Almost one year ago, when the nation was lauding the opening of the most elevated rail road in the world, linking Tibet with China's vast hinterland, some also expressed fears that the unique cultural tradition and natural scenery in the Land of Snows were likely to suffer from the big volumes of visitors keen to see the mysteries of the region.
Although 12 months may not be long enough to pacify those who worry, a recent trip to Tibet by Beijing Review staff reporters brought back news that we can be optimistic about the role of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway in local development. According to statistics released by Xinhua News Agency, over the past year, the railway carried more than 1.5 million passengers to Tibet, while local Tibetans' approval rate of the railway's environmental protection efforts reached 96.9 percent. Eight more state-level cultural heritage sites were designated in Tibet. The number of pilgrims to the Potala Palace, Norbu Lingka and Jokhang Monastery reached a historical high of 328,000, an increase of 62,000 over the previous year.
China is a unified multiethnic country, where every ethnic group is free to pursue their traditions and culture, and it is this integration of diversity that gives birth to the colorful Chinese civilization. Tibetan culture has a long history, represented by a large number of imposing ancient spiritual structures, medical science, Tibetan Buddhism and folk customs. This culture is a treasure not only to the Chinese nation, but also the entire world.
The Chinese Government has always attached great importance to the preservation and development of Tibetan culture. In the past three decades, huge manpower and financial and material resources were invested for this purpose. Extensive surveys of local cultural relics, literature and performance arts have rescued many valuable, often priceless, buildings, relics and artifacts, some on the verge of being lost forever. Renovation of the Potala Palace, Jokhang Monastery and Sangye Monastery proved a big success. As a result of the successful bid for the World Heritage Site status by the Potala Palace, Jokhang Monastery and Norbu Lingka, the recognition of Tibetan culture continues to grow overseas. To date, Tibet has established a complete educational and academic research system with a high-caliber professional contingent in residence. The formulation and implementation of a series of cultural protection regulations lay a solid foundation for Tibetans to carry forward their preservation work and provide guidelines for the ongoing second-phase renovation of the Potala Palace and the facelift of Norbu Lingka and Sakya Monastery.
Instead of a threat, the Qinghai-Tibet Railway is emerging as a stimulus to the preservation and development of Tibetan culture. After the railway was put into use, more and more people can now personally see Tibet's picturesque landscape and enjoy unique local customs, which, in turn, will raise their awareness of the value of cultural diversity.
On the other hand, the railway adds an access for Tibetan culture to the outside world. A consensus in the cultural protection community says that protection comes only after understanding. The Qinghai-Tibet Railway is indeed building a bridge of understanding.