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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Sorting out the Future for Chinese-Controlled Tibet

November 2, 2007

PBS
1 November 2007

An Independent Television News report on life in Tibet, a country controlled by China for more than 50 years.
Buddhist pilgrimage in Tibet
                 
LINDSEY HILSUM, ITV News Correspondent: The Jokhang Temple, the spiritual heart of Tibet. Dawn comes late because the Chinese government insists that
everywhere it controls keep the same time as Beijing, even Lhasa, 1,600 miles to the west.

Pilgrims and monks do their kora, a clockwise circuit around a 7th century temple, prostrating themselves before the Buddha. Western tourists, and these days a
growing number of Han Chinese, watch the religious devotion, which characterizes Tibetan Buddhists.

Most of the time, though, Chinese tourists and visiting dignitaries take pictures of each other. A popular spot: against the back drop of the Potala Palace, the Dalai
Lama's seat until he fled Chinese rule and went into exile 48 years ago; or just as they arrive, in front of the railway station, built to look like Potala.

Two-and-a-half-million people visited Tibet last year. The railway is expected to bring 80 percent more this year.

HE BEN YUN, Tibetan Development and Reform Committee (through translator): Now the railway is running, there's a sharp increase in both tourists and
businesspeople from home and abroad. It works with the principle of the market economy. I think it's good. Nowhere can develop in isolation.

LINDSEY HILSUM: Much of Lhasa increasingly looks like, well, any small city in China. Steadily, rapidly, the government is integrating Tibet into the Chinese
economy, making it ever more difficult for what it calls splittists, those who proclaim independence, to have any impact.

HE BEN YUN (through translator): Tibetan culture is an exotic flower amongst Chinese cultures. It has existed for more than 2,000 years. But, as Marxism says,
we should keep the good things of a culture and remove the bad.
               
Some Tibetans fear speaking out

LINDSEY HILSUM: Everywhere in Tibet, we were accompanied by officials. Journalists aren't free to go where they want, and many Tibetans fear the
consequences of talking to foreigners.

So we met the dissident Tibetan writer, Woeser, at a small monastery in the neighboring province of Qinghai. A devout Buddhist, she was expelled from her work
unit in Lhasa after praising the Dalai Lama. Her writing is banned in China.

WOESER, Tibetan Writer (through translator): When they built the railway and brought in the train, Tibetans had no say in it at all. Real autonomy involves
democratic discussion. Do the majority of Tibetans want the train? How do they want the railway to be built? We're forced to take something. We're told it's good,
that we're being treated kindly. This is colonialist. The colonized people are supposed to be grateful, but how much do they really benefit?

LINDSEY HILSUM: The railway runs through the Tibetan countryside, 15,000 feet or more above sea level. They call it the roof of the world. It cuts through the
grasslands where Tibetan nomads have grazed their yaks for centuries, living off yak milk butter and meat.

But Tibet is changing. In the last year, 25,000 families have been settled into what the government calls new socialist villages. In five years, the government plans to
build new houses for 80 percent of Tibetan nomads and farmers.

There's no question that the new socialist villages are more comfortable than the nomadic camps and huts where people used to live. And many young Tibetans
welcome the opportunity to go to school and a possibility of paid employment. But gathering people together like this makes it much easier for the Chinese
Communist Party to control Tibetans, and that's something which has always been a challenge for the government in Beijing.

In Sangbasa, about 50 miles north of Lhasa, local officials took us to meet one of the beneficiaries. Two of her six children are still herders, but others have joined
the modern economy as the government wants. She, however, stills churns the yak milk tea in the old way.

SUO NANG ZHUO, Tibetan Herder (through translator): With help from the Communist Party of China, we've started a happier life without many worries.
   
Government building new settlements

LINDSEY HILSUM: The county chief denies that they're forcing Tibetans to give up their traditional way of life.

HUANG QIAN MIN, County Chief (through translator): New settlements provide herders better living conditions. Their lives are greatly improved. They can live in
the settlements in winter and herd their animals in summer. Then they can go on herding and enjoy a modern life at the same time.

LINDSEY HILSUM: We took the train to Qinghai over the high pass and onto the plateau. The government is building settlements for Tibetans in towns. Some
Tibetans have been told they must stop herding completely because of ecological pressure on the grasslands. But what's there to do when you've sold all your yaks?
Just play pool.

Families are given a house and about 70 pounds a month as welfare. At first, most enjoyed the novelty.

XIANG MU LU, Former Herder (through translator): It's good, especially for the children who can't go to school in the herding area. They can learn literature and
mathematics here. For us adults, it's also more convenient. We just hang around doing nothing in the summer.
   
Concerns over ethnic customs

LINDSEY HILSUM: But eventually the welfare payments will dry up, and the danger is that Tibetans, who rarely have the business skills of the Han Chinese, will
become an underclass.

WOESER (through translator): They signed up to the move looking forward to living like the city people they see on TV. At first, they have money from selling their
animals, plus money given by the government. But over time, their money is used up. They learn to spend money like city people, but they don't have the skills to
make money like city people.

LINDSEY HILSUM: They've left their sacred sites and stupas behind, so lamas come to hold services in the new settlements. Religion has always been the center
of Tibetan resistance to Chinese rule.

Last month, the government banned lamas from reincarnating without permission, a law which might be a little hard to enforce. Following the exiled Dalai Lama is
banned, too, so we won't say where we saw this, nor where we found these children openly demonstrating the loyalty that most Tibetans feel despite government
restrictions.

WOESER (through translator): Dalai Lama is not only a religious, but also a national leader. His international influence makes Tibetans proud. People are proud to
prove that they're not like the communist propaganda which says Tibetans are backward and dirty.

HE BEN YUN (through translator): The government fully respects ethnic customs, but we will help the people remove bad or backward habits and lead them
towards a civilized life. As a result, they'll keep their ethnic characteristics while adding elements of science and civilization.
   
Maintaining ancient rites

LINDSEY HILSUM: Back in Lhasa, it's the Yoghurt Festival, an ancient rite commemorating the end of a period of meditation. The faithful carry a giant thankga, a
picture of the Buddha, Sakyamuni, out of the Drepung monastery. This year, there are nearly as many tourists as pilgrims.

Down in the main square, the government celebration has a more Chinese than Tibetan flavor. Every year, hundreds of cadres from around the country are sent to
Tibet to supervise projects and investments from across China and to keep an eye on the Tibetans. For some reason, the officials are sporting baseball caps from
Amway, an American pyramid selling company.

Mammon competes with Buddha. The Yoghurt Festival real estate show features ambitious plans for luxury apartment blocks in Lhasa. Companies from all over
China are encouraged to build here, as more Han Chinese move in.

Pilgrims gather on the hill, waiting for the thangka to be unfurled, a holy rite, a display for tourists. China has ruled Tibet for more than half a century now. As more
Tibetans adopt a modern way of life, it's easier for the Chinese Communist Party to decide where and how Tibetans live, but it still can't control what they believe.

'Here we enjoy freedom,' says Dalai Lama

On a lush couch before some 5,000 of his exiled countrymen, the Dalai Lama leaned on one elbow and gazed intently as two dozen wide-eyed children sang
Tibetan songs, their young spirited voices rising into the rafters of a newly minted cultural centre.

A smile touched the corners of his mouth, but the famous glint in his eye was nearly absent. It was at best a bittersweet moment, the Tibetan culture kept alive so far
from home.

"Here we enjoy freedom," the Dalai Lama told the Star later, recalling the song. "But in our own homeland at this very moment, there is a lot of tension, a lot of fear.
So, naturally, there is some sadness."

In a wide-ranging interview about politics and faith, the spiritual leader of Tibet spoke with passion of the determination of his people to maintain their culture,
wherever they are in the world, against the Chinese government's efforts to wipe it out.

In fact, he said, the challenges have only strengthened their resolve, faith and determination to preserve their culture. The Chinese, he said, should realize this and
embrace Tibetan cultural autonomy, rather than fight it.

"Only then, genuine loyalty will come. Only then, genuine unity will come," he said. "Their approach is only self-defeating."

After fleeing Tibet in 1959, the Dalai Lama went to Dharamsala, India, where he established a government in exile. He has lived there since, travelling the world to
promote the Tibetan cause.

Despite Chinese allegations that he is a separatist, the Dalai Lama says he only wants autonomy for his people within China, with control over culture, religion,
education and the economy. This way, he says, Tibet can benefit from China's booming business climate, while preserving its heritage.

"If Tibet separates from China, then Tibet will remain weak and unnoticeable," he said.

Organizations such as the Tibetan Canadian Culture Centre in Etobicoke, which he consecrated yesterday, are vital to the Tibetan cause, he said. He has established
schools in Dharamsala to train teachers to keep Tibetan culture alive.

"Inside Tibet, there are many factors that are causing the degeneration of Tibetan culture," he said.

The main problem is demographics, he said. With Han Chinese moving into the region, Tibetans are a minority in their own land. "In their daily life, they use more
Chinese language than Tibetan."

At the same time, Tibetans have clung to their culture and their language to counter Chinese efforts.

"The Tibetan consciousness is very, very strong," he said.

That consciousness has begun to penetrate the West, in large part due to the Dalai Lama's popularity and charisma.

Last night, the Dalai Lama spoke to 16,000 people at the Rogers Centre. He said issues such as global warming, trade and terrorism have shownWesterners how
much people around the world are connected. "The whole world is heavily interdependent. That is the new reality," the Dalai Lama said. "There is one humanity.
This is not a holy view, this is a practical view."

He urged a halt to military spending and that more money be put into education, particularly in developing countries, saying this will ultimately do more to bring
peace.

"Instead of spending billions of dollars on military purposes, let's spend for education and help in Iraq," he said.

Such sentiments have drawn many to Buddhism, says film director John Halpern, whose two documentaries featuring the Dalai Lama screen tonight and tomorrow in
Toronto. Since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, he says, westerners have better appreciated their bond with the rest of the world.

"The crises unify people and make us feel that we're connected," he said. "Everybody is part of one human experience."

At the same time, he says, Buddhism's emphasis on taking personal action to create a better world gives people a way to feel they are making a contribution.

"Instead of just seeing myself as merely a consumer, I can give something back," said Halpern, whose films, Refuge and Talking with the Dalai Lama, are showing at
the Bloor Cinema.

While the Dalai Lama says he hasn't seen widespread conversion to Buddhism in the West, he has noticed ideas such as living one's faith through daily acts of
compassion have found their way into Judeo-Christian faith.

Westerners today, he says, seem to want a more personal relationship to their faith. "That, more or less, is a Buddhist approach," he says. "Faith alone is something
that is at a distance."

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