Visiting Tibet is Immoral.

Via Waylon Lewis
on May 22, 2010
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Update:  Our friends @TibetTruth just tweeted: “Tibet’s an occupied nation suffering China’s vicious tyranny, not a shangrila playground for exotic vacations.” Hear, hear.

It is a tough question—but I think visiting any harshly occupied nation is questionable at best. Obviously those going to help the people of Tibet, not pose for photos at Lhasa’s Potala Palace…well all visits aren’t created equal. ~ W.

Visiting Tibet isn’t Spiritual. It’s Immoral.

I say it is. I could be wrong. I often am.

But for years I’ve felt uncomfortable when my fellow Buddhist buddies or climbers and adventurers of all stripes visited Tibet.

It’s under occupation by the Chinese Communists. I mean, when the recent Tibet Quake happen, it was widely referred to as the China Quake, until grassroots media (including ele) forcibly renamed it…what it actually was.

Look: you wouldn’t visit Nazi Germany and say “my presence there helps the Jews or the homosexuals or the artists or handicapped who are suffering so much.” In Tibet, any conversations with Tibetans are watched closely. Cameras are everywhere. Spies are everywhere. A good portion of your fees and tourism dollars, by necessity, go to the Chinese, not the Tibetans—and those dollars help prop up a government that exiles artists, censors search engines and even, now, regulates use of a photocopier.

Excerpt via the New York Times:

“Basically, the main purpose is to instill fear into people’s hearts,” said Woeser, an activist who, like many Tibetans, goes by one name. “In the past, the authorities tried to control ordinary people at the grass-roots level. But they have gradually changed their target to intellectuals in order to try to control thought.”

A 47-year-old writer named Tragyal was arrested in April after he published a book calling on Tibetans to defend their rights through peaceful demonstrations, the report states. His current whereabouts is unknown, it said.

A popular Tibetan singer, Tashi Dhondup, was sentenced to 15 months at a labor camp in January after he released a new CD with a song calling for the return of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, according to the report. He had been arrested on suspicion of “incitement to split the nation,” the report states…for the rest, go to the NY Times.

It’s a government built on fear. Don’t feed it.

PS: neither this blog nor the Times article above can be read in China. And by China, I mean Tibet, too.

PPS: if you disagree, there’s no better way to go to Tibet than with my friends at Tibetan Village Project. You’ll be traveling with ex-Tibetans who work with Tibetans for the benefit of Tibet. And, the journey is eco-responsible. Click image:


About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat." Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword's Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by "Greatist", Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: "the mindful life" beyond the choir & to all those who didn't know they gave a care. | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, is now available.


21 Responses to “Visiting Tibet is Immoral.”

  1. Luciano says:

    I'm not sure where you're getting your numbers, but between Hitler and Stalin the conservative numbers would add up to 28 million killed outside of war. Tibet's entire population couldn't have been that many. At any rate, I'd still favor showing the people of Tibet that they are not forgotten over a boycott that hurts Tibetans more than their Chinese occupiers.

  2. Luciano says:

    Would you have considered visiting Nazi Germany of the local economy was Jewish and starved for commerce? Yes, some of your travel fees go to China, but the money you spend with local merchants while in Tibet stays in the local economy. Additionally, the Tibetan people need to know that the world has not forgotten them. Tell them yourself.

  3. Good points, Luciano. I'm not sure what is right. But, to answer your question, I'd prefer not to have Nazi Germany's stamp on my passport. I'd prefer that none of my money went to feed what I regard as a confused, evil regime.

    One is six Tibetans were killed following the "Liberation." Mao killed more than Hitler and Stalin combined.

    But, as I noted, it isn't black and white. If you are going to visit, do so with a great group like the above that, as you say, helps benefit a people in desperate need.

  4. Marcia says:

    I disagree with the article. You have to be savvy in how you spend your money and support the Tibetans. But there are many ways to provide financial, moral and emotional support to the Tibetans especially the children. Do your research and get connected with local groups. If we who have so many freedoms and so many resources don't support them, who will? Doesn't that just solidify the occupation? If you haven't gone and you are unclear as to how to accomplish this…..then talk to people who go regularly to give back to the Tibetans. Is it traumatic to see the occupation, yes. Can you help in traveling there, absolutely. So if you haven't gone and you don’t know how to get resources directly in the hands of the Tibetans then I suggest you stick to writing about something you have direct experience with! It’s irresponsible writings like this that limit the support the Tibetans truly need. with! You are absolutely correct that the China is governing harshly and through fear. What is the emotional intention behind this article?

  5. THOH says:

    Tibet is a beautiful land filled with friendliest people, and they are closer to god than any group I have ever met. They have so little, yet give you everything they have. If you are looking for a way to help, I suggest the Tibetan Home of Hope, <a href="” target=”_blank”> It is a home in every sense of the word, and gives orphaned Tibetan children a warm home to grow up in, most importantly, in their own homeland! they can preserve their culture, learn Tibetan tradition, and be healthy and loved. They are in critical need of help now even more than ever after taking in many children orphaned by the earthquake. Your donations can help so much. The orphanage is run by Tibetans, for Tibetans, and every penny donated goes to great use!

  6. That's including Chinese, not "just" Tibetans. It's a well-established historical number.

  7. "there are many ways to provide financial, moral and emotional support to the Tibetans especially the children"…without going there and handing the Chinese "occupation" a few thousand of your well-intentioned bucks.

    The intention, is, as an American Buddhist raised in a Kagyu-Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism, one of love for Tibetans, and urging conscious consumerism upon those who would go for a spiritual journey to an occupied land.

    But thanks for your comment. As I said in the beginning, I may well be wrong on this point. The dialogue, such as this one between us, is the point. Think about it before doing it, if you're going to do it as you said it can be of great benefit to the locals.

  8. Thanks, glad to learn more.

  9. Would love to host an article by them, if you know them.

  10. Via @epicasia: This article via @elephantjournal also sparks another question: Is it ethical to visit Burma? Important to think about.

  11. Marcia says:

    It is true that money with the Chinese will undoubtedly exchange hands and being conscious about this is imperative. However, what China continues to get away with requires the eyes of the World as the Tibetans are not free to tell their story. So it does create a moral dilemma – I agree…but for me to travel, bare witness, share in hopes of helping those Tibetans there and ultimately to help facilitate change is the lesser of the evils. I know that the small amount of money, not $2000 will end up in the hands of the Chinese but I get to come home and spread the word about what is truly happening in Tibet.

  12. Ronnie McCarthy says:

    I vaguely remember from the movie "20 questions for the Dalai Lama", when H.H. was asked if we should all boycott China. He said "no", as their success is "our" success, (I am paraphrasing, of course) Can anyone who has seen it help me out here? In other words, we are not to deliberately "harm" them financially or otherwise as it ultimately hurt us all as we are all one and the same. That was what I got out of it. I could be wrong. It could have been from another Dalai Lama film, too.

  13. No, I think you're right, Ronnie, I just watched that two weeks back. That's what's wonderful about the Dalai Lama—he really is no enemy to China. That's what's so painful, then: China still regularly calls him the devil and threatens countries who dare to meet with His Holiness.

    Boycott, historically, through the Civil Rights movement and otherwise, have been shown to be effective. In this case, I doubt it would change much, even if a boycott happened, which I don't think this post or any other cause will make happen.

    This post is more about personal morality: questioning what we do. If you want to visit, god bless, godspeed, have fun, go do it. But think about it, first. For myself, I don't think I could feel okay about it.

  14. Brianna Burkke says:

    So by the same logic, it would be immoral to visit say Australia. It is occupied by a colonial force. Or how about the United States or Canada. I know many Buddhists, including elephant folks that visit Nova Scotia. It is occupied by a colonial regime according to the indigenous people. How do you deal with that? Or do you place Tibet above all the other illegally occupied countries because of a religious predilection? More of your money goes to China anyways by the continual advocation of solar power run via silicon – most of which comes from China. How does that factor in? I think Luciano is correct in stating if you are going to spend money, spend it locally. Or how about all the bikes we by from China? Trek, Cannondale, your favorite cruzer bike, etc. It's smarter to think then to just make statements about something being immoral. We do more harm to the Tibetans – and many other ethnic groups – simply by our massive desire for alternative energy – all of which is having a drastic effect on populations around the world with most of the money coming from China via the Asian Development Bank for these projects. I bet the parts used on your computer to write this simplistically thought post came from China. Obviously these actions are not thought immoral by many.

  15. francoish says:

    I travel to Tibet almost yearly to help with projects in rural Kham. I also visit Lhasa quite often where I like to spend time with locals. Yes, we are under constant scrutiny and places like the now soulless Potala Palace are really sad. But Tibetans are so happy to meet foreigners, to tell about their lives and to ask news of His Holiness.
    I think that it is also important that westerners go there to testify when they return and tell the world about what is happening there.
    A few years back, I practiced prostrations for a few days in front of the Jokhang. At one point, a group of Chinese tourists with a flagpoled (is that English?) tour leader surrounded me and watched me doing prostrations while the guide was giving them some kind of explanation in Chinese. This time, I was the "attraction" that devout Tibetans usually are and I experienced what they experience on a daily basis.

  16. Frank Neil says:

    I never visit the United States or Australia because the indigneous people there have been almost wiped out and are under occupation by European colonialists.

  17. Matty K says:

    I just spent a year in China… The people of China are horribly brainwashed, made to not have free-thought, bullied, and kicked down. The majority Han Chinese don't have an understanding half the time of what is going on in Tibet. The Chinese Government has done enough to screw over the Tibetan people. Going to Tibet, spreading knowledge of the outside world, bringing stories back to the rest of the world, and making waves is the only way Tibetan culture will be allowed to live on.

    I believe not going to Tibet is immoral because you're allowing the culture to disappear.

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  19. LisaTully says:

    I spend a lot of time within the Tibetan community in Dharamsala, India which is probably (and unfortunately) the most authentic taste of Tibet we will have until China leaves as in this Himalayan town Tibetans are free to be themselves on all levels. Just before I left last time I met a dear friend of mine who wants to remain anonymous. He is a Tibetan lama and he had just come back from 1 year in Tibet where under the instructions of the Dalai Lama he had decided to return to visit his ageing mother. He shared with me how each moment he spent in Tibet was one of grave uncertainty. In India he said he can relax again. I can't even begin to imagine what it is like to live in constant fear like that being blessed with a European home. Yet as he shared it was the moments in between his speech that left me feeling cold. Sometimes the memories came back so strong he would trail off and stare into space as though watching a DVD rerun of what he had been through. I asked him what can I do to help. He said they only thing Westerners can do is to keep putting pressure on their governments to take action. I know a lot of people scoff at this idea and say it's no use. But I will share something else with you. When Tibetan refugees arrive into Dharamsala after fleeing Tibet they always meet with the Dalai Lama. And in those meetings he tells them he had a dream that he was holding a Buddhist ceremony called the Kalachakra in Beijing mainland China where there were pictures of the Buddha of Compassion Chenreizig on each pillar along the streets, who he is considered to be the reincarnation of. And he is talking about this life time not the next. So what I am trying to get a is there is hope. Keep signing those online petitions, keep marching the streets, keep praying for a free Land of the Snows my friends. Everything is impermanent, even a Chinese occupied Tibet.

  20. I have never visited Tibet for this reason. But I'm beginning to waver. Is Tibet the Chinese government or is it the Tibetan people, living moment to moment, wondering if the world has forgotten them? Being there, expressing what support you can for the people and the struggle, despite the strictures, may be a valid and powerful support for a dying culture… Maybe we should ALL go, bringing light and reverence, and show the Chinese that despite their ignorance, we have not forgotten what the country represents. I will never own an Atlas which depicts Tibet as part of China and yet, to paraphrase The English Patient, 'We are the countries, not the lines on maps.'

  21. […] his earlier days, while still living at the Potala Palace in Lhasa, had there been a breakdown with a watch, car and even a film projector at one point, chances are […]