Lhasa transforming into modern Chinese city with growing prostitution
by Prakash Dubey

A photographer and scholar on Tibet have opened an exhibition in Kathmandu aimed at highlighting the changes wrought by the Chinese in what used to be one of the most venerated Buddhist shrines in the world.

Kathmandu (AsiaNews) – The Chinese presence in Tibet is destroying the region's architecture and has led to the expansion of the sex market in one of most revered pilgrimage places of Buddhist culture. This is happening "in an exponential manner that is endangering Tibetan ethnicity". These are the observations of a couple of American scholars who have visited the capital of Tibet several times and have noted the changes.

Sarah Schorr, a freelance photographer and her husband, Cameron Warner, a scholar on Tibet, recently opened a photo exhibition about Tibet in Kathmandu. They say the images on show reveal the spread of the "flesh trade" and the "dehumanization" of women who frequent "pink parlours" in Lhasa.

Schorr said: "These 'pink parlours' at first appear to be hair salons and bars but they are really nothing but brothels. During my first visit to Lhasa in 2004, I did not understand what these saleswomen were doing, sitting under lurid pink neon lights alongside empty windows. Then I realized they were the merchandise." 

Her first encounter with the prostitutes "was a bit scary, and it took me some time to muster courage and go inside.  It was an amazing experience. The women liked being photographed and they wanted to talk about their lives." 

Aged between 15 and 35, they were not educated and they entered, or were forced into, prostitution, to improve their economic status. The women comprised both Chinese and Tibetans, but the latter were paid less because they were "less sophisticated" in the trade. 

Schorr's husband said: "China's economic development and the migratory influx of the Han are the major causes of this phenomenon. People are getting rich in the city and women leave rural areas to come here to prostitute themselves." He continued: "Chinese military deployment and disparity in the men-women ratio have worsened the situation. I fear that the new Beijing-Lhasa railway will only make things worse."

The Chinese presence in Tibet has also left its mark on the architecture. "Since we have been coming here, we have noticed rapid changes in the landscape," said Schorr. "The typical Tibetan buildings and temples are vanishing to make way for modern department stores and government offices."

She added: "Lhasa seems to have lost the features that made it a city unique in the world. Now the capital of Tibet is just like any other modern Chinese city."

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