On a remote plateau thousands of feet above sea level, there used to exist a place whose chief attraction was the traditional virtues embodied by it culture; warmth, humility, devotion. That place used to be Tibet. When I visited Tibet in the summer of 2005 I discovered a country holding fast to its identity but facing an uncertain future. I just returned from my second trip to Tibet and I found the culture destroyed, the people murdered, and a country with no future.
My son August wanted to go to Tibet after he graduated from high school. I tried to talk him out of it. The trip is hard. Hard physically because Lhasa sits at 13,000 feet and I knew we would travel up to almost 18,000. Hard emotionally because August has never seen what a communist country can do to the powerless. Hard spiritually because tourists are forced to witness the manipulation and extermination of a culture and its belief system.
Chinese military officials supervised our arrival at the Gingko airport. The borders were closed days before our arrival, yet somehow, we still got our visas and made it in. No one on our plane out of Kathmandu was allowed to stay.
Our guide met us outside the airport, which used to be in the middle of empty countryside. Now, government buildings and blood red Chinese flags surround the entire airport. The barley fields next to the broad river are still there, but the surrounding mountains are now filled with tall silver utility polls, stuck on the mountaintop with no regard for the land. Shinny billboards cover what used to be deep blue skies.
As we drove into Lhasa it was clear that what was once the coexisting of several centuries is now only modern China. In the last six years Lhasa has mushroomed from the size of Santa Fe to the size of Phoenix, complete with car dealerships, shopping malls and a Time Square looking video sign in front of the Potala Palace.
“Religion is poison,” Mao Tse-tung had told the Dali Lama in 1954, early during the Chinese occupation of Tibet. After 1959 when the Dali Lama fled to India, the Chinese moved to undercut the power of the monasteries, which owned most of the arable land and loaned money to the poor villagers. Red guards, fired up by Mao’s denunciation of religion, pounded chortens and statues into dust, some of which have been rebuilt but they now embody tawdry kitsch produced by Chinese led restoration efforts in Tibet.
What were obviously missing were all the Tibetan people. I only a saw old Tibetan women, who were routinely shoved off the sidewalks and into the streets by the military which fill the streets with their green uniforms. We were told that due to a hunger strike led by the monks in March of 2008, which enraged the Chinese government, 5000 Tibetans were kidnapped, NEVER TO BE SEEN OR HEARD FROM AGAIN!! There is a genocide occurring in Tibet and no one knows about it!!
The military march all day and all night up and down the streets carrying weapons. Also crowding the streets are Chinese tourists who have been encouraged to visit Tibet, rather the Chinese Disneyland version of Tibet.
After having suffered Communism, Tibetans now confront a dissolute capitalism, one that seeks arrogantly, often violently, to turn the their culture and beliefs, and the world’s diverse humanity into middle-class consumers. It has been Tibet’s fate to be the laboratory of the cruelest experiments humanity has performed upon itself in the modern era. However, faced with an aggressively secular materialism, the Tibetans may still prove, almost alone in the world, how religion, usually dismissed, and not just by Mao, as “poison,” can be the source of cultural identity and moral values.
I know we all live halfway around the world from this magical and mystical place and you might not think these effects you, but it does in more ways than just “we are all connected.” The Chinese government is murdering thousands of innocent people simply because they are not Chinese, and they are getting away with it! Many Chinese are being murdered because they refuse to “toe the party line. “China is about to surpass America as the next big super power. And, America owes China money! Pick up anything in your home or office and look where it is made, CHINA! By allowing the Chinese government to exterminate Tibet, we just put more fuel in the fire of this big red murdering machine. Please get involved to free Tibet. There are many organizations out there that are trying to help like www.freetibet.org. Buy a tee shirt and wear it or give up coffee for a morning and donate the money you would have spent. If you do nothing else, please pray for the Tibetans. After all, they have been praying for the rest of the world, every single day, for centuries.