"Different parties, including both the Chinese government and overseas 'human rights' activists, always politicize problems in Tibet, making real
environmental challenges untouchable," said Gao, an environmental NGO worker in western China. He was extremely reluctant to disclose his information,
worrying that any news stories coming out would pose further challenges to his NGO's efforts to enhance environmental protection.
"In Tibet, environmental problems are politicized and treated as stability problems," said Droje, a Tibetan scholar in TAR, although he agrees that it is
necessary to consider environmental challenges in a broader context.
On Tibet.cn, an official website about Tibet, an article was posted entitled, "Hard
to Understand: The Theory of Environmental Destruction in Tibet". In the article, people who claim that Tibet now faces great environmental challenges are
labeled political enemies under the leadership of the Dalai Lama.
"When people hold protests overseas and call for a 'Free Tibet,' it may inadvertently help government officials politicize everything and demonize the
Dalai Lama," said Howard French, the former Shanghai Bureau Chief of the New York Times. He believes that Tibetans best advance their cause by advocating for
things that are good for all Chinese people, since they share many of the same needs: clean air, clean water, and basic rights.
However, gaps in understanding and trust between Tibetans and Han Chinese have been huge issues. According to an anonymous source, Li Chuncheng, the former
vice party secretary of Sichuan province, used to visit the Gulden Temple where self-immolations frequently occurred. When he arrived, he asked for people
to share their true thoughts and affirmed that he was there to solve problems. However, monks insisted on telling him that everything was fine. After Li
disappointedly returned without any new information, others would self-immolate.
"We international journalists want to hear more rational opinions from normal people, but almost exclusively hear politically extreme opinions," said Mei
Yang, a journalist withRadio France International.
The communications gap exists not only between Tibetans and government officials, but between Tibetans and most normal Han Chinese. For Han Chinese, the
absence of knowledge about modern Tibetan history and lack of tolerance towards different belief systems make it harder for them to understand the
"When I was listening to my Han classmates talking in a mean way about the Dalai Lama, I was very sad and frustrated," said Dolker. Losing hope in bridging
cultural gaps, some Tibetans have given up on truly connecting with Han Chinese.
Wu, the environmental journalist who wished to remain unnamed, recalled challenges he faced in convincing Tibetans to share their true thoughts when he was
there to help them when doing journalism works in China. "Many Han Chinese in Tibet think that they understand Tibetans," he remarked, "But the truth is
that Tibetans have learned what to say to Han Chinese."
* Tibetans interviewed for this article may be quoted under pseudonyms to protect their identities.
This post also appears at Tea Leaf Nation, an Atlantic partner site.