It has been in the news of late that China has built a rail line to Tibet. It cost $3.2 billion, and the train cars have to be pressurized, but you can now get to Tibet cheaper than you could before. The official reason for this is to encourage economic development in the backward area of Tibet. The unspoken purpose is of course is to encourage Han migration and tie Tibet more closely to China. Might also help in case of war with India.
I have not seen it mentioned, but another reason to build it is because Sun Yat-sen wanted to build a railway to Tibet. Everyone who visits Nanjing learns that Sun wanted to build a bridge across the Yangzi, but that Mao did it. Carrying out the great tasks of the revolution is always something Chinese governments like to do.
After the 1911 revolution, when Yuan Shikai was made President Sun was made Minister of Railways. Yuan was chosen over Sun because Yuan was seen as a practical politician while Sun was a dreamer. Sun’s plan for railway development was quite frankly nuts, as the map below, from his collected works, shows.
In China proper he called for a network of railways that has not been built to this day. The map of Tibet is even more fantastic. I particularly like the route that goes along the border with India along, apparently, the spine of the Himalayas. This, like his net of rails in Mongolia, was intended to tie these border areas more closely to China. The era around 1911 was the age of the Rights Recovery Movement, when in addition to Chinese governments trying to hold on to every bit of sovereignty they could, non-state actors and individual citizens were supposed to do the same. All the spur lines running into Nepal seem to be laying claim to endangered territory. Most of these lines seem economically insane, but as they are more political than economic plans in the first place that is fine. The modern Tibet line is pretty much the same thing. I have no idea how much economic growth in will generate, but I’m sure it will be short of 3.2 billion. Still, Tibet is tied to the motherland, and the fact that it is economically crazy almost makes it better.
The modern line