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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?"

Tibet's sunset, China's sunrise -- Part 1: Dust of Lhasa swept under new construction

October 28, 2009

By Galen Murton (Fletcher School at Tufts University)
Student Correspondent Corps
October 27, 2009

LHASA, Tibet -- Shock would be a natural response
for anyone returning to Lhasa after two years.
Approaching in late afternoon -- when the sun
spreads gold over the city and the wind sweeps
out the midday heat -- the urban sprawl on the west side of town is staggering.

Next come the billboards advertising Japanese and
American luxury vehicles. Six-lane highways,
flyovers near the new railway station, and a
futuristic bridge lead to the new Special
Economic Zone in Lhasa, feeding it so that it
grows and sells like Shenzhen, where the first
Special Economic Zone burst onto the Chinese
capitalist scene in the early 1980s.

Amid this new Lhasa, old women struggle to cross
roads that run through what used to be their
barley fields. But finally, upon arrival at the
true heart of Lhasa, between the Potala Palace
and the Jokhang Temple, within the Lingkor Road
and near to the Barkor Market, it hurts to look.

Armed military details are stationed at every
street corner 24/7, six-troop patrols march up
and down the lanes of the old town in
synchronized step, and watchmen stand sentry on
rooftops adjacent to all sensitive zones like the
Ramoche and Jokhang temples, two of the most
sacred sites in Lhasa as well as the focal points for past protests.

Saddest of all are the beggars -- men, women and
children -- who populate the streets in
unprecedented numbers. Word is that the
authorities banned all begging in Lhasa last
summer, worried that hordes of travelers arriving
from the Olympic Games would be put off by their numbers.

The travelers never came, the gates were finally
opened, and the beggars returned in a flood. In
Tibet, begging isn’t stigmatized as it is in the
West. The Buddha was himself a beggar. If you can
make a better living by pan-handling than farming then, well, why not do it?

Nevertheless, and despite rationalization, it is
disturbing to confront such untold numbers
resorting to a livelihood by desperation.

Over a few days I was able to spend in Lhasa,
visiting the holy sites, meeting old and new
friends, and walking about town, I realized that
Tibet had changed more between 2007 and 2009 than
it had in the preceeding eight years. A mere
decade of exposure is certainly limited, but this
has been a decade unlike many others: Some of the
most significant events in Tibet history have occurred in the past few years.

Economic and social developments in Tibet have
created a volatile situation that radiates from
Lhasa across the country. Two in particular have
had the greatest impact: first, railroad and
highway construction, and its resulting rapid
transfer of people and material goods to and from
mainland China, and between the plateau and the
Indian subcontinent; second, the
commercialization of a "mystical Tibet" to both
the Chinese and Western consumer. These developments gather steam by the day.

This report comes from a journalist in our
Student Correspondent Corps, a GlobalPost project
training the next generation of foreign
correspondents while they study abroad.
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