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Lhasa, the Lost City

When we decided to make a series of screensavers dedicated to Tibet, our intention was to allow people to see what we saw during our visit there. In particular this screensaver is meant to pay homage to a beautiful and fascinating city as it once was not really so long ago: Lhasa, the capital of Tibet.

The efforts made by China and those who govern China to anihilate the captivating charm, historical heritege and mystical environment, that survived virtually unscathed in Tibet for centuries, are succeeding simply as a result of the masses of Chinese nationals that have been transferred, willing or not, to the Tibetan region.

Possibly the Chinese authorities want to see the marvels that once caused awe to be truly lost forever by "replacing" them wth more "useful" or more "modern" things.

When we visited Lhasa in 1987, a limited number of western visitors were being admitted after nearly 40 years of almost total isolation. The numbers of western visitors were numbering less than five thousand per year initially and are not really much greater today (March 2000).

Both Lhasa and the whole of Tibet have always been fairly remote due to altitude (more than 11,400 feet (3,500 mt) above sea level) and geographical location. The Tibet Plateau is surrounded by some of the highest mountains in the world, with nearly all of its roads that are usually at least difficult if not, at times, impossible.

Another issue which has kept Tibet a place apart from the rest of the world was the conviction among the ruling clergy there that foreign ideas would change the Tibetan way of life. Tibet has been ruled, for all practical purposes, by the monastery based yellow cap and red cap monks for over 500 years.

A little over 100 years ago, the existance of Tibet started to be known as a consequence of its location which then (as now) was of interest strategically to all the countries which shared borders with it (Nepal, Bhutan, India, Burma) or of the Colonial powers that goverened those areas.

The years from 1890 to 1910 saw much outside interest in Tibet coming from Russia, Great Britain and China. This outside interest was fought and discouraged by the Tibetan authorities of the time who feared the disruption the "new ideas" could cause in a well oiled although aging theocracy.

In 1904, in accordance with the "gunboat diplomacy" that many governments reverted to when they saw their efforts stymied by any form of opposition, His Majesty's government (Edward VII was reigning in Great Britain) sent 3,000 troops marching into Tibet under the command of a Foreign Office hand picked soldier Col. Francis Younghusband. The British withdrew after signing the Anglo-Tibetan Convention which allowed them to have Trade Agents at Gyantse and at Gartok in Western Tibet.

Very few western visitors had ever had the chance before then to see Lhasa. In truth, not very many more have had the chance since. Those that have been there must consider themselves to be very lucky indeed.

In the mean time the 14th Dalai Lama, His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso - who was enthroned in 1940 at the age of 4 - was obliged to escape from Tibet to neighboring India in 1959. The pressure from Beijing was increasing and the risk of virtual imprisonment was becoming more and more likely.

During the 51 years since western Tibet (where Lhasa is located) has been called "TAR" (Tibetan Autonomous Region) by the Chinese authorities that oversee it, an iron heel has been firmly poised if not lowered onto the entire country pervading every aspect of the lives of the population which has chosen not to flee from a not so subtle form of genocide.

Rather than revert to mass murder, the Chinese are simply dismantling Tibet. It will take a bit more time but as has always been a tradition and rule in China, time and people are expandable. What else can the forced insertion of 6 million Han Chinese outnumbering 1 million native born Tibetans be called?

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Image2.gif (12932 bytes) The systematic destruction of schools, hospitals, places of worship and so on are yet further examples. The Potala Palace (see right above) was once the residence of the Dalai Lama. It is now a Museum which in itself is not bad. What is negative is that all the books of which there were tens of thousands, works of art, stautes in bronze, gold and silver and other artifacts have all been "removed". What is left is what the Chinese consider "of interest". There is no clear indication of where these artifacts have been removed to.

While walking through Lhasa and the deliberate devastation occurring there, a present day visitor will encounter Red Brigade inspired drab uniform buildings that are the abode of the Chinese that have (in their own words) been "exiled" to Tibet. This architecture is in the place of the sometimes centuries old 1 or 2 or 3 floor buildings which were part of the harmony and history that once upon a time greeted the first time visitor to Lhasa,

This also explains in part why the Chinese occupation is so brutal. The very people that Beijing has ordered to go to Tibet didn't, for the most part, want to go there in the first place. Obeying orders to destruct things gets carried out with all the more zeal bordering on vengence by an occupying population that has nobody other than the Tibetan nationals to pick on.

If you visit a Tibetan run school, there will be no electricity, no polished floors but mud flattened by many barefoot students and teachers. Not the sort of thing one would expect to find in the 21st century in a land that has so much history behind it.

What is left? Regrets and a deafening silence on the part of most of the world's governing powers that seem to think that Tibet and its plight matter little when weighed against the commercial value of Chinese trade.

Lhasa Screensaver
Size 1.586 Kb - Windows 95/98/NT/2000/ME/XP
10 images

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Copyright 2000/2001 C.H. Ostfeld Inc. All rights reserved. 
Maps used on this website have been obtained from the PCL Collection
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