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CHINA

“Lhasa's Tibetans will soon be nothing but decorations for tourists”

3 min

 Lhasa, the ancient city at the heart of Tibetan culture, contains several sacred sites that have been visited by Buddhists for centuries. But the city’s face is changing as Chinese presence in the area grows, giving way to mass tourism and large shopping districts.

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Tibetans on pilgrimage in Lhasa’s old town pass by construction work.

 

 

Lhasa, the ancient city at the heart of Tibetan culture, contains several sacred sites that have been visited by Buddhists for centuries. But the city’s face is changing as Chinese presence in the area grows, giving way to mass tourism and large shopping districts.

 

At 3,650 metres above sea level, Lhasa had for centuries been the capital of the Tibetan kingdom. In the middle of the 20th century, when Tibet was forcefully placed under Chinese rule, the city became the administrative capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region. The numerous cultural treasures in the city include the Potala palace – the former residence of the Dalai Lama overlooking the city – the Jokhang monastery and the palace of Norbulingka, all recognised as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

 

Tibetans have repeatedly revolted against Chinese authorities, accusing them of disrespecting their culture and religion. Each time, China has responded by strengthening its military presence in the region.

 

Meanwhile, Chinese authorities have been encouraging tourists to visit the autonomous region, particularly Lhasa. Nearly 10 million people, mainly Chinese tourists, visited Tibet in 2011, providing a financial windfall for China. At the end of 2012, Chinese authorities announced a grand “preservation plan” for Lhasa’s old town. At a cost of nearly one billion euros, the project will include part of the old town’s Barkhor district being replaced by a large commercial zone that will include a shopping centre.

 

Drawing of a shopping centre under construction.

 

A series of self-immolations by Tibetans led authorities to ban foreign tourists from visiting the region in May 2012.

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