By Kate Van Dusen
While the cultural persecution of Tibetans by the Han majority government has long been an issue in Chinese society, in recent years the Chinese government’s efforts to stifle Tibetan traditions have moved past cultural suppression and begun to take an economic toll on those living in the region. Though the Chinese government has attempted to portray the practice of forced resettlement as a positive thing which gives impoverished Tibetans economic opportunity, in reality the problems with this system are numerous.
Firstly, the economic issues of forced resettlement cannot be overlooked. These economic issues are twofold; the primary problem with forced resettlement in an economic sense is that the Chinese government is attempting to force Tibetans into jobs and livelihoods that they are entirely unprepared for. Tibetans are historically a nomadic people (bbc.com), and the vast majority of their livelihoods depend on the ability to herd. In forced resettlement camps (which are mainly located in Gansu), there is not physical room (or the correct climate and topography,) to herd, and the economic development opportunities that have been set up by the Chinese government do not involve herding, which is the livelihood of the vast majority of rural Tibetan citizens (freetibet.org). In addition to the inability to continue their lifelong career once resettled, the resettlement process also involves Tibetans having to sell both their livestock and their houses, and in many cases the compensation provided by the Chinese government is entirely insufficient. The Tibetan people cannot dispute this compensation, however, because they do not have a choice.
The second problematic economic aspect of resettlement is that these new communities do not have any established economy. The resettlement camps are essentially in the middle of nowhere, so they have no pre-established economy. This not only results in Tibetans being unable to have a reliable source of cash flow, but also allows the Chinese government to even further control these settlements. The lack of pre-established businesses means that the government is in charge of maintaining the entire economy of the region and determining what job opportunities exist in the vicinity. The Chinese government is turning a complete blind eye to all of these issues; they are in fact telling the forced migrants that they “should be grateful.” (hrw.org). In addition, the mainstream Chinese public remains completely unaware of the issues and harsh realities facing Tibetans; in the Chinese-government-run Tibet Magazine (one of the only approved media sources for news on Tibet within China), one article features a quote from a forced migrant: “Today I am living in new house with a comfortable life. I am so happy. All of my fortunes do not come from my prayers, but rather from the Communist Party.” (hrw.org).
Perhaps even worse than the overwhelming economic challenges that forced resettlement presents are the social and cultural issues that Tibetans face due to the government’s new policies forcing them to leave Tibet. Firstly, as an ancient Tibetan proverb states, “When the Iron Bird flies and horses run on wheels, / The Tibetan people will be scattered like ants throughout the world.” (Craig, 100). The forced resettlement has created a complete dilution of true Tibetan culture and created a barrier to the expression of this culture to the rest of China and the world. Instead, with many Tibetans now forcibly removed from Tibet, China is able to develop the region for tourism and create the narrative of Tibet that is presented to the outside world.
In the words of Mao Zedong, “A revolution is not a dinner party… leisurely and gentle… a revolution is an act of violence by which one … overthrows another.” This quote holds very true when one examines the treatment and forced resettlement of Tibetans; the Chinese government is unafraid to not only act harshly and violently in ensuring the cooperation of Tibetans, but also to quash any murmurs of potential resistance.