Assess the impact of China’s invasion of Tibet on Tibetan culture and society.
China’s 1950 invasion of Tibet has had a controversial impact on Tibetan culture and society as although China was able to construct a functioning and stable economy, the destruction to culture and the exploitation of resources has affected the physical, emotional and mental health of the Tibetan population. China’s occupation has accelerated the development of the Tibetan economy, allowing for significant progress to be made in infrastructural, technological and financial sectors. There are also prominent advances in the regions social development as the Chinese government has emphasised the importance of education and the overall quality of life of Tibetans by providing financial aid to communities and individuals in need of assistance. However traditional religious and cultural practices have been supressed by Chinese occupation in an attempt to exterminate political unrest within the region. China has similarly been reported to have exploited Tibet’s prosperous natural resources, along with using its landscape (Tibetan Plateau) as a disposal site for nuclear waste, posing a threat to the health and safety of surrounding communities. China has strengthened the economic and social well-being of the Tibetan region through monetary support, however the damage made to Tibetan traditions and the exploitation of the landscape to either harvest for natural resources or illegally dump nuclear waste, challenges China’s right to occupy Tibet.
Significant advances in infrastructure, technology and finance has heightened the Tibetan economy, enabling a stable and prosperous future for the region. The construction of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway in 1979, enabled the Tibetan people to have access to more economically developed markets which were previously difficult to access due to Tibet’s geographical environment. This created greater job opportunities and increased tourism within the area. The cost of goods and services declined significantly, for example the price of cement, which is a major contributor to the construction of new infrastructure. In mainland China cement was $US41, in Tibet it was averaging around $US 94-100, which was reduced after the opening of the Qinghai-Tibet railway (Rotsky, 2018). From 2001 until 2007, China’s Central Government reported that there was a steady development growth of 12% over seven consecutive years (China-un.org, 2018). This was following the end of the 11th Five Year Plan which is a series of social and economic development initiatives aimed to attack pressing issues within their nation. These initiatives have enabled development in access to clean drinking water, the construction of power grids to provide electricity to regions in need and a new and efficient telephone network, enabling the Tibetan population to become technologically up-to-date with the modern world. The Chinese Government has also contributed huge investments into Tibet compared to the international aid of superpowers like the United States to the developing world. In 1996 the United States of America donated $US 800 million to the continent of Africa and within that same year China invested $US 600 million into Tibet alone (Hessler, 2015, p.7). This is a reflection of the Chinese Central Government’s work to promote economic development in the Tibetan region through large investments. On a global monetary scale, China’s significant investments into the Tibetan region have outweighed that of other countries who have supplied monetary needs to a broader spectrum of nations. This has allowed for development in the Tibet’s economic sectors as China demonstrates willingness to not neglect the poverty and suffering of the people and their past but rather support the minority in their voyage to modernisation. Tibet’s economy has accelerated since the invasion of the Chinese in 1950, through the construction of railways enabling more affordable transportation, the 11th Five Year Plan which facilitated for development in technology and significant financial investments in Tibet, providing a stable and thriving economy.
Furthermore mainland China has focused on the lack of development within the social sector of the Tibetan region by providing tertiary and financial support in education and healthcare. Prior to 1951, the Tibetan quality of life was extremely poor, with the life expectancy being 36 years (Hessler, 2015, p.7) and the literacy rate was only 5% (Free Tibet, 2018). Due to these extremities, China believed it was their “moral obligation to liberate them” out of poverty, and make it possible for all to have an education and access to adequate healthcare facilities (Hessler, 2015, p.7). Significant improvements to these areas were achieved during Chinese occupation with current statistics from Free Tibet (2018) suggesting the literacy rate has improved with the regional average currently at 85%. The increase in the regional literacy rate has enabled the Tibetan population to thrive as there is a greater level of skill within the population, meaning more job opportunities are created, stimulating the economic and social development substantially. The Chinese Central Government has also supplied social support for the marginalised farmers and herdsmen through various tax and fee exceptions, lower insurance rates, free medical care and the Three Guarantee Policy (China-un.org, 2018). The Three Guarantee Policy enabled farmers and herdsmen’s children to have access to free food, accommodation and tuition if they were to travel to a major city to receive an education. These initiatives, especially the Three Guarantee Policy, have insured that minority groups are being considered when heightening the countries social development. A total of 819 (China-un.org, 2018) thousand people have benefitted from these subsidies allowing for the poorer individuals and families from this region to have a chance to be break the poverty cycle and provide a broader opportunity for the younger generations of Tibet to explore new possibilities rather than continuing subsistence farming, which contributes to the lack of social development in a region. The population of Tibet has been given exceptional support by the Chinese Central Government to target the deficiency in the social sector through government incentives and policies, which accentuate the development of the Tibetan region.
Regardless of China’s contribution to the economic and social welfare of the region, the suppression of Tibetan Buddhism has had serious repercussions on traditional practices, cultural education and respected landmarks. In June 2016, the Chinese Central Government removed 40 thousand residents from their homes from the historical and religious institute Larung Gar, in an attempt to reduce overcrowding and the risk of fire within the area (Free Tibet, 2018). According to local residents, they were never consulted about this act and many were forced to sign pledges to never return to live in the area (Free Tibet, 2018). The behaviour of the Chinese Central Government suggest that the value of Tibet’s religion and history is conditional as there was no previous consultation with local residence about how the demolishment of housing would affect the individuals residing there. Although the intention of reducing overcrowding and preventing a fire hazard is creditable, the emotional impact on the Tibetans was extremely high as there was a total of 130 fire suicides during the demolition (Free Tibet, 2018). Additionally, since Chinese occupation religious practices have been suppressed across the Tibetan region with numerous CCTV cameras installed in religious buildings, the number of attendees to religious services has been regulated and all monasteries and nunneries are required to fly the Chinese flag. Judging by these initiatives, the heavy incentives are being implemented to reduce political unrest within the Tibetan region. By slowly ending religion through the restrictions on religious practices, the Chinese are able to gradually eradicate Tibetan Buddhism, allowing for the resistance against the Chinese military and government to cease as the population will neglect their heritage, culture and religion in the future. The Chinese schools set up within Tibet have also been politicalised, with students being limited to speaking Chinese dialects along with having to pledge alliance to the Chinese Communist Party and being exposed to anti-American propaganda (Hessler, 2015, p.7). The exposure to political content influences the minds of the students at a young age, often filtering how they should view the Chinese Government and the incentives they propose. Through politicalised behaviour within schools, students become manipulated and therefore unable to recognised abuse, misconduct and propaganda within their lives. Language is also a major aspect within the Tibetan culture and without it traditions, practices and religion face the risk of being misinterpreted or essentially lost through the Chinese regime’s restrictions on education. Since Chinese occupation, Tibetan religion, practice and language have been in jeopardy of being suppressed by the Communist Party, which will inevitably result in a loss of the ancient Tibetan culture.
The exploitation of Tibet’s abundant natural resources along with exposing the Tibetan landscape to nuclear waste, has enabled China to obtain economic benefits despite the threat they pose on the health and safety of the surrounding people and their environment. Mainland China is the world’s largest consumer of energy, with coal supplying 70% of their total energy consumption (Free Tibet, 2018). Tibet is home to many mineral based resources which are primarily mined by private Chinese corporations who Free Tibet (2018) claim to have “violated” international health and safety regulations, resulting in pollution in local waterways and many mines are being constructed on traditional grazing and nature reserves. The inconsideration for the natural environment suggests that the Chinese mining companies under the Chinese regime aren’t considering the detrimental impact they could potentially have on Tibet’s landscape. By polluting Tibet’s waterways, Chinese companies are facing the risk of making the water undrinkable for the surrounding communities who rely heavily on these water bodies for daily consumption and place a threat on the Tibetan people’s health. The mines which are located on traditional grazing areas are interrupting the traditional subsistence and cultural farming practices of the Tibetan farmers and herdsmen as they are no longer able to operate accordingly, which they have done so for more than half a million years (Larid, 2007, p. 119). China’s nuclear management has also been unjust, as a case study of the small Tibetan town of Thewo suggest that the Chinese Government has been illegally dumping nuclear waste within the Tibetan Plateau (Tibet Nature Environmental Conservation Network, 2014). The mines are located four kilometres away from the town of Thewo, near the Jampakok River. A table has recorded 50 mysterious deaths from the years of 1987-91 within Thewo, where the average life expectancy of these people was 51 years (Tibet Nature Environmental Conservation Network, 2014). The estimated life expectancy during 1991 was 62 years (Gee, 1993), which implies that the nuclear mines and waste have somewhat affected the average life expectancy of the communities which have been exposed to nuclear material. The Jampakok River has also been recorded to have black water and a foul smell, indicating that the nuclear waste from this particular mine hasn’t been contained, polluting water sources (Tibet Nature Environmental Conservation Network, 2014). Tibetan rivers are derived from the Himalayan region, meaning most of the Asian rivers are developed from the Tibetan water bodies. If the Chinese continue to illegally dump nuclear waste inconsiderably, there could be possible danger for the health and safety for the Asian population as the nuclear material will travel across the Asian region. China’s thoughtless dumping of nuclear waste and mining for minerals endangers the health and safety of not only the Tibetan people, but the entire Asian population, along with imperilling the culture of traditional grazers and their farming land.
Despite China’s concrete attempt to rid Tibet from poverty, illiteracy and economic strife, China has struggled to maintain Tibet’s cultural independence and has placed large proportions of the population at risk of health desecrations from the mining of resources. Tibet’s economic situations has drastically improved with the region being able to access technology and infrastructural materials with the improvement of transport due to the Chinese regime. Socially, Tibet has witnessed more education and healthcare opportunities, as the Chinese Government has implemented financial incentives to aid individuals who couldn’t afford these services in the past. However, the Chinese regime lacks the ability to acknowledge and celebrate cultural and religious differences Tibet has to offer, resulting in the suppression of traditional practices, religious ceremonies and cultural acts in an attempt to reduce the political tension within Tibet. China has also jeopardised the health and safety of communities surrounding nuclear and mineral mines, as they have inadequately managed their mining waste, which could potentially have serious repercussions for the entire continent of Asia. The controversial impact of the Chinese regime’s invasion of Tibet was significant. Although many positive incentives were develop on an economic and social scale, the severe and harmful ramifications on Tibet’s culture and society are outstanding, resulting in Chinese occupation being a detriment to the Tibetan way of life.
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