Tibet is richer and more developed than it has ever been, its people healthier, more literate, and better dressed and fed. But the bulging supermarkets, snappy new airports and gleaming restored temples of this remote and mountainous region cannot hide broad contradictions and a deep sense of unhappiness among many Tibetans that China is sweeping away their culture. (Photo: A Tibetan woman spins her praying wheel as she walks around the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet, March 10, 2010/China Daily)
Beijing has spent freely to bring development to restless Tibet, part of a grand strategy to win over the proudly Buddhist people by improving their standard of living. Lhasa is starting to look like any other middle-tier Chinese city, with the same fast food outlets and mobile phone stores, and the same unimaginative architecture.
Large sums have also gone into restoring monasteries and temples, the centre of life for devoutly Buddhist Tibetans, bolstering government claims that China respects religious rights.
What China has failed to do is address the alienation many Tibetans feel in the face of breakneck economic progress.
“Tibet is a special country and its people are special,” said one middle-aged teacher, speaking quietly in a back room behind a shop in Lhasa’s old quarter, centre of the 2008 riots. “We don’t think about money like Chinese people. We believe in Buddhism, but the Chinese people believe in nothing.”