Ancient and Modern

Photo of Monks in Labrang

More news and reflections on tourism in China from Graham.

A diversion from my journey along the Silk Road brought me to the mountain town of Xiache. One end of town typifies the westernisation of new China, with high rise apartment blocks and factories springing up. The Buddhist monastery of Labrang dominates the other end where Tibetan people retain much of their traditional way of life.

The Cultural Revolution threatened the monastery and many monks left. But now religion is largely tolerated and the Government has realised the economic potential of the key historic sites. So it is in the ‘destination creation business’ in a big way.

On the one hand city authorities are engaged in sweeping redevelopment of the old urban areas, in danger of creating hundreds of clone towns. On the other the central government is protecting the jewels of the heritage, and creating blockbuster attractions. That is the fortune, for better or worse, of the monks of Labrang, now 2000 strong, able to maintain their contemplative, other worldly life, sustained by revenue from camera-toting tourists from Beijing and beyond.