Does Data Tell everything about Tibet?
Dr Gunjan Singh

Under Xi Jinping the heavy handedness of the Chinese government has consistently increased in Tibet. The Chinese government has ordered the Tibetan families who are beneficiaries of the government’s aid to replace the images of the Dalai Lama and other spiritual leaders with that of Xi Jinping.1 The Communist Party of China (CPC) officials from Tibet who follow religious practices are punished. The Regional Commission for Discipline Inspection has formed an office to supervise party discipline in 2018 and by October 2018 around 215 people were reported for breaking the Party policy.2 There is a major thrust to push for the supremacy of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and undermine the influence of spirituality and religious beliefs, especially that of Dalai Lama.

The year 2019 is very important in Tibetan calendar. March 2019 marked the 60th anniversary of the peaceful liberation of Tibet by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the 11th anniversary of the 2008 anti-government protests in Lhasa. So it was no surprise that the Chinese government started to ban the entry of any foreign tourists in Tibet since January 2019. Foreigners planning to travel to Tibet need a special permit in addition to their Chinese visas. Tibet has always been inaccessible to foreign journalists which makes gaining information tougher.3 Beijing always resorts to these methods when it wants to exert added control.

One of the major causes of increasing discontent and restlessness in Tibet is the influx of Han Chinese. In the last 60 years the number of Han Chinese in Tibet has increased manifold. Some believe that there are more Han Chinese in Tibet than Tibetans. The 2008 uprising marked the height of discontent towards this influx of Han Chinese. However, post the violence of 2008 the Chinese government is investing more towards maintaining peace and has increased the military presence. Tibetans today are constantly under surveillance. However, the Tibetans have resorted to self-immolations as a method a protest against the Chinese rule. Between 2009 and 2018 there were around 155 self-immolations in Tibet.4

The government is also pushing for Chinese language education which is affecting the cultural and language skills of the Tibetan children. Reports indicate that the Chinese government is building around three ‘re-education camps’ (similar to the ones in Xinjiang) in Tibet.5The spending on domestic security in Tibet rose almost 404 percent from 2007 to 2016, indicating the level of insecurity which the Chinese government faces.6

To mark the occasion of the 60th anniversary the Chinese government released a White Paper titled ‘Democratic Reform in Tibet’. The major thrust of the White Paper is around the argument that the liberation by PLA helped in dissolving the theocratic feudal system and established democratic reforms in Tibet.7 To further strengthen this position the Chinese government released data supporting this claim where the focus has been on infrastructure, agriculture, tourism, education and per capita income.8 The CPC wants to emphasise how they have physically developed Tibet and how it is helping the people enjoy better living standards. One of the arguments explaining the Chinese government’s investment zeal in Tibet is basically to safeguard a peace post-Dalai Lama.9 The latest white paper also portrays a very different stance when compared to the one released in 2009, which argued that there was still space for the Dalai Lama to come back to Beijing if he adopted a “patriotic stand”.10

In the last few weeks the major questions which has gained increased attention is whether there will be a reincarnation of the Dalai Lama or not? This has been a major bone of contention between Beijing and the 14th Dalai Lama. What has made the issue more interesting is the claim by the current Dalai Lama that his reincarnation may be found in India, which has visibly angered China. What is entertaining is that the only response by Beijing is that the reincarnation “must comply with Chinese laws and regulations.”11 Surprisingly, Beijing does not find it illogical to wish that spiritual developments and changes will also follow the laws and regulations established by the CPC. The situation can become complicated in the future if two reincarnations are identified, one in China and one in India.

However, the question which needs attention is that Tibet is much more than just the data. The Chinese government needs to acknowledge the essence of Tibet beyond the existing land mass and strategic significance. Beijing wants control over Tibet because of its un-parallel resources and strategic location, however, it need to give equal space to the Tibetans too. Where it has consistently failed is in recognizing that Tibet is more than just resources and is primarily a way of life and beliefs in the cultural and spiritual domain. What the Chinese government is doing is building more infrastructures but it is unable to connect to the hearts of the people. The intensified repression of the people will only make Tibetans more anti-government and the huge investments will have no major leverage for the CPC.

  1. “Chinese Order Tibetans To Put Shrines To Xi Jinping And Party Leaders In Their Homes” Free Tibet, January 23, 2019 At Https://Freetibet.Org/News-Media/Na/Chinese-Government-Orders-Tibetans-Worship-Xi-Jinping-And-Party-Leaders, (accessed April 18, 2019).
  2. “China Expels Officials of Xi Jinping's Party for Taking Part in Religious Activities, Having Secret Links to Dalai Lama” News 18, February 2, 2019 at, (accessed April 18, 2019).
  3. “China bans foreign travellers from Tibet as 1959 uprising anniversary looms” South China Morning Post, February 20, 2019 at, (accessed April 18, 2019).
  4. “Map: Tibetan self-immolations from 2009-2018” Save Tibet, January 31, 2019 at, (accessed April 18, 2019).
  5. “China’s Cultural Revolution Might Soon Reappear in Tibet” by Flora Yan, The Epoch Times, March 5, 2019, at, (accessed April 18, 2019).
  6. “China’s Domestic Security Spending: An Analysis of Available Data” by Adrian Zenz, China Brief, Volume 18, Issue 1, March 12, 2018, at, (accessed April 18, 2019).
  7. “White Paper: Democratic Reform In Tibet (Full Text)” China Daily, March 28, 2019 At Http://Global.Chinadaily.Com.Cn/A/201903/28/WS5c9c0869a3104842260b2f7e_4.Html, (Accessed April 12, 2019).
  8. “60 Years On: Progress In Tibet Since Democratic Reform” China Daily, March 28, 2019 At Http://Www.Chinadaily.Com.Cn/A/201903/28/WS5c9bf968a3104842260b2f42.Html (Accessed April 12, 2019).
  9. “China spends big in Tibet to avert a crisis when the Dalai Lama dies” By Eric Baculinao and Jason Cumming, NBC News, August 30, 2018 at, (accessed April 18, 2019).
  10. “China and the Dalai Lama play endgame for Tibet, and it’s going to be an unholy mess” by Yonden Lhatoo, South China Morning Post, March 30, 3019 at, (accessed April 18, 2019).
  11. “China's Tibet White Paper On 60th Anniversary Signals Tough Position On Dalai Lama” The Economic Times, March 28, 2019 At //Economictimes.Indiatimes.Com/Articleshow/68619715.Cms?Utm_Source=Contentofinterest&Utm_Medium=Text&Utm_Campaign=Cppst (Accessed April 12, 2019).

Image Source:
Photograph: Pichi Chuang/Reuters

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