When Tibetan writer Tsering Woeser protested online this week against a commercial development in her hometown of Lhasa, thousands supported her by reposting her message and sharing their own thoughts on Tibet.
Most of the supporters said they had visited Tibet as tourists. Others said they had seen it only in pictures and movies. But few probably knew how difficult it has become for Woeser and other relocated Tibetans to go home to the autonomous region in western China.
When Woeser, who lives in Beijing, went back to visit her mother in October, she had to go to Jilin, where her hukou (residential permit) is registered, to get a travel document from local police. Only after police issued a letter stating Woeser had no criminal history and a form signed by an authority and stamped by the local precinct could she set off.
She could tolerate the procedures, but not what she saw at home.
Once home, Woeser said she was astonished by both the scale and the nature of commercial developments going on in the ancient part of the Tibetan capital.
“Lhasa is being destroyed by excessive commercial development,” she wrote in the headline of a petition on Saturday that was quickly censored after it went viral on Weibo. “Please save Lhasa” (in Chinese), she pleaded in the letter (in Chinese), which was reposted on her blog.
The development project in question was Barkhor Mall, a shopping centre being built in the Old Town section of the city. The mall, once finished, would cover an area of 150,000 sq m and have more than 1,000 parking spaces, according to its developer.
Photo: Construction the Old Town of Lhasa. Source: Woeser
Tibet Cultural Development Charity Foundation, or Tibet Heritage Fund ( THF)
Tibet Heritage Fund (THF) is an international nonprofit organization committed to preserving architectural heritage, in general, and Tibetan heritage, in particular, and to improvement of the lives of people living in traditional and historic settlements through sustainable development. THF also promotes environmentally and climate-sensitive architecture. THF’s directors are Andre Alexander (first chairman) and Pimpim de Azevedo (second chairwoman).