Tibet At War With Utopian Modernity

Pankaj Mishra is the Guardian’s Comment is Free:

Tibet’s economy has surpassed China’s average growth rate, helped by generous subsidies from Beijing and more than a million tourists a year. The vast rural hinterland shows few signs of this growth, but Lhasa, with its shopping malls, glass-and-steel office buildings, massage parlours and hair saloons, resembles a Chinese provincial city on the make. Beijing hopes that the new rail link to Lhasa, which makes possible the cheap extraction of Tibet’s uranium and copper, will bring about kuayueshi fazhan (“leapfrog development”) – economic, social and cultural.

Tibet has been enlisted into what is the biggest and swiftest modernisation in history: China’s development on the model of consumer capitalism, which has been cheer-led by the Wall Street Journal and other western financial media that found in China the corporate holy grail of low-priced goods and high profits. Tibetans – whose biggest problem, according to Rupert Murdoch, is believing that the Dalai Lama “is the son of God” – have the chance to be on the right side of history; they could discard their superstitions and embrace, like Murdoch, China’s brave new world. So why do they want independence? How is it that, as the Economist put it, “years of rapid economic growth, which China had hoped would dampen separatist demands, have achieved the opposite”?

For one, the Chinese failed to consult Tibetans about the kind of economic growth they wanted. In this sense, at least, Tibetans are not much more politically impotent than the hundreds of millions of hapless Chinese uprooted by China’s Faustian pact with consumer capitalism.