China Affirms the Charisma of the Dalai Lama (Updated)

The New York Times pays a visit to the ancestral home of the 14th Dalai Lama in Qinghai, which the government has promoted as a tourist destination despite the official condemnation of the Tibetan spiritual leader:

That this state-financed shrine to the Dalai Lama exists at all highlights Beijing’s complex and contradictory attitude toward a man it frequently describes as a terrorist, a separatist and “a wolf in monk’s robes.” Since relations between the exiled Tibetan leader and the Chinese government took a nose dive in the mid-1990s, even possession of the Dalai Lama’s picture is considered a crime.

The government’s official line is that the Dalai Lama is agitating for an independent Tibet, even as he insists that he is seeking only meaningful autonomy. In recent months, the government has sought to blame him for the self-immolations of about two dozen Tibetans, a ghastly act of protest against Chinese rule that he has condemned.

Hong’Ai, or Taktser as it is known in Tibetan, has long been on the receiving end of that official ambivalence. In the mid-1980s, when talks were proceeding reasonably well, the government rebuilt the Dalai Lama’s birthplace, which had been destroyed during the antireligious fervor of the Cultural Revolution.

In 2010, the local Communist Party poured 2.6 million renminbi, or about $410,000, into Hong’Ai, upgrading the town’s 54 residences, including the Dalai Lama’s homestead, with the aim of turning the place into a lucrative tourist attraction. The improvements included tall, white-tile gates for every home and a colorfully painted but imposing wall in front of the Dalai Lama’s home that prevents visitors from peering inside.

Read more about the Dalai Lama via CDT.

Update: The Financial Times (subscription only) reports that while tensions between Han officials and Tibetans in areas of Sichuan are at dangerous levels, the relationship between the two groups in Qinghai is much more peaceful, which may explain the tolerance of the Dalai Lama’s birthplace there:

Local Chinese, Tibetan leaders, experts and exile groups give credit to the relatively lenient governance style in much of Qinghai, which contrasts starkly with far more punitive policies elsewhere.

“We’ve heard about the troubles in other [Tibetan] areas, but our relations with the government are quite good,” said one senior monk at the Gartse lamasery.


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