I came across this really interesting, must-read article by Peter Hessler about Han attitudes towards the big T. It is a pretty complex issue with a long and deep history.
Here are two key passages:
When the Chinese speak of pre-1951 Tibet, they emphasize the shortcomings of the region’s feudal-theocratic government: life expectancy was thirty-six years; 95 percent of Tibetans were illiterate; 95 percent of the population was hereditary serfs and slaves owned by monasteries and nobles. The sense is that the Tibetans suffered under a bad system, and the Chinese had a moral obligation to liberate them
And this, getting to the heart of something important….
Another aspect of the Chinese duty in Tibet is the sense that rapid modernization is needed, and should take precedence over cultural considerations. For Westerners, this is a difficult perspective to understand. Tibet is appealing to us precisely because it’s not modern, and we have idealized its culture and anti-materialism to the point where it has become, as Orville Schell says, “a figurative place of spiritual enlightenment in the Western imagination—where people don’t make Buicks, they make good karma.”
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