By Tim Johnson, McClatchy Newspapers, 05/05/2007-
Zengshol, Tibet – In a massive campaign that recalls the socialist engineering of an earlier era, the Chinese government has relocated about 250,000 Tibetans – nearly one-tenth of the population – from rural hamlets to “socialist villages,” ordering them to build new housing largely at their expense and without their consent.
The year-old project’s stated aim is a more modern face for an ancient region.
China claims the new housing will enable small farmers and herders to have access to schools and jobs as well as better health care and hygiene.
But the broader aim seems to be remaking Tibet – a region with its own culture, language and religious traditions – in order to have firmer control over its population. It comes as China prepares for an influx of millions of tourists in the run-up to next year’s Summer Olympic Games.
A vital element in the strategy is to displace a revered leader, the Dalai Lama, now 71. The government hopes to replace him after he dies with a state-appointed successor, and in the meantime, it has opened the gates of Tibet to greater numbers of ethnic Han Chinese and tightened control of religious activity.
It’s pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into road building and development projects, boosting the economy, maintaining a large military presence and keeping close tabs on the citizenry through a vast security apparatus of cameras and informants on streets and in monasteries.
Some Tibetans, including farmers interviewed in the village of Zengshol, say they’re happy to be in better quarters than their ancestral homes of mud brick.
The first critical account of the remaking of the Tibetan landscape came from New York-based Human Rights Watch, which quoted Tibetans who fled the country, trekking across the Himalayan mountains into Nepal.
On several trips last month, a McClatchy reporter traversed 800 miles of roads and witnessed the forced transformation of the countryside.
In the new settlements, cookie-cutter houses line the roads at regular intervals, striking in their uniformity. The settlements varied in size but were mostly towns larger than the abandoned villages.
Some experts say the relocations have lifted the impoverished peasantry and could bring prosperity.
“It’s created a building boom,” said Melvyn Goldstein, a social anthropologist and expert on Tibet at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. “I think it’s phenomenally successful, more than I would’ve believed.”
- original report from denverpost.com