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|Friday 12th March 2004. |
Tibet - The Forgotten Land.
It's now 45 years since the Dalai Lama fled Tibet fearing for his safety following the Chinese occupation. Matthew Grant was given rare access to visit Tibet as a journalist for this programme.
For years Tibet was a forbidden country, shut off from the outside world, a land of mountains, monks and mysticism. Decades of sometimes brutal repression followed but the modern Tibet now boasts a stock exchange, and even a red light district.
The hundreds of Chinese pouring into Tibet have resulted in the economy growing. The problem is that many Tibetans say this leaves them worse off than ever. Criticising the regime remains dangerous, but when no one is listening many of them claim they are being forced out of business, their livelihoods and culture swamped by migrants from China.
The capital Lhasa is now believed to be home to more Chinese people than Tibetans. Wu Yingjie, Tibet's vice chairman, who is himself Chinese, denies this. He says the Chinese in the capital are there to help.
"The large immigration from China to Tibet increases the living standard of the Tibetan people," he tells me. "The Tibetan people welcome them to participate in the construction of Tibet. After the construction they will go back to inland China."
"Also a pillar of industry in Tibet is tourism, if there is no tourism, where can we make money from?"
And amongst the newest arrivals are one hundred tourism guides from China, here to teach the locals. I ask Meema, who is from Lhasa and one of the students in the class, whether she finds it strange that she is from Tibet and that people from China are coming to teach her about her area. The answer is revealing by what she chooses not to dwell upon.
"I think the most important thing is the situation is like this, so what we should do is to put more effort into our study," she replies.
"So we shouldn't think about this thing all the time, we should put more enthusiasm into our study to be a good tour guide when we are doing our job."
Tourism is certainly big business with about a million visitors last year - the vast majority of which were from China.
What they come to see is the temples and monasteries of Tibetan Buddhism - and the palaces that used to be home to its spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. At Norblinka, the Dalai Lama's former summer residence, they can even gaze upon his abandoned toilet. It's a strange scene and whilst pictures of the Dalai Lama are still forbidden, China's building an industry around the man it won't even talk to.
Many ordinary Tibetans feel excluded in their own land, leaving them with few options. Prostitution is increasing. The red light district, like everything else, is segregated into Tibetan and Chinese.
In the Tibetan district I find one young girl prepared to tell her story. After a few minutes, despite her surroundings, she starts to cry.
"Before we came here we were told we were going to be singers in the biggest song and dance place in the city of Lhasa," she explains.
But she arrived in the Tibetan capital to find that she and her sister had been tricked.
"It turned out we became prostitutes here. We tried to escape once, but we were caught by the boss and brought back here. Now we have no money so we have to stay here."
China is now building a railway line from the mainland into Tibet. This is a feat of engineering - much of the line will run at an altitude of above 5,000m where the ground is permafrost. But it could have a more far-reaching significance - when the railway is finished, it will bring more workers and tourists from China.
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