Please Keep Tibet
While attending the Sino-Tibetan Dialogue in D.C. on July 9 and 10, I saw an article by Tibetan female writer Tsering Woeser, “Please Stop the ‘Development’ of Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar for Profit (请制止用神山圣湖牟利的“开发”)". The article stated that the Tibetan Tourism Company, a subsidiary of the Beijing-based Guofeng Company, have been “contracted” to take over the holy Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar, and undertaken the “Tibetan Kailash Manasarovar Tourism Development Project”, exploiting the Holy Mountain and the Sacred Lake of Tibetans as a way to boost shares selling in the company’s public listing.
Woeser opposes commercialization of the sacred land, citing two reasons that the area is not suitable for development: first, Mount Kailash is the holy mountain for the Tibetans, it must not be desecrated; second, environment protection. I completely agreed with her on these two reasons for objection. Yet I am aware that, for the Chinese people who would pray to deities for blessing but have no religious tradition, the first reason would not stop the interested parties. Visiting Mount Kailash has great appeal to Chinese living in inland China.
After spending a long time in jungles of cement and steel with no scents of flowers, no forests, but grey skies, people are fascinated by the idea of polar adventure. And I have serious doubt how big the binding force the reason of environment protection has on the Chinese people. Because the people growing up in the 1960s, and the two or three generations before them, could only watch the country trampled in the name of economic development by the rich and powerful and their stakeholders in the last thirty years: they witness one river after another ends up seriously polluted; one lake vanishes after another; and one plot of land after another being turned into apartments which lifespan is only thirty years. How would these people care and cherish the soil of others when they wouldn’t even protect the land on which they are born and bred, which has a tie of flesh and blood, and is called as the home of their spirit?
I once walked along the Shanxi-Shaanxi Gorge, and saw the dried up Yellow river; I had also taken the train to Northwestern region of Gansu and Xinjiang and experienced the barren, sandy landscape with a climate so cold that it chilled me to the bone. These made me care in particular China's environmental and ecological status, I read about relevant information every year. I know very well the reality in China: over 1700 environment-related bills have been legislated, and they fail to stop the greed of the Chinese. The environment department even turns its assessment projects and monitoring power into rent-seeking capital for the officials. This is how, in the last thirty years, the Chinese people exploited the nature on one hand, and falsely claimed how they love the country on this land on another. Under this political culture of “telling lies while doing environment protection works”, back in 2005, China has already had 180 million environmental refugees, and they mostly concentrated at the five Northwestern provinces and the Midwest region.
In fact, since a long time ago, the place where the Tibetans live has been subjected to the harm of “development”. Situated at Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, the Sanjiangyuan area is the source of the world’s three major rivers, the Yangtze River, the Yellow River, and the Mekong River; it is also the world’s highest and largest plateau wetland ecosystem, known as the “Water tower of Asia”, it has crucial influence on the climate of China and Asia. Yet due to overgrazing, the grassland has degraded, and the water source has depleted. As a result of environment overdraft, Madoi County, which was once known as the “County of the Rich” is now widely known to have reduced to a poor county. The first county at the source of the Yangtze River, Qumarlêb County, Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai province, is dotted with dry wells. Located at the source of Yangtze River, the county now has no choice but to rely on external water source to survive.
Tibet is an area I have been observing with fear and worries. In 2003, Beijing issued the “Tibet's ecological improvement and environmental protection” white paper. The report showed Beijing’s special attention to protection of the special environment and ecology of the region. But things in China often end up in paradox: the planning was clear and logical, complying with the law of Nature, and in line with public sentiment and their livelihood. Yet when put into practice, the result was the complete opposite. As two-third of China mines excavated since the 1950s enter their end stage, nearly 500 mines have been closed; of the 426 Chinese resource-based cities that are mining industry oriented, about fifty have slipped into decline. Knowing these, I started fear for Tibet; I fear that those greedy eyes would stare at this piece of land. Whenever I saw Xinhua Agency declared that “Tibet copper reserves ranking first in the country”, that “in ten years, Tibet mining industry will contribute more than 30% of the GDP”, the scene I had seen at mine fields in inland China would emerge in front of my eyes: massive collapse or loss of land, huge volume of solid waste all over the mine fields, and badly polluted water.
Unfortunately this isn’t my imagination, it’s the reality. In view of Tibet’s political specificity, issues concerning the damage on Tibetan environment and ecology are much more sensitive than that in inland China, media coverage is very limited. In spite of this, we could still learn from various other sources that the already very fragile ecosystem of Tibet is being crazily destroyed. Woeser has written the article “Hometown of Songtsän Gampo would soon be hollowed out (“松赞干布的故乡快被挖空了”)”, which documents the tragic scene of destruction done to Gyama of Maizhokunggar county, birthplace of the greatest Tibetan emperor, Songtsän Gampo. The place is with beautiful scenery, and contains mineral resources including copper, molybdenum, lead, zinc, gold, silver and other metals, which potential economic value is estimated over 120 billion yuan, making it the target sought after by many rival mining companies from inland China. Among those companies is one with links to the State Council, the China gold group, it is now mining the copper-polymetallic ore at Gyama, at a mining capacity of 12,000 tons per day. Gyama, once a very pristine place, has now been changed beyond recognition. The resistance of local Tibetans could not stop these greedy plundering hands.
For greedy miners, the opening of the Qinghai-Tibet railway means “significant improvement in transport and logistics capabilities”, but for Tibet, it’s tantamount to plugging in a giant bloodsucking tube, indicating an even more frenzied plunder of its resources. According to Woeser, there are now over 90 mining sites, with at least one in each county. In 2010, an even more ambitious plan has been unveiled: the Chinese government is set to develop Tibet by exploiting over 3,000 mineral reserves, indicating a new round of fanatic looting of Tibetan environment.
Shanxi Province has become a tragic proof of China’s low level mineral exploration: one-tenth of the province has been hollowed out by mining, leading to the collapse of a large number of villages. The development results in the coal mine bosses and local officials getting richer, while the populace of Shanxi is not only poor, but also has to withstand environmental disasters.
Because of this, in the last few years the Dalai Lama has shifted his focus from politics to environmental issues in Tibet. Judging from this, His Holiness is worthy of the status as a sage with lofty vision. For there is plenty of time to talk over the political issues, yet the ecological ones are imminent, relating to the ecological base that support the survival of the Tibetan people.
During the Sino-Tibetan Dialogue held in Washington, the earnest appeal from Mr. Tenzin Thosam, a professor at a university in the U.S. left a deep impression on me. His appeal was, “please keep Tibet”. I think there are two layers of meaning in this: first, to keep the Tibetan people's hearts, this is of more substantive significance than keeping their persons. If Beijing is to truly keep Tibet, it needs to genuinely respect the religious belief of the Tibetan people, stop developing the sacred monasteries, and the Holy Mountain for the Tibetans as tourism resources; second, to keep for the Tibetans their habitat in which they have lived for generations, and would continue to call home for generations to come, stop looting Tibet’s mineral reserves, do not extend into Tibet the environment disasters from which the Chinese is now suffering. No matter what political system Tibet adopts now and in the future, it should be up to the Tibetans themselves to decide the way to develop and use the land on which they reside for generations.
“Please keep Tibet”, what a poignant appeal. It sums up the decades of sufferings and pains of the Tibetan people, and refers to the survival predicament facing them now as well as in the future. Rulers in Beijing, have you heeded it? do you understand it?