Above image: A Chinese activist with a blaring radio rides by the Potala Palace, the home of the now-exiled Dalai Lama. A place of pilgrimage for many Tibetans, the palace is now a shell of its former self, serving no greater purpose than as a museum to the lamas.
Since 1950, the autonomous region of Tibet has been a source of international contention, stemming from a Chinese-led military assault that coerced Tibet’s leaders into signing a treaty that allowed full military occupation. Nine years later a full-scale uprising against the Chinese led to thousands of Tibetan deaths – a conflict that the Chinese government has never acknowledged. The Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, fled the country; more than 80,000 Tibetans followed his lead.
Today, access to Tibet is still restricted for journalists, and the Beijing government heavily controls the message, presenting a public image of a harmonious, peaceful region that is developing as a tourist destination. The red flag waves from every corner, photos of Premier Xi Jinping tower over the main square, New Balance outlets and fake Apple stores have sprung up in shopping arcades. The ethnic mix of the population has changed profoundly, as Han Chinese follow the government’s infrastructure development to set up businesses. Protests against the occupation continue, however, with self-immolations by monks continuing into the 21st century.
Photos: Marc Sethi
Words: Monisha Rajesh-Lever