In recent issues of World Journal (世界日报), there was an interesting comparison of “two Lhasa’s,” written by three co-authors, Messrs Yin, Fei and Yu from the Bay Area. The two Lhasa’s in question were the Lhasa in Tibet and the “little Lhasa” established by the Dalai Lama in upper Dharamsala upon his exile from Tibet in 1959. In the interest of introducing the results of their research to a broader English reading public, I have loosely translated some of their major findings and observations in this blog.
When Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959, the Lhasa he left behind had a population of 29,000. Of this total, 14,000 were monks and nuns that did not contribute to the economy and 4,000 were homeless beggars, all were supported by a working population of 11,000. By way of comparison, in America for every 10,000 population, the average is 24 in the clergy and 2 homeless. Obviously the economic burden of the working class in the Lhasa Dalai Lama left behind was unimaginably onerous to say the least.
On the other hand, the little Lhasa in Dharmsala had all the advantages of a roaring new beginning. The followers of Dalai Lama were the elites of Tibet. They were educated, skilled and wealthy. They knew what it would take to set up an exile government. Furthermore, Dalai Lama and his cohort had the explicit support of the CIA and the State Department, to the tune of $2-3 million in annual subsidy. Lastly, Dalai Lama took his personal wealth with him to India. Just the antiquities he took with him were judged to be worth $200 million in today’s dollars. He also owned approximately 8 tons of gold and 4,750 tons of silver, worth $8.7 billion in today’s dollars. In other words, Dalai Lama had plenty of assets to establish a new Lhasa in style.
So, after 50 years, how do the old Lhasa in Tibet compare to the little Lhasa in India?
The population of Lhasa has increased from the original 29,000 to 300,000 Tibetans, while the population of little Lhasa remained static at 30,000 of which about 5000 are Tibetans.
In Tibet’s Lhasa, there used to be a total of 4 automobiles, bought by the 13th Dalai Lama, the predecessor to the current Dalai Lama. Today, there are 16,000 vehicles in Lhasa. In little Lhasa, only the Dalai Lama and senior government officials have cars, none of the regular Tibetans own cars.
In 2007, Lhasa replaced all plastics shopping bags with textile bags, and the practice has now spread to all of Tibet. Little Lhasa continues to be littered with plastics bags fluttering in the wind. There are 110 public toilets in Lhasa, none in little Lhasa.
There are two public reading facilities (书楼) in Lhasa and 17 book stores, of which 16 sell books in Tibetan language and 4 sell sutras and Buddhist scriptures. In little Lhasa, there is not one bookstore that specialize in Tibetan books.
In Lhasa, by 2007 Tibetan language was taught for the first nine years of school but has now expanded to 12 years of school. In little Lhasa, Tibetan language is taught up through first 5 years of school and everything is then taught in English from the sixth grade on.
In the 50 years of existence, Dalai Lama received $150 million of financial support from the U.S. government—generous by American standards of foreign aid but pale by the amount Beijing has invested in Tibet, a total closer to $15.4 billion.
During the Cultural Revolution, many of the temples and historic structures were damaged or destroyed by the “Red Guards,” many of whom were ethnic Tibetans. Beijing has since allocated the necessary funds to restore and repair these structures and publicly apologized to the people of Tibet. The Dalai Lama has never apologized for the crimes against humanity committed by the religious government under his rule before his exile.