Isolation has long defined Tibet and fueled the region's exotic history, Edward Wong writes in the New York Times. While China's recent clampdown is purely political—this is the 50th anniversary of an attempted uprising—natural remoteness and anti-imperialist struggles have also sealed its borders. “A large element of Tibet’s historical allure grew precisely out of its isolation,” an expert says.
Tibet's self-imposed seclusion in the 1800s prompted a wave of Western explorers and would-be colonizers to head for Lhasa. In 1904, British soldiers brutally tore up Tibet in search of Russian influence; the region's very isolation "had led the British to fill the void with their imaginings," Wong writes. Now, Beijing easily vilifies its neighbor with Orwellian propaganda. “Even for me, a real Chinese, Tibet is such a remote and mysterious place," one man wrote.