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Lhasa’s Metamorphosis: Great Transformation from Ancient City to Modern Hub

From Tradition to Modernity – The Astonishing Journey of Lhasa’s Economy


Lhasa’s Economic Landscape

In recent years, Tibet has been at the forefront of China’s economic growth, but Lhasa, its capital, remains a city of intriguing contradictions. While it might not be changing as rapidly as some metropolises, the city’s subtle shifts are making a significant impact on its economic landscape. Join us as we delve into Lhasa’s unique economic story.


Understanding Lhasa’s Economic Foundation

Lhasa’s economic foundation has faced challenges, with its total economic volume lagging far behind major cities. The entire Tibetan region has an economic volume of less than 170 billion, while Lhasa alone stands at just over 60 billion. To put this into perspective, two county-level cities in Jiangsu, Kunshan, and Jiangyin, boast a combined economic volume exceeding 400 billion, surpassing Lhasa by a significant margin.


Embracing Transformation in Lhasa

Despite being overshadowed by economic giants, Lhasa is making strides that are awe-inspiring for a city of its size:

1. Urban Expansion: Old Town, a resident, reveals that Lhasa’s city area has more than tripled in size compared to a decade ago. Official data confirms this astounding growth, with the urban built-up area increasing nearly 30 times since China’s reform and opening-up policy.

2. Rise of Modern Shopping: Wanda Plaza, a large shopping mall, has recently opened its doors, marking a significant milestone. This addition has set social networks abuzz, signalling Lhasa’s embrace of modernity.

3. Emergence of Lhasa’s CBD: The south bank of the Lhasa River, once non-urban, is undergoing extensive construction, including the newly built Dondup Financial City with its impressive skyscraper. This development is transforming Lhasa into a city with its own Central Business District (CBD).

4. Architectural Diversity: Traditional Tibetan-style buildings used to dominate Lhasa’s landscape. However, the emergence of office buildings with sleek glass exteriors in the Liuwu New District showcases a more contemporary architectural approach.

5. Demolition and Reconstruction: The streets of Lhasa are now marked with eye-catching red signs reading “demolished,” indicating ongoing urban renewal and reconstruction projects.

6. Transportation Evolution: Lhasa has embraced shared bicycles and motorcycles, leading to increased traffic congestion, a sight previously uncommon in the city.


lhasa showing a blend of traditional and modern elements 1
Lhasa showing a blend of traditional and modern elements 1

Tradition Meets Globalization on Barkhor Street

Barkhor Street, encircling the Jokhang Temple, was once synonymous with Tibetan culture. However, recent years have seen the emergence of global brands like KFC, Pizza Hut, and Hangzhou cuisine restaurants, adding a touch of modernity that may seem out of place to some.


Timeless Elements The Unchanging Heart of Lhasa

Amidst the evolving landscape, certain elements of Lhasa remain timeless. As in ancient literature, the city is beautifully captured as “Withered vines and old trees, the crows are dim,” a natural poetic masterpiece that still holds.


Lhasa’s Enduring Poetic Essence: The City That Inspires Dreams

Lhasa continues to inspire with its poetic essence. The city awakens vivid images when one closes their eyes, from the first rays of sunrise illuminating the Potala Palace to the scent of incense wafting from temples and the bustling sounds of tea houses.


Reflecting on Dreams Amidst the Changing Cityscape

In closing, Lhasa’s transformation reminds us of the fragility of dreams. Just as the world changes, so do our aspirations. As we raise our glasses late into the night, we ponder the sound of broken dreams. Yet, Lhasa offers a unique perspective, where even broken dreams find a place in its ever-evolving story.


captivating and realistic representation of lhasa
Captivating and realistic representation of lhasa

Lhasa, the City of Contrasts

Lhasa, often overshadowed by its more prominent counterparts, is a city of change, resilience, and cultural richness. While it may not have the economic might of larger cities, its subtle shifts and enduring traditions continue to captivate those who seek the unique blend of old and new in the heart of Tibet.

The Multifaceted Tapestry of Lhasa’s Population

When we think of cities with diverse immigrant populations, bustling metropolises like Shanghai and Shenzhen often come to mind. However, there’s a hidden gem that is frequently overlooked: Lhasa, a city with a remarkably high proportion of migrants. The demographic composition of Lhasa is a fascinating blend, with roughly one-third locals, one-third mainland businessmen, and one-third tourists.

Lhasa’s International Flair

Before 2008, Lhasa had an almost international aura. During that period, mainland Chinese tourists were relatively scarce, and the streets were bustling with European and American visitors. However, changes in entry requirements for foreigners into Tibet led to a gradual decrease in Lhasa’s international character.

The Phenomenon of “Opening Inns in Lhasa”

On the internet, “opening an inn in Lhasa” has humorously earned its place among the “four new customs,” highlighting the prevalence of this practice. There are unique customs and practices in Tibet and Lhasa that attract people from all walks of life.

The Surprising Truth About Lhasa’s Tolerance


Now, you might wonder why individuals choose to leave their hometowns and settle in a city situated at an altitude of 3,600 meters. Is it purely for the allure of beauty and emotion? While that might be a part of it, the reality is more profound.

Lhasa’s true charm lies in its extraordinary tolerance. Through interviews with 49 Tibetan and non-Tibetan residents, a common thread emerged: it’s often easier to make a living in Lhasa compared to mainland cities.

Lhasa’s Welcoming Embrace

One Tibetan friend who had ventured to Lhasa provided a poignant perspective:

“Lhasa is very tolerant. It allows anyone to find a foothold here. Many people don’t truly understand Tibet, and they might not even love it. I chose this place because I had nowhere else to go! Lhasa embraces us like a mother, even if we don’t fully understand or appreciate ourselves.”

This welcoming embrace extends not only to mainlanders but also to Tibetans from various remote regions. In Lhasa, these individuals seamlessly integrate into the community. As they prostrate themselves along the prayer paths of the Bu Palace or Jokhang Temple, they become the central figures of the city, instantly earning respect and admiration from those around them—regardless of the state of their attire.

A Different World in Lhasa

Unlike the mainland’s major cities, where newcomers from impoverished regions often struggle to find their place and are relegated to the lowest rungs of society, Lhasa paints a different picture. In this city, people from diverse Tibetan backgrounds effortlessly assimilate. As they walk the sacred paths and engage in religious practices, they become integral to the city’s narrative.

Lhasa’s Relaxed Rhythm: Lhasa boasts a relaxed, unhurried pace, setting it apart from the bustling metros of Beijing and Shanghai. It might even outdo Chengdu and Xi’an in this regard.

The Allure of Sweet Tea: A charming facet of Lhasa’s leisurely lifestyle is its teahouse culture. Wooden chairs are always occupied, and collectors’ teahouses line the streets. Lhasa starts its day in these cosy establishments, with morning rituals often centred around sweet tea. While sweet tea itself is an imported concept, Lhasa’s unwavering tolerance made it an integral part of the city’s identity, nourishing the entire community.

In conclusion, Lhasa’s remarkable tolerance, diverse population, and relaxed ambience make it a unique and welcoming destination, where tradition and modernity coexist in harmony.

About the author

The Tibetan Travel website's creator, hailing from Lhasa, is a cultural enthusiast. They promote responsible tourism, connecting the world to Tibet's beauty and heritage. Awards recognize their contribution.

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