In an attempt to tidy up the city, China has boosted video monitoring and examinations of street sellers in and around Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. However, sources within the independent region claim that the measures are intended to remove Tibetan hawkers from the streets.
According to the sources who refused to be named for security concerns, local officials in the city of about 560,000 people started the “Clean Up Lhasa” program on March 20 and have since started checking all street sellers in and around the Jokhang Temple, or Tsuglagkhang.
The four-story Buddhist monastery in Barkhor Square in Lhasa is regarded by Tibetans as the most holy and significant shrine in the Tibet Autonomous Region.
According to a Tibetan living in the area, Chinese officials are also banning Tibetan merchants who sell other foods like sha-kampo, preserved yak and sheep flesh, and tsampa because they claim they lack the appropriate food permits.
One can see that only Tibetan merchants are targeted under this program, despite the Chinese government’s implicit claim that it is intended to keep the city of Lhasa sanitary, he told Radio Free Asia.
According to the source, authorities are also ordering Tibetan street sellers to cease selling Tibetan music CDs and are questioning them without cause.
For Tibetans who earn their livelihood as market sellers, he said, “This has caused so much trouble.”
China continues to exert strong control over Tibet, limiting Tibetans’ right to peacefully display their Buddhist cultural and political identity. Tibetans frequently protest to Chinese officials about prejudice, violations of their human rights, and policies they claim are intended to erase their national and cultural identity.
The most recent action comes after increased security measures were implemented in Lhasa and other important cities before recently occurring politically sensitive events, during which time officers examined people and their mobile phones at random for communication with people outside of the area.
According to Gyal Lo, a Tibetan academic and the author of the book Social Structuration in Tibetan Society: Education, Society, and Spirituality, “Eventually under all these campaigns, the Chinese government wants to eradicate or eliminate any place or business that caters to bring the Tibetan brotherhood together,” this is the Chinese government’s ultimate goal.
According to material on the Lhasa Police website, officials have so far questioned close to 30 street sellers as part of the “Clean Up Lhasa” program and will continue to check hawkers.
Another Tibetan source stated that some street sellers keep selling their goods because it is how they support themselves.
Although there was no information on those who were taken or where they were being kept, he said that other protesters who attempted to challenge Chinese officials had been imprisoned.
Under the pretext of such efforts, the Chinese government is attempting to eliminate the only source of revenue for many of these Tibetan sellers, he claimed.
Given that Lhasa is a major tourist destination, the Chinese government may be using the effort to support its assertion that it has enhanced Tibet’s economic growth, according to Xiang Xiaoji, a Chinese lawyer living in New York.
He explained to RFA that “they don’t want the tourists to see Tibetans on the street as vendors.” “They want to portray Tibetans as leading happy, prosperous lives.”