A reporter visited Tibet in August to investigate the changes the region has seen in the past 40 years and the dilemmas between economic development and cultural preservation its people face, China Newsweek reported on September 12.
Zhang Zongxian, editor-in-chief of Tibetan Local Records · Folk Customs, said that though folk customs change comparatively slowly, some in Tibet have changed more quickly in the past decade or so than in any previous period.
Drinking buttered tea has a history of hundreds of years in Tibet. The traditional tool for making it used to be a long circular cylinder, taking time and much effort. Now, they can only be found in an exhibition hall and electric butter-mixers have replaced them.
Nomadic life is another dying tradition. At the beginning of 1970s, a regional policy encouraging herdspeople to build houses and settle down was abandoned after snowstorms killed their cattle.
Despite this, Zhang said many herdspeople have settled down, though they are still involved in some pastoral activities. He said the local government in Nyima County of Ngaqu Prefecture gave herdspeople 50,000 yuan (US$6,180) each to move into houses on the roadside.
According to Zhang, the regional government has sent officials to Beijing, Hong Kong and other cities who have returned with ambitious aims for developing Tibet. "I am afraid of such opinions. Many people come to Tibet for its unique culture. If it is the same as elsewhere, why would they come here?" he asked.
Gyamco said some aspects of traditional culture have been under protection or been revived by the stimulus of tourism. China Tibetan Culture Research Center published a set of hardcover Tripitaka priced at more than 10,000 yuan (US$1,236).
The 10 Collection Project is collecting folk stories, idioms, slang and ballads over ten years with investment of 330 million yuan (US$40.8 million) and the involvement of more than 1,000 people.
Tangkhas, three-dimensional paintings framed in silk brocade, are auctioned and collected, and one early example was bought by an American for US$6 million. More common ones cost US$3,000-4,000 on the market, and more people are now drawing them.
China Newsweek reporter Li Jingyu visited Sera Monastery, one of the three largest in Tibet, and met children learning Mandarin there alongside Tibetan, one change intended to open up opportunities for them in working and living across China as well as in their own region.
Between September 21, 1985, when the first group of 1,300 Tibetan children were enrolled in special classes elsewhere in China, and August 2005, the number of junior secondary school students involved reached more than 29,000; that of secondary technical school students, secondary normal school students, and senior secondary school students 21,000; that of college students and junior college students more than 6,500.
Gong Daxi, vice chairman of Tibet Autonomous Region, said that, since 1965 when the region was established, bilingual education has been comprehensively implemented. Usually, students study Tibetan before third grade in primary school and afterwards study both Tibetan and Mandarin.
In 1987, the regional government implemented a regulation on studying, using and developing the Tibetan language. Later, it issued a more detailed regulation stressing the importance of studying the Tibetan language.
With the establishment of Mandarin as the common language of China, a diversity of channels has opened for cultural exchange between Tibet and elsewhere in the country.
(China.org.cn by Li Shen and Li Jingrong, September 25, 2005)