News from Lhasa?

Pilgrims in Lhasa

Chinese artist and dissident Ai Wei Wei says he "would feel ashamed to go" to Lhasa. The city seems to be in a state of near-lockdown. Have you been there in the last few months? Please tell us about it.

Ai Wei Wei recently told the US-based Foreign Policy magazine that he has never been to Lhasa. He said:

"I would feel ashamed to go. I think to respect [the Tibetans] is not to touch them, to leave them alone. "

That's a reasonable strategy for Han Chinese people. It acknowledges the great difficulties they would face in trying to offer a more positive kind of of solidarity. And it respects the Tibetan perception that the China Tibet Train is just another turn of the screw that is squeezing Tibetans into second-class status in their own land.

I heard a similar comment from a young Han Chinese woman - an admirer of Ai Wei Wei as it happens - in the audience for a film screening at a Tibetan cafe in Edinburgh last year. Maybe both these remarks contradicts my assertion in an earlier post that "people from China's Han majority have so far shown virtually no inclination to support the Tibetans." I certainly hope so.


The issues for people who aren't citizens of China are rather different. Tibetans don't regard foreign visitors as part of the problem. At least I don't think they do. Some of them see foreigners as a channel for communication and hope.

Have you visited Lhasa in the last few months? What did you see and hear? If you stay silent you really should have stayed away.

Recent reports from Lhasa portray a city in a state of near-lockdown. Chinese press coverage of an "anti-terrorism" exercise held in Lhasa earlier this month illustrate the fear-mongering behind the lockdown. China's Global Times (owned by the CPI-run People's Daily) said that the exercise had been held in preparation for the upcoming 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, expected in November.

Xiong Kunxin, a professor with the Minzu University of China, told the Global Times:

"Hostile forces will consider the 18th National Congress a time to sabotage the security and social stability of the country"

He said that the Dalai clique and hostile forces in the West hope to bring China into widespread chaos

The "anti-terrorism" exercise was held on 13 August and only lasted an hour or so. But the lock-down in Lhasa began before then, and is still going on. In a recent report from Radio Free Asia (a private non-profit corporation partly funded by the US Government) a Tibetan source said the city looked like a "vast prison." Tibetans from Tibetan regions in southwestern China are said to have been expelled from Lhasa and sent home, unless they were able to show a residence permit for the city.

Have you visited Lhasa in the last few months? What did you see and hear? If you stay silent you really should have stayed away. Please use the comment space on this page to pass your experiences on.

In passing, I have to say I'd have enjoyed Jonathan Landreth's intriguing interview with Ai Wei Wei a lot more if it had been published elsewhere than in Foreign Policy. FP is a right-wing redoubt. One of its founders was Samuel Huntington, whose lethally influential article Clash of Civilizations (published in 1993 not in Foreign Policy but in Foreign Affairs) gave imperialism a new vocabulary and helped create the climate for the 9/11 wars.