China has long championed its policies in Tibet as aimed at boosting development and raising living standards in a remote and impoverished region. But, as Tibetan protests and self-immolations continue in some areas, the unrest is a public rejection of those claims of progress.
Tibetans are depicted in official Chinese media as members of a happy minority group with colorful traditions that include singing, dancing and, for nomadic herders, archery. The images support the Chinese government’s claims that living standards are rising and Tibetans are content.
Tanzen Lhundup, with the China Tibetology Research Center, says Beijing's concern for Tibetan people is genuine.
“The government has invested heavily in improving peoples' living conditions, infrastructure in Tibet and education. It has introduced a great number of preferential policies in support of the Tibetan areas. The changes in Tibet and Tibetan areas have been fundamental,” Tanzen Lhundup said.
Although the local economy has grown, so has the sense of desperation among many ethnic Tibetans. In the past year nearly 30 have set themselves on fire - vividly demonstrating that they would rather die than live under Chinese rule.
Many of the recent anti-China protests, like one last week in Qinghai province, involve Buddhist monks, who have long played a central role in Tibetan culture.
“We have no freedom, no religious freedom and not even freedom of speech. The pressure is too great. People have no choice, so we protest,” said one monk in Gansu province, who asked to remain anonymous.
The protests and immolations have led to no notable changes from Beijing.
Lian Xiangmin, also with the China Tibetology Research Center, echoes the government’s view that the protests are artificially manufactured - not linked to actual grievances.
“I think first of all, those who plan such incidents should stop. Two, the Dalai Lama should issue a statement to call for an end to such cases and express his opposition to such behavior. Three, the media should stop playing up such incidents,” Lian Xiangmin said.
In China, the protests go largely unmentioned in state media, which instead focuses on rituals that emphasize Tibet as an inalienable part of Chinese territory.
The Dalai Lama, who remains a potent spiritual and political symbol for Tibetans, has largely refrained from publicly commenting on the immolations.
For both sides, the immolations remain a symptom of a problem that the other refuses to acknowledge.