New images have emerged of the removal of some market trading stalls this week from Barkhor street area at the heart of Lhasa, Tibet’s cultural and historical capital. According to a posting on Chinese social media, authorities in Lhasa ordered the removal of some small stalls from outside the Jokhang Temple to Yuthok Lam (Chinese: Yutuo Lu, which runs from the Jokhang to the Potala Square). While stall-holders have been told the removal is temporary, the posting expressed concern at this move in an area of such symbolic importance for Tibetans. Tibetan stall-holders near the Ramoche temple nearby have recently been evicted, according to a report by Voice of America Tibetan service (December 19).
The removals coincide with an announcement by the Chinese authorities of a ‘facelift’ in Lhasa, including the removal of unspecified ‘fire hazards’ and renovations of water-supply and drainage (Xinhua, December 21).
Speculation about the move on the Weibo posting, which included images of stall-holders moving their stands on December 18, reflect the level of disempowerment and lack of involvement in decision-making among Tibetans on developments in Lhasa.
Lhasa has been under lockdown with tight restrictions on Tibetans’ movements since protests began on March 10, 2008, met by a crackdown. Following the self-immolations of two Tibetans near the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa on May 27 (2012), restrictions have tightened, with a particular focus on Tibetans from the eastern areas of Kham and Amdo (Tibetan areas of Qinghai, Sichuan and Gansu). An unknown number of Lhasa residents and pilgrims from Kham and Amdo were detained and expelled from the city, including Tibetans who had valid business permits to live and work in Lhasa, and who have been running businesses there for years. (ICT report, Storm in the Grasslands: Self-immolations in Tibet and Chinese policy).
One of the captions on the Weibo posting about the removal of Barkhor Street commercial stalls states: “Barkhor street is not only a street” referring to the important Tibetan heritage of this area of Lhasa. The original ‘Old City’ area of Lhasa, which is at least 1300 years old, today represents less than two per cent of the total area of Lhasa, with the rest of the city constructed mainly out of modern concrete buildings. Hundreds of historic Tibetan buildings have been razed to the ground over the past 20 years, including the village of Shol, once at the foot of the Potala Palace.
The Chinese authorities have laid out elaborate plans for the development of the city of Lhasa in the 2010-2020 Master Plan, involving a ‘human culture tourism center’ in Lhasa as the hub. The dramatic increase in tourism in Lhasa since the opening of the new railway from Qinghai in 2006 has been especially acute at Lhasa’s historic cultural sites, such as the Jokhang Temple in the Barkhor area and the Potala Palace. These sites have a particular significance to the Tibetan people because of their connection to the Dalai Lama and Tibet before the Chinese invasion.
The posting on Weibo, which included images of stall-holders moving their stands on December 18, reported that locals had been told that they will be allowed to return once the government has built the ‘Garden of Cultural Scenery’ at the Barkhor. Other traders were told that the removal was due to the renovations of drainage. Many of the stalls in the Barkhor area are owned by local Tibetans or the Neighborhood Committee, and were rented to Tibetans or Chinese (including Hui Muslim Chinese). The images that appeared on Weibo today (December 20) can be viewed below, with captions are translated into English by ICT. The name of the Weibo site where they were posted is withheld.