Tibet: Where Modernization Merges With Traditional Culture To Achieve Sustainable Development On The ‘Roof Of The World’ | China Unlocked

By Wafaa Ezzat

Hotels and lodges in Nyingchi strategically located at an altitude of 3100 meters above sea level

Modern day Tibet is nothing like you think! Tibet is no longer isolated from the rest of the world but rather a more connected region, thanks to the great results in socio-economic development over the past six years since General Secretary Xi Jinping expressed his hope for people of all ethnic groups in Tibet to stick to a development path with Chinese characteristics and Tibetan features during the 12th National People’s Congress (NPC) in 2013.

The development history of Tibet in the past years has been one proceeding from darkness to brightness, from backwardness to progressiveness, from poverty to prosperity and from isolation to openness, as the region marches toward modernization as a part of the big family of China. With the aid of the whole nation and the unremitting efforts of the people of all ethnic groups in the region, Tibet has made significant achievements that have attracted worldwide attention.

Today, Tibet is thriving on a path of rapid modernization, balanced by efforts to preserve age-old traditions, culture and religion. So, in order to gain a deeper understanding of Tibet’s development history, here we shed some light on how Tibet has developed over the past years and how Tibetans have modernized their education, their healthcare, and their whole way of life without losing their identity.

Tibetan Students dressed in traditional attire perform a folk song at the Second Elementary School of Nyingchi in Nyingchi, southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region


Poverty Alleviation

The tranquil isolation of Tibet is miraculously changing. Billions of dollars are pouring in, as the central government works to pull this ancient land into the modern world. Across Tibet tracks are being laid for bullet trains and highways to soon crisscross the Himalayas. Paved roads now reach all of Tibet’s counties, helping bring a surge of tourists and newcomers.

There’s no denying if someone looks at the profound economic transformation that has been taking place in Tibet over the past decade, in terms of accessibility, infrastructure, railways, highways, airports, etc., as well as building up schools and the popularization of mobile communication, which all helped improve Tibetans’ living conditions and lift millions of Tibetans out of poverty.

According to the recent statistics, the poverty alleviation programs sponsored by the central government have provided modern housing for 460,300 Tibetans, many of whom had previously lived without running water and electricity. The programs form part of China’s goal to completely eliminate such dire conditions by 2020 and create a moderately prosperous society.

Measures were introduced to improve local economic situations through attracting investment, creating new jobs, relocating residents from less inhabitable places, setting up educational funds, as well as starting a variety of social welfare programs. A total of 25 counties in the region are no longer classified as “impoverished”, along with another 2,100 villages. The region has also managed to reduce its poverty occurrence rate to below 6 percent. An 8 billion yuan ($1.18 billion) investment project by State-owned enterprises, for instance, has provided employment to 22,000 poverty-stricken individuals and helped improve the lives of more than 35,000 residents.

Tourists to Tibet mill around the front of the region’s iconic Potala Palace in Lhasa.


Preservation of Tibetan Cultural Heritage

As far as the development of Tibet is concerned, how to achieve a balance between the preservation of its traditional Tibetan culture and improving the living standards of local Tibetans through rapid economic growth will always remain the biggest concern.

However, preservation of traditional Tibetan culture shouldn’t mean keeping the region underdeveloped forever and neither should it mean denying Tibetans’ access to higher living standards and a modern lifestyle.

Tibetans are hoping to see their living standards increase without the disappearance of their cultural heritage, which has been considered an inseparable part of Chinese cultural heritage. With the local government firmly believes that economic growth and cultural preservation must go hand-in-hand, a great amount of human, financial and material resources through legal, economic and administrative means has been devoted to ensure the inheritance, promotion and development of the unique traditional culture of Tibet on the basis of effective protection.

As a result, institutions of cultural relics administration in Tibet have become more complete, the cultural relics protection system further improved, and the cultural relics preservation contingent constantly strengthened. In the last two decades, the state has allocated a huge amount of funds to protectively repair key cultural heritage sites in Tibet, with more than 300 million yuan invested on restoring and opening over 1,400 key historical and religious sites to the public, and over 20,000 widely scattered relics have been collected and put in museums.

Sea of clouds lingers over mountains in this part of Nyingchi, where most villagers professionally run guesthouses.


Environmental Protection  

Dubbed the “roof of the world”, “the Earth’s third pole” and “the water tower of Asia”, the Tibet Autonomous Region is one of China’s key environmental protection zones, and the regional government has put its shoulder to the wheel to ensure its land is protected. The autonomous region plays an irreplaceable role in keeping China’s climate stable, its freshwater safe and the country’s ecological diversity.

At present, Tibet has entered a phase of high-speed growth; and the courses of environmental protection and ecological construction don’t come without their risks. Meanwhile, without economic growth, Tibet would have no money to preserve its ancient lamaseries and it would be unable to provide for those lamas living in the lamaseries. Without increased revenue, Tibet would not have money to protect its natural environment.

Under China’s afforestation initiative, Tibet has successfully managed to implement a number of greening programs. The local government invested 10.7 billion yuan in improving and protecting the local environment by planting trees on the vast plateau in 2018. Trees have been planted in 863 villages that used to have none, and forest coverage has increased to 12.14 percent of the lofty region’s land mass. It has also established several State-level nature reserves, where a total of 125 rare species of wild animals and 39 rare species of wild plants are strictly protected. Local residents with economic difficulties have also benefited from the environmental protection efforts. As more than 300,000 farmers and herdsmen were hired as security staff to protect wild animals.

The beauty and sound ecology of Tibet and its achievements in ecological construction have helped boost the development of local tourism and the locals’ livelihoods, by bringing plenty of job opportunities to them. With the government providing up to 667,000 ecology-related jobs and an ecology-related subsidy for residents of 3,500 yuan ($498) per capita in 2018.

Tourism Boom in Tibet

Tourism is booming, and millions of tourist dollars are going directly into the pockets of the indigenous Tibetan population. Many of the travelers are visiting Tibet because of their deep interest in its history and culture, exotic ethnic culture and stunning landscape, which have resulted in a huge growth of tourism. Tibet is expected to register 40 million tourist arrivals next year, up from 10 million in 2012, and its tourism revenue is expected to reach 58 billion yuan.

If we look at the key factors causing this spike, we’ll find that Tibet’s improved transport system, such as an expanding network of highways and an increase in flight links with other regions, as well as hospitality facilities, has a great impact on tourism development.

To further boost tourism in the autonomous region, local government has encouraged more rural residents to be involved in tourism businesses, such as operating folk inns and selling local products, which proved to be a real money-spinner. With more than 500 families operating inns in 2016, more than 10,000 local residents have benefited from a family income rise by being involved in the tourism industry.

Fantasy and Reality

As Tibet rises from poverty, gains a modern infrastructure network, and sees its tourism industry boom, it should be obvious that Tibet’s existence as part of China has not been harmful. Tibetans are seeing their living standards increase without the disappearance of their traditional religion or culture.

Despite all the speculations about the true situation in Tibet, the reality is that the Tibet Autonomous Region’s position, as part of the People’s Republic of China, has been overwhelmingly good for the population. It has also been good for Tibetan culture and traditions, which are not being destroyed, but rather celebrated and promoted by the central government.


(This article includes statistics previously published by China Daily)


Layout by Tian Yuerong

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