Lhasa, Tibet — Street vendors camped around Lhasa’s Golden Jokhang Temple sell old photographs of the exiled god king, the Dalai Lama. Pilgrims with yak butter offerings chant sutras and Swing prayer wheels at reopened shrines.
The former hermit kingdom of Tibet is undergoing a religious revival after years of fanatical suppression of Buddhism under the Chinese Communists, who have occupied the vast plateau for three decades as self-proclaimed liberators.
Bombed temples, desecrated icons and painted slogans exalting the late Chairman Mao Testing still pockmark the valleys and tark peaks of this Himalayan fortress in central Asia, which is the size of Western Europe but inhabited by less than 2 million people.
The ruins are reminders of Peking’s attempt to crush Tibetan culture and bury a feudal theocracy that ruled the mystical land for centuries, resisting Chinese domination and later appealing vainly for outside help. By some estimate, hundreds of thousands of Tibetans died in the struggle.
The exiled Dalai Lama, in an article for the New York Times opened page on Aug. 9, wrote that “at least 1.2 million have died as a direct result of the (Chinese) occupation.”
The Dalai Lama fled Lhasa on March 17, 1959, as Chinese troops encircled Norbulingka Jewel Park, his summer palace, and later reduced it to ruble. But from his exile home in Dharamsala, India, the 49yearold spiritual leader of Tibet remains a powerful force among his compatriots. Nearly 100,000 fled with him abroad.
“Almost all of Tibet’s great wealth, especially the priceless religious statues, ‘images, paintings and icons that adorned our thousands of monasteries and temples has been plungered and taken to China,” the god king wrote in the dispatch from Dharamsala. “… Among our greatest losses are the irreplaceable ancient Sanskrit, Palil and Tibetan texts destroyed by the Chinese.”
But after 35 years of what the Chinese now call a mistaken approach, they say they are funneling $1.4 billion into restoring temples and building roads, schools and tourist hotels in the poorest region under their control.
The Communists only in recent years have let a trickle of foreigners tour the “roof of the world,” a land of dizzying elevation and oxygen thin air.
At 12,210 feet, Lhasa is among the world’s highest cities, a mix of decayed Chinese concrete and centuries old buildings of stone and dried earth, ringed by craggy, treeless snowcapped peaks and verdant fields of barley.
Article extracted from this publication >> August 30, 1985