LHASA, CHINA - SEPTEMBER 19, 2020 - Visitors take photos of the White Tower in potala Palace Square. Lhasa, Tibet, China, September 19, 2020.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Costfoto / Barcroft Studios / Future Publishing (Photo credit should read Costfoto/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
The White Tower at Potala Palace Square. Lhasa, Tibet, China, seen on September 19, 2020. Tibet drew in 35 million visitors last year.
Costfoto/Barcroft Media via Getty Images
  • China hopes to bolster Tibet's economy by converting rural villages into hotels and homestays, AFP reported.
  • Millions of tourists flocked into Tibet last year, most of whom were mainland Chinese travelers.
  • But experts told AFP that this move falls under China's habit of reshaping cultures in minority areas.
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China is teaching Tibetan villagers to speak Mandarin and helping herders and farmers turn their homes into hotels, in an effort to boost their region's income, according to an AFP report on Wednesday.

Around 35 million tourists visited the region last year, 10 times the population of Tibet – though most were mainland Chinese travelers, with foreign visitor numbers still low at 270,000 in 2019, said the report.

As a part of the bid to increase tourism, the Chinese government is organizing "cultural training" to teach locals Mandarin, AFP reported.

The push to bridge the cultural gap between Tibetans and Chinese is seen by some to be a bid to overtake the traditions and cultural lifestyles of Tibet, a politically sensitive area with a history of resistance to China's central government.

"The cultural degradation that is involved in this case of hyper-managed mass tourism spectacle is very worrying," Robert Barnett of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London said in an interview with the French news agency.

"It's hard to identify, though, since of course there is a benefit for Tibetans in that trade; what is harder to quantify is the damage," he said.

China has repeatedly made moves to mold cultures in minority regions. Last year, its control of the Xinjiang province came under scrutiny when media reports said that 570,000 Uighurs were forced to pick cotton in coercive labor training camps.

After a violent uprising broke out in Tibet in 2008, China was reported to have cracked down on the region as well.

Clashes over religion have plagued the region. Tibetans are one of the minority ethnic groups residing in China, and most practice Tibetan Buddhism. China's ruling Communist party is officially atheist.

The Dalai Lama, the highest spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism and once Tibet's political leader, fled the region in 1959 after an uprising against Beijing, a sore point for many Tibetans that partially fuelled protests in 2008.

China has held some form of sovereignty over Tibet since the 1950s, though Tibetan resistance has often protested the quashing of Tibetan culture and religious freedom by Chinese forces.

The next goal for the region, officials told AFP, is to focus on attracting international tourists. Foreign passport holders are required to have an approved guide and special permit to enter Tibet, according to the news agency.

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