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Fiftieth Anniversary of Tibetan Uprising, One Year After Riots

Tibet was once again sealed off to tourists as the 50th anniversary of the failed Tibetan uprising approached in March 2009. The Chinese government’s fear of reprisal from last year’s riots and demonstrations–which left at least 19 people dead (according to Chinese government statistics) and hundreds arrested–has made security tighter and tensions higher in Tibet. The Tibetan government in exile in Dharamsala, India, contends that last year’s fatalities were closer to one hundred, with thousands arrested. Following the four-day riots in 2008, Tibet was closed off to tourists for months; the local economy, driven by tourism, was greatly impacted.

According to the Chinese government, the number of the visitors to Tibet (and the subsequent tourism revenue) dropped by half in 2008 compared to the previous year. The majority of tourists to Tibet are primarily Han Chinese, many of whom still view Tibet as unsafe to visit. As a result, many locals who depend on the tourist industry are struggling.

China staunchly argues that Tibet has been a part of China since the 13th century, and that the past 50 years of reform by the communist government have liberated Tibet from its archaic feudal past. To commemorate the occasion, China declared March 28 “Serf Emancipation Day,” as the failed uprising directly brought upon the dissolution of the local Tibetan government.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama also issued a statement, describing a vastly different modern-day Tibet. He declared that Tibetan people and culture are on the brink of extinction under oppressive Chinese communist rule. In the past 50 years, China has tried to systematically eradicate Tibetan culture by instilling hard-line assimilation tactics. Most alarmingly, Tibetans have been marginalized and made second-class citizens in their own country as the population transfer of Han Chinese into Tibet increases. More than ten thousand Tibetan children have fled to Dharamsala, India, where the exiled Tibetan government can provide them a more meaningful education.

The Dalai Lama has dared the Chinese government to allow journalists into Tibet for unbiased reporting. “If you really see that things are good, we will drop our struggle,” said the Dalai Lama.

The Chinese government will lift its travel restrictions to Tibet in early April, but the political situation will likely remain uncertain indefinitely.

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