Recent reports about damage to Lhasa’s Old City conflict, but one thing is clear: Tibet’s most holy site will never be the same after the Chinese regime turns it into a theme park.
State-run media People’s Daily last week rejected as “rumors” several online reports saying that Lhasa’s Old City will to be torn down and rebuilt as a tourist attraction.
Some sources said that the Jokhang Temple in central Lhasa, a key destination for Buddhist pilgrims, was being demolished, but this was later denied by experts. However, photos do show that the ancient pilgrimage route is gone.
Tibetan writer Woeser posted photos on her blog, and described significant changes to the World Heritage Site. “The space in front of the Jokhang, which has borne witness to so much change over the ages, has no more of the pilgrims from Kham and Amdo, who prostrate themselves all the way from the far borders to Lhasa; no more lamp pavilions in which thousands and tens of thousands of butter lamp offerings were lit every day.”
It seems that although the building itself was spared, the spiritual environment, and historic ambience have been dozed away, and the future Jokhang will be merely a tourist trap, rather than a holy destination for pilgrims.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has turned cultural heritage into a cash cow in other areas, say critics, erasing ancient traditions. Woeser gave the examples of Hunan City, and Lijiang in Yunnan Province, whose history was sacrificed for tourism. “This kind of destruction has caused great damage and should be considered ‘tourist colonialism,’” she said.
She added that plans for the Old City in Lhasa include constructing over 37 acres of shopping malls, and an underground parking lot in the Barkor area streets surrounding the Jokhang Temple. This means that the traditional vendors will be driven out of the temple’s vicinity as Lhasa is remodeled to attract paying visitors.
In addition to commercial construction, the regime has significantly increased surveillance and monitoring, tightening up security for the past several months. Lhasa has been the site of protests in the past.
The Potala Palace in Lhasa is a World Heritage site, and UNESCO added Jokhang Temple and Norbulingka Palace to the site in 2000 and 2001 respectively.