblance of an authentic cultural Tibet free from Chinese influence will soon be lost.