The Anniversary

From Martyn…

On 1st September, T1bet celebrates its 40th anniversary of becoming an “autonomous region” of the People’s Republic of China. Earlier Chinese promises going back half a century that PLA troops would eventually leave T1bet, for good or for ill, did not materialize. Historically, China has dominated T1bet and, on occasion, T1bet has dominated China. However, history aside, what is the situation in 2005? What about the lives of ordinary T1betans? Absolutely no doubt about it, today, T1bet’s economy is growing even faster than that of the rest of China. Roads, railways, factories are sprouting up where before there was nothing, from Xinhua:

Under the correct leadership of the central authorities and with the support of the central government and the rest of the country, the people in Tibet have united as one and worked diligently to bring about world-shaking changes over the past decades, said sources closed to the meeting, held on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Tibet Autonomous Region.

Tibet has witnessed rapid economic development and remarkable improvement in people’s living standards. The system of regional autonomy for minority people has been constantly improved in Tibet, where people of all ethnic groups enjoy full rights as masters of the region. The excellent local traditions have been preserved and developed, and the people’s rights in the freedom of religious belief are well respected and protected.

However, the other side of the coin comes from Lindsay Beck at Reuters:

…analysts say that, 40 years on, society is more fractured than ever, with T1betans becoming an underclass lacking the skills to participate in Beijing-driven industrialisation.

T1bet has been ruled by China since the People’s Liberation Army invaded the Himalayan territory in 1950. Nine years later, Tibet’s god-king, the D@lai L@ma, fled on horseback after a failed uprising against Chinese rule.

The vast, sparsely populated region known as “the roof of the world” was designated the T1betan Autonomous Region in 1965, a gesture Beijing made to other areas with large ethnic minority populations too to give them more say over their own affairs.

At the same time, Beijing encouraged Han Chinese migration, both to underscore its claim to T1bet and in hopes that wealth generated by entrepreneurial migrants would trickle down.

Instead of wealth building harmony, though, analysts say it is contributing to a rich-poor gap that falls along ethnic lines.

“The government expansion is being driven by Beijing, it’s not being driven locally. And that’s creating a very polarised economy,” said Andrew Fischer, a development economist at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

The article goes on to claim that we are seeing an income gap that exacerbates the ethnic divide:

Only about 13 per cent of Tibetans have secondary school education or above, Fischer said, compared with 50 per cent of Han Chinese. Forty per cent of Tibetans are illiterate.

“The difference in income is there, but that’s because they (Chinese and Tibetans) are engaged in different industries,” said Xu Jianchang, of Tibet’s Development and Reform Commission.

He acknowledged that education programmes that might allow Tibetans to move off the farm and into industries were in their infancy.
“Right now the scale is very small,” Xu said, adding that about 15 million yuan ($1.85 million) per year was being allocated for training – less than $1 for each of Tibet’s roughly 2.7 million people.

However, there is large stock put into the massive railway project taken on by the Chinese authorities, at great cost, linking Lhasa to the rest of China:

“If we finish the construction of the railway, we can realise large-scale development by groups and enterprises,” Xu said.

“We can bring them to other parts of China and the farmers can get incomes from that.”

But with Xu listing yaks and pigs as among products waiting for access to an export market, Tibetans are understandably wary about whether the railway will mean greater prosperity or simply a greater divide.

With 70 per cent of Tibet’s labour force working in agriculture and rural wages stagnant, that difference is only likely to grow.

As a westerner and a 15-year resident of China, I can appreciate both points of view towards such a sensitive subject such as T1bet. Indeed, some of the most intelligent comments this site has ever received were from an outstanding earlier post from Richard concerning this very subject.

However, on the eve of the 40th anniversary of T1bet’s “autonomous region” status within the People’s Republic of China, should we be celebrating or lamenting? How do T1betans feel about their anniversary? How does the rest of the country feel? What about the status of ordinary T1betans and their material lives? Are Beijing’s massive efforts and huge expense to develop the region working and improving the lives of the population as a whole? These are the pertinent questions I feel we should be asking on this historic occasion.

The Discussion: 25 Comments

I don’t know if Tibet is in better or worse shape, whether it be economically or socially or otherwise, but I do know this: the CCP has just got to STOP using phrases like “Under the correct leadership of the central authorities” and “the people in Tibet have united as one and worked diligently to bring about world-shaking changes over the past decades”.

I submit that the CCP’s ludricrous insistence on shovelling the same Orwellian babble in its English press as it does in its internal press is proof that they’re completely incompetent. Even worse is when a mainland Chinese guest starts quoting it verbatim at your dinner party.

August 31, 2005 @ 1:20 am | Comment


August 31, 2005 @ 1:22 am | Comment

Good to see I’m not the only one up this late. But I’m absolutely serious; take these memorable comments from the previous post Martyn mentions:

Well, at least when they assimilate they’ll still have their “colourful clothing, unique cuisine and folk dances”

I hate how all ethnic minorities are boiled down to these three essential categories when being described by the government….

Posted by: Laowai 19790204 at August 9, 2005 04:42 PM

Good God, how often did I hear that cliche in Xinjiang? After a while I wanted to throttle local Han who actually said it to my face (and there were many).

Or how about this, from one of the party drones who occasionally cruise by TPD?

Tibet has always been part of China since ancient times. You even don’t know this, so stupid and ignorant.

Posted by: alfred at August 9, 2005 12:23 AM

Alfred gave away his credentials by putting in a 163 email address. OK, so Xinhua statements don’t usually include the “stupid foreigner” part, but its pretty much implied, along with “frak off”.

August 31, 2005 @ 1:52 am | Comment

They made some pretty good autobahns in the 1930s and 40s in Germany, I hear. If only the rest of Europe had let them stay! The infrastructure would have been so much better.

August 31, 2005 @ 2:08 am | Comment

On a more serious note, the “modernisation” line is also rather reminiscent of the bankrupt justifications of the Japanese for their colonial adventures in Asia (indeed, also very similar to the justifications of all colonial empires. It is a necessary part of the language of empire. ) The Meiji revolution had undoubtedly made the Japanese more modernised than the rest of Asia, but it definitely didn’t make their attempted dominations of China, Korea etc. right.

August 31, 2005 @ 2:16 am | Comment

Good point kuri
OK: You have your second chance to see me make a fool of myself in Tibet tonight at 19.45 on CCTV-6.
I’m Austin

August 31, 2005 @ 3:18 am | Comment

7:45 tonight on CCTV-6? Is that right Kier? Will you be difficult to spot?

August 31, 2005 @ 3:21 am | Comment

“Only about 13 per cent of Tibetans have secondary school education or above, Fischer said, compared with 50 per cent of Han Chinese. Forty per cent of Tibetans are illiterate.”

If this kind of number is true, it will be a shame for Chinese government.

However, I think this kind of article is as good as CCP’s propaganda. The research quoted in the article, Andrew Fischer, has worked with Dalai Lama’s organization since 1995. Quoting him is like quoting People’s daily editor.

Simply throwing accusation like that without any counter argument is not much different from propaganda. This article is actually from Reuters. Fair and balanced, like Fox news.

August 31, 2005 @ 11:09 am | Comment

Someone posted in the previous thread about forced abortion. pleaase note that the one-child policy and forced abortion ONLY APPLIED to Han ethnicity. All minorities, including Tibetans, are exempted.

I am not trying to try to take side, but I think both sides of the debate often take their argument from second hand informations and the “facts’ they quoted are often inaccurate or incomplete.
eg Chinese are generally try to ignore the destruction of cultural establish and violence around 1959.
western have often equate the aristocrat lamas with the tibetan people (see all the interviews are with monks, none with the lower middle class of tibetans)

anyway, Chinese from 1959-1979, being a socialist/communist state, have treated minorities fairly well (compared to the way they treated Han people) – this is widely ignored by westerner and dalai. but there are certainly bad things, esp during that first 20 years. eg, many temples were destroyed during cultural revolution (though re-established in recent years), just like in nay other part of China.

the pre-1959 serfdom was oppressive, without the opportunity to live in the west, dalai might not have gained the exposure to western ideas and he might become a tyrrant. it is worthwhile to make us critical of dalai’s side of the story. However, Tibet would have progressed/improved in its other way if Dalai stayed, maybe like Nepal, Bhutan or Sikkim. (so which one is a lesser evil?)

A better understand for all of us, is to, perhaps put aside any judgment, but ask those who have travelled to tibet and talked to the average tibetan, to post their first hand view and facts. only then we can understand how they really feel.
otherwise, all the discussions here, including this post, should only be taken critically.

August 31, 2005 @ 11:16 am | Comment

literacy: han literacy rate thant tibetan’s was much higher in 1959

a better comparison should probably be with nepal and bhutan (45% and 42% according to cia’s site), or compare with China rural (since tibet is largely agricultural today)

according to
in 1998 ( 我省=jilin 识字率为91.9%, 比全国识字率最低的西藏高出46.0点) => Tibet’s literacy rate in 1998 was 46%, so slightly better than that of bhutan and nepal if one assumes another another 2 points improvement over the past 5 years. but it is still the lowest within China.

August 31, 2005 @ 11:36 am | Comment

literacy: han literacy rate was much higher than tibetan’s in 1959. not really a fair comparison.

a better comparison should probably be with nepal and bhutan (45% and 42% according to cia’s site), or compare with China rural (since tibet is largely agricultural today)

according to
in 1998 ( [ÎÒÊ¡]=jilin ʶ×ÖÂÊΪ91.9%, ±ÈÈ«¹úʶ×ÖÂÊ×îµÍµÄÎ÷²Ø¸ß³ö46.0µã) => Tibet’s literacy rate in 1998 was 46%, so it was slightly better than that of bhutan and nepal if one assumes another another 2 points improvement over the past 5 years. but it is still the lowest within China.

given the fact that China overall has progressed much faster than nepal/bhutan for the past 50 years. the improvement for tibet should be higher as well. but one can also argue that inland provinces like gansu/shaanxi were lagger like tibet, because of the geographic remoteness.

August 31, 2005 @ 11:40 am | Comment

On Tibetan education:

OK, here’s an interesting little NGO called the Tibet Information Network and a report on education in Tibet. They claim to be an objective news source, and the report cites the China Population Statistical Yearbook and the China Statistical Yearbook, both for 2003 (don’t ask me how the two are different, I’ve only seen the second one).

Some interesting points:

– Statistical manipulation: “in the 2001 China Population Statistics Yearbook, illiteracy rates were calculated by dividing the number of illiteratepersonsaged 15 and older by the total population of all ages, rather than by the total population aged 15 and older, as would more accurately be the case. As a result, the higher base population enlarged the denominator, which in turn lowered the calculation of the rate, giving the appearance of a dramatic drop in illiteracy throughout the country.”

– Gender discrepancies not necessarily due to PRC or Chinese bias: “The extremely high levels of female illiteracy in the TAR cannot be taken as a sign of state discrimination per se, although a strong male bias is seen all over the PRC. Social and cultural factors also influence this outcome. For instance, it is common for rural Tibetan households to keep a daughter or a relative¡¯s daughter home for doing house or farm work while sending a son to school. ”

Table 8: Education levels of the population aged six and older by ethnicity, 2000 census national, not provincial





Chin. Musl. (Hui)




August 31, 2005 @ 11:49 am | Comment

“OK, here’s an interesting little NGO called the Tibet Information Network and a report on education in Tibet. They claim to be an objective news source,”

Yeah. Objective. When you say this, do you feel stupid? It sound like I claim People’s daily represent speech freedom. As you can see, we do not have any common ground to start a conversation.

August 31, 2005 @ 12:15 pm | Comment

Steve, I didn’t say they are objective. I said they claim to be. And they cite the Chinese governments own statistical yearbook, which I hope to own soon. And if you tried a little something I like to call “reading”, you might notice it doesn’t flat out criticize the PRC. They mention that gender inequality is also due to Tibetan traditions about the daughter not leaving the house. They mention that the statistics are skewed because the majority of Tibetans are young, which could also contribute, if you think about it, to the fact that such a large percentage of Tibetans have only a primary school education. That would mean that they only have a 5th grade education because they’re 10 years old, not because of any fault of the Chinese government.

So watch your mouth, you frelling greebol. When you call people stupid and dismiss them as someone you couldn’t have “common ground” with, do you feel stupid? Cuz you certainly look that way.

August 31, 2005 @ 12:25 pm | Comment

“Steve, I didn’t say they are objective. I said they claim to be. ”

Okay. Next time I will quote people’s daily. Then I will say People’s daily claims to be objective … blah, blah. Are you going to read more about my message? If I do that, I will feel pretty stupid.

I am not calling you stupid. Of course you are not. But why do you say something I can not help laughing at?

August 31, 2005 @ 12:37 pm | Comment

Steve, there’s a very simple distinction here:

when the People’s Daily says something, it’s usually difficult or impossible to confirm or deny without someone getting in trouble for revealing state secrets.

when TIN quotes figures from the internationally and publicly available CSY, it can be confirmed by a trip to the library.

Now given that, why would TIN, especially if they ARE activists, make a fool mistake like quoting something I can disprove with one hour and a bus ride (in any major city in North America, Europe OR China)? I’m assuming that they aren’t that dumb, and the numbers are genuine. Again, if you have a copy of the CSY 2003 handy and tell me that it has different figures, I’m willing to discard TIN as totally unreliable. But since what they are saying can be confirmed, by the Chinese government no less, I tend to give them some merit.

Also, I’d point out they don’t use Orwellian newspeak but, unlike China Daily, actually point to data.

August 31, 2005 @ 12:46 pm | Comment

To all,

Tibet and Xinjiang are both integral part of China, much longer than California, or Hawaii, have been parts of the United States. Whatever problems there are must be solved in the context of a united China.

August 31, 2005 @ 3:24 pm | Comment

Tibet was in the middle ages before the establishment of the PRC. As part of the PRC, the province has been developed. To improve the lifes of all, all should contribute the same. Monks who sit the entire day praying, do not make much money, unless its generated from tourism of course. Han Chinese are perhaps better merchants than Tibetan Chinese, which clarifies why they may be richer or generally better off.

August 31, 2005 @ 7:23 pm | Comment

which clarifies why they may be richer or generally better off.

and spiritually bankrupt??

August 31, 2005 @ 7:28 pm | Comment

Hey AC, what’s the minimum required time for a territory to become “integral”? 2000 years? 3000 years? Some other number that you’ve pulled out of thin air? How about the fact that not a single person here was talking about Tibet NOT being a part of China? Or are you so sensitive that simply when you hear the word “Tibet” you turn into the bloody troll version of the Manchurian Candidate – your pupils dilate and the propaganda mantra comes out of your mouth without forethought?

As for your point, zhj, the monks don’t work because it’s kinda the whole point of buddhism to renounce material possessions and wealth. As for the other Tibetans, I think it’s a complex issue, and discussing complex issues is hard with people like AC, who appear to simply be Ministry of Propaganda comment spam engines, as opposed to rational people interested in dialogue.

August 31, 2005 @ 7:59 pm | Comment

It’s the usual question; which people in Tibet are benefiting? Xu’s own quote seems to me to make the point – the areas of the Tibetan economy which are taking off are the ones largely operated by Han Chinese, excepting a minority of Tibetans who are involved with the CCP apparatus or who’ve managed to find a niche against the odds.

There would be no point in denying that Tibet’s economy has changed dramatically since 1959, and of course not all of that is going to be for the worse. It would be truly difficult to find any regime, however terrible, of which you could say that *nothing* good had been accomplished, at all, over a period of nearly half a century. In the darkest days of the CCP, when the regime was far more oppressive than it is now (in China proper, at any rate), basic healthcare was definitely superior to current arrangements. But you’d still, I think, find that the vast majority of Tibetans believe that, far from being developed and modernised, they’ve been brutally occupied for decades; and you’d still find that the beneficiaries of most changes, most of the time, have been Chinese not Tibetan.

Also, what if the Tibetans don’t value economic change as much as they value their own way of life and culture? Different Tibetans will see that question in different ways (a rural nomad probably hasn’t benefited at all from development anyway; a Tibetan in the Commmunist Party is probably quite happy to put the economy first), but whatever the economic record, the policy of inward migration into Tibet is clear. On current trends, within the foreseeable future the Tibetans are going to find themselves a minority in Tibet, confined to the poorest parts of the cities and to rural areas – and Tibet’s own identity will slowly wither away.

August 31, 2005 @ 8:37 pm | Comment

pre-1959. there were 3000 students across the whole of tibet.
school enrolment was under 2%, literarcy was under 10%

2005, 1010 schools (from primary+2ndsary+univ), enrolled student 486000. 117 grad students, school enrolment (age 7+) 94.7%



source is China. since some of the stats are very precise (e.g. 117), it is hard to think it is rigged.
however, this number if for the whole of TAR. so it includes some Han minorities living there. (but Hans are minorities in TAR and they live int he cities, so they couldnt change the number too much)

August 31, 2005 @ 11:21 pm | Comment

Kier I saw you. (Well, only the beginning and the end because I was dragged out for dinner in the middle.) Were you the old Austin or the young one? And if you were the young one, you did leave quite a swathe of death and destruction though the innocent Tibetans, didn’t you? (And why do those Tibetans always speak perfect putonghua? It puzzles me every time I see a film about the evil British/Japanese/whatever invading the area.)

September 1, 2005 @ 8:01 am | Comment


I am only saying that Tibet’s problems should be solved within the context of a united China. I don’t think the UNITED STATES government would appreciate it either, if China goes out there supporting New Orleans independence from America, or for that matter, advocate Hawaii and Californian independence. And trust me, there are plenty who would gladly secede from the UNION should they be given the option.

September 11, 2005 @ 6:11 pm | Comment

Here’s how I see Tibet…

It’s about survival…

Survival for Tibet because Tibet cannot survive on its own without massive financial support from a wealthy source, which currently is the PRC.

Survival for all of China because China cannot afford to have foreign influence, including Indian and Russian, in her southwest corner should Tibet become independent. That would be compromising China’s overall national security.

So that’s why Tibet’s problems should be solved in the context of a Tibet as an integral part of China.

September 11, 2005 @ 6:16 pm | Comment

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