I have posted four pages of photos, courtesy of my friend Chen Li Ping who took these on a recent trip to Tibet. You can access them here:
Strong opinions about Tibet are often held in the West, mostly by those who haven't been there and whose knowledge appears gleaned from misguided propaganda in the popular press.
The first adjective that would come to mind about Tibet is 'desolate'. Those who have been in the the far North (beyond the Arctic Circle), or above the tree line in the North American Rocky Mountains or the European Alps, will have some idea of the Tibetan landscape - which is 10,000 feet above the tree line.
There is nothing hospitable about the isolated conditions or climate in Tibet. Surely there are people who can see beauty in even the most desolate surroundings, but these brave detached souls would be most unlikely to choose that location for a summer home and certainly wouldn't live there by choice.
In much of the land, the severe climate means that nothing, or almost nothing, can grow. Tibet is a high-altitude desert, with little oxygen, almost no rainfall, and harsh temperatures. Only sparse numbers of the hardiest animals can survive there. No one in Tibet has ever seen a tree or even a bush. They likely have never seen fruit like cherries or peaches and would never have been able to afford them in any case.
The native Tibetans are not dissimilar to the aboriginal natives in North America, though they are for the most part less nomadic and more susceptible to education and societal structure. If we consider the white man's (European style) treatment of the North American native Indians and other aboriginals, it is very much to the benefit of Tibetans that they have not been 'saved' or 'freed' by Westerners.
Westerners appear to have a willful blindness about Tibet - The Shangri-La syndrome. Everyone wants to believe in some mythological, romantic fantasy about Tibet. It doesn't exist and it never did, but the myth seems to grow daily. The Western media impose on our imagination an image of some fabled theocracy where a reincarnated god rules over a peaceful people spinning prayer wheels.
The facts are different. The region has been under China's governance for many centuries, but was largely self-managed up to the 1950s when Mao went in to clean it up. Before that, Tibet was a slave colony, what the Western press euphemistically refers to as a 'feudal system'. It was no such thing. Virtually all the population was owned by the Dalai and other lamas and worked their entire lives without pay. The highest monks often owned 35,000 to 40,000 slaves. The prettiest girls (and boys) were confiscated to the monasteries for sex. Life was brutal and harsh, corrupt and punctuated by civil wars - the last in 1950. Life expectancy was barely 30.
Education was only for the monks because educated peasants are dangerous and expensive. Industry was forbidden because wealth of the population brought independence from religion. Torture was rampant. For anyone who cares to look, the internet is full of photos of the torture rooms at the Potala Palace and all the instruments used for gouging eyes and cutting leg tendons. You can easily find it. It's all there. The Dalai Lama was responsible for managing all of this. For the world to have given him a Nobel Peace Prize was an obscenity.
China has spent countless billions trying to bring Tibet out of the stone age. Education is now almost universal, the $4 billion Qinghai-Tibet railway brings in billions in tourist dollars and finally provides a way to move goods in and out. Tibet’s economic rate of growth and standard of living are higher now than in much of the rest of Western China.