Tibet – Is Tourism Causing Local People to Set Themselves on Fire?

Tibet ladies 3

I made a conscious decision not to get too political on this blog, mainly because I’m a female solo traveller and I didn’t fancy a stint in some obscure prison. But it appears just by writing about my trip to Tibet I’ve courted controversy. Since blogging about the beautiful people, their religion and culture and the places I stayed I’ve been accused of supporting the Chinese Government’s take-over and therefore fuelling the locals plight encouraging them to set themselves on fire.

I’d like to vehemently deny this claim but can I? I was very aware of the political unrest throughout my trip and if I’m honest It’s something that drew me to visiting Tibet. Security was prohibitive and photography banned in a number of religious sites. I had to have my bag searched on a number of occasions and all lighters were removed from our group when entering key monuments. At least one monastery in Lhasa no longer allows tourists in due to one previous brave holiday-maker daring to take a photo of security.

I like to think that by visiting Tibet, using local Tibetan (not Chinese) run restaurants and services and Tibetan guides I was supporting the local people. A number of tweeters claim otherwise.

Messages from tweeters:

“Pls dont endorse Chinese Brutality to Tibetan in #occupiedTibet; yes more #Ethics Tourist is needed”

“I would recommend not going to Tibet. Just for the fact of the multiple genocides. #CCP tries to sugar coat it.”

“Dont Sustain & Encourage #China‘s Colonization of #Tibet http://wp.me/pt9UI-iD #Boycott tour”

“Mass tourism to occupied #Tibet is one mean to complete cultural genocide. They @JohannaWhitaker is promoting #travel to Prison? #Nepal

“Tibetans are setting themselves on fire to bring world attention to their plight.”

I tried to ask how exactly I was supporting the Chinese Government simply by visiting but didn’t receive a response. Is it best to boycott Tibet and not support the local businesses, interact with the people and then report back honestly on their way of life? If western tourism stops it would mean only Chinese tourists visit Tibet and they’re probably more likely to support Chinese run restaurants and services, further damaging the Tibetan way of life.

You definitely can’t discuss the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, openly whilst in Tibet. His existence has been publicly wiped (from his home country) since 1959 when the Chinese invasion forced him into exile. Those who dare try and venture into the country with a guidebook will have it taken off them for fear of the 14th Dalai Lama being mentioned (and definitely no ‘Free Tibet’ tee-shirts allowed). The spiritual leader of Tibet now lives in India but continues to do great things and spreads the Buddhist messages world wide. I cannot even imagine how hard it must be for the Tibetan’s, most of whom are fiercely religious and much of their lives are dedicated to supporting their faith then to have their leader wiped from the history books. At the tender age of 2 Tenzin was recognised as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama, now aged 78 he’s been the most prominent figure in many generations’ lives for a long time.

I guess I’m looking for answers and an education. After visiting I’m in full support of helping the Tibetan people and helping to preserve their wonderful uniqueness but how? Telling friends and family not to go just doesn’t make sense to me.

So tweeters you’ve told me not to support tourism in Tibet but I’m opening this forum up to you. Educate me and others on exactly why we shouldn’t visit. If our trips are supporting the Chinese takeover then why do they do their best to keep us out? How exactly can we show our support to the local people?

3 Comments on “Tibet – Is Tourism Causing Local People to Set Themselves on Fire?”

  1. excellent blog and reply to the tweets. I’ve read your posts and of course spoken to you so know you’re not endorsing the Chinese. The arm chair warriors love sabre rattling. How many are actually supporting Tibet by other means than being trolls on the internet? Keep it up

    • Thanks Rob, a few tweeters did come back in the end and conceded that so long as local businesses and services are used it’s okay to visit Tibet. A few carried on tweeting the same argument without much conviction.

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