The Reaction in Lhasa: Protest Against the Tibetan Railway

By  Michael Buckley August 11, 2009

Tibetans around the world spoke out against the July 2006 opening of the Beijing-Lhasa railway, but we heard little noise from within Tibet.

The virtual lack of protest from within the country was not for lack of opposition to the railway, according to Rinchen Tashi of the International Campaign for Tibet. Rather, it was due to fear of punishment from the Chinese government.

“Most Tibetans in Tibet were not happy,” says Tashi, “but they did not carry out any special actions to show their feeling because they were under Chinese control.”

According to Tashi, Tibetans are concerned about the long-term effects the railway might have on them, as even more ethnic Chinese start to arrive in Lhasa by train.  “People think Lhasa will become a city which is politically and economically Chinese-dominated. They think that the railway is the tool to accelerate the Chinese government's long-term plan to control Tibet,” says Tashi.

One Tibetan living in the West, who spoke to us on the condition of anonymity, was in Lhasa at the time of the railway opening.  He agreed that Tibetans were, in fact, concerned about their future with the train’s arrival, but no one would dare protest because of the use of intimidation on the part of the Chinese government.  “Most reacted with disguised apprehension and fear,” he says.  “Although there was little likelihood of organized protests given the efficient security apparatus, many troops and police were deployed.  I saw trucks full of soldiers with rifles and even a ‘sound cannon’ crowd-control device.”

According to the same source, almost immediately after the train started running there was an increase of young Chinese on the streets of Lhasa who seemed to be looking for work.

Some students and middle-class Tibetans, according to him, are trying to make the best of the situation and are using the train to travel to China.  But even though some Tibetans are taking advantage of the train, he says most people do not welcome it.

“There is a sense of desperation that the flood of Chinese cannot be stopped and Tibetans will become even more marginalized, and not just the Tibetans who are under-educated and/or unable to speak Chinese but also the relatively more well-off ones as well.  There is a general fear that soon, everything will be controlled by ethnic Chinese and that Tibetans will lose even the few shops they currently own.”

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