Visitors to Tibet via the Qinghai-Tibet Highway are first greeted by a variety of peddlers.
Shouting loudly, the peddlers, mostly teenagers, offer mushrooms and other mountain fare from their hats or baskets to passers-by.
No sooner have visitors unpacked their suitcases in Tibet, than they experience the locals' strong bent for business. Turning on television in their hotel rooms, they see striking advertisements introducing Tibetan products between regular TV programs. Strolling down Bargor Street in downtown Lhasa, capital city of the Tibet Autonomous Region, they are frequently stopped by Tibetan women from Qamdo, a place rich in gems, selling ornaments made of agate or turquoise and other souvenirs. If the visitor is a foreigner, the peddlers speak in clumsy English.
"People's lives in Tibet are closely linked with adverts, a symbol of the market economy. Advertising indicates a fundamental social progress in Tibet," said Zhaxi Gunga, a Tibetan sociologist.
Traditionally doing business was deemed a humble trade here. Tibetans felt it shameful to peddle their goods by shouting loudly in the street. When adverts first appeared on TV screens decades ago, many Tibetans called them "the acts of boasters and cheats".
However as their economic contacts with the outside world increased, Tibetans learned that commerce is a way to make money quickly and have grown to love it.
Advertising is one of the fastest-growing businesses in Tibet. The region has 203 such firms which employ 778 people. They decorate shops along Tibet's major streets with colorful adverts, which are no less numerous than those in other Chinese cities. What is different here though, is that the Tibetan language features alongside the Chinese characters, according to an official.
Thanks to advertising, some Tibetan products including "Zhufeng" (Qomolangma) brand motorcycles and Qizheng pain-relief plaster have been exported to many other countries.
Apart from adverts on billboards or television, the majority of Tibetans are familiar with a traditional form - promoting products by shouting loudly in the street.
Purba Zhoima, a retiree from Anju Garden in the western suburbs of Lhasa, says she and her neighbors are wakened up every morning by hawkers' calls. But they don't mind because the vendors bring fresh milk to their doorsteps.
Yangzom, a successful peddler who has sold milk in the streets of Lhasa for many years said: "I used to toil all year round just to make enough for food and clothes. Now my greatest hope is to build a decent two-story house and save money to provide for my two children who are studying in inland colleges."
Tibetan businessmen in the eyes of outsiders are honest, simple and warmhearted. "They give full measures and are friendly to us," a British tourist said.
The ripples of the market economy have spread from cities to rural areas, even to Buddhist temples.
Lamas at local monasteries have taken up selling balloons with a Buddhist scripture hanging from the string. No matter whether visitors are just curious or Buddhist believers, they choose to pay the high price for a balloon because they count on it taking their deepest hopes and prayers to the sky.
The Samyai Monastery makes two million yuan (US$240,960) annually by selling souvenirs and running hotels.
Tibetan people have accepted lots of new things born in the market economy age.
When an advertising poster promoting Lhasa beer was hung the other day on the wall of the Potala Palace, the holiest building in Tibet, local Buddhists accepted it as normal and continued to worship at the 1,300-year-old palace as usual.
(Xinhua News Agency November 13, 2002)