Across China: With unique plateau culture, ancient city of Lhasa embraces diversity, inclusiveness

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LHASA, June 18 (Xinhua) -- Bu Nian Tu, a masterpiece of Chinese painting, depicts the historical scene of a Tibetan envoy's audience with Emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty (618-907).

The friendly encounter paved the way for the marriage of Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo and Princess Wencheng of the Tang Dynasty, a new chapter of integration among different ethnic groups.

At that time, it had been several years since Songtsen Gampo relocated his kingdom's capital to a place in the lower reaches of the Kyichu River, which is now the city of Lhasa.

Since the 7th century, the city of Lhasa gradually emerged in the heart of the plateau, nestled within the valley of the Lhasa River -- a tributary of the Yarlung Tsangpo River.

The city's rich history spans centuries, characterized by layers of cultural heritage, thereby fostering a distinctive plateau culture that embraces diversity and inclusiveness.

This remarkable plateau culture exemplifies the enduring vibrancy of Chinese cultural heritage, resonating with people around the world.


Barkhor Street, located at the heart of the ancient city of Lhasa, serves as a living testament to its rich history.

The Jokhang Temple on the street houses a life-size statue of a 12-year-old Shakyamuni Buddha brought by Princess Wencheng on her momentous journey to Tibet. In front of the temple, the inscription on the Tang-Tubo Alliance Monument reflects the enduring ethnic unity between the Han and Tibetan peoples.

Adjacent to Barkhor Street is the former residence site of the Qing government's minister to Tibet. Since the establishment of the inaugural ministerial office in Tibet in 1728, 138 ministers were stationed there over the ensuing 200 years.

Barkhor Street bears witness to the tapestry of exchanges and interactions among different ethnic groups. Today, the Barkhor Ancient City, which centers around Barkhor Street, thrives as a vibrant melting pot for people of over 20 ethnic groups, including Tibetans, Han, Hui, and Menba, as well as foreign visitors.

It comprises an intricate network of 35 streets and alleys, boasting an impressive array of more than 4,000 commercial establishments. Every day, it welcomes tens of thousands of pilgrims and tourists.

Within this bustling enclave, visitors can satiate their palates at the trendy "makye ame" restaurant or immerse themselves in Tibetan-style ancient architecture and exquisite Qing Dynasty murals at a local art center.

Alternatively, they can explore the Gedun Chophel Memorial, the former residence of a renowned 20th-century Tibetan Buddhist monk, for glimpses into his modest life and indomitable spirit of resistance and criticism against the archaic system.

Reta Nalda, the present custodian of a century-old Nepalian store on Barkhor Street, met his Tibetan wife after settling in Lhasa.

"For more than a hundred years, the true wealth of our establishment lies in the bonds of friendship, fostered by the longstanding amicable relations between China and Nepal," said Nalda.

At the excavation site of the Qugong ruins in Lhasa, dating back approximately 3,200 to 3,400 years, a plethora of cultural relics discovered there have pushed back the prehistoric origins of Lhasa by over a millennium.

After analyzing the remains of barley, wheat, highland barley, and millet unearthed at the site, archaeologists concluded that during the prehistoric era, the plateau had extensive exchanges with Central Asia, East Asia, and South Asia.

In the 70 years since the peaceful liberation of Tibet, the central authorities have invested 1.79 billion yuan (about 251.09 million U.S. dollars) in four projects aimed at preserving the old city of Lhasa.

Looking ahead, local authorities plan to implement measures to preserve Lhasa with even higher standards. They seek to strike a delicate balance that enables the ancient city to evolve and flourish while ensuring the inheritance of its rich culture.


The Potala Palace, an icon of Tibet, was first built in the 7th century. It is known as the treasury of Tibetan ethnic history, culture, and art due to its unique architecture and vast collection of cultural artifacts.

The palace is home to nearly 40,000 volumes of precious ancient books and documents in various languages.

At the end of 2018, the central government allocated 300 million yuan for a 10-year project dedicated to the protection and utilization of ancient books and documents at the Potala Palace.

"This project aims to combine modern technology with methods of ancient document preservation, revive precious ancient books and documents, and allow more people to appreciate the wisdom and charm of China's outstanding traditional culture," said Padma Losang, head of cultural relics protection division with the palace administrative office.

By the end of 2022, the researchers had completed the survey and registration of nearly 3,500 volumes and over 10 million pages of precious ancient books and documents, and restored nearly 8,000 pages of precious Tibetan ancient books and documents, according to Padma Losang.

In July 2022, the new building of the Tibet Museum opened to the public. The construction and exhibition of the new museum took five years, with a total investment of 660 million yuan from the central government.

The new museum showcases hundreds of historical documents, including imperial edicts, decrees, as well as official documents and letters.

"These precious cultural relics not only showcase the unique Tibetan history and culture but also attest to the efforts made by all ethnic groups in China in jointly developing and safeguarding Tibet," said He Xiaodong, a researcher at the Tibet Museum.


On the south bank of the Lhasa River, a large-scale opera called "Princess Wencheng," which is set against the starry sky and the backdrop of mountains, attracts a large audience every night.

The opera tells the story of Princess Wencheng's marriage with Songtsen Gampo through modern dance and theatrical art.

Since its debut in 2013, more than 1,600 performances of the opera have been staged, attracting 4 million visitors and generating over 1.5 billion yuan in tourism revenue.

The success of the opera is a fine example of how local authorities have made efforts to revitalize ancient Tibetan culture.

Tibetan opera combines talking, singing, acting, dancing, and literature, and has a history of over 600 years. It is regarded as a "living fossil" of Tibetan culture.

Over the past decades, the protection and inheritance of Tibetan operas have been stepped up. Many troupes have been driving the "modernization" of traditional operas, by integrating them with advanced stage technologies and creating modern plays.

Continuous efforts are made to promote the development and innovation of fine traditional culture. This year, Lhasa plans to implement a project that promotes reading and holds the inaugural competition on cultural and creative products.

"Culture has played a prominent role in nurturing people's hearts, fostering unity, and strengthening confidence among the public," said Gan Liquan, deputy director of the regional cultural department of Tibet. Enditem

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