China is is building an enormous theme park in Tibet avowedly to “showcase Tibetan arts and medicine”.
Chinese imperialism operates by offering material benefits to the peoples it has conquered if they convert to Chineseness. In China, the Tibetans who play along can send their children to schools where they will be remade into Chinese, and be eligible for good jobs and housing. Tibet used to be one of the poorest places on earth; under Chinese rule it is becoming part of the modern world, with railroads, roads, electricity and jobs. It comes with only one catch: Tibetans will cease to be Tibetans and become Chinese. And there is no option. Tibetans cannot possibly avoid becoming Chinese. China insures that Sinicization will take place by swamping the peoples it conquers with large numbers of Chinese immigrants. The indigenous culture shrivels up and, after a few centuries, dies. In the case of Tibet, a bit of the ancient culture may survive for a while outside the motherland – like the Parsis of India – but, like the Parsis, the Tibetan diaspora will eventually assimilate and disappear.
The modern wrinkle is that while conquered peoples are being assimilated, they put them on display in a human zoo. It allows China to look multicultural and tolerant, while boosting a Tibetan economy in which the good jobs go to Chinese, who can be moved to Tibet in larger numbers if more tourists come to enjoy the theme park.
Human zoos that used to be popular in Western cities. Tourists flocked to see real, live, exotic Africans and wild Indians with their strange barbaric customs. The last human zoo closed in 1958.
Americans who have visited Tibet’s neighbors Yunnan and Sichuan have probably been to a modern Chinese human zoo, a theme park, ethnic town or culture show where modern Bai dress up in gaudy versions of their ancestor’s holiday clothes to dance, sing and work at ancient crafts for the amusement of tourists. They advertise on Youtube. It’s not the same as being a living culture, and nothing at all like having a future together as members of an ancient culture. It’s just a way of earning a living while they and their children become Chinese.
This is how Chinese imperialism operates.