Sadly, the religious consequences of China’s need to occupy and exert power over Tibet are just one slice of a very long-running and brutal pie. Throughout decades of Chinese occupation in Tibet, over one million Tibetans have died as a direct result of conflict, a conflict that has divided Tibet geographically too – the land claimed by Tibet would be the world’s 10th largest nation, but parts of the original country have been renamed and incorporated into Chinese provinces, hence Tibet’s current identity: Tibet Autonomous Region, or TAR.
It’s not just China that feels this way – US president, Barack Obama, has met with the Dalai Lama and urges China to support human rights in Tibet – but insists he does not recognise Tibet’s independence
. The UK was previously the only country in the world not to recognise Chinese sovereignty over Tibet, but in 2008 the then foreign minister, David Miliband, reviewed this opinion, to Tibet’s disappointment. Prime Minister David Cameron has since reiterated that the UK government officially recognises China’s sovereignty over Tibet
, despite meetings with the Dalai Lama. His meetings with foreign governments are strongly opposed by China.
So – things are not looking too bright for Tibet. In 2014, it was named as one of the 12 most repressed countries in the world and there are now more Chinese people in Tibet than Tibetans – now a minority in their own country. The increasing numbers of Han Chinese settling in the region is causing resentment among the local population.
Understandably, Tibetans see nothing but negative impact from the Chinese and have accused them of suppressing their culture, their freedom of expression and their right to worship whom they want to worship. The communist authorities disagree, with Chinese leaders pointing out – through the example of major infrastructure projects such as the railway linking Lhasa to Qinghai province – that Tibetan areas are much more wealthy under Beijing's rule than they would otherwise have been and there is a significant growth of industry in the region.
The Chinese are a determined people and, in many ways, they should be commended for that, but what it seems they’ve failed to recognise since the 1950s is that traditional Tibet is a people unconcerned with commerce and cash - they are a conservative and contemplative people who want to determine their own futures and who believe in human rights for all – they simply want to be free.
Read more about China’s occupation of Tibet and Tibet’s ongoing struggle via Free Tibet
What you can do
It seems, particularly where the Chinese are concerned, that this isn’t a case of what you can do, but rather what you can’t. As Westerners, we simply cannot expect to have a completely accurate take on the mindset of the Chinese and the reasons for their actions, which isn’t to say we have to agree, or even understand, but is to say that storming in with our opinions would likely cause more damage to an already vulnerable situation. Knowledge is power here, so if you want to understand Tibet’s plight further and learn how you can help, your first port of call should be Free Tibet
, an organisation with a whole host of ongoing campaigns aimed at spreading the word about Tibet and securing the rights of its people. Secondly, visit Tibet – it’s a beautiful and mysterious country with so much culture to share and any support it receives by way of tourism will only ever be a good thing.