Truth will out, as the Dalai Lama has always said.

Take two stories in the respected business and economics publication Caixin Weekly in early August 2011. In the guise of a film review, a professor of political science at prestigious Tsinghua University skewers the newspeak of the Propaganda Department, the pressure on everyone to think only in clichés, to reduce the vocabulary of what can be said or even imagined. Liu Yu uses the 2009 Greek film Dogtooth (or Canino) directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, to depict China as a family under the sway of a controlling patriarch who defines everything, keeping even his adult children in a state of chronic dependence, afraid and forbidden to go out into the real world. Their impoverished vocabulary helps keep them locked in. “The children are frequently beaten and are subjected to a recorder which constantly plays tapes to inspire love of the home. Other times, there are erratic eruptions of generosity.”

In case the parallels between a Greek movie http://www.dogtooth.gr/ and Chinese reality aren’t obvious Prof. Liu Yu reminisces about old mass campaign slogans he had to learn: “After years of education, I think “inspiring and tragic” when I hear “peasant uprising;” I think of the “Three Big Mountains (imperialism, feudalism, bureaucratic capitalism)” when I hear “Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party.)” This politicized lexicon has had a lasting effect on my consciousness. To replace reflection with conditioned reflex, and to enable any word to release a positive or negative message before you really think of it, is the success of such an education.” But the movie ends with the daughter breaking free.

Next to this in Caixin Weekly is an article by a popular tv host on Rupert Murdoch’s Phoenix satellite TV http://www.phoenixtv.com/phoenixtv/77412215665197056/20070604/908207.shtml
“Tormented by Gilt”, by Leung Man Tao, voices the widespread disgust in China at flagrant displays of wealth, and conspicuous consumption, by the new rich. Leung echoes the popular belief that anyone rich must have made it crookedly, through connections and corruption; their opulent lifestyle is to be viewed with suspicion and should not be flaunted.

Leung Man Tao http://www.phoenixtv.com/phoenixtv/77415514200080384/20040827/45249.shtml is a champion of China’s netizens, the online community ever ready to expose fraud, ridicule the new rich and question official versions, yet patriotically ready to defend China against all enemies. This is the new elite, denied political power or democratic representation, which cannot be silenced. Tao summarises their attitude: “Being too wealthy in today’s China definitely carries its own risks. An official who puts on an expensive watch is, in the same movement, endangering his career. Taking your fancy new sports car out on the road is tantamount to asking for someone to key it. But this won’t detract from how enamored the Chinese people are by luxury – the Chinese word for extravagance, shehua, has become ubiquitous in fashion magazines and advertisements aimed at China’s wealthy.”

This is remarkable, coming from a host on a tv station beaming into China from Hong Kong the latest luxuries and fashions, for the delectation of mainland Mandarin speaking audiences, and the betterment of Murdoch’s bottom line.

If Leung Man Tao and Liu Yu are right, the richer China grows, the deeper the disillusion, mistrust, inequality and disbelief of official versions. China’s netizens, and their colleagues in established media, were quick, after the Wenzhou train crash of July 2011, to accuse official China of literally burying the truth, pushing wrecked train carriages further into the mud to obliterate evidence of official incompetence or corruption or criminal neglect of basic safety procedures. Very quickly, the netizens and journalists in official media, assumed a cover up, a denial of an ugly reality. The fact that the crash happened at Wenzhou, China’s laboratory of freewheeling capitalism, the new Jerusalem of the new rich winning social status by embracing Christianity, made it all the more significant.

Even the most repressive regime cannot repress all the people all the time. It is physically impossible to patrol the streets for unpredictable outbreaks of “mass incidents,” while patrolling universities and media editorial rooms for any subversive thoughts or comments.

China’s media are irrepressibly breaking out everywhere, defying the censorship, making strength in numbers by speaking out all at once. The days of empire are numbered. The central apparatus of control is crumbling, overwhelmed by too much truth popping up everywhere. The stronger the directives from the Ministry of Truth to report only happy news, or nothing, the more strongly the media go see for themselves, witness the disasters, and reveal the greed of the powerful.

There is an instinctive awareness, in the face of repressive power, of the safety of protesting together, too quickly and unitedly for the lumbering machinery of repression to get traction. Whether it is the towns of Syria, or the media of Beijing, agility, unity and courage can withstand the apparatus of state power.

As soon as one or two official media refused to be silenced, a chorus, already suspicious, rose up in denunciation of the Propaganda Department instruction to not ask questions about the causes of the crash. Online posts virally quoted the best lines, that captured popular mistrust of officials, and official ever-upbeat narratives. At a press conference where officials said everyone should have faith in the high speed railway, a senior Central China Television reporter and news anchor, Bai Yansong, pointedly fired off questions which made the connection between official policy towards technology and towards the people of China: “The technology may be advanced, but is your management advanced? Are your standard operating procedures advanced? Is the supervision advanced? Is your respect for people advanced? Are all the minute details advanced? At the end of the day, is your overall operational capability advanced? Only when we can answer in the affirmative can we say that the system is “up to standard” and we can have “full faith” in the system.” http://www.ahtv.cn/ent/mingxing/ndxw/2011/07/2011-07-26542675.html

Bai Yansong’s critique is sharply pointed. Elder statesman Jiang Zemin’s great contribution to Marxism was his “Three Represents” theory, a slogan insisting that the Communist Party represents the most advanced forces in society, the most advanced technologies and scientific rationality. Directly and publicly questioning whether central leaders are as advanced as they claim to be would get a Tibetan thrown in gaol and tortured.

Tao goes deeper into the underlying dynamics. The ostentatious new rich and their netizen critics, he argues, are mirror images of each other, all dependent on what others think of them, all tormented by insecurity. It’s an analysis uncannily akin to the frequent comments by the Dalai Lama that underlying China’s arrogance is unconfidence and fear. Tao says: “In a starkly unequal society, everyone must base their self-esteem on consumption as this is the only way to get others acceptance. When faced with so much conspicuous consumption one is bound to feel inferior, belittling oneself and even feeling contempt for oneself. The ostentatiously wealthy are in reality an insecure group of people to be pitied. Neither they nor those who so ardently despise them are behaving with dignity.”

Thoughtful and insightful dissent, such as this, is be found plentifully in China today, in such places as Caixin, a publication dedicated to the creation of wealth. Unlike the dissidents of the Soviet Union and their underground samizdat, these critiques are published openly, alongside articles on where to invest your money. Dissenting voices come not only from courageous Tibetans risking arrest and torture, but from the heart of the system itself.

How is this possible? Cynically, one could say China has mastered the art –long perfected by Rupert Murdoch- of allowing a few liberal critics to offset the overwhelming bias of media towards supporting the party line and the accumulation of wealth. It is always handy, when accused of systemic bias towards the powerful and rich, to be able to point to the space given to other voices, especially in elite publications aimed at international audiences, while popular media maintain the drumbeat of the party line.

There may well be truth in this. China Daily, aimed at a global English speaking audience, is more critical than People’s Daily, in Chinese. It’s a shrewd kind of media management. But the cynical explanation isn’t the only one. It says much about contemporary China that the critiques pop up within the midst of the preoccupation with wealth making. That wealth, and the inequality it generates, are so new, so contested, so basically illegitimate, there is an abiding ambivalence.

This is also a practical question, of where dissenting voices can be published. Economic freedom is the only sort of widespread freedom in China. Only in the op-ed sections of media dedicated front and centre to wealth creation is there space, and camouflage, for the dissenters. The Tibetans pleading online for cultural space and basic rights are not alone. There is now an odd alliance between margin and centre, between the thoughtful elite and the anguished minority ethnicity intellectuals; their critiques are similar, and their voices are getting stronger.

The popular outcry over the Wenzhou train crash of 23 July will not go away or be readily silenced by Propaganda department directives. Its date, 7-23, is a code word for official criminal incompetence and corruption. Now, when there is a disaster, knowing local media will be muzzled, reporters and citizen volunteers from other provinces rush to the site, to see for themselves and report, whatever the official version. The onus of proof has shifted. Unless official China can, through transparency and honesty, show it is with the victims, there is now an immediate assumption, in any disaster, that the authorities have something to hide, and they will not get away with it.

When official censorship is ignored, ridiculed and openly likened to the Ministry of Truth in Orwell’s 1984, official China stands exposed as fragile, fearful and brittle. http://chinadigitaltimes.net/china/grass-mud-horse/

When the regime is challenged not only by voices from the periphery, by Tibetans knowing one shout means a life in gaol, but also by professors of political science in the best universities, news anchors and tv talk show hosts, the regime is in trouble. Not everyone can be bought. Empires fail from within when those at the imperial centre begin to doubt the imperial mission. Once it is no longer axiomatic that those in charge are highly advanced, exemplary leaders we should trust, the empire starts to crumble.

China’s forest dwellers have rights; why not grassland dwellers too?




Interviews with nomads from all over the Tibetan Plateau, conducted in recent years by human rights monitoring agencies, show a remarkably consistent picture. Nomads are impoverished by decades of tight regulatory control on herd size, family size, land size, mandatory expenditure on fencing; and now face both incentives and inducements to leave their land altogether.

With great consistency, displaced nomads say in their debriefings that even if their initial move to new housing, far from their traditional pastures, was voluntary, due to poverty, and to attractive official promises; they regret leaving, because promised facilities, compensation and retraining are not kept, and life in a cash economy is new to them and difficult, in the absence of vocational and life skills training. They say the new concrete housing is cold in winter, hot in summer. There is nothing to do; a meaningful and productive life on the range has become a meaningless existence surviving on rations which are seldom as much as promised. But return in impossible: it is a condition of accepting new housing that long term land tenure certificates issued to pastoral families 20 to 30 years ago are nullified, and newly housed families must sign contracts saying they will no longer own or keep domestic livestock.

With equal consistency, China’s official discourse is that all displaced former nomads are voluntary ecological migrants, who choose to transmigrate because benevolent central leaders are spending a lot of money to provide them with comfortable housing, freeing the land for treatment enabling it to recover from overgrazing, erosion, climate change, and desertification.

The EU-China human rights dialogue can do more than prompt a reiteration of China’s official position. The two discourses need to be tested. The fieldwork discourse is a bottom-up narrative of what is actually happening. The official discourse is a top down narrative of what is supposed, according to policy, to happen and therefore must be happening. Between the lived realities of what displaced nomads say and what official China says, is a gulf to be clarified through dialogue.
China has made this a question of human rights, by arguing that the cash incomes of exnomads will be greater than their nomadic standard of living in a subsistence, non-monetised barter economy, thus fulfilling their economic and social rights.
There is much need for independent observers to check whether this is true. There is a wider question of the economic and social rights of an entire population and way of life, for over two million pastoralists. Most fundamentally their right to food, and access to land on which to produce food, has been lost, replaced by dependence on rations which are often provided only to those named on the cancelled land tenure certificates issued decades ago, thus excluding from eligibility for rations those born later, or who married into nomadic families in the past two or three decades. The right to development has been lost. Instead of enhancing nomadic livelihoods by adding value to nomadic surpluses, notably wool, dairy products and meat, exnomads are now periurban unskilled fringe dwellers obtaining at most casual employment on construction sites and road building.

The civil and political rights of the nomads are breached in multiple ways. Contrary to rural development norms, nomads are not allowed to form associations, or civil society organizations to represent them. They have no voice, and no say when cadres arrive in a township or encampment and announce how many people must “voluntarily” move because policy is now tuimu huancao, closing pasture to grow more grass. Freedom of association and freedom of expression do not exist for them. If they do protest or seek redress, or speak frankly to a documentary film maker, they are quickly imprisoned.
China’s repetitive insistence that what should happen is what actually happens, needs independent verification. China masks the extent of displacement by presenting everything as a program to provide nomads with “comfortable housing.” But there is a big difference between new housing, paid for by government, on the traditional winter grazing land of a nomadic family which enjoys ongoing lane tenure rights; compared to new housing in distant concrete barracks 100 or 200 kms away from ancestral pastures, with land use rights cancelled and official threats that ownership of any livestock will result in eviction from the new housing. These are two extremes, both regarded as part of China’s comfortable housing program. Between these extremes are many other troubling outcomes reported by displaced nomads, including pressure from authorities on nomads to take out loans from state banks, despite their inability to service loans, to pay for what is ostensibly the gift of a benevolent government.

The gap between ground truth experienced by nomads and China’s official discourse needs independent verification. The danger is that an entire way of life, making skilful use of the entire Tibetan Plateau, is rapidly being made redundant, as if the depopulation of the Tibetan countryside is the only way of rehabilitating degrading rangelands. This briefing concludes with a list of specific questions that ask China for specific data on what the “comfortable housing” program means on the ground.

There is widespread recognition that forest governance involves human rights; but grasslands governance policy debate lacks a human rights dimension.

In China, the State Forestry Administration (SFA) is responsible both for reafforestation and rehabilitating grasslands. Forest governance aims at achieving globally important goals such as carbon sequestration, reduction of emissions due to destruction and degradation (REDD) of forests, conservation of biodiversity etc. but. After decades of debate and disagreement, there is now a well-recognised connection between the achievement of such goals, and the enhancement of the livelihoods of people who live in or near forests. These days it is the norm that forest dwellers should not be evicted from forests, and that forests are not effectively protected by fencing human communities out. The new norm is of co management, participatory development, engaging local communities as partners in sustainable forest governance, their livelihoods understood as integral to success in reforestation, biodiversity conservation and REDD.

China sees itself at the forefront of this movement to skilfully integrate the livelihoods of forest dwellers with the attainment of global public goods such as climate change mitigation. China, with active assistance from the EU from 2009 to 2012, has promoted the concept of forest tenure in several provinces, most of which have significant minority ethnicities in forested counties. Forest tenure is intended to give forest dwellers a strong feeling of ownership, agency and capacity to make governance decisions. The first step is to help forest communities set up their own cooperatives, Forestry Protection Association, Bamboo Association, Afforestation or Silviculture Association. The driver is empowerment, in recognition of the negative consequences of past policies which disempowered, alienated and impoverished forest dwellers, in the name of statist forest governance.

China’s forest land tenure program, which began as a small movement among peasants, has blossomed into a full-blown national program that affects about 400 million people and more than 100 million hectares of China’s largest and richest forests. It is arguably the world’s largest forest tenure reform. The Chinese Forest Administration’s (SFA) reform of the nation’s “collective forests” allows communities to reallocate land-use rights and forest ownership, either to individual households, groups of households or to the collective itself. http://www.rightsandresources.org/events.php?id=385

A major emphasis of the EU-China human rights dialogue has been legal training, mostly at an elite level of judges, court officers and lawyers. There is a strong popular desire for basic legal knowledge in Tibetan communities, a basic understanding of the rights as well as responsibilities of being a citizen of China. The 2011 Work Report of the Tibet Autonomous Region chairman says: “We have boosted the popularization of law. The public’s awareness of law has markedly improved.” Grassroots legal education, including China’s forest tenure practice, rights to appeal official decisions, rights of petition etc., would be a practical way to advance human rights awareness in remote and mountainous areas.

Tenure for forest dwellers, dispossession for rangeland pastoralists: The contrast is stark, even though grasslands are just as essential to achieving global goals such as biodiversity conservation, REDD, and carbon sequestration.

China’s Grassland Law is all about the rights of the state, with very little mention of the rights of the peoples of the grasslands. In recent decades, the pastoral nomads who 9000 years ago made the Tibetan Plateau humanly habitable, and have sustained it productively ever since, faced increasing restrictions. Encroachments by statist grasslands governance restricted the number of animals they are allowed to own, the number of children they may have, the amount of land allocated, and restricted mobile access to alpine meadow grazing land. The inevitable result of this enclosure was to concentrate animals onto smaller fenced lands. No longer do pastoralists have flexible opportunity to do what mobile pastoralists do best, which is to live off uncertainty, moving with their herds to conserve indigenous flora, making full, mobile use of temporary abundances of forage in the highly unpredictable climate of the world’s Third Pole. The cumulative effect of the 1980s and 1990s taxes, regulations, mandatory fencing and herd size restrictions was to impoverish nomads who have traditionally been seen by Tibetans as wealthy.

China’s 1980s and 1990s grasslands governance was deeply contradictory, resulting in perverse outcomes. On one hand, nomads of various minority ethnicities were given long term secure land tenure, but on the other were subject to intensifying disciplinary regulation. The result was, for pastoralist households, immiserisation; and for the land the outcome was degradation, loss of soil and vegetation, and even compulsory extermination of keystone indigenous species of grassland mammals.

A new grasslands governance policy for the 21st century was announced in 2003, which has meant cancelling the long term land tenure contracts issued by the state not so long ago. The new policy is called tuimu huancao, removing animals to grow more grass. Its sole objective is to increase observable above-ground biomass of pasture grasses, as the sole means of protecting from degradation the watersheds of both of Chinas great rivers, the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers, which originate in the grasslands. The assumption is that a choice has to be made. Either the grasslands are grazed by domestic herds, guided by their herders, or more grass grows. It is impossible to have both grass and animals. In the words of an official Chinese slogan, “there is a contradiction between grass and animals.”

Actual outcomes.

Hundreds of thousands of nomads have been required, without choice, to leave their land and live in concrete barracks, in large scale purpose-built urban fringe camps, sometimes on the edge of their ancestral pasture lands, sometimes 100 or 200 kms away. There is nothing to do there, no employment opportunities, almost no vocational training, only state television, alcohol, boredom and meaninglessness. This is happening at an accelerating rate, most intensively in the Yangtze and Yellow river source area, but in many other parts of the Tibetan Plateau, in Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces, as well as Tibet Autonomous Region.

The UN Special Rapporteur to the Right to Food, invited to China in December 2010, specifically named the nomads of Tibet among those who right to land and food was denied by China’s grassland governance policies. In its response, tabled at the UN Human Rights Commission, China said all those displaced are voluntary ecological migrants.

Fieldwork reports from social scientists closely studying the implementation of tuimu huancao grassland governance say that China’s combination of incentives and disincentives means that in the initial stages, some nomads do surrender their land use certificates and move to new housing settlement blocks voluntarily, drawn by promises of cash, rations, electricity and access to schooling for their children. However, they soon find the compensation and community facilities actually provided do not match what was promised, that living in a monetised economy with no source of food or income from land and animals is something they are not prepared for. At that point many seek to return, and those still on their land resolve to stay put. Officially, pasture closure is determined scientifically as necessary for three or five or ten years. In reality no-one is allowed back. The move to what China calls a more “civilised and comfortable” housing is irreversible, and non-negotiable.

Learning from the forests: from exclusion to inclusion

Thirty years ago, at a time when there was widespread global alarm at accelerating deforestation, local communities were blamed. The best policy for forest governance seemed to be to declare forests protected by state power, end exclude local communities, fence them out, and even criminalise their subsistence forest livelihood activities. That top-down, statist, and exclusive model of forest governance gradually became today’s inclusive community forestry approach. Only gradually did international development assistance agencies realise that excluding the locals is counterproductive, and leads only to poaching, encroaching and poverty. Gradually, the world has come to recognise that local communities can be the guardians and stewards of their forests, if they are given real management responsibility, and support, including payment for the environmental services (PES) provided by a healthy forest.

The same is true of biodiversity conservation. Instead of excluding and fencing out local villagers, who out of poverty become poachers, the more skilful approach is to mobilize the energies of local communities as wardens of protected areas. Article 8 (j) of the Convention on Biodiversity explicitly recognizes local indigenous communities as the best protectors of biodiversity.

China persists in seeing grassland governance as solely about grass, and watershed protection. The livelihoods of the pastoralists are of little concern, attracting almost no investment. Insofar as the incomes of pastoralists are a policy concern, China’s only strategy is that they should migrate even further away, to become part of the industrial proletariat of the world’s factory. To quote an authoritative 2010 “Sustainable Development Roadmap for Mountainous Areas of China”, the solution is that “the scale and intensity of the emigration from the mountainous areas to cities and towns should be enlarged and strengthened in order to keep in step with the progress of building a well-off society in an all-round way.” (Chinese Academy of Sciences, Springer Verlag)

Administrative obstacles

However, a fundamental obstacle is the strictly separate administrative categories of China’s policies. Watershed protection is the responsibility of the powerful Ministry of Water Resources (MWR), which has no responsibility for the livelihoods of pastoral nomads. Reforestation, rehabilitation of degrading grasslands, and converting farmland to forest and grassland all fall under the State Forestry Administration (SFA). These two are the drivers of the tuimu huancao policy of removing herds and herders to achieve the narrowly defined objective of growing more grass.

Who is responsible for the incomes, food security, livelihoods and future prospects of the pastoral nomads? It used to be the Animal Husbandry Bureau under the Ministry of Agriculture, but since the nomads are being moved out of animal husbandry, and their future is meant to be as migrant factory workers, there is no line agency with clear responsibility for anything beyond the punitive implementation of exclusion. China is not alone in having ministries that rigidly stay within their separate silos, but it is worse in China than elsewhere. Those engaged in the EU-China human rights dialogue, which is restricted to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as the sole Chinese partner, will be familiar with the difficulties of China’s compartmentalised system of governance.

Even within the silos, progress could be made. If China is unwilling to consider the food insecurity, poverty, landlessness and disempowerment of Tibetan nomads as human rights issues, the silo ministries could at least be encouraged to extend their community forest tenure approach to the grasslands, where SFA is in charge of grassland restoration. Since the EU has been strongly involved in promoting community forest tenure in China, in partnership with SFA, it could persuade SFA to take a less exclusionist approach to the grasslands.

The same applies to MWR. Protecting the source area of China’s great rivers can be achieved by participatory watershed development rather than by exclosure of the nomads who for thousands of years have sustainably managed the 100,000 sq kms source area, the Sanjiangyuan. Participatory watershed development is a well tried approach for rehabilitating degrading areas. India, for example, uses its Integrated Watershed Development Programme specifically to mobilise community energies to rehabilitate wastelands.

1. How many herders in Qinghai, Sichuan, Tibet Autonomous Region, Gansu and Yunnan are no longer living on the land allocated to them?
2. How many still have land tenure certificates to their pasture lands that were issued in the 1980s and 1990s?
3. How many herders have surrendered their land use certificates, and will be unable to return to their land?
4. How many herders have been asked to sell their herds and leave their land for three years? How many have completed three years and have now returned to their land? How many were told to leave for five years and have since returned?
5. How many herders now have comfortable housing on their own allocated pastureland, and how many have been rehoused 20 kms from their ancestral lands? 50 kms? 100 kms or more?
6. What vocational training, in what new skills, has been provided to how many herders, in educational programs lasting three months or more?
7. When will the rehousing of all nomads be complete?
8. What is the treatment program for degrading grasslands on the Tibetan Plateau, and what is the budget for treatment of affected areas?
9. If promised compensation, access to schooling, rations, electricity or community services are not delivered, what appeal process is available to resettled herders?



Gabriel Lafitte 2002
This is a story about the biggest tourism destination in Tibet, bigger than the holy city of Lhasa, even though few Tibetans know this eastern edge of Tibet. Attracting one and a half million Chinese tourists a year in 2002, three million a year by 2008, , the Dzitsa Degu valleys are among the last remaining homes of the giant panda.
In the hope of conserving pandas, and preserving an exquisitely beautiful landscape in which Tibetans have lived and farmed for many centuries, UNESCO put Dzitsa Degu on its World Heritage list, at the urging of scientists. But this designation has been the downfall of Dzitsa Degu, rather than its salvation. Instead of saving the pandas –which have not been sighted in Dzitsa Degu now for years- Chinese bureaucratic entrepreneurs cashed in on the natural capital of the beauty of these steep valleys, and the social capital of World Heritage and Biosphere Reserve awarded by UNESCO. Chinese tourism enterprises, with patronage at the highest political level, converted natural and social capital into monetary capital, making huge profits. These profits were captured by enterprises enclosing, surrounding and now suffocating the nature reserve, driving away any remaining pandas, and now driving out the Tibetans too, all in the name of conservation.

The key to this story is Deng Hong, who first made his fortune in remote Jiuzhaigou, in partnership with InterContinental hotel chain; and in 2011 is now using his wealth and inner connections with the Communist Party -he is now a member of the National Peoples Congress- to build the biggest hotel Lhasa has ever seen, the Lhasa InterContinental, to open end of 2012.
The fairy lands of the nine stockaded Tibetan villages exist today in a Chinese hyperreality, a timeless and spaceless world cut off from history and the Tibetan world, from the surrounding grasslands, nomads and the repetitions of Han-Tibetan conflict over many centuries.
Jiuzhaigou –the Nine Stockaded Village Valley- and nearby Huanglong- the Yellow Dragon- are magnetic attractors of wealth and quintessentialised Chineseness for today’s cadres and tour operators. Three hundred busloads a day disgorge an endless stream of strangers into this fairyland of crystal pools and streams, forests and snow capped mountains, and to the five star resorts, luxury villas for the new rich, karaoke bars and discos at their gates.
This fantasy land serves as background for mainland Han, Taiwanese, Hong Kong and Singapore compatriots to rediscover their essential Chineseness, in a Tibetan landscape. For a day, the visitor can become an emperor strolling his private garden of exquisite nature, a jewelled landscape inspiring the cultivated gentleman to reflect on China’s 5000 year heritage, to compose elegantly understated poetry, then return to comfort and conviviality. This setting, shorn of Tibetan time and place, is the stage on which Chinese masses enact a golden age of a long-gone China, in which Confucian literati strolled amid the beauties of nature.
The erasure of its Tibetan history is so insistent that even a scientific report by Chinese scientists for UNESCO in 1999 could report: “The area was an almost virgin land hidden in the high mountains of the northwestern Sichuan Plateau for thousands of years. Local Tibetan people lived a self-sufficient life, having little association with the external world, except through narrow paths for travelling by horse. Outsiders had no knowledge of the rich biological resources of Jiuzhaigou until 1975, when it was simultaneously found to be a rare beauty in the world. And so the prologue of Jiuzhaigou’s current heyday was opened.”[1]
Jiuzhaigou was “discovered” much as European explorers “discovered” the Americas or Australia, immediately relegating those who had inhabited these areas for millennia to incidental natives with scant claim to priority. This landscape was too important to be left to natives, who had clearly failed to develop its’ potential.
It is not Tibetan history that is celebrated in these two World Heritage areas and Biosphere Reserves; it is the imagined past of China, transposed onto a Tibetan landscape. It is a past in which Chinese poets and sages wandered in the mountains, composing elegaic verses and with spare brush strokes evoked scenes of ineffable harmony. This is what now draws in the Taiwanese, Hong Kong and Singapore tourists in such numbers. The values China has inscribed onto this Tibetan farmland are evident in the prose of Chinese writers. A glossy official book on all of China’s World Heritage sites describes Jiuzhaigou: “The mountains, lakes, natural primeval forest and unique scenes make Jiuzhaigou a fairyland…. Scenes change according to the season and the area is particularly colourful in autumn when the wind makes kilometres of tree belt along the lake undulate like a sea wave… trees grow in the water and flowers blossom in the middle of lakes… Sometimes you can see giant pandas.”[2]
This is quite restrained compared to other Chinese authors. In China Pictorial, in a photo essay titled The Fairyland of Jiuzhaigou, Ren Hua writes: “Jiuzhaigou is like a bright pearl mounted in the southeast Qinghai-Tibet Plateau adjacent to the Sichuan Basin. Since few people travelled there, the mountains and valleys were not discovered and developed until the 1970s….Legend has it that Wonosmo, the goddess of the mountain, dropped a mysterious mirror, a love object given by Dag, the god of the mountain, and the broken pieces became more than 100 lakes….. The Tibetans praise the Long Lake as ‘an unfilled treasure gourd.’ There is a majestic view of snowy peaks and glaciers opposite the Long Lake. In addition there are the Five-Flower Lake, calcareous tufa dyke, Twine-Dragon Lake and the Colourful Pond. The Tibetan girls often praise the mountains and lakes in pleasant folk songs.”[3]
The fairies of what Chinese writers frequently describe as a fairyland are Tibetan fairies, with recognisably Tibetan names, yet when made to serve Chinese arcadian idylls their stories are reduced to sentimental fragments. Timeless mythology abides, while specific Tibetan times and spaces are dehistoricised. Thus Tibetan ancestor myths become legends of China, for Chinese tourists, marking Chinese sites.
Long Lake (Tsoring in Tibetan) is at the farthest point in the tourist circuit, where the sealed road and bus service end, 18 kilometres from the tourist entrance. A recent guidebook, written by an Edinburgh Tibetan, says: “Another steep stone staircase leads down to the lake shore, where local Tibetans are waiting with their docile yaks to dress eager Chinese tourists in Tibetan garb for their personal yak photographs.”[4] Where the road ends and Tibet begins is a liminal zone in which Chinese tourists can briefly enact fantasies of role reversal, becoming cowboys and peasants, embodying the fantasy of a golden age when life was simple. The photo taken, what was donned is doffed, and normal life is resumed.
This experience caps the visitor’s immersion in Jiuzhaigou’s “World of Fairy Tales.”[5] This is the modern cathedral of nature, the sublime experience of communion with the normally elusive world beyond the human, the dissolution of separateness, the overcoming of the distance between man and nature. As a Chinese online guidebook says: “The scenic delights of the Sword Cliff region [of Jiuzhaigou] is of more simplicity, more wild nature and more primeval tranquility. It seems that you have suddenly passed through the time-space continuum, and stepped into the time immemorial.”[6]
This is a world outside time, in which anything is briefly possible. It is a sacred world, but the sacred lies in the “primeval” forest, the limpid lakes, the pristine peaks, the profusion of flowers and colours. No longer is the sacred grounded in the sacred traditions of the historic population of the valley, although a few Tibetan names linger on. The mountain god Dag whose gift of a mirror to the goddess Wonosmo creates the chains of lakes seems to be the nearby 4200 metre mountain Tibetans call Dege. The goddess whose mirror shattered is more often simply named in Chinese texts as Semo, a Chinese goddess of ancient Chinese legends. Ctrip, which advertises itself  as “the leading China hotel reservation network”  introduces Jiuzhaigou thus: “Ancient Chinese legend has it that the goddess Semo accidentally smashed her mirror here and the pieces which fell down the mountain formed beautiful lakes, streams and waterfalls.”[7] Semo’s origin is appropriated and blurred, her status as a mountain deity forgotten, as the focus is no longer on the mountains, except as a picturesque backdrop to the narcissistic views to be found in the many small lakes. However, the anthropologist Charles Ramble says,  “se-mo, in the Bon demonology, designates a class of female spirits who initially manifest as beautiful women and subsequently turn into dangerous hags.”[8] The semo, and the places named for the many semo of Tibet, are usually local protectors who beguile strangers, then turn on them, often poisoning those who do not belong. They are indeed dangerous to interlopers. Clearly this is not a story contemporary China, fixated on boosting tourism, wishes to tell. The tourism industry finds it far preferable that Semo or Wonosmo be a cipher, a colourful factoid, a decorative artifact of ancient Chinese legend.
However, Semo’s peak is not as readily marginalised as the other peaks that frame the views in Jiuzhaigou. Semo is central. In all representations of Jiuzhaigou the basic layout is given as a Y shape, in which the visitor enters at the base and gradually ascends to the fork, then continues up either branch. The streams, the roads and the buses all part at the fork, because Semo is in the middle. Semo lives on in tourist maps as a mount of Venus.
The first view of Semo comes at a lake named for an animal long extinct in China, the rhino (Xiniu Hai in Chinese, Seru Tso in Tibetan). In the words of a current online guidebook: “Rhino Lake is broad and dark blue. The volume of water keeps the same all year round. It was said that the peaceful Rhino Lake was endowed with mysterious power. In the southern bushes, there is a landing stage, where visitors can see to the north Mount Ce Mo (Goddess Mountain)”[9]
The appropriation and trivialisation of the gods mirrors the fate of the Tibetans, whose home is Dzitsa Degu , the gully of nine stockaded villages fenced with the plentiful timbers of the forest to guard against quarrelsome neighbours, perhaps to also protect against the semo.
From a Tibetan point of view, the Nine Stockaded Villages and their 800 Tibetan inhabitants were integral to a culture strongly grounded in connections to Lhasa, to pilgrimage, the sacredness of the mountains, and the ongoing life of the oldest forms of Tibetan spirituality, the preBuddhist Bon tradition. Until China’s quest for essentialised Chinese beauty occurred the Nine Villages were also integral to a regional economy of seasonal trading between animal product producers and grain growers. This Tibetan world, a complex of cultural, economic and spiritual connections is not only invisible to tourists, but it has been replaced by an alternative Chinese narrative which now explains the unspoiled beauty of Jiuzhaigou prior to the 1970s.
The story told to tourists is somewhat magical, with almost all human presence erased: “Since few people travelled there, the mountains and valleys were not discovered and developed until the 1970s.”[10] This erases not only the Tibetan rebellions against Chinese power in this area in the1740s, 1860s and 1920s, but the entire history of Tibetan stewardship of these steep valleys, in the highest rainfall zone of Tibet, in easily eroded limestone country. Tibetan indigenous knowledge is denied, Tibetan traditions of both hunting and biodiversity conservation expunged. Sichuan’s “northwestern part, however, cut off by high mountains and special topography, was rarely penetrated. Not until half a century ago, after the Chinese Workers and Peasants’ Red Army had marched a long way, only to confront its grim visage, did it become widely known.”[11] This view from the plains below is an utterly Sinocentric conception.
Few Tibetans have ever heard of Jiuzhaigou, a Chinese name which can be translated as Nine Stockade Gully, a reference to the nine Tibetan walled villages of this picturesque area. In 1984  Premier Zhao Ziyang drew attention to this remote area by declaring that the famous iconic scenery of Guilin is number one in the world, yet the scenery of Jiuzhaigou ranks even higher than Guilin. This edict by a top leader had the force of law, permitting local county governments to become entrepreneurial without fear of being labelled capitalist roaders, as they would have been only a few years earlier. The officials of Nanping county saw their moment had come. The natural capital of this limestone ravine on a tributary of the Min Jiang, a river feeding into the Yangtze, was ideal for exploitation.  While surrounding forests had been heavily logged, the ravine was too steep for commercial logging access, and the nine Tibetan villages in it lived a largely self-sufficient existence with little connection to lowland China. What had seemed a picturesque backwater became a major asset that could for the first time generate considerable wealth for the county cadres.
This co-incided with the quintessential landscapes of Guilin, long famed for their beauty, rapidly approaching saturation. It was in China’s national interest, at a time when overseas Chinese were responding to invitations to return, to visit ancestral sites and areas of iconic Chineseness, were starting to arrive in such numbers that more destination needed to be created. Guilin was already getting bad press: “Most Westerners find it a big disappointment. The stunning limestone peaks are not much in evidence on Guilin’s polluted and congested streets… A combination of heat, hazy skies, industry, congested streets, enormous crowds and tourism hype make Guilin one of China’s most overrated travel experiences.”[12]
Dzitsa Degu –known in Chinese as Jiuzhaigou- was ideal. The long walks up the valleys offered vistas at every turn that seemed to express in harmonious balance the elements of classical Chinese landscape compositions. Framed by snow mountains and clear skies above, and travertine pools of clear water in many colours below, the vistas offer sharp crags, dense rhododendron forest, dramatic limestone karst landforms, waterfalls, spring flowers and autumn colours. This was a landscape representing China’s past, when poets and painters sat with brush in hand, ready for the few strokes that make nature art, that express the balance of yin and yang. The nine stockaded Tibetan villages of Dzitsa Degu were ideal to recreate Chinese tradition most Chinese see only in movies. The name Dzitsa Degu was heard no more. Instead the area was retrofitted with a Chinese lineage: “Formerly ‘Ciu Hai’ (Green Lake), or ‘Yang Tong’, Jiuzhaigou was later named for the nine (Jiu in Chinese) Tibetan villages in the gullies.”[13]
 Even with Zhao Ziyang’s official endorsement, it took many years for Jiuzhaigou to become a major destination. A decade after Zhao’s blessing, the 1994 Lonely Planet guidebook to China lists Jiuzhaigou as a destination only for hardy backpackers willing to brave chaotic transport, abysmal food, dangerous roads, outbreaks of the plague and sightings of UFOs. Visitors are urged to allow a week to 10 days for the round trip by road, as it takes two to three days on overcrowded local buses to get there. Other guidebooks make no mention of Jiuzhaigou at all, or, as the 1989 Fodor’s says: “it is isolated and difficult to reach.”
Gearing Jiuzhaigou to meet the needs and desires of local, then national and eventually international tourists took much time and money. The wealth needed to steadily upgrade facilities at the entrance to the heritage area was largely generated by retained profits of earlier stages in the resort destination life cycle.
No longer. Jiuzhaigou now receives 500,000 paying visitors a year and is promoted as a major destination for foreign as well as domestic tour package buyers. Such numbers have required it to be energetically promoted globally for values represented in lush colour sections of magazines, and in equally colourful prose.
For visitors too important to put on buses, there is now a heliport and an airport to lift premium payers out of Chengdu and deliver them at the gates of Jiuzhaigou in an hour. Sichuan province spent 900 million yuan ($109 million) upgrading the highway to Jiuzhaigou, although the road’s sharp turns and commercial turnaround pressure on drivers still means many accidents. In September 2001 several tourists from Hong Kong were killed in a bus crash, which was reported widely in China’s official media.
Growth in worldwide promotion of Jiuzhaigou as a destination continues to intensify. A steady upward trend in visitor numbers is expected to continue its exponential growth. This is not only  a commercial success, attracting the masses in sufficient numbers to steadily increase hotel construction and marketing budgets, it is also a triumph for a Communist Party whose claim to legitimacy is in part its opening of imperial elite treasure places to mass access.
A major factor in the promotion of Jiuzhaigou is that quite early in the trajectory of its destination life cycle it was accorded official world heritage status by UNESCO. The United Nations has now doubly inscribed Jiuzhaigou, having granted it a listing on the register of World Heritage Sites in 1992, then in  1997 UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB) added Jiuzhaigou to its list of the world’s biosphere reserves. Nearby Huanglong is likewise doubly honoured by UNESCO.
It is the genius of contemporary Chinese bureaucratic entrepreneurialism to parlay such intellectual capital, and the natural capital of the landscape into a rapidly growing rate of return on financial capital.
These seals of global approval have enormous value in attracting tourists, but they also mean considerable scientific scrutiny of China’s management of these destinations. There are few other parts of Tibet under such intense scientific gaze. Many of the scientific assessments and plans for future management are publicly available. Thus it is possible to see both through Chinese official eyes and the eyes of scientists how the future of Jiuzhaigou is mapped, and what part the Tibetans of the nine villages play in it.
All available documentation on Jiuzhaigou –from glossy tourist brochures to dry scientific reports-  are all predicated on the assumption that Jiuzhaigou is one of the rare places where the split between man and the biosphere, culture and nature can be overcome. The pre-existing reality of this separation is taken for granted as self-evident, and is deeply inscribed in the actual title of the UNESCO program. Only a few special places on earth are so wonderful that this gulf can be dissolved, and man can feel at one with nature, and at one with himself, to use the masculine usage adopted by UNESCO.
Given this axiomatic assumption, the existence of humans, both resident and passing, in such a place is bound to be problematic. There are inevitable tensions and contradictions, which all those concerned with management, both Chinese and international, frequently acknowledge. Yet the sheer weight of numbers, as mass tourism intensifies, pushes this site and its Tibetan inhabitants inexorably in one direction. From the moment China discovered Jiuzhaigou in 1975, in the final throes of the Cultural Revolution, the fate of the Tibetans was in question, because Jiuzhaigou was no longer people-place, in which people and place are together, inseparable, compatible, mutually sustaining, interdependent. Whether Tibetans have a place in paradise, whether they are to be seen as intrusions into the wilderness, compromising the integrity of fairy land, was questionable from the moment modern China first discovered the area. Now those questions have hardened into answers, rigidly excluding Tibetans from their gardens and farms, in the name of science, wilderness and beauty.
This is a story worth telling from the start. China started campaigning for World Heritage listing of Jiuzhaigou in 1982, only three years after intensive logging of the Minshan range, in which Jiuzhaigou is located, was exhausted. An anthropologist, Hill Gates, in her 1988 field diary recorded her impressions on the road approaching Jiuzhaigou: “Many of the hills we now drive through are logged off, stripped and eroding… The valley we ascend is dotted with logging towns interspersed with Tibetan villages in which the houses are all now made of stone, fortresslike… The little van cruises along an astonishingly good road, the main route to Tibet, carrying timber from the interior and military convoys back.”[14]
It took a decade to achieve the World Heritage status, a further five years to attain Biosphere Reserve inscription. Initially, when Jiuzhaigou was first brought to China’s national gaze the Tibetan villages were seen as intrinsic, part of the colour and exotic variety of the landscape. They were not a major part of the attractions, nor were they seen as problematic or contradictory to the purposes of creating a tourist spectacle. On the sliding scale of nature and culture as polar opposites, the Tibetans were clearly closer to the nature end, almost part of the fauna. There was no question of including them as stakeholders in the planning and management of the tourism enterprise, nor was there any suggestion that they should be expelled. This is not an uncommon fate for indigenous communities when metropolitan capital chooses to locate major enterprises in indigenous homelands.
A ravine too steep for logging, a chain of Tibetan villages too backward to be worth bothering about, became the key to Nanping’s wealth. What had been peripheral, useless, best left too its own devices, was suddenly central. Jiuzhaigou was a remote part of Nanping county, and it was the overwhelmingly Chinese county seat that officially spoke for all, including the Tibetans. The interests of the largely urban cadres, based in Nanping town, not only predominated but were the only voices permissible in public. In Nanping county in 1994, the population was already over 70 per cent Chinese, with under 30 per cent being Tibetan.[15] Official Chinese figures for 1994 list the Chinese population as 38,700, and Tibetans as 14,500. Local cadres could plan careers for their children involving glamourous contact with Chinese compatriots from wealthy areas. This was a new world.
Much the same was true in the neighbouring county of Zungchu (in Tibetan) or Songpan in Chinese, which administers Huanglong World Heritage area (meaning Yellow Dragon in Chinese). The scenery was similarly evocative of classic Chinese landscapes, and from a scientific point of view, the two areas, if administered as a unit, had potential as areas of bamboo forest in which dwindling panda numbers could be restored, after the devastation caused by recent logging.  The World Conservation Monitoring Centre states: “Extensive logging took place between 1972 and 1979 and concern about this prompted the proposal of the area as an area of scenic beauty and historic interest by the State Council of the People’s Republic of China in 1982.”[16] The deforestation was so severe that the Min river, which drains the Min Shan range, dropped its streamflow discharge by 11.5 per cent permanently.[17] The destruction of the forests was due not only to logging but subsequent fires, which have left the sunnier and drier southern slopes bare of forest regrowth, even fifty years after initial clearing and fire. A professional forester Daniel Winkler observed during fieldwork that: “In Zitsa Degu traces of forest fires were abundant everywhere except on moist north-facing slopes. Wide areas of forest were burned out completely in the late 1950s or early 1960s, leaving behind only a few old trees within young pine stands.”[18]
The drop in rainfall and runoff to the river as a result of deforestation remain major threats to the habitat of the pandas. When the UNESCO World Heritage Committee (WHC) assented to the inscription of both Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong in 1992, the decision of the Committee noted that both: “belong to the same ecological unit, despite being under different county administrations.”[19] UNESCO asked China to make them one site, “and consider submitting a revised nomination for inscription as a unified site.” China’s official delegate promised to give this due consideration. Nothing happened.
Songpan county cadres had as much interest in keeping the sites separate as did Nanping. Rent seeking opportunities for controlling wealth creation would only be diluted by sharing a single site. In 1998 UNESCO again: “urged the Chinese authorities to implement the recommendations of the Committee, made at the time of inscription of this site [Huanglong] and Jiuzhaigou in 1992, to link the two sites into a single Minshan Mountain World Heritage Area…. The mission also urged the Chinese authorities to explore possibilities for linking Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong World Heritage sites and other giant panda reserves as appropriate.”[20] Again, nothing further happened.
The situation of the pandas was becoming critical. In Jiuzhaigou in 1983, American zoologist George Schaller noted: “Bamboo is scarce, and pandas are only rare visitors.”[21] By 1996 there were only 17 pandas left in Jiuzhaigou, and a 1989 survey by China’s Ministry of Forests and the World Wildlife Fund “describes the population as being small and totally isolated.”[22] That is why scientists recommended connecting nearby panda reserves, which “gives potential for maintaining or restoring the links between these populations and maintaining gene flow.”
By then much had been invested in establishing Jiuzhaigou as a known brandname, while Minshan remained obscure and unknown. The two counties, and their networks of patrons at higher levels were in competition, and were evenly matched. Jiuzhaigou had an advantage in the race to become the brand name recognised as the identifier of a world of meaning, signifying the experience of quintessential Chinese landscape beauty in western China. Jiuzhaigou’s name was better known, and Nanping county capitalised on this by changing its name to Jiuzhaigou county to drive home the brand name message. Songpan county’s advantage is that it is closer to Chengdu, and a shorter bus ride. Songpan county has other major tourist destinations, starting with the county town and its town walls and bridges, some of which are hundreds of years old. The Songpan Grasslands have been promoted to Chinese domestic tourists as a verdant upland in which Chinese can be cowboys for the day in a controlled Tibetan environment, almost the only Tibetan pastoral area marketed to Chinese as a tourist attraction. Yellow Dragon is more evocative of quintessentialised Chineseness than Nine Village ravine, but Jiuzhaigou has emerged as the iconic destination.
The motivations of local power elites were not the same as the scientists who, from the outset wanted the area to serve as a local instance of a global concern to conserve biodiversity, and were primarily focused on mammals, especially nonhuman ones. By the time UNESCO proposed, for the sake of maintaining the flow of the panda gene pool, that the two areas become a single Minshan Mountain Range World Heritage Area, Jiuzhaigou was well on the way to becoming a brand name known all over China, with Huanglong not far behind. To erase these names for the locally inclusive,  geographically correct but utterly unknown Minshan, would have been to throw away a decade of brand building.
For global science, species conservation was a top priority, for China iconic beauty and a UNESCO classification of any sort came first. The scientists’ reports as to the merits of both sites always used remarkably different language to the lyrical prose of the Chinese promoters. Of the various criteria UNESCO uses to classify World Heritage sites, both are classified as Scenic and Historic Interest Areas, with a suggestion: “that the Chinese authorities prepare a species conservation report in order to investigate the possibility that the site may also qualify for inscription under natural heritage criterion (iv).”[23]
In the United Nations Environment Program’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre listing of these sites, they are categorised as IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) Management Category III, which is as “natural monuments.”
These different agendas have persisted, and the contradictions have intensified. The core is the number of humans in these protected biosphere reserves, especially the paying visitors. From the outset, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee “expressed concern over the question of growing human impact in the reserve.” By 1998: “the mission team found the site to be congested with tourists; the management has made it too easy for the visitors to enter the site en-masse and in vehicles that drive through the core area. Increasing visitation appears to be leading to mushrooming of several new hotels immediately outside the boundaries of the site.”
Tourist numbers continued to grow. The contradictions intensified. Global science, represented by bodies such as UNESCO, UNEP and WWF persisted in wanting animal conservation and biosphere protection uppermost, but they were stuck with the fact that they themselves had classified these areas as natural monuments and areas of scenic and historic interest, all designations suggesting a human perspective. A natural area can be a monument only through human eyes, likewise the judgement that an area is scenic. To label an area of historic interest makes explicit the privileging of the human perspective, making all other mind-possessors part of the objects of the human gaze.
The human gaze is the foreground, the pandas, takin and other rare species are part of the background. But, in an area accorded special status because of its human historic interest, which humans and whose history is celebrated? Until quite recently, the number of Chinese living in this area of nine Tibetan villages was few. The only human history of any depth in the inscribed area is Tibetan history. Not only were both areas Tibetan farming villages, but there is a long history of Sino-Tibetan relations in this frontier zone, that has been airbrushed from contemporary discourse. Tibetans rose in revolt against Chinese metropolitan taxes and control, between 1858 and 1865, and again between 1924 and 1926.[24] Tibetan uprisings against Chinese incursions and full-scale invasions, both military and commercial are both centuries old, and as recent as the 1970s. It is this history that contemporary China denies. To concede that Jiuzhaigou did not miraculously manifest out of nowhere is to risk situating it firmly in Tibet, contiguous with the vast Tibetan grassland, and temporally connected with a long history of conflict and contest with China over hegemony.
Further down the Min river there are old Chinese frontier towns, especially Songpan (Zungchu in Tibetan) town, which housed a Chinese garrison for centuries. But the countryside, especially in the upper valleys and sidestreams of the Min river, which are now the World Heritage areas, were Tibetan, remote and with little Chinese presence until recently. The Qiang, one of China’s larger minority ethnicities, live nearby, their stone homes and tall stone watchtowers testimony to their determined resistance to Chinese invasions from the central Sichuan lowlands over the centuries.
Fortunately these efforts at erasure and amnesia are not met by silence from other sources, as might be the case if these Tibetan villagers were truly timeless, primitive, feudal and incapable of documenting their own culture and history. In fact, Tibetan historians give us a rich picture of the way of life of these valleys over the centuries, right up to and past the conquests of the Chinese Communist Party. Further independent testimony comes from a few anthropologists who have in recent years managed to do fieldwork in Jiuzhaigou.
The picture Tibetan sources give is of a district densely settled by Tibetan standards, of small villages grouped together in co-operative federations, highly self-sufficient, ploughing the gentle slopes of valley floors with yaks crossed with cattle, a gentle breed know to Tibetans as dzo. They cultivated not only oats and buckwheat but also many vegetables including turnips, beans and cabbages, which grow well in a wet, cool climate. After threshing by village men, and winnowing by the women, the grain was ground to flour to make noodles, and the straw stored on rooftops for use as bedding, kindling and winter feed for domestic animals. The villages also grew flax, which was spun and woven into clothing. Rather than wearing their chuba robes long, as in colder parts, they preferred to hitch them at the knee, and wear leggings of cloth, to keep out the damp and cold. They wore broad brimmed felt hats, often with feathers in them. This picture of daily life comes from the work of Tibetan historians in the 1980s, working to record a Tibetan past and present under intense pressure from official attempts at erasure and appropriation.
The district receives 700 mm of rain a year, and unlike most of Tibet there are reliable rains in early spring, enabling early planting and a long growing season by Tibetan standards. New World crops including maize, potatoes and amaranth were introduced centuries ago.
Richer landholders hired poorer ones as wage labourers, rather than owning workers as property. Beyond the fields, control over forests and the upland pastures was collective, decisions being made by the entire settlement.
In a district where most land was steep and the forest dense, communities were isolated and intensely local in their social life. As in the Himalayas, local loyalties were strong, and central authority weak. The area was proud of owing loyalty neither to far distant Lhasa nor to even farther distant Beijing. The local rulers frequently cemented alliances through marriage.
This intense localism bred a quarrelsome attitude to outsiders, and to shifting alliances within the  village confederations. The wooden stockades around each village were a protection against raiders. There were well-developed institutions of conflict resolution to ensure that local fights ended quickly. Elders in each village were empowered to negotiate settlements to disputes, and were invested with ritual wooden staffs that signified their authority to intervene, and impose compensation payments in reparation for damage.
A major factor enhancing Tibetan solidarity was the encroachment by Chinese armies, sometimes with massive force. In the 1740s, the Manchu Qing dynasty, after a series of reverses along its long frontier with Tibet, decided to mount a major military expedition, and this area was its target. The fighting lasted many years and was ruinously expensive to the Qing court. At first the Manchu rulers of china hoped to use the classic Chinese strategy of “using barbarians against barbarians” by creating alliances with local Tibetan rulers, enlisting thousands of men in the imperial army. However, the Tibetan who guided the Chinese troops through the mountains “was in fact an informant for [Tibetan defender] sLob-dpon and betrayed [Chinese governor] Zhang continuously.”[25] These two wars, of 1747 to 1749 and  1771 to 1776 cost the imperial court over 61 million silver taels, because loyal Manchurian soldiers had to be sent right across China to do the fighting. By comparison, China’s conquest of what is now Xinjiang, north of Tibet, and far into what is now Kazakhstan cost the court only 23 million, although that campaign also took several years.[26] This campaign was the point in which Qing China overreached itself, initiating the long slow decline of the Qing, burdened with debt and the weight of undigested empire. The resistance of the Tibetan and Qiang people was a major turning point in Chinese history.
The consequences were immediately ruinous for the Tibetans. Before the wars, according to Chinese historians of the imperial court, the local Tibetan population was over 100,000, but by the time Manchu military power had finally prevailed, this was reduced to a fraction. “The extent of the depopulation that resulted from the two Jinchuan Wars may be gauged from the fact that the registered population in the early 1820s for the entire region of Rab-drtan and bTsan-la, including not only Tibetan farmers but also the families of troops garrisoned there, only amounted to seven thousand two hundred families.”[27]
One of the most detailed accounts of this area is also one of the most recent, by the courageous scholar Muge Samten (1914-1993), who spoke up against Communist Party nationalities policy as early as 1981, in defence of Tibetan identity. In writing of the Tibetan villages he begins by going back to when Tibetans first arrived, in the armies recruited from central Tibet who were demobilised in this area over 1300 years ago when the Tibetan empire made peace here with the Tang dynasty of China. To this day, Muge Samten writes, the Tibetans to the east of Jiuzhaigou, at the very edge of the Tibetan Plateau and of Tibetan settlement, in what is now called Pingwu county, call themselves Dagpo, after the district east of Lhasa where their ancestors were recruited to become soldiers. Around Jiuzhaigou, Tibetans often call themselves Khonpo, after Kongpo, in the south east of central Tibet. Around Hongyuan they are known as Sharba, signifying descent from soldiers recruited from far western Tibet.[28]
Muge Samten describes daily life vividly: “In terms of mutual respect between old and young and mutual respect between men and women, Dwags po people are identical to other Tibetans. Such customs as sitting cross-legged, men cutting the meat, and women kneading the dough for noodles are also pan-Tibetan customs. Houses are square and made of stone, and have a south-facing enclosed yard. They have a wooden ladder-like staircase. The livestock live downstairs, the people live upstairs. Offerings are arranged on top of a cupboard and such things as porcelain bowls and brass platters are arranged in the cupboard. In the centre of the house there is a metal brazier with three legs, and the head of the household sits at the head of the hearth or toward the north. There is a room for religious offerings on the top floor, and grass and straw are stored above that. With the exception of officials and rich people, no-one has stools or tables –this is also like other Tibetans.”[29].
From a Tibetan viewpoint, the steep but glacially rounded valleys of Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong are not up in the mountains but down below the pasture lands. The two valleys are connected by the sacred mountain Shar Dungri, a major regional pilgrimage site and power place associated with the oldest of Tibetan religions, the pre-Buddhist Bon.  As with many of Tibet’s most sacred mountains, Shar Dungri is on Tibet’s borders, a guardian looking down onto the lowlands beyond Tibet.
Bon is central to the identity of the Sharba Tibetans. Within Jiuzhaigou World Heritage area there is a Bon monastery which in the late 1990s had survived the Cultural Revolution, and a recent fire, and rebuilt itself to a strength of 67 monks. Before visitors reach Jiuzhaigou their tour buses pass another Bon monastery, Dartse Gonpa, where “currently there are 91 monks, studying under a khenpo [scholar and teacher] from Menri near Zhigatse.” [30]  Other Bon monasteries are nearby: “Just before reaching the source of the Zung-chu, the road passes through the village of Shadri, below the sacred Mount Jadur. The largest Bon monastery of the region, known as Gamil Gonchen or Pal Shenten Dechenling, is located by the roadside, and has an enormous prayer wheel at its entrance. The monastery was founded some 600 years ago. Currently there are 450 monks and one tulku [reincarnate lama] in residence. The complex has an Assembly Hall and three colleges. In the main hall of the Dukhang there are images of [Bon founder] Shenrab Miwoche. Since it is beside the main road to Dzitsa Degu National Park (Ch: Jiuzhaigou), Gamil Gonpa receives many Chinese tour buses, although most visitors only stay a short while.”[31]
Bon, with its earthy approach to the spirits of waters and mountains, survives in this frontier district despite all obstacles, because of the loyalty of the Sharba Tibetan communities. The obstacles are not just Communist Party hostility to religion but also the historic dominance within Tibet of a variety of Buddhism that found Bon unacceptable, even though Bon over the centuries took on a Buddhist outlook and the practices of Buddhism. After the Manchu armies finally defeated the Sharba and Khonpo Tibetans of this area in the 1770s, the Chinese emperor agreed to a request from Lhasa to declare orthodox Buddhism the chief tradition of Tibet. Bon worshippers were discriminated against, flourishing only in remote and rugged peripheries.[32] Now among the worldwide Tibetan diaspora there is a growing appreciation that Bon is the deepest extant facet of Tibetan culture, and a fresh approach to Bon as the door to the thousands of years of preBuddhist Tibetan civilisation. This makes Bon, and those areas where it has survived persecution by both Chinese and Tibetan state power somewhat special.
State penetration of Tibetan civil society in recent times has fractured the economic, cultural and linguistic links of the Sharba Tibetans. The Sharba (or Sharwa, which is closer to actual pronunciation) are part of the Tibetan province of Amdo, the northernmost part of Tibet. A contemporary authority on Bonpo Tibet, Samten Karmay wrote, after visiting the Sharwa in 1985: “The people of this region are known locally as Sharwa, a term derived from the local name of the region, Sharkhog. Our historian Gedun Choepel has suggested that most of these Amdo people are descendants of the royal army from Central Tibet who came to the area in the 7th century, an idea which seems to fit the Dunhuang records. The population of the region, who are sedentary, number around 24,000, according to the local administrative authority. The predominant religion of the Sharwa is Bon, but small pockets of Gelugpa and Sakyapa followers are also found in the area. Villages used to be grouped according to a political federation system in which from four to seven villages, with a sacred mountain and a monastery for education and religious gathering, comprised a federation. Each federation had its own leaders as well as social and political institutions: elected council, militia for self-defence (each family needed to have a good horse and a gun ready whenever required) and a general assembly of adult men. Like most parts of Amdo, the region of Sharkhog was a semi-independent principality before 1950; it paid no kind of tax either to central Tibet or to the local Chinese authorities. The historic relationship between this Tibetan region and the local Chinese town is one of conflict.”[33]
The chronic tension between Chinese urban garrisons and Tibetan farmers erupted into open war in the 1740s, 1770s, 1860s and 1920s. This is documented in detail by historical sources from all parties. What is less openly admitted is that there was energetic resistance to the Chinese Communist Party, initially when the Long March passed through in 1935, then in the 1950s when the Party returned with the full force of the Chinese state behind it. This is still a taboo subject, contradicting the official insistence that the red Army came as liberators and were welcomed as such by Tibetans.
One response of Chinese state power has been to fragment this fractious area, which is split between three of China’s provinces. Jiuzhaigou and Hongyuan are in the far north of Sichuan, nearly 400 kilometres from the provincial capital, while nearby areas of Amdo are in Gansu province, further north, and in Qinghai province to the north west. Political power over this area is exercised by three distant provincial capitals: Chengdu, Lanzhou and Xining, and by farther distant Beijing. For all these cities Sharkhog and areas nearby are peripheral. Yet all are of concern because of their record of rebellion, and because they are major Tibetan tourist attractions these provincial capitals can use to attract visitors to metropolitan airports and city hotels. They are en route to major monasteries such as Labrang in Gansu, and Rebkong in Qinghai, famous for its applique artists and sculptors. The combination of historic monastery and ahistoric natural beauty makes for a profitable tourist circuit that starts and ends in a Chinese metropolis.
The resistance in Jiuzhaigou to Chinese hegemony was evident in the 1980s to an American ethnographer, Hill Gates. In 1988, as her bus approached Jiuzhaigou, she asked to get out and walk, so as to appreciate the beauty. But the Chinese cadre responsible for her said: “We couldn’t let you go alone on this road especially, you see. Some of the Tibetans are not very happy about the changes, and there have been incidents. One of them tried to throw a rock at me this morning, did you see?”[34] The cadre “had visited the valley before the new road opened it to the public, and knew some horror stories about local Han being attacked by Tibetans resenting the intrusion of tourism. It is he who insists that I ride. They really would be terribly worried about me if I were unescorted.”[35]
As she goes deeper into Jiuzhaigou, Hill Gates discovers why, even in 1988, long before today’s torrent of visitors, Tibetans might feel alienated. She passes a Tibetan village “not two hundred yards from the park entrance” but her Chinese minders tell her no Tibetan houses are available to be visited, even though the Tibetans live there are employed as hotel attendants.[36] She walks past, then climbs: “Up a substantial mountain, badly logged off, through a valley with bright wood-fronted houses, up a big mountain, with snow enough to remind us to hurry-and we break into the grassland. Yak heaven.” On the grassland Tibetan life appears intact. Both herds and nomadic black tents are plentiful. But she also discovers fences laboriously constructed of cut sod, a legacy of the Cultural revolution when, all over Tibet, in the name of civilization and higher yields, nomads were made to divide and fence land, and compulsorily settle. There was no money for wire fences, but compulsory labour was at the disposal of the state, able to mobilise at command. This sod fence: “stands about a meter high, eighteen inches thick, and runs for miles, sometimes on both sides of the road. Why would herders who normally move freely over an undivided plain build a huge stretch of fencing and then abandon it? My guess at an answer is later confirmed by cautious questions. During the Cultural Revolution, the authorities made great efforts to settle nomads such as these Tibetans. Along this road, the land was divided and put under commune ownership. The Han made the Tibetans build walls to mark boundaries and restrict the cattle’s movements. This experiment failed. The herders hated it…. Animals were not properly cared for, their products went to waste. Production fell and resentment grew…. In the region of the useless walls, we pass several villages of nomads who had been forcefully settled during rthe Cultural Revolution. These Tibetans are filthy squatters, growing a few young apple trees, keeping some horses, making do. The scruffy villages are full of poor, ill-clad, and fierce-looking young men (they elicit the nervous description ‘savages’ from my [Chinese] companions).”[37] Later, she comes upon the ruins of a monastery destroyed by revolutionary zealots, whose remaining carved mantra stones are carefully piled under a protective array of wind horse prayer flags, awaiting the day the monastery might be rebuilt. She wonders who “collected the pieces, stored them until it was safe to make them public, and in a ceremony that must have involved many working hands, a good deal of money, and much prayer, deposited them on the green grass to await better times…. The gauzy temple, no barrier to wind, rain, or the passage of beasts, is the finest metaphor I have ever seen for the strength of the weak.”[38]
This Tibetan grassland above the Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong valleys is never mentioned in Jiuzhaigou tourist brochures. The interdependence of Tibetan farming valleys and upland herding areas is excised. Jiuzhaigou stands alone, no longer integrated into Tibetan life, identity and economy. It exists exceptionally, outside time and space, connected by bus, highway, helicopter and airport to metropolitan Chengdu and contemporary China’s tourism industry. It has been re-oriented.
Chinese state intervention in Jiuzhaigou Tibetan life and identity did not end with the collapse of the Cultural Revolution in 1976. Soon there began an official inquiry into whether the Sharwa and Dagpo are really Tibetans at all. The proposed alternative was to redesignate them as a separate nationality to be known as the Baima.
In China for almost 50 years ethnicity has been decided not by individuals but the state, which classifies peoples according to materialist principles defined by the ethnographer Joseph Stalin. The process whereby the Chinese state decides which minority ethnicities to recognise is conducted by Chinese ethnographers, historians and other experts, not by the minorities. The subjective sense of identity that peoples have is only one factor in making this legislative, prescriptive decision. The main criteria are material, such as dress, house design, clothing, language differences, anything amenable to measurement. When Chinese authorities first assessed the hundreds of applications for minority nationality status in the 1950s, the official list reduced China’s diversity to 55 officially recognised nationalities. The Tibetans, including the Dagpo and Sharwa were, for obvious reasons, classified as one people. But in the 1970s Chinese authorities in Sichuan moved to reopen the question as to whether the Tibetans of Jiuzhaigou, Huanglong and surrounding districts were in fact Tibetan.
As China struggled to recover from the ravages of the Cultural Revolution, an all-Chinese investigating team was assembled in Chengdu, the provincial capital, to determine the objective truth. Old imperial annals were consulted, to decide if their vague references to barbarian tribes beyond China’s frontiers referred specifically to these people. Much was made of the wearing of felt hats, and the putting of feathers in them, by the locals of Nanping county. Likewise their Bon religion, their dialect, their use of yak-cow cross breeds as draft animals, their weaving of flax into cloth and wrapping the legs in cloth leggings were all taken as objective evidence, in accordance with Marxist materialism, that these people were unlike Tibetans. There were suggestions that these people were gentler, and their traditional economy more co-operative than the feudal serfdom of the Tibetans. This was a vital distinction. The savage class warfare of the Cultural Revolution was fresh in everyone’s mind, and in minority areas the savagery of the class war depended crucially on whether the ethnic minority was classified as feudal or prefeudal, meaning a more collective attitude to material goods, almost a natural inclination towards communism. Prefeudal societies did not require an attack on the core beliefs and practices of the society, while feudal Tibet required that everything old be smashed before socialism could begin. Not surprisingly, “in the eyes of many Tibetans the official reopening of these cases represented yet another attack by the Chinese state on a Tibetan identity that had been severely fractured by the social and political upheavals of the previous 20 years.”[39]
The Chinese experts were strongly of the opinion that the objects of their scrutiny were not really Tibetans, although there was no agreement on what an alternative designation ought to be. Muge Samten, a learned geshe before the arrival of the Chinese Communist Party was one of a few Tibetan scholars to publicly contradict and vigorously ridicule this one-month investigation. He wrote bluntly of the Chinese legislative gaze: “Now as for this method research, what sort of dialectical materialism is this? Pretending to have totally mastered everything by means of a little more than a month of research, they sit there determined, sit there without even looking at or coming to know the customs and habits of those Tibetans who are so close to the Dwags po such as those of Nanping [Jiuzhaigou] and Zung chu [Songpan and Huanglong], and, after trotting out those customs and habits which are one and the same as those of the Tibetans of Nanping and Zung chu they sit there postulating that the Dwags po are not Tibetan! They sit there placidly in their blind, ignorant way.”[40]
China under Deng Xiaoping had little interest in reclassifying minorities, and wanted to get on with getting rich. The official outcome was an awkward compromise. It is now Chinese practice to call these people Baima Tibetans, “thus marking them as both Tibetan and not quite Tibetan (since they require an adjective to qualify their identity)…. There exists the perceived danger that the qualifiers will eventually become more important than the root noun, thereby leading to ever greater factional- and fractionalization (both social and political) of the Tibetan population within the PRC.”[41]
From the 1740s through to the present, the Tibetans of Jiuzhaigou have resisted Chinese hegemony whenever they could. As that hegemony became overwhelming, in the tide of tourist colonialism, Tibetans also sought to make use of official Chinese policy for their own purposes, and find employment and business opportunities in the World Heritage/Biosphere Reserves. The Tibetans were never passive victims.
Ethnographers doing fieldwork in Jiuzhaigou in the 1990s report that tourism has also provided opportunities for Tibetans. Lawrence Epstein and Peng Wenbin, of the University of Washington Anthropology Department, find that in Tibetan villages, “one member of each household has been employed by the Tourist Bureau during the tourist season (April-October) as workers to protect the forest, construct roads or clean up garbage. Tourist services run by local villagers themselves range from renting horses or native costumes for photography to tourists, the handicrafts and souvenir trade, folkloric entertainment, to running inns.”[42] Monetized incomes have risen as tourists pay to witness an antiquated Tibetanness at odds with the lived reality of contemporary employment as garbage collectors, maintenance workers and in staged displays of authentic Tibetan culture. Epstein and Peng focus on three of the most senior Tibetans, and their skilful use of the official line to rework concepts of Tibetan identity. The abbot of Rabwen monastery, the teacher of Tibetan dance and the director of an “ethnic culture village” set up within a Tibetan village, all adopt different strategies.
The abbot uses official policy to reconnect Jiuzhaigou with the Tibetan heartland to the west, emphasizing lineage and genealogy.  “Through his cooperation with the Tourist Bureau, Rab dben [Rabwen] monastery, once a haven for rebels in the 1950s and still unofficially rehabilitated by the government, has become prosperous (mostly through tourism) and once again acts an important focal point for the revival of local religious activities. By manipulating state policy, which focused on delinking small local monasteries to larger ones within an area to prevent alliances among them, he has managed to make Rad dben (and Jiuzhaigou) into a central and autonomous focal point. His relative authority and advocacy of local autonomy, has caused other officials in bureaus like the United Front, to accuse him of using his position as a local religious leader and a government official for self-aggrandizement.”
The dance teacher is an expert in the one aspect of Tibetan identity that is most marketable to tourists and to Chinese tourism enterprises hiring Tibetans. However, Jiuzhaigou is in Amdo, and he is from another of Tibet’s three great provinces, Kham. Although Kham and Amdo are adjacent, the Amdowa and Khampa dialects of Tibetan are almost mutually unintelligible, and differences are many. From a Chinese viewpoint the entire area is part of Kanze prefecture in Sichuan province, and the fact that the prefecture includes parts of both Kham and Amdo is invisible to Chinese officials. The dance teacher “is an outsider, a sort of missionary of high Tibetan culture”, who has persuaded Chinese authorities that the dances he stages at Jiuzhaigou are of the highest standard, in an area where local authorities are keen to tell tourists they are being “introduced to an elevated and cultured minority.” However the Amdowa young women of Jiuzhaigou “were not willing to join the troupe because they could make more money doing other things.” As a result, the troupe of ten dancers are mostly Han Chinese, for whom the director “has composed several songs and dances based on local themes, the rest being standard Khamba repertoire and Chinese songs, since tourists are encouraged to ‘sing-along’.”
The director of the Ethnic Culture Village-within-a-village adopts another strategy, emphasizing both the genuine and unique local culture and at the same time appropriating the anti Chinese revolts of the past as patriotic stirrings of revolutionary sentiment. The brochure in his name given to tourists proclaims Jiuzhaigou an “ancient and typical Tibetan village… exhibiting the material and spiritual culture of Jiuzhaigou Tibetans, a site to propagate Marxist nationalities policy.”[43] He boldly rewrites the rebellion of the 1860s as a precursor to the Chinese revolution: “One cannot help but burst into tears on reading and reflecting how they died for their country, an encouragement to future generations.”  Epstein and Peng comment on his ability to elicit “state support to complete his project, and thus had to counch things in the state idiom….. meant to satisfy the state’s agenda of turning tourist sites into a means of instilling historical pride and patriotic education.” The brochure even claims that men of Jiuzhaigou fought the British during the opium war of the 1840s.
Each of these local leaders attempts to maintain and enhance local autonomy for Tibetan communities. Each uses weapons of the weak, piling up their mani stones, remnants of an overwhelmed civilization, until the day agency is regained.
But meanwhile the resort life cycle follows its inexorable logic. In the short life of Jiuzhaigou as a tourist destination, the financial foundation was laid by ordinary Chinese holidaymakers travelling not very far. Chinese and Canadian geographers have carefully quantified who the visitors to Jiuzhaigou were, what were their occupations, and how far they travelled to reach Jiuzhaigou, in the years between 1988 and 1994.[44] This survey found most tourists were employed by Chinese schools, factories and government departments, few had travelled more than 1000 kilometres and they mostly considered themselves to be of less than average Chinese income.
This has now changed. Jiuzhaigou has steadily repositioned itself upmarket, attracting arrivals from greater distances, with greater discretionary spending power, willing to pay for higher standard accommodation. It is no longer a destination but a resort. The attraction of Jiuzhaigou is no longer just its landscape beauty and the ethnic dances of the Tibetans, but a combination of such spectacle with luxury accommodation in five star hotels and luxury villas owned privately by the new rich to entertain friends and clients.
Retained profits have been reinvested in this gradual move upmarket, to the point where Jiuzhaigou is now marketed internationally, as well as among Chinese expatriates and domestic tourists. The resort life cycle has moved on. As saturation approaches, Jiuzhaigou is able to switch to premium payers rather than a constant escalation of visitor numbers. At the urging of Sichuan province, Jiuzhaigou was one of ten top tourist destinations in 2000 to be freed from state price controls that made admission to the World Heritage/Biosphere Reserves affordable for all.[45]
As the areas surrounding this “wilderness” intensify their resource use, energy consumption, waste generation, greenhouse gas emissions and total ecological footprint, the time has come to ask whether UNESCO and global science have failed. The concept of both the UNESCO MAB Biosphere reserves and World heritage List sites is that agreed management plans be adhered to, for the purpose of limiting human impacts and conserving biodiversity. The opposite is happening. It could well be argued that UNESCO’s inscription of these areas as both World Heritage and as Biosphere Reserves was the kiss of death, that these labels gave the areas such cachet that Chinese marketers have cashed in heavily, to the detriment of the values inscription was meant to enhance.
This is especially evident if one looks at the nearby Wanglang nature reserve, which borders on both Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong. Wanglang, an area of 323 square kilometres, limits tourists overnighting in the reserve to a maximum of fifty, requires them to carry away all garbage, and even requests visitors to dress in natural colours, avoid bright clothing, not make loud noises, play music or honk horns.[46] Without much publicity, this reserve quietly gets on with doing the very things World Heritage and Biosphere Reserves are supposed to do.
Meanwhile there seems to be no end to how intensively Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong can be and will be overdeveloped. In February 2002 the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development announced it was investing US$20.5 million “for the construction of the Huanglong Airport in Jiuzhaigou in Southwest China’s Sichuan Province. The Chinese and Kuwait ministries of finance signed an agreement in Beijing yesterday. The Huanglong Airport, which demands a total investment of 777 million yuan (US$93.6 million) is expected to handle 600,000 passengers annually by 2010.”[47] This will make it by far the busiest airport on the Tibetan Plateau. The Kuwaitis agreed to a grace period of four years in which neither interest nor capital will have to be paid on the loan, so the debt can be serviced by revenues generated once the airport is operational. The agreement establishing the loan is government-to-government, signalling the extent to which Jiuzhaigou is seen as a national project. The Kuwaiti finance provides 21.9 per cent of the total cost of construction, with the rest financed by the Sichuan and national governments, including allocation of monies raised through sale of bonds.[48]
Some wealthy visitors already fly in. There is presently a small airfield at Jiuzhaigou and in late 2000 the first flights began.[49] A helipad was constructed some years ago.
Airports are not the only official investment in upgrading public infrastructure for easier access and heavier visitor inflows. The highway to Jiuzhaigou from Sichuan’s capital, Chengdu, is again to be upgraded. Construction work is on such a scale that China’s truck industry announced the project as a key reason why it expects “the need for heavy and middle-size trucks will keep growing.”[50]
Jiuzhaigou has attained such a high level of brand recognition that Gansu, the province to the north of Sichuan, now plans tour itineraries that include Jiuzhaigou as well as the major attractions of the Tibetan southern prefecture of Gansu.[51]
The 5000 hotel rooms at Jiuzhaigou already attract China’s new rich, some of whom are investing further in the move further upmarket. A Washington Post article, In China, the rich seek to become the ‘big rich’, names Deng Hong as the latest real estate developer to create wealth in Jiuzhaigou. Deng migrated to the US, bought property in Hawaii and Silicon Valley before returning to China because, as he told the Washington Post, “ becoming ‘big rich’ in China was easier than in the United States. He was right: At last count he owned 35 cars, including a Ferrari, a Lamborghini, some jeeps, a Corvette, several 600 series Mercedes-Benzes and a fat Lincoln Continental. He recently purchased the rights to develop 100 square miles of land next door to one of China’s national parks [Jiuzhaigou]”[52] How did Deng Hong get so rich, and how will Jiuzhaigou make him richer? “Many of China’s wealthiest people are members of the Communist Party or are relatives or friends of party members and have parlayed their connections into cash. Deng is an example. His father was an officer in China’s air force. Deng, in addition to his military background, has assiduously cultivated ties with the city government of Chengdu. Ask him which is more important, his relationship to other businessmen or to the government, and he does not hesitate: ‘I really don’t have anything to do with my fellow businessmen,’ he said, echoing other well-off Chinese. ‘My business depends on the government.’ So much so that last year Deng surrendered 30 per cent of his stake in the convention centre to the Chengdu city government, for nothing. One of his senior executives is the former deputy mayor of Chengdu. For his development project next to the national park in western Sichuan, he has hired retired government officials. Deng had to rely on government ties to win approval to develop that site, 100 square miles of land next to one of china’s last remaining wilderness areas, Jiu Zhai Gou. Deng plans to build 100 vacation homes, a five-star hotel and a golf course. Each vacation home will sell for at least $300,000, he said.”[53]
What could induce such a wealthy man to give away his stake in a lucrative convention centre in a major metropolis, unless the deal gave him access to an even greater profit opportunity?
The destination cycle is about to climax. Jiuzhaigou is to become a playground for the super rich, a privatised space in which business and pleasure can be mixed, and conducted away from any public gaze, on golf courses, in luxury villas, in five-star hotel suites, and against a backdrop of stunning landscape beauty in a World Heritage Biosphere Reserve. The combination is irresistible. In this latest incarnation Jiuzhaigou is losing altogether its last moorings to space and place, to a long local history, and to its locatedness in the Tibetan world.
requires a local beauty spot to become first a mass market destination for holidays, rewards, banquets, payoffs, then to become a resort for the global rich, a suitably exotic backdrop for elaborate rituals of chineseness in which Tibetans remain less then fully human exotica, dancing and clearing away the garbage, their lives highly regulated by global science and money power.
As JZG becomes a full resort, with lux hotels, brothels, disco, nightclubs, Tibetan dancers in a package, the locals are more marginalised as big money takes over.
The paradox is remarkable. Heavily-promoted sites of Chinese nostalgia for a lost world of harmony with nature, to be found in Jiuzhaigou and nearby Huanglong are case studies in the new post industrial economy likely to shape Tibet. These areas were first to drop conventional plans for industrialisation, and invest heavily in a post industrial future instead, for several reasons:
            -part of China’s campaign to foster patriotic identification with China among Taiwanese and Chinese living in SE Asia was to advertise destinations of quintessential Chineseness, places to commune with the ancestors, be renewed by classic Chinese landscapes and experience a oneness with nature not readily found in Taiwanese factory belts or Hong Kong sweatshops. Jiuzhigou had all the elements that compose a classical Chinese landscape painting.
            -the promotion of Jiuzhaigou gradually accelerated, first attracting Chinese from abroad and large numbers of Chinese domestic tourists, finally being marketed at foreign tourists generally
            -the local counties and prefecture had few other prospects for wealth creation and in fact, not long after tourism promotion began, the national government abruptly banned the other major source of revenue and employment, in the logging industry. Conventional primary and secondary industries –logging and the processing of sawlogs- were suddenly ended, and new sources of income were urgently needed.
            -a major pool of newly rich urban wealth is nearby in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan. In order to add value to Sichuan as a tour destination, Jiuzhaigou slotted in well to tour itineraries that also took tourists to the Songpan Tibetan grasslands nearby.
In telling the story of the postindustrial transformation of the Nine Stockaded Villages so far, the focus has been on the contradictions between international scientific bureaucracies seeking to conserve non-human mammals, and Chinese state bureaucracies at national and local levels seeking to maximise economic gain for nonTibetan Chinese human mammals. All along, these divergent agendas have impacted on the one mammal population none of these authorities considered primary- the Tibetans.
From the outset, the Tibetan farmers of Dzitsa Degu were considered to be intrinsic to the charms of the area. For example, Beijing’s Foreign Languages Press in 1990 published a handsome volume of colour photos of the Tibetan and Qiang ethnic communities, not only in Jiuzhaigou but throughout the prefecture in which Jiuzhaigou is located, Aba Tibetan-Qiang Autonomous Prefecture (Ngawa in Tibetan). The foreword states: “In this album the author tells us that outside the place in which we work and live there are boundless horizons and countless people with different lifestyles who are happily creating and developing according to the laws of nature. Mother Nature bestows her love and favours impartially upon all earthlings. As far as happiness goes, a multimillionaire sitting in his luxurious office and dealing with information computed in milliseconds does not necessarily squeeze more joy from life than a girl of the prairies milking cows to the strains of herdsmen’s songs.”[54] This situates the reader firmly in the contemporary urban world, and the Tibetans as children of nature. On the nature-culture spectrum, they are very much at the nature end.
UNESCO’s formal criteria for inscribing an area as World Heritage includes Clause 14: “Participation of local people in the nomination process is essential to make them feel a shared responsibility with the State Party in the maintenance of the site.”[55] Local Tibetans did not participate in the formalities of the nomination process. How could simple children of nature possibly do so? From the outset China defined local participation to be the involvement of the lower levels of the Chinese state itself, namely the senior cadres of Nanping and  Songpan county administrations. According to the Party line, they represented the will of the masses, as does the Chinese state at the centre in Beijing. There neither were, nor are, any organisations of Tibetans, for any purpose, outside the organs of state power.
Thus it was entirely at the discretion of the state, especially at county level, to decide where the Tibetans slotted in. Another online guide to Jiuzhaigou captures the role of the Tibetans in the wider context: “Jiuzhaigou is located in Aba Tibet and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan province in China. Its beautiful scenery makes it a fantastic fairyland. The majestic and unrivalled emerald lakes, layers of waterfalls, colourful forest, snow peaks and Tibetan folkways form a perfection of itself, which is called “A Wonderland.’”[56] This inclusion of the Tibetans, not as stakeholders with prior claim to local power, but as part of the list of natural colour, accords with the attitude of global science. UNESCO, as its name states, administers science and culture as separate domains. That separation is formalised in UNESCO’s criteria Operational Guidelines for World Heritage listing, requiring that areas nominated by governments for listing be classified either as cultural properties (Guidelines 23 to 42) or as natural properties (Guidelines 43 to 45). Jiuzhaigou is a natural heritage property, as per Guideline 44, section (a), subsection (iii), which is defined as containing: superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional beauty and aesthetic importance.” Under these criteria, the traditional owners, cultivators and curators of that landscape can only be incidental, their presence in no way acknowledged in the definition.
Neither Jiuzhaigou nor nearby Huanglong were nominated as cultural landscapes, a separate UNESCO category (Guidelines 36 to 39) for “combined works of nature and of man… illustrative of the evolution of human society and settlement over time… [that] embraces a diversity of manifestations of the interaction between humankind and its natural environment. Cultural landscapes often reflect specific techniques of sustainable land-use… and a specific spiritual relation to nature….. The continued existence of traditional forms of land-use supports biological diversity in many regions of the world…. A continuing landscape is one which retains an active social role in contemporary society closely associated with the traditional way of life.” 
If China had nominated Jiuzhaigou as a cultural landscape, the Tibetan villagers would have been central, and remained central. There is no evidence that such a nomination was ever considered. From the outset Jiuzhaigou was nature, not culture.
As culture, the Nine Stockaded Villages were part of the classic Tibetan pattern of upland nomadic pasturage and valley cultivation of grain, existing interdependently. The alpine meadow pastures of the Tibetan yak herders are so close by Jiuzhaigou that American zoologist George Schaller in a morning walked up from what is now the last bus stop at Ritse (Rize in Chinese), “up a well-worn livestock path to the west of the Rizegou until forest gives way to alpine grassland. Five blue eared pheasants, plump blue-gray birds, flush from a thicket with a clatter of wings and nasal cackles. Herdsmen use these pastures heavily in summer and still [1983] burn forest to increase grazing land, but this early in the season [May] we have the uplands to ourselves.”[57] This grassland, as a few Chinese authors acknowledge, stretches continuously westward to Hungary, and north east to Manchuria.
That Jiuzhaigou is situated in, and surrounded by Tibetan yak pasture does not at all fit with Chinese conceptions of Jiuzhaigou’s exceptionalism, its standing outside of time and space. The deeply structured relationships of valley farmers and upland nomads are edited out of all accounts of Jiuzhaigou, enabling it to be situated instead as an instance of World Heritage, and a place for the multimillionaire in a luxurious office dealing in information broken into milliseconds to find peace of mind.
Yet another fragmentation is imposed on these people by their inclusion, at the subprovincial level, in a prefecture that is otherwise almost entirely in Kham, the great province of eastern Tibet now split between no less than four Chinese provinces: TAR, Sichuan, Qinghai and Yunnan. By placing the Amdowa Tibetans of Sharkhog in the Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, the Sharwa are a minority within the Khampa Tibetan minority within Sichuan. Khampa and Amdowa dialects of Tibetan are almost mutually incomprehensible. Tibetans see this official fragmentation as part of an Chinese response to their long history of objection to Chinese power.
Jiuzhaigou is well on the way to becoming a global brand. It has transcended the origins embedded in its name –the nine stockaded Tibetan villages- and Chinese official media now mention in passing that: The region, formerly the site of nine Tibetan villages, has become well known in recent years for its network of alpine lakes, spectacular waterfalls and impressive vegetation.”[58]
While UNESCO has inscribed heritage and conservation meanings onto Jiuzhaigou, fresh inscriptions add new meanings. Jiuzhaigou is now weighted with national and international agendas, as it comes more and more to be the quintessentialised Chinese landscape. It is little wonder the Tibetans are being extruded, with no place in such elaborate state projects. Jiuzhaigou has become the ideal site in which to soften the deep seated popular ill-will between Japan and China. In 2000, in a cooperative venture between Japan’s NHK television network and Sichuan TV, a soap opera serial was filmed in Jiuzhaigou for broadcast both in Japan and China on nationwide CCTV. The plot of this improbable soapie “tells about how a Japanese businessman has developed friendly business ties with a young Chinese of ethnic Qiang group. The viewers will be able to have a better understanding about the Chinese people and enjoy beautiful landscapes.”[59] Its’ title is A Valley Reddens under the Shine of Cherry.
Despite all of these obstacles, the 930 Tibetans who currently live within the Jiuzhaigou World Heritage area are in no way a defeated people, or victims.

[1] UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Programme, Life in Green Kingdoms: Biosphere Reserves in China, 1999, reprinted in Jiuzhaigou Biosphere Reserve Field Evaluation, www.unesco.or.id/prog/science/envir/EABRN/BR-Review-Jiuzhaigou.pdf  (hereafter cited as Field Evaluation)
[2] China New Millennium: China’s World Heritages, China National Tourism Administration, 1999, 39
[3] Ren Hua, The Fairyland at Jiuzhaigou, China Pictorial, September 1994, 38-41
[4] Gyurme Dorje, Tibet Handbook, Footprint, 2nd ed., 1999, 660
[5] China Travel Manual, China National Tourism Administration, n.d. 149
[6] www.travelchinaguide.com/attraction/sichuan/jiuzhaigou/page4.htm
[7] http://english.ctrip.com/Destinations/DistrictIntroduction.asp?District=25
[8] Charles Ramble, The creation myth of the Bon mountain of Kongpo, 133-232 in A. W. Macdonald ed., Mandala and landscape, DK Printworld, Delhi, 1997, 156
[9] www.travelchinaguide.com/attraction/sichuan/jiuzhaigou/page3.htm
[10] Ren Hua, The Fairyland of Jiuzhaigou, China Pictorial, Sept 1994, 40
[11] Snowy Mountains and Grasslands: Travels in northwestern Sichuan, Foreign Languages Publishing, Beijing 1990, 2
[12] China, Lonely Planet, 4th edition 1994, 761-2
[13] Field Evaluation op cit
[14] Hill Gates, Looking for Chengdu: A woman’s adventures in China, Cornell University Press, 1999, 117, 136
[15] Tibet Outside TAR, [CD-ROM] 1997, 987
[16] Protected Areas Programme, World Heritage Sites: Jiuzhaigou Valley, www.wcmc.org.uk/protected_areas/data/wh/jiuzhaig.html
[17] Yang Yuexian, Impacts and effectiveness of logging bans in natural forests: the People’s Republic of China, 81-102 in  Patrick R. Durst ed., Forests out of bounds: Impacts and effectiveness of logging bans in natural forests in Asia-Pacific, FAO, Bangkok, 2001, 98
[18] Daniel Winkler, Deforestation in eastern Tibet: Human impact past and present, 79-96 in Graham E. Clarke ed., Development, society and environment in Tibet, Verlag der Osterreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Vienna, 1998, 84
[19] www.unesco.org/whc/archive/repcom92.htm
[20] www.unesco.org/whc/archive/repcom98a4.htm
[21] George Schaller, The Last Panda, Chicago University Press, 1993, 140
[22] Protected Areas Programme, World Heritage Sites: Jiuzhaigou Valley, www.wcmc.org.uk/protected_areas/data/wh/jiuzhaig.html
[23] www.unesco.org/whc/archive/repcom92.htm
[24] Tibet outside TAR, 1997, 1223-4, based on official Chinese histories in Aba tonglan (Overview of Ngawa)
[25] Roger Greatrex, A brief introduction to the first Jinchuan War 1747-1749, 247-63 in Tibetan Studies: Proceedings of the 6th seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Oslo, 1994, 252
[26] ibid, 247
[27] ibid, 249
[28] Janet L. Upton, Notes towards a native Tibetan ethnology: An introduction to and annotated translation of dMu dge bSam gtan’s Essay on Dwags po (Baima Zangzu), Tibet Journal, 25 #1, 2000, 3-26, 7
[29] ibid, 11
[30] Gyurme Dorje, Tibet Handbook, Footprint, 2nd edition, 1999, 658
[31] ibid, 655
[32] Dan Martin, Bonpo canons and Jesuit cannons, Tibet Journal, 15 #2 1990, 3-28, 12
[33] Samten G. Karmay, Mountain cults and national identity in Tibet, 112-120 in Robert Barnett ed., Resistance and reform in Tibet, Indiana University Press, 1994, 116
[34] Hill Gates, Looking for Chengdu: A woman’s adventures in China, Cornell University Press, 1999, 121
[35] ibid, 122
[36] ibid, 125
[37] ibid, 128-30
[38] ibid, 131-2
[39] Upton, op cit 5
[40] Upton, op cit 13-14
[41] Upton op cit 17
[42] Lawrence Epstein and Peng Wenbin, Changing times at Jiuzhaigou, paper presented to the first Amdo Studies Conference, Harvard University, April 1997
[43] quoted in Changing times at Jiuzhaigou op cit
[44] Zhang Jie, Geoffrey wall,  J-K Du et al., Distance traits of the spatial behaviour of tourists to natural sightseeing destinations – a case study on Jiuzhaigou conservation area and comparison with some national parks, China,  in Vincent C. S. Heung ed., Tourism 2000: Asia-Pacific’s role in the new millennium, Proceedings of the Asia Pacific Tourism Association Fifth Annual conference, Hong Kong, 1999
[45] Price reforms pushed in west, China Daily, 1 Sept 2000
[46] Wanglang, paradise of wildlife, China Daily, 3 March 2001
[47] Kuwait loan assists airport, China Daily 28 Feb 2002
[48] Sichuan sets 112 key projects this year, People’s Daily, 10 Mar 2001
Five billion to renovate 20 airports in China’s west, People’s Daily 18 May 2000
[49] Maiden flight from Chengdu to Jiuzhaigou successful, China Daily 8 Dec 2000
[50] Chinese car industry targets western areas, People’s Daily 9 July 2001
[51] More overseas tourists visit Gansu, People’s Daily 14 Jan 2000
[52] John Pomfret, In China, the rich seek to become the ‘big rich’, Washington Post 17 March 2002
[53] ibid
[54] Snowy Mountains and Grasslands: Travels in northwestern Sichuan, Foreign Languages Publishing, Beijing 1990
[55] UNESCO Operational Guidelines: Establishment of the World Heritage List, www.unesco.org/whc/opgulist.htm
[56] JiuZhaiGou, www.geocities.com/a_city_of_sadness/jiuzhaigou.html
[57] George B. Schaller, The Last Panda, University of Chicago Press, 1993, 140-1
[58] Jiuzhaigou tickets sell out ahead of National Day week, People’s Daily 27 Sept 2001
[59] China, Japan jointly shoot tv serial, People’s Daily 18 April 2000

Wachstum und Luxus auf dem Dach der Welt – Das boomende Hotelgewerbe

Wachstum und Luxus auf dem Dach der Welt – Das boomende Hotelgewerbe
Gabriel Lafitte

Bedenkt man, dass die sog. Autonome Region Tibet (TAR) auch im Jahr 2010 weitgehend abgeriegelt war und die Lage nach wie vor angespannt ist, dann hat die weltweite Luxus-Hotel-Industrie einen merkwürdigen Zeitpunkt gewählt, um den Bau großer Hotelanlagen in Lhasa anzukündigen. Geplant sind Luxushotels mit mehreren tausend Betten, die zumeist auf Kosten der alten Architektur, insbesondere der Herrenhäuser ehemaliger Herrscherfamilien gebaut werden sollen. Die großen Hotelketten gehen offenbar davon aus, dass Lhasa zukünftig jede Menge gut situierte Touristen aus aller Welt sowie Chinas Neureiche anziehen wird. Von der chinesischen Führung wird ihnen eine friedvolle und harmonische Atmosphäre in Tibet zugesichert.

Lhasa hat in letzter Zeit einen wahren Immobilienboom erlebt. Die Grundstückpreise sind rasant gestiegen, seit landwirtschaftlich genutzte Flächen ge- und verkauft werden dürfen. Durch ihre Präsenz steigern und sichern sich die großen Hotelketten ihren Marktanteil in Lhasa.

Zwei mittelgroße Hotels wurden bzw. sind im Begriff, eröffnet zu werden:
– Starwood St. Regis Lhasa mit 169 Zimmern, Nähe Barkhor, eröffnete am 15. November 2010
– Carlson In Park Plaza Lhasa mit 87 Zimmern, Stadtzentrum, plant die Eröffnung im laufenden jahr.

Für 2012 ist die Eröffnung zweier weiterer großer Hotels etwas außerhalb des Zentrums geplant:
• Shangri-la Hotel mit 350 Zimmern
• InterContinental Resort Lhasa Paradise mit 2.000 Zimmern.

Die chinesische Regierung besteht darauf, dass internationale Hotelketten immer mit einem chinesischen Partner zusammenarbeiten, damit dieser von ihnen Sterne-Service und Wirtschaftlichkeit erlernen kann. Die Ketten können auf zahlreiche Buchungen ihrer prestigeträchtigen Räumlichkeiten zählen, denn die staatlichen Behörden nutzen diese gerne für die Bekanntgabe ihrer Errungenschaften in Tibet. Mit den Hotels wird Lhasa zum Vorzeigeobjekt für den Einzug der chinesischen Moderne in Tibet.

Für Tibet ist dies ein großer Wendepunkt. Nicht weil Chinas Ankündigung von Tibet als touristische Goldgrube etwas Neues wäre, sondern weil sich diesmal internationale Investoren beteiligen. Diese reißen das alte Lhasa für den Bau von 2.636 neuen Hotelzimmern ab. Eine gewaltige Zahl für eine Stadt, die schon lange kein neues Hotel mehr gesehen und kaum international finanzierte Immobilien zu verzeichnen hat.

Der Verlust einzigartigen Kulturguts

Touristen erwarten, dass Lhasa tibetisch aussieht, und sind oft darüber erschrocken, wie wenig vom alten Lhasa noch erhalten ist. Seit 2009 wird dieses Wenige zunehmend zerstört, vor allem um Platz für neue Hotels zu machen und ungeachtet dessen, dass Gebäude offiziell unter Denkmalschutz stehen. Ein prägnantes Beispiel ist das Bumtang-Haus, das vom Tibet Heritage Fund mühevoll restauriert worden ist, nur um 2009 abgerissen zu werden.

Mindestens drei denkmalgeschützte Herrenhäuser wurden bereits im Rahmen des Hotelbaus zerstört. Neben dem Bumtang Haus fiel die Residenz des Adelsgeschlecht der Jamyang Shep Lamas den Bulldozern zum Opfer. Kunkyen Lama Jamyang Shepa, 1648-1721, aus Labrang Tashi Kyil in Amdo ist wohl der Berühmteste dieser Linie. Er war ein renommierter Logiker und Autor. Der Tibet Heritage Fund führt das Gebäude in seiner Liste.

Lhasa ist zwar der Knotenpunkt, nicht jedoch die einzige Attraktion der Tourismuswirtschaft. Die gesamte TAR wird heute als Erlebnisrundreise angeboten, deren einzelne Stationen jedoch nur selten einen näheren Austausch mit der tibetischen Bevölkerung zulassen.

Chinas Planer haben Tibet neu erfunden und ihm eine Nord-Süd- und eine Ost-West-Achse gegeben, die sich in Lhasa treffen und entlang derer sich der Tourismus rasant entwickelt. Tibet wurde den Bedürfnissen, Kostenstrukturen und Profitmöglichkeiten einer globalen Freizeitindustrie angepasst und konkurriert nun mit Reisezielen weltweit.

Schon lange fasziniert Tibet die westliche Welt, weshalb viele denken, die Mehrzahl der Touristen in Tibet sei international. Doch dem ist nicht so. Die meisten Touristen sind Chinesen, was sich auch durch die Eröffnung der Eisenbahn im Jahr 2006 erklärt. Angezogen von ähnlichen romantischen Phantasien wie viele Westler und von billigen Zugtickets, kommen Scharen von Chinesen nach Tibet, die sich eine Reise ins Ausland nicht leisten können. Laut Tibets Statistischem Jahrbuch von 2009 kamen im Jahr 2007 allein 888.500 Touristen mit der Eisenbahn nach Lhasa. Im Jahr 2008 waren es 622.000; viele weitere Besucher kamen per Bus oder mit dem Flugzeug.

Der chinesische Tourismus
Chinesische Touristen verhalten sich anders als die von Neugier und vielleicht auch von romantischen Vorstellungen geprägten Rucksackreisenden und Pilger. Chinesen reisen meist in Reisegruppen, die von chinesischen Touristenführern mit Fähnchen und Megaphonen vom Zug zum Bus, zum Hotel, zur Sehenswürdigkeit und wieder zurück zum Bus gelotst werden. Obwohl sie für eine Pauschalreise gezahlt haben, wird der Preis niedrig gehalten. Auch die Löhne der in der Tourismusbranche Tätigen sind niedrig. Aufgestockt werden sie mit dem Geld, das Touristen beim Kauf “lokaler” Güter oder beim Schnappschuss mit “Nomaden” ausgeben. Die obligatorischen Zwischenstopps bei Souvenirläden und -märkten machen den Massentourismus profitabel, da diese den Touristenführern und Reisegesellschaften Kommissionen zahlen.

All dies läuft darauf hinaus, dass Chinesen auf ihren Reisen durch Tibet nur selten auf Tibeter treffen, auch wenn sich viele Verkäufer der “authentisch tibetischen Produkte” (gefertigt in Kathmandu) zwecks Steigerung der Verkaufszahlen tibetisch kleiden. Doch das stört die chinesischen Touristen wenig. Die meisten interessiert vor allem das Urlaubsporträt vor exotischer Kulisse wie z. B. dem Potala-Palast oder auf einem Yak sitzend, ein rotbäckiges tibetisches Mädchen neben sich. Tibet ist ein exotisches und dennoch erschwingliches Juwel in Chinas Krone, und dort gewesen zu sein ist etwas, wovon man zu Hause erzählen kann.

Im Jahr 2008 ist der chinesische Tourismus in Tibet drastisch gesunken, wenn auch nicht ganz so stark wie der internationale – mit Beginn der Aufstände im März 2008 mussten alle Ausländer Tibet verlassen. 2007 dagegen war laut offizieller Statistik ein Rekordjahr: 3,66 Millionen chinesische Besucher, 888.000 internationale Besucher plus zahlreiche Touristen aus Hong Kong, Taiwan und Macao.

Im Jahr 2008 sank die Zahl um über ein Drittel auf nur 2,2 Millionen chinesische Touristen, die Zahl der internationalen Touristen reduzierte sich auf 63.000. Im Vergleich betrug der Gewinn der Tourismusindustrie innerhalb der TAR 2007 etwa 4,85 Milliarden Yuan und nur 2,26 Milliarden Yuan im Jahr 2008.

Ein Masterplan für Tibets Neuerfindung
Der Aufbau einer Tourismusindustrie ist Chinas Hauptanliegen seines sogenannten “2010-2020 Masterplans“. Ba Zhu, Verantwortlicher des Fremdenverkehrsbüros in Tibet, erklärt: “ Wenn in zehn Jahren alle Ziele erreicht sind, dann wird Tibet ein erstklassiges Reiseziel des Welttourismus sein mit besonderen Anziehungspunkten, freundlicher Umgebung, guten Verkehrsmöglichkeiten, umfangreicher Infrastruktur, normativem Management, standardisiertem Service, einem internationalen Markt und einem sozialen Entwicklungsstand, der die Bedürfnisse verschiedener Gruppen erfüllt.”

Um erfolgreich große internationale Hotelketten anzuziehen, benötigt man mehr als zuverlässigen Strom, befestigte Straßen und eine funktionierende Kanalisation. Die arbeitsintensive Hotelindustrie ist angewiesen auf ausgebildete Arbeitskräfte, die gastfreundlich sind, mehrere Sprachen sprechen und zuverlässig arbeiten. Gleichzeitig müssen sie bereit sein, Schichtarbeit, niedrige Löhne und saisonbedingte Entlassungen zu akzeptieren. Ebenso wichtig ist ein standardisierter Service, ein reguliertes Hotel-Sterne-System und vielfältige Anlagen, unter anderem, damit die chinesische Regierung z. B. in Form von öffentlichen Großveranstaltungen ihre Macht und ihren Reichtum demonstrieren kann. Mit normativem Management meint Ba Zhu Aufsichtspersonen, die auf die Erfüllung einheitlicher und berechenbarer Dienstleistung bestehen.

Im Masterplan heißt es: “Tibets touristische Struktur wird Folgendes beinhalten: Lhasa als Zentrum für den Kulturtourismus und Nyingchi als Zentrum für den Ökotourismus; eine Ost-West- sowie Nord-Süd-Achse der Tourismusentwicklung, die Tibet mit der Außenwelt verbindet; vier spezialisierte Rundreisen im Osten, Westen, Süden und Norden des Landes; sieben Landschaftsgebiete.“

Ende 2020 wird die jährliche Besucherzahl in Tibet auf 20 Millionen angestiegen sein und der Ertrag sich auf 20 Milliarden Yuan erhöht haben.

Natürlich gab es früher bereits ähnliche Pläne für die Entwicklung einer Tourismusindustrie in Tibet. Allerdings scheiterten diese immer dann, wenn Chinas Sicherheitskräfte wieder einmal hart durchgriffen, ausländische Besucher verbannten und eine solche Angst verbreiteten, dass sogar Touristen mit „rosarote Brille“ die Anspannung auf den Straßen spüren konnten.
Doch das bedeutet nicht, dass diese Vorhaben immer fehlschlagen werden. Diesmal wird die Neuerfindung Tibets als Erlebnisrundreise von Pekings massiven Investitionen in die Infrastruktur gestützt. Nicht nur die Eisenbahnlinien nach Lhasa und Shigatse, sondern auch die regionalen Flughäfen ermöglichen den Touristen einen schnellen Blick auf Tibets vielfältige Architektur, seine abwechslungsreichen Landschaften und Kulturdenkmäler sowie sein artenreiches Wildleben zu werfen. Dadurch wird die Bildung eines Netzwerks von Dienstleistungen ermöglicht, das in der Lage, ist die Bedürfnisse verschiedener Kundengruppen zu erfüllen. Chinas derzeitige Tourismusstrategie basiert auf Marktanalysen, die die potentiellen Besucher anhand ihrer Wünsche und Erwartungen in verschiedene Märkte einordnet. Die zwei Hauptmärkte sind laut Masterplan der Kultur- und der Ökotourismus mit speziellen Touren für die abenteuerfreudigen Touristen, die sich auf der Suche nach wilden Flüssen und Nomaden befinden.

Die auf den verschiedenen Märkten feilgebotenen Reisepakete können Tibet nun als unberührte Landschaft anpreisen. Neben Lhasa als kulturellem Zentrum können auch Zwischenstopps in die kargen Gefilde des Nordens, Besuche der historischen Ruinen des bevölkerungsarmen Westens, “polare” Erfahrungen am Fuße des Chomolangma (Mount Everest) sowie Touren in die Wälder, Flora und Fauna, zu reißenden Flüssen und Schluchten im Osten angeboten werden.
Aus wirtschaftlicher Sicht befindet sich Tibet im Prozess, seine größte Einschränkung zu überwinden, ein sehr eindimensionales Reiseziel zu sein, das Besucher nur für kurze Zeit halten kann. Mittlerweile können einwöchige Reisen mit dem abendlichen Komfort von Sterne-Hotels angeboten werden statt langwieriger Routen, die lediglich Backpacker und Pilger ansprechen.

Es waren zwei Behörden – das Entwicklungsprogramm (UNDP) und die Welttourismusorganisation (UNWTO) der Vereinten Nationen – die diese touristische Version von Tibet konzipiert haben. Im Jahr 1990, Hu Jintao war damals gerade Parteisekretär in Tibet und für die gewaltsame Niederschlagung von Protesten und die Verhängung des Kriegsrechts verantwortlich, präsentierten sie der chinesischen Regierung ihre Idee von Tibet als Reiseziel. Der zweibändige, 500 Seiten starke Bericht wurde gemeinsam von der UNDP, UNWTO, der staatlichen Tourismusverwaltung der Volksrepublik China und der Regierung der TAR veröffentlicht. Geschrieben wurde er von der Unternehmensberatung Shankland Cox mit Sitz in Hong Kong.

Kundschaft für Lhasas neue Luxushotels
Wer sind die Kunden der im Bau befindenden Luxushotels? Wegen des fehlenden Service und Komforts wurden internationale Touristen bisher oft von einer Reise nach Tibet abgehalten. Nun wird erwartet, dass Tibet aus einer bis dahin nicht befriedigten Nachfrage endlich Kapital schlagen kann. Tibet, Lhasa, der Potala-Palast und ähnliche kulturträchtige Orte sind im Marketingverständnis lang etablierte Marken mit einem hohen Wiedererkennungswert, die jedoch jetzt erst in Geld umgewandelt werden können. Demnach wären die Kunden der neuen Hotels internationale Touristen, die sowohl exotische Sehenswürdigkeiten als auch Komfort wünschen.

Es gibt aber Gründe anzunehmen, dass auch künftig Tibet und die Luxushotels hauptsächlich von Chinesen besucht werden wird. Viele der neuen Hotelketten spezialisieren sich auf Geschäfts- und Konferenzreisende und sind erfahren im Bau exklusiv eingerichteter Einkaufs- und Dienstleistungspassagen. Solche Anlagen finden Anklang bei chinesischen Unternehmen, Parteiorganen, professionellen Organisationen, Handelskonferenzen und Chinas Neureichen. Luxuriöse Banquetmöglichkeiten, exquisite Unterkunfts- und Freizeitanlagen, modernste Kommunikationstechnologie und Shops, die nicht nur über die üblichen Luxusmarken verfügen, sondern auch tibetische Aphrodisiaka, Felle und Heilmittel gegen das Altern anbieten, machen diese Örtlichkeiten besonders attraktiv. Hinzu kommen Nachtclubs, Geschäftszentren, Konferenzsäle und diskrete Räumlichkeiten für die privaten Geschäfte. Für einen Einparteienstaat mit vielen Ministerien, Büros, Think Tanks und Regierungsgruppen ist dies genau die richtige Mischung, um Arbeitsberichte und Netzwerkpflege abzuwickeln und der Konsumfreudigkeit nachzugehen.

Insbesondere das InterContinental Resort Lhasa Paradise ist für die Anliegen der Partei attraktiv, da es das größte Hotel sein wird mit einer angemessenen Distanz zum Stadtzentrum. InterContinental wird das Hotel unter seinem internationalen Markennamen führen, das Projekt an sich wird jedoch von der Exhibition & Travel Group (ETG) ausgeführt. Dieses Unternehmen mit Sitz in Chengdu ist auf Großprojekte spezialisiert, die mietbare Büroflächen, Einkaufsmöglichkeiten, Kulturtourismus und Freizeit- und Unterhaltungseinrichtungen unter einem Dach vereinen. ETG war am Umbau eines tibetischen Areals nördlich von Chengdu beteiligt, das unter dem Namen Dzitsa Ddeg heute ein weltberühmtes Reiseziel ist.
Tibetische Volkskultur ist eines der Angebote, das den Wert der Marke ETG/InterContinental ausmacht. Es macht die Örtlichkeit einzigartig, den Tibetern aber gesteht es nicht mehr als eine Statistenrolle zu.

Die Kombination aus einem chinesischen Bauträger mit guter Verbindung zur Politik sowie Expertise in der Inszenierung folkloristischer Spektakel und einer internationalen Hotelkette, deren Name Luxus verspricht, ist gewinnbringend und macht Lhasa zu einem Teil von Chinas Tourismusangebot mit Markenhotels, die bis dahin nur in Städten wie Peking und Shanghai zu finden waren.

Eine treibende Kraft ist der Unternehmer Deng Hong, Sohn eines Offiziers der chinesischen Luftwaffe. Einem Journalisten der Washington Post erzählte dieser einmal, dass sein Erfolg auf seinen guten Verbindungen zu Regierungsvertretern beruhe. Deng immigrierte in die USA und kaufte Grundstücke in Hawaii und Silicon Valley. Nach China kehrte er zurück, da, “reich werden” in China einfacher sei als in den USA. Er hatte Recht: Zuletzt besaß er 35 Autos, darunter ein Ferrari, ein Lamborghini, eine Corvette, mehrere Jeeps und Mercedes 600 sowie einen Lincoln Continental. Erst kürzlich hat er die Rechte an 100 Quadratmeilen Land erworben, die direkt an Chinas Jiuzhaigou Nationalpark angrenzen. „In China versuchen die Reichen zu Superreichen zu werden” (Washington Post, 17. März 2002).

Tibeter in der chinesischen Tourismusindustrie
Die in Lhasa agierenden Hotelketten besitzen meistens bereits mehrere Liegenschaften in Chinas Großstädten. Mit Lhasa ist es ihnen nun möglich, internationalen Touristen einschließlich der Geschäftsreisenden, ein Komplettpaket zum Kennenlernpreis und zu Sondertarifen anzubieten. So soll sichergestellt werden, dass die Hotels in Lhasa schnell profitabel werden. Keine privaten Investoren haben jemals so viel dafür getan wie die derzeit entstehende Hotelindustrie, dass Tibet ein Teil der chinesischen Wirtschaft wird. Weiter hat sie die Rolle des Dienstleistungssektors als Quelle für Arbeit und Wohlstand gestärkt.

Jahrzehntelang hat Peking Geld nach Tibet fließen lassen. Arbeit wurde von den Bereichen Verwaltung, Logistik, Gütertransport und Sicherheitspersonal beherrscht und zwar in außergewöhnlich hohem Maße für eine derartig arme Region. Gleichzeitig zogen Rohstoffproduzenten, d. h. die tibetischen Nomaden und Bauern auf dem Land, nur wenig finanzielle Mittel an. Auch die Fertigungsindustrie entwickelte sich nur langsam, während die Dienstleistungsindustrie dagegen rasant anstieg. In der TAR entspricht die Aufteilung dieser drei Beschäftigungsbereiche in etwa der einer modernen Großstadt wie Peking oder Shanghai.

Die Beschäftigung im Dienstleistungsbereich und Geschäftsmöglichkeiten für Selbständige ist gemeinhin den Gebildeten vorbehalten, ausgenommen sind Stellen für Reinigungskräfte und Einfach-Tätigkeiten auf Baustellen. Zwar gibt es in der TAR berufliche Ausbildungsmöglichkeiten, diese werden allerdings meistens von internationalen Nichtregierungsorganisationen (NGO’s) bereitgestellt. Nur wenige Tibeter sind in der Lage, mit den chinesischen Immigranten um eine Stelle im Servicebereich eines Hotels zu konkurrieren, das routinemäßig fließend Chinesisch und oft auch Englisch verlangt. Tibeter mögen Tellerwäscher sein, doch nur die wenigsten schaffen es zum Kellner, Rezeptionisten, Vorarbeiter oder Manager.

Dies ist auch die Erfahrung vieler Tibeter im Nationalpark Dzitsa Degu (Chin. Jiuzhaigou) im Norden Sichuans. Das Naturschutzgebiet ist eines der größten Touristenattraktionen mit Millionen von Besuchern jährlich. Sowohl im Tibetischen wie im Chinesischen leitet sich der Name von den neun tibetischen Dörfern ab, die in den atemberaubend schönen Tälern des Gebiets liegen. Seit 1992 ist es Teil des UNESCO-Weltnaturerbes. Seitdem dieses abgelegene Gebiet von chinesischen Unternehmern 1975 „entdeckt“ worden ist, ist das Tibetische ein Teil seiner Identität. Dennoch spielen die dort lebenden Tibeter nur eine Nebenrolle. Zusammen mit den Berggipfeln, bewaldeten Hängen, kristallfarbenen Seen und Wasserfällen gehören sie zur Attraktion. Touristen, vornehmlich Chinesen, erfreuen sich daran, sich rittlings auf einem Yak oder in tibetischer Kleidung fotografieren zu lassen. Früher konnten Touristen für die authentische Erfahrung in den Dörfern in tibetischen Häusern übernachten. Doch als die Besucherzahl in die Millionen ging, sorgte such die UNESCO um die Überlastung des Gebiets. Die lokalen Behörden verboten die Übernachtungsmöglichkeiten in den Dörfern und zwangen die Touristen, Hotels außerhalb des geschützten Gebiets aufzusuchen. Das größte unter ihnen gehört der ETG und wird nun in Lhasa nachgebaut.

Der Ausschluss der Tibeter vom Dienstleistungssektor kam zu einem Verbot der landwirtschaftlichen Nutzung der Täler hinzu. Obwohl das Land von der tibetischen Bevölkerung seit Jahrhunderten ohne Schaden für Wälder und Flüsse bebaut wird, haben die Behörden beschlossen, dass dies nicht mehr mit der Idee von Jiuzhaigou als magischem Götterreich mit unberührter Natur vereinbar sei. Dennoch bleiben die Tibeter ein Teil des Spektakels. Khampas werden zum Singen und Tanzen eingestellt. Amdoer verleihen an Besucher ihre Tracht, damit diese sich herausputzen können. Tibeter bilden die besondere Nische der exotischen Ureinwohner.

Werden die Tibeter eine weniger marginale Rolle spielen, wenn in Lhasa ähnliche Resorts gebaut werden? In Lhasa leben gut ausgebildete Tibeter sowie tibetische Unternehmer mit Erfahrung im Bewirtschaften eines Hotels, einer heißen Quelle, eines Busunternehmens oder eines Reisebüros. Welche Chancen und Möglichkeiten werden sie in einem InterContinental, Shangri-la, Starwood oder Carlson haben? Es besteht die Gefahr, dass Tibeter in den neuen Hotels lediglich als Dienstmädchen (chin. baomu) und Reinigungskräfte eingestellt werden, anwesend zwar, aber weitgehend unsichtbar und anonym. Der wenig schmeichelhafte Begriff „baomu“ („vertrauter Fremder“) enthält einen negativen Beigeschmack bezüglich des Geschlechts sowie des finanziellen und gesellschaftlichen Status. In den Hotels und in den Wohnungen der chinesischen Neureichen sind die „baomu“, üblicherweise weibliche Migranten vom Land, durch ihre „allgegenwärtige Unsichtbarkeit“, ihre Vergänglichkeit und ihren Status als baomu gekennzeichnet. Obwohl offiziell „soziale Harmonie und Höflichkeit“ innerhalb dieses Beschäftigungsverhältnisses gepriesen wird, ist es mit Diskursen betreffend Privatsphäre, Sicherheit, Sittlichkeit und Qualität (chin. suzhi) durchzogen. Diese Diskurse reißen die materiellen und symbolischen Grenzen nicht ein, sondern bekräftigen sie vielmehr. Chinesen pflegen oft das Vorurteil, Tibetern fehle es an Qualität, Zivilisiertheit und Bildung und sie würden zu Unsauberkeit sowie Faulheit neigen. In einem Hotel unter chinesischem Management unterliegen Tibeter einer strengen Kontrolle. Nur wenige haben Aufstiegschancen oder die Aussicht auf eine Vollzeitstelle.

Grundstücksspekulanten: Der Motor des Tourismus
Um die Arbeitsmöglichkeiten der Tibeter genauer auszuwerten, hilft ein Blick auf den Zusammenschluss von Hotelketten und chinesischen Bauträgern. Jedes Projekt beginnt mit einem chinesischen Bauträger, der den Zugang zu Kapital, die Erfahrung und die politischen Verbindungen für die notwendigen Genehmigungen hat. Dann wird gebaut. InterContinentals Partner ist die Exhibition & Travel Group, Starwood StRegis’ Partner ist die Lhasa Yungao International Hotel Co. mit Sitz in Taiwan und Carlson Park Plazas Verbündeter ist die Tibet Gakyiling Construction Co.

Ob Tibeter mehr als eine Statistenrolle spielen, hängt von der Beschaffenheit dieser Partnerschaften ab. Der chinesische Partner ist der Besitzer und die internationale Hotelkette der Betreiber. Ersterer liefert die harte Infrastruktur, den Beton und das Glas. Letztere stellt die weiche Infrastruktur in Form eines weltweiten Reservierungssystems, von Marketingstrukturen, standardisiertem Service, Qualitätssicherung, Mitarbeitertraining und -kontrolle, besonderer Anziehungspunkte, freundlicher Umgebung, guter Verkehrsmöglichkeiten, umfangreicher Infrastruktur, normativen Managements, standardisierten Service und eines internationalen Marktes. Vom Betreiber wird erwartet, dass er seinen chinesischen Partner alle notwendigen Fähigkeiten für ein erfolgreiches Unternehmen lehrt.

Die Tourismusindustrie in Tibet wird seit Jahrzehnten als “Säule” bezeichnet. Ihr großes Potential liegt darin, einer großen Anzahl von Immigranten Arbeit zu geben und Wohlstand zu schaffen. Pekings Hoffnung war immer, dass die groß angelegten Investitionen in Bahnstrecken, Flughäfen, Autobahnen, E-Werke usw. sich irgendwann auszahlen werden, und die Ära der endlosen Subventionen von einer Wohlstand schaffenden Wirtschaft abgelöst wird. Paradox ist, dass die Unternehmen für ihren Erfolg in Tibet die Erwartungen insbesondere der internationalen Touristen erfüllen müssen. Die bestehen vor allem darin, vor Ort auch Tibeter anzutreffen.

Internationale Touristen: Der Schlüssel zur Wirtschaftlichkeit
Der aktuelle Masterplan erwartet für Ende 2015 mindestens 10 Millionen Besucher. Die Einnahmen aus dem Tourismus sollen auf 10 Milliarden Yuan und die Beschäftigungszahl auf 300.000 ansteigen. Ende 2020 werden mindestens 20 Millionen Besucher nach Tibet reisen. Die Einnahmen aus dem Tourismus werden 20 Milliarden Yuan und die totale Beschäftigung 400 000 Personen erreichen.

Die Vorgaben basieren auf einem Gewinn von 1.000 Yuan pro Besucher. Dies ist ein kleiner Betrag, der darauf schließen lässt, dass auch 2020 nur 3-4 Prozent aller Besucher international sein werden. Dies ist aber bei weitem nicht genug, um 300.000 oder 400.000 Personen anzustellen; es sei denn, die Jobs sind saisonabhängig und schlecht bezahlt.
Auch wenn sie nur eine Minderheit in den neuen Hotels ausmachen werden, sind internationale Touristen für die Wirtschaftlichkeit essentiell. Sie zahlen Höchstpreise, bleiben länger und geben mehr aus. Insbesondere für eine funktionierende Wirtschaftlichkeit der kleineren Hotels werden sie unabdingbar sein. Das erste von ihnen, eröffnet am 15. November 2010, wirbt mit einem Luxus, von dem Westler woanders nur träumen können. Das Starwood St. Regis Lhasa verspricht zum Beispiel jedem Gast einen Diener, der rund um die Uhr zur Verfügung steht. Im Westen ist dies ein unbezahlbarer Luxus, der in eine längst vergangene Ära gehört und den sich nur noch Superreiche leisten können. Doch in China mit seinen Niedriglöhnen macht es möglich.

Wird Starwood St. Regis Tibeter als Diener einstellen? Wissen Tibeter, was es heißt, Respekt zu zeigen, zur Verfügung zu stehen, andere an erste Stelle zu setzen? Wissen Tibeter, wie man freundlich ist und aufrichtiges Interesse für seine Gäste zeigt? Selbstverständlich. Aber dieser persönliche Diener, den die New York Times in ihrer Vorschau auf die Eröffnung des Starwood St. Regis Lhasa so sehr bewundert, muss englisch sprechen. Er muss das Verhalten einer standardisierten Hotelindustrie vorweisen können, die echtes Interesse mit einem eingeübten Lächeln simuliert. Es ist wohl ziemlich sicher, dass der Diener, das einmalige Angebot des Starwood St. Regis Lhasa, ein Chinese mit einem Abschluss einer chinesischen Hotelfachhochschule sein wird. Vielleicht hat er dort auch gelernt, wie man eine Chuba trägt.

Eine Hoffnung bleibt dennoch: Vielleicht können die internationalen Touristen die globalen Betreiber wie die des InterContinental unter moralischen Druck setzen, auch für die tibetische Bevölkerung etwas zu tun.

Übersetzung: Anna Momburg-Vanderpool

Gabriel Lafitte, lehrte bis zu seiner Pensionierung Asienstudien an verschiedenen Universitäten in Melbourne, Australien. Er hat lange Jahre mit Tibetern zusammengearbeitet. Zuletzt hat er die Tibetische Regierung im Exil in Umwelt- und Entwicklungsfragen beraten.

Last Days of Empire


Reflections on a visit to Vienna at the invitation of SaveTibet, and a talk given at Universitet fur Bodenkultur, 11 April 2011, by Gabriel Lafitte

Here in Vienna, as always, the situation is critical but not yet serious. On the surface all is well, the heurigen (wine bars) do a roaring trade, even if they had to move from Grinzing, overrun with tourists, to the foothills further out, still authentically below the vine covered slopes. The waitresses in their dirndln (traditional skirts) serve spritzer (wine and mineral water) and massive slabs of schnitzel; all is well, if not positively gemutlich. Vienna, like London, dines off its heritage, a brand that does not tarnish like silver plate wearing thin, but somehow adds value by feeding on itself.
But it was Vienna’s Karl Kraus, a century ago, who so famously said the situation here in Vienna is critical but not yet serious, as an ironic rebuke to a seriously modern Prussian, concerned to alert and alarm his readers by gravely reporting that the situation was indeed serious but not yet critical.

For Tibetans, the situation is always critical, but not serious. It is critical for a thousand obvious reasons: China’s repression, arrogance and racist cruelty are suffocating Tibet, leaving no public space for Tibetan culture to have any life of its own. China’s repressive invasion of the private sphere, its insistence on humiliating sincere Buddhist practitioners by demanding they denounce their guru, the exemplar of enlightened mind, leaves even the private space of the mind invaded by state power. So the situation is critical, and has long been so, and if anything in 2011 is worse than ever.

Yet it is not serious. Tibetans have deep inner strengths enabling them to survive anything, withstand the most extreme pressures, very seldom yielding to despair or rage. Anger consumes those who experience it. Grief is a more authentic response. The inner strengths of Tibetans enable them, like water, to flow round obstacles, unstoppably. This is the fluidity, flexibility and adaptability of the Tibetans, an asset in all situations but especially when faced with unreflexive, ingrained, racist arrogance.

This is truly remarkable. I find this particularly amazing here in Vienna, my mother’s home town where I am an occasional visitor, my family having scattered as far as Australia, Viennese Jews escaping the Nazis. The permanent state of rage of the Jews, the collective outrage and righteousness, in response to persecution was once necessary. But now it has long outlived any useful purpose. Now it only blinds the Israelis to the damage they so counterproductively inflict on the Palestinians. That’s a classic instance of the situation forever being serious, verging on the critical, a rationale for drastic measures to collectively punish the Palestinians yet again for not somehow evaporating.

Assessing, rating, ranking this situation and that as serious but not yet critical is an obsession of our times. It is the foundation of project management. All development projects require a problem, to which a technical solution is then found. It constructs a neat hierarchy of situations to be categorised, on a sliding scale. The logic of the sliding scale, from success at one end to crisis at the other, depends on isolating, defining and elaborating on problems. The concept of the problem is the driver of modernity.

It leads always towards danger, towards the temptation to write off this situation, that place, as doomed, a failed state, an outbreak of anarchy, chaos, collective madness, or irrational fundamentalism. It is the most extreme form of them and us. We are the rational observers, with our carefully calibrated scale of freedom through to unfreedom, transparency through to utter corruption, mature democracy through to anarchic failure. Labelling those struggling to deal with their confusions and contradictions as critical, enables us to call in the air strikes, to reach for the military as a legitimate solution to messy human problems.

China routinely perceives the situation in Tibet as serious, sliding towards the critical. Everything about Tibet, through Chinese eyes, is problematic, hard to manage, unpredictable, unfamiliar, uncanny, disturbing, even the air that is so thin that each breath could be your last. That is what Chinese fear.

Yet China, at an official public level, says it does have solutions. Even more remarkably, it says there is one solution to all the problems of Tibet. In its 12th Five-year Plan for Tibet, for 2011-15, China says explicitly that development is the solution to all Tibetan problems. I am tempted to ask a naïve question: if development is the solution, then what is the problem?

Tibet and Tibetans are high on the list of what can and does go bad, and can threaten China’s ascent to the blissful god realms. In the imaginations of the Chinese elite, Tibet is all liability, with no prospect of ever becoming an asset. Tibet can only hold China back, blow up in China’s face, humiliate China all over again on the eve of the Olympic triumph. Tibet, in capitalist terms, is a cost centre, forever requiring expensive interventions to maintain China’s dominance, with little realistic prospect of paying its way through profitable copper mining.

This is a bad position, even disastrous, a hardening of Chinese elite attitudes that closes Chinese minds. The Tibetans have become one of the criminal tribes of China, much as the British Raj declared certain Indian tribes to be inherently and collectively criminal by nature. Suddenly, Tibetans in China, even educated, sophisticated Tibetans used to dealing skilfully with Chinese language, customs and people, now find themselves treated with suspicion, fear and contempt.
This is bad, as the Dalai Lama very quickly discerned as soon as the March 08 uprising, a heartfelt outpouring of grief, of tears held in too long, burst into the open. He immediately recognised this natural and inevitable outpour as disastrous for negotiations, for any prospect of mutual respect and trust.

Does this mean we are at an impasse, a dead end, where nothing is possible, as in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Is the future only more pain, more incomprehension?

That could easily happen, but we are not helpless. What we can do, more than before, ius to enter into the minds of the Chinese elite, see their hopes and fears. That is the historic task of the present moment. Only if we learn to fully see the world thriough their eyes, will we see where Tibet fits into the innumerable opportunities and threats they see ahead. Only if we map their minds can we see how and why China has created the opposite of eveything it ever hoped for in Tibet. By tracing the unacknowledged underside of Chinese thought and emotion can we see how we got here, how it is possible that, in the name of harmony, stability and development, China has in reality strengthened Tibetan nationalism.

By tracking the deeply unskilful Chinese imperial project in Tibet we discover how both nations, the Chinese and the Tibetans, have arrived at this painful divergence; and we discern the trend, and the likely future is the present trajectory continues. This is all big-picture, long term stuff, offering no quick solutions, no breakthroughs. But it does mean we are alert to opportunities to shift the debate, to reframe it, as causes and conditions arise. That has always been how Tibetans dealt with their much bigger Chinese neighbour. That is how minister Gar won Princess Wen Cheng from her father, the emperor of China, to marry the Tibetan king. It is the Tibetan capacity for being clear minded, grounded, earthy and quick witted that wins in the end, at the crucial moment of testing. That is what turns minds, in the brief moment when minds can be turned. From Minister Gar to Phagpa Lama at the court of Kubilai Khan, this is a long tradition. It begins with knowing the mind of your opponent, entering fully into the mindset of those who are your obstacle.

China’s elite are, as the Dalai Lama has often said, unconfident. This is hardly surprising, since their wealth accumulation, their dream of China 2.0, depends on keeping hundreds of millions of Chinese workers and peasants powerless, impotent, poor and unable to claim a share of the wealth monopolised by the rich. The party-state is a hybrid machine of oppression of the masses, a dictatorship that has lost the trust of the people.

The legitimacy of the party-state has eroded; the number of popular protests to be crushed by force grows every year. Everyone knows the party-state elite are greedy, corrupt, rent-seeking, monopolistic, uncaring of popular welfare, indifferent to the health or education of the masses. The older generation, who made sacrifices to build socialism, have been discarded. In the boom city of Shenzhen a former soldier who worked in the 1980s to build Shenzhen, to turn rice fields into a city of commerce, told a German political scientist: “We all feel we have been excluded from society. We built up Shenzhen, but society has forgotten us. We don’t have much education or a lot of hope. We are extremely unhappy with the state of society. The Party used to be our sun; now it is corrupt, like the Kuomintang. We ex-soldiers are just too upright; that’s why we haven’t gotten rich”1

Anyone able to talk freely with ordinary Chinese people finds these sentiments repeated a thousand fold, a million fold.
No longer is it believable that the central leaders want everyone to be wealthy, that, as Deng Xiaoping said in the 1980s, let a few get rich first, so wealth can trickle through to everyone. That was 30 years ago, more than a generation, and the poor are still poor, even if the parity-state has magically erased poverty by redefining it.

The new rich justify their kleptocracy, crony capitalism, cartels and monopolies, their exclusive access to capital and power by their collective disdain for the masses. The contempt for the ordinary Chinese is crystallised in the elite theory of suzhi, or quality. The masses lack the qualities needed for modernity, for participating as equals in the nation building enterprise, they lack the human capital formation, the education needed to succeed in business. Democracy is out of the question when the masses are so backward, a drag on China’s progress. The only knowledge that is valuable these days is what you can learn by doing a Masters of International Business in a Western university. That is sophisticated knowledge; it enables you to acquire a high level of suzhi, to become an advanced person in every way, qualified to be part of the party-state elite of rapid wealth accumulation.

Tibet is part of this dualistic division of the Chinese world into the advanced and the backward, the central and the remote, rich and poor, high and low quality, the scientific and the superstitious. Each side of the dual divide has many attributes; each is a full-blown stereotype.

This dualism has extreme edges. At one extreme are the educated elite, the bringers of the new knowledge economy which will in future transcend China’s present role as world factory. These new builders of China’s comprehensive national power see themselves as the peak of human evolution, exemplary ultra moderns, bearers of suzhi and all that is civilised and progressive. At the other extreme are those who are dirty, violent, criminal, remote, poor, backward, superstitious, uncommercial, ungrateful and ignorant. Every one of those adjectives is routinely applied to the Tibetans, in the minds of the Chinese elite.

The inevitable result of this contempt is the rise and rise of Tibetan nationalism. China is creating what it most fears, just as it nears the threshold of the god realms. At the very time China glimpses the peak of Mount Olympus, realm of the gods, it unskilfully sows the seeds of its own undoing.

Perhaps this nexus of creation and destruction, of success and failure, is inevitable. Certainly it is historically common that great nations undo themselves from within, setting in motion the very energies they least desire. Buddhists have always told us we set ourselves up for the unintended consequences of our short sighted decisions; that our sufferings arise exactly out of our attempts at attaining happiness. Economists call this the law of “perverse outcomes”.

Historically we need not look far to see great powers undoing themselves by misguided actions that seemed wise at the time. Russia’s disastrous intervention in Afghanistan, followed by America’s, are clear examples. Likewise America’s war against the very Pakistani militants America used to arm and train to fight against Soviet power in Afghanistan. The US and the government of Pakistan are reaping now what they sowed 20 years ago.

A closer parallel with the China Tibet situation might be the declining decades of the Habsburg Empire, a land empire in the heart of Europe that has so completely vanished it is hardly remembered, yet 100 years ago it seemed a glorious, long-lived and successful multi-ethnic empire with plenty of life. In 1909, anyone who predicted that within a decade the entire empire would crumble would have been thought insane. Yet it happened, and the cause was what we now see in Tibet.
The dominant power in the Habsburg Empire were the Austrians, among them my mother and her family, who did well out of plundering the forests of newly conquered Balkan territories of the empire. The Austrians, in the 19th century, German speakers, saw themselves, as the Chinese do today, as the bearers of a universal civilisation, bringing modernity, development and enlightenment to the lesser peoples under their control, such as the Czechs, Slovaks, Italians, Poles, Slovenians, Croats, Serbs, Hungarians, Rumanians and more. Through the 19th century and into the 20th, Germanic nationalism grew ever more arrogant and exclusive; and those who felt excluded and denigrated grew, in turn, their own exclusive nationalism, their own exclusive history, national myths of identity and origin, and their own pantheon of nationalist heroes.

For decades, it seemed the Habsburgs managed skilfully the rising demands of its multicultural, multi-ethnic empire spread across central and Eastern Europe. Until, quite suddenly, it fell apart, creating a dozen new nations which, by the 21st century, became even more numerous as the former Yugoslavia fell apart.

The Austrians, in 1907, the year my mother was born, were in the god realm, inheritors of the Holy Roman Empire, the conceit that somehow imperial Rome had lived on, right into the modern era, under the benevolent but autocratic rule of the Habsburg dynasty. The haughty rituals of the Habsburg court, so well depicted in the novels of Joseph Roth, insulated the rulers from real knowledge of how fragile their power was.

My mother, born in Vienna into a prosperous family of timber merchants who had bought their way into minor nobility, could have had no idea that by the age of 10 or 11 the entire Habsburg empire would be dust. Nothing in 1907 suggested that an empire that had lasted centuries could crumble from within, as well as be defeated militarily. Habsburg minority ethnicity policy was well established, the formulas for containing minority nationalism well rehearsed.

At Schonbrunn Palace the emperor diligently sat at his desk in his arbeitszimmer, (work room) signing documents from morning to night, receiving the latest military intelligence from his aide-de-camp in an adjoining room still today signified by maps on the wall, compass and callipers to measure a day’s march for troops to be despatched to quell a minority rebellion.
But, as Joseph Roth’s novels devastatingly show, it was all a show, all smoke and mirrors. The mighty Egyptoid obelisk in the Schonbrunn gardens designed to manifest the might and majesty of the Habsburg family dynasty is plastered (literally) with Egyptian hieroglyphs that took the fancy of the designer, utterly meaningless and random, since the language of the hieroglyphs had not been deciphered. The Roman ruins nearby are not only utterly ersatz, a confection of contrived ancientness made all too obviously of brick, again plastered to create in render a surface of Roman gods and voluptuaries. This instant ruin, built so artfully in the late 18th century, complete with plants growing in the cracks, by the early 21st century was no longer picturesque, looking instead so utterly ruinous it had to be stripped back, revealing the bricks, and the staging. Today’s curators seem unsure whether to restore the trompe l’oeil rendering, making the ruins both a sublime romantic picturesque once more and part of the back-story of the Holy Roman Empire.

To the end of his long reign as both King of the Hungarians and Kaiser of everyone else in the empire (a brilliant piece of minzu politik),[minority ethnicity policy] Franz Joseph dutifully said his prayers every day, lay in his simple single bed after his beloved wife was assassinated by Italian anarchists, and continued to rule as if nothing much ever changed.
Today Schonbrunn continues as before, doing whatever it takes, staging a memorial concert for Michael Jackson, dressing children as princesses for the photo shoot. It is no different to adding the youthful Mozart retrospectively to a painting of a great ceremonial gathering even though he wasn’t there, being a child of four at the time. But icons attract magnetically, he has to be in the picture, anachronism notwithstanding.

Empires exist by such devices, by projecting themselves as imagined communities belonging to the one emperor. If the masses believe, it exists, when the masses cease to believe, it crumbles.

The same Habsburg law which found it useful, for reasons of state, to tolerate Jews and Protestants in an overwhelmingly Catholic Austria, at the same time dissolved Catholic monasteries that were dedicated solely to contemplative religious life. The higher loyalty of the contemplatives to an immanent god, was deemed a threat to the utilitarian state.

Empires, Habsburg or Chinese, seem secure until they fall, only revealing their weaknesses, strains, contradictions and absurdities afterwards. Yet at the imperial centre, those in charge are often insecure, even frightened, haunted by ghosts of a past not properly dealt with, jumping at shadows. Both the Habsburgs and the Chinese Communist Party felt especially threatened by the depth of inner experience of the mystics, of those who go inwards to discover in lived experience what is the nature of reality, far beyond the petty ambitions opf political power.

China is haunted by the spectre of democracy, even of the possibility of revolution from below. Having seized power by revolution, the last thing the Communist Party wants is another revolution, and is willing to take all measures necessary to stifle any alternative to its monopoly on power.

It is this repressiveness that breeds its own downfall, that in the long run strengthens the resistance, the determination, against all odds, to retain a separate identity untainted by party-state agendas. The Habsburgs unwittingly fuelled Hungarian, Czech, Slovak and Polish nationalisms, and many more as well, by insisting on the superiority and special rights of the German speakers. Likewise, China sows the seeds of its ultimate defeat by the very policies it considers necessary to prevent dissent from gaining even one gulp of oxygen.

But China cannot make the mystic tantrikas, the inner ones, go away by persecuting monks and forcing them to spit on their guru, even if in Tibetan tradition denouncing one’s guru is considered worse than murdering one’s parents. China has devised a mental torture especially calculated to break Tibetans, to shatter their innermost being, yet Tibetan resistance grows and grows, no matter what the cost.

China cannot make Tibetan identity dissolve into the assimilationist “harmonious” homogeneity of the Han. The more repressively China cracks down on Tibetans, the more it reveals its mistrust of almost every Tibetan, the more naked its racist contempt for Tibetans becomes, the stronger Tibetan nationalism grows. A decade ago, in order to ensure there was no possibility China could dissolve, as did the Soviet Union, a new official doctrine was very quietly declared by the Communist Party. High level inner party debates in the 1990s crystallised into a slogan, of which only the first half was mentioned in public: jiakuai jingji fazhan, danhua minzu wenti. This slogan exhorts the speeding up of economic development, but with the secret corollary, to downplay the national question. The latter half of the slogan was strictly neibu, for party insiders only. China badly wants to downplay the national question, hoping the time has come when it no longer has many nations, many peoples, within its borders, only ethnic groups well along on the path to assimilation.
But Tibet is stuck in China’s throat, like a fishbone that can be neither swallowed nor spat out, a painful situation for both bone and throat. Tibet is more than ever an irritant, forever threatening to blow up unpredictably, as it did in 2008, never again to be silenced even by beating dissidents to death, as happens routinely.
The new formula of danhua minzu wenti, downplaying nationality questions, is the key to China’s renewed reliance on a one-size-fits-all policy of development and industrialisation as the solution to all problems. But if development answers everything, what is the problem? The problem is that China sees problems everywhere, yet its attempts to deal with them are scounter-productive, perverse, full of unintended consequences because they are so heavy handed and unskilful. By breaking Tibet up into myriad problems, China fails to see the big picture: that the Tibetans are unhappy, frustrated and mistrustful, after decades of being treated as barbaric primitives. China mistakenly thinks it can create an industrialised, developed Tibet where everyone lives in basic material comfort and will therefore be happy. This is delusional, even self-destructive, creating the very counter nationalism China seeks so urgently to defuse. The situation is serious, urgent and close to critical, so force is the only answer. Tibetans are no longer fooled by China’s smoke and mirrors, by rhetorics of China’s benevolence and Tibetan ingratitude. China’s staging of its superiority is already a hieroglyphic mess, a set of meaningless slogans which, by endless repetition in official speeches, lose their last shreds of meaning.

If China studied the decades of Habsburg decay, while Kaiser Franz Joseph so dutifully sat at his desk, utterly out of touch with ground truth, signing document after document bearing no relation to reality, it might learn. If Tibetans study the decline and fall of the Habsburgs, the rise and rise of Hungarian, Polish, Slovak, Croatian and Serb nationalisms, they might find a familiar sight. They might recognise an imperial elite unskilfully bringing about the conditions for its’ own collapse. The situation is critical, but not serious, because the inner strengths of Tibetan culture, grounded in the access to ultimate reality of the inner ones, can always outlast all repression.

1Thomas Heberer. Relegitimation through new patterns of social security: Neighbourhood communities as legitimating institutions, The China Review, vol 9 #2, 2009, 99-128

Restoring Sustainability to Tibet


A briefing to European Union Directorate-General on Environment, and EU Directorate-General on Climate, 4 April 2011
By Gabriel Lafitte www.rukor.org, editor@www.rukor.org +613 407 840 333

Environmental impacts do not respect national boundaries; they are invariably transboundary issues. Eurasia is a single continent; Tibet is at its heart. The Tibetan Plateau is close to three per cent of the planetary land surface. Dust storms originating in the desertifying areas of Tibet affect not only downwind Beijing but also Japan and, across the North Pacific, Canada and the United States. Nuclear contamination from the Japanese Fukushima catastrophe has now reached Tibetan areas of Qinghai and Gansu provinces.

The EU response to these challenges has been modest, on a scale not commensurable with the needs of our times. Projects have been initiated, which will gradually provide valuable data about environmental dynamics in Tibet, which will better inform policy making. One example is the EU funded hydrological monitoring of Tibetan rivers and glacier melt, essential to verifying the basis of china’s perception of Tibet as “China’s Number One water Tower,” an odd imaginary since most of the Tibetan plateau is semi-arid, with only the highest peaks able to capture the small amounts of moisture in the atmosphere. http://www.ceop-aegis.org/

Such research may eventually tell us whether China is right in hoping for a dividend, at least throughout the 21st century, of extra runoff into its great rivers, due to glacier melt on the Tibetan plateau. That is what Chinese scientists have calculated, using computer simulation modelling, predicting much benefit to China if glacier melt continues, and also predicting that climate change will make the Tibetan plateau much more suitable for agriculture with Chinese characteristics, and greater forest coverage, well beyond what is now the natural limit of forest growth.
Such long term research has many uses, but in the shorter term China is making policy for the Tibetan plateau based on assumptions that climate change is beneficial, perhaps a reason why China is especially reluctant to follow the European lead and agree to specific pollutant discharge targets and quotas.

This in turn raises major issues, which are best understood on a regional and on a Eurasian continental scale. China is well aware that Europe and the international community are increasingly concerned at China’s emergence as the world’s biggest polluter and emitter of greenhouse gases. China’s new Five-Year Plan makes much of turning to renewable and nuclear power as alternatives to coal and oil, but the reality remains that China’s current consumption of three billion tons of coal a year will nonetheless increase to 3.8 billion tons by 2015, on China’s own figures. Similarly, China’s demand for raw materials of all kinds, from mineral ores to food, has pushed up prices globally, impoverishing tens of millions of already poor people across the developing world, cancelling out the good work of the EU and EU member states in aid projects that enhance food security in the third world.

One of China’s strategic responses to the anxiety of both the developed and developing world over the consequences of China’s voracious consumption has been to make much of the Tibetan Plateau an offset, a “green” zone, much of it designated as protected area, in the name of biodiversity conservation, watershed protection and climate change mitigation. From a Tibetan viewpoint, this is commendable, a welcome move towards fulfilling the vision the Dalai Lama announced as long ago as 1989 in Strasbourg, when he called for the Tibetan plateau to become a refuge for all sentient beings, human and animal, worldwide.

On the map, most of China’s protected areas are in Tibet, and the Chinese delegation to the EU in its April 2011 presentation on the merits of the 12th Five-year Plan went so far as to say that the conservation of Tibetan rivers, forests and grasslands does little to benefit Tibetans, that the beneficiaries are downstream, and those beneficiaries should compensate Tibet. The global concept of Payment for Environmental Services (PES) is now being heard for the first time, even if there is no mechanism or specific proposals. At least it means there is recognition that Tibetans are paying the opportunity cost of conserving their environment.

When Tibetans have a say –which is rarely- they almost always readily agree to accept this opportunity cost of not developing and industrialising the Tibetan Plateau. Almost without exception, Tibetans are deeply upset by the extraction of their resources, the widespread destruction of forests and wildlife, committed by nonTibetans in recent decades. In the many protests by Tibetans, all over the Tibetan Plateau since 2008, environmental concerns have been uppermost, with many accusations that mining and hydro damming are theft, since the beneficiaries are far distant, and the environmental costs of dam-induced earthquakes and mine tailing leaching are borne by the Tibetans.

Tibetans are also deeply concerned that China’s rhetoric of watershed protection has, as its main method (not just an unforeseen consequence) the exclusion of nomads en masse from their vast pasture lands, almost the size of Western Europe. China recently extended eastwards its biggest protected area to include the four Tibetan nomadic prefectures of Qinghai province which constitute the Sanjiangyuan, or Three River Source Area, from which nomads are to be removed, or have already been moved to concrete barrack housing far from their ancestral grazing lands. China’s use of environmental language is deeply problematic. China says the displaced nomads are “ecological migrants” who have voluntarily sold all their animals, surrendered their long-term land-use certificates and lost their livelihoods. This is factually incorrect, unless voluntary means the actions of desperately poor people, impoverished by tightly disciplinary regulation of land size, herd size, family size, compulsory and expensive fencing and housing, to sell their remaining animals in order to feed themselves tomorrow.

Many scientific research reports say climate warming in Tibet, as with the North and South Poles, is happening faster than elsewhere in the world. http://tibet.net/en/index.php?id=198&rmenuid=11 Permafrost is shrinking at an alarming rate, and the glaciers are melting. The early seasonal thawing of permafrost means ice in the earth turns to water and drains away too early in the growing season for plant roots to reach it. The result is death of wetland vegetation and also crops fail to thrive. Climate change is already having many negative impacts on Tibet, yet climate change simulations by Chinese scientists cheerfully predict that a rise in temperature of four degrees would make the Tibetan Plateau much more supportive of farming with Chinese characteristics.Climate change is good for China’s Tibet

These are all issues in which Europe has a natural stake. The heart of Eurasia is the planetary Third Pole, which also heats sufficiently in summer to pull deep inland the monsoons of South, Southeast and East Asia. The Tibetan Plateau is the engine of much of the northern hemispheric climate, and should be treated as a single entity, as science already does, rather than fracturing it artificially into several Chinese provinces, with only the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) considered to be Tibet, even though it is only half the plateau area.

The EU, as the western part of Eurasia, has a natural and proper interest in Eurasia’s core, a vast island in the sky of global significance. In the upcoming 7th EU EAP, this calls for a more comprehensive response. EU funded projects in Tibet, such as CEOP-AEGIS and RETPEC, the previous EU TAR Panam agricultural intensification project or the EU Qinghai potato project, make modest contributions to improving livelihoods, increasing scientific data, even attempting to persuade Chinese officials to listen, for the first time, to nomads, as RETPEC (coordinated by Macaulay Land Use Research Institute, Aberdeen) tried to do. But the time has come for a bolder approach, for the sake of our common planet.

Fortunately, it is possible to envisage an alternative approach that meets the needs of all stakeholders: the government of China, the Tibetan people, the EU and the planet. Although win/win rhetoric is common, it is not often that the core interests of all parties are in reality aligned, but right now there is a fortunate conjunction of causes and conditions which is most auspicious.

The whole of the Tibetan Plateau should be made a protected area, a global commons for protection of biodiversity, watersheds and the livelihoods of skilfully mobile pastoralists whose rangeland management practices were sustainable and productive for 9000 years. The only exception would be the Tsaidam basin of Qinghai province (Amdo Tsonub in Tibetan), where China already has a substantial oil and gas extraction base, salt harvesting, refineries and petrochemical plants, providing China with chemical fertilisers, plastics, fuels and minerals such as asbestos, magnesium, lithium and potash. But Tsaidam is the only industrialised area on the Tibetan Plateau, though China does still see industrialisation as the only path to civilisation, development and prosperity. In fact, China’s 12th Five-Year Plan in Tibet specifically calls for large scale mining and smelting of copper and gold in several locations in TAR, also extensive hydro damming for smelters and downstream users, and the settlement of nearly all the two million (or more) nomads into permanent housing, usually far from their grazing lands.

China’s policy towards Tibet remains conflicted, inconsistent, and even contradictory. China is deeply ambivalent towards Tibet, promoting both conservation, on a grand scale, and industrialisation. Tibetans in exile have often supposed China is extracting the entire mineral and water wealth of Tibet, but until now, despite frequent announcements in official Chinese media of multiple mines, actual exploitation has been limited. Soon this may no longer be so, as China begins implementation of its 2011-2015 12th Five-Year Plan. Tibet is on the cusp.

Industrialisation is seen by China as necessary, even while more and more of the plateau is set aside as protected area. China says development is the answer to all problems in Tibet, including the political problems of establishing trust between people and authority. Industrialisation and development as manifested in China’s plans, all mean intensification and concentration of people and finance into small areas best endowed with factors of production. China in its 9th Five-Year Plan for Tibet (1996-2000) explicitly announced the basic strategy is to transform Tibet from extensive to intensive development. For environmental reasons, this is a profound mistake. The third pole of the planet is suitable only for extensive land use, and cannot sustain intensification, with the whole population, including the displaced nomads, concentrated in urban centres. Tibet cannot sustain the increase in population, which is now 11 million or more, almost double the historic limit.

If China can be persuaded, through scientific evidence, that the best economic and ecological future for the Tibetan Plateau is as a conservation zone, this can build a post-productivist economy based on restoring pastoral nomadic mobility as the most skilful way of achieving conservation goals. This would return Tibet to extensive land use, which is light and soft, always moving on, before the grasslands are exhausted. The Tibetan plateau is an excellent example of the validity of Article 8 (j) of the Convention on Biodiversity, which emphasises that indigenous people have the best record in conserving biodiversity, and that their traditions should be supported by the international community.

The outcome of such a shift would benefit all concerned. China would be able to proclaim the whole Tibetan Plateau as an offset for its emissions and global impact on climate. China already does so; this is a matter of further scaling up what is already happening. Ways of calculating the environmental services provided by the Tibetan plateau, to Asian water supply and global climate, do exist. Figures can be calculated, the methodologies exist. The concept of REDD – reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation- is well established and is almost certain to be inbuilt in any post-Kyoto global agreement on effectively controlling climate change. China’s 12th Five-Year Plan for Tibet announced almost no budget for rehabilitation of degrading grasslands. The only “treatment” for degradation is the utter exclusion of the nomads. A more socially inclusive, income-generating and poverty alleviating way of protecting Tibet and rehabilitating the grasslands is to pay the pastoralists to do the labour intensive work of sowing grass seeds, tending young forests recovering from decades of Chinese logging, adopting community forestry as the method.

Even if China declared all of the Tibetan Plateau a protected area, this would hardly leave China free to accelerate its fossil fuel energy use. China’s current Five-Year plan envisages coal consumption rising by a further 800 million tons a year by 2015, above the current extraordinary coal addiction, of 3000 million tons a year. This remains unsustainable, and requires further response beyond deciding Tibet is a globally important landscape best protected.

The world would gain the planet its’ biggest protected area, which can also sustain its population of nomadic pastoralists whose livestock production has not been a net addition to carbon emissions. International finance from EU and elsewhere to restore degraded rangelands would restore the capacity of the Tibetan Plateau to capture carbon, especially if the drying and drained wetlands are rehabilitated, covering a large area now desiccating due to climate change and Chinese drainage.

The Tibetans would regain a physical and cultural space in which their traditional land use regains respect, and is understood once more as sustainable and supportive of biodiversity conservation, since wild herds traditionally mingled freely with the nomads’ herds of yak, sheep and goats. The return of extensive land use would enable an ecotourism boom, in natural and rehabilitated landscapes, a post-productivist future akin to the EU Natura 2000 program, or the post productivist economy of Scotland, Arctic Canada or monsoonal Australia. If rural Tibetans receive income from their tourism enterprises, and from payment for the environmental services they provide Asia and the planet, their security and collective right to development is assured, in a post-productivist, post-industrial economy.
China could regain moral leadership of the developing world, demonstrating in practice that it embraces the New Range Ecology, setting an example to governments of nomadic drylands on several continents. China defines its strategy in Tibet as “leap-and-bound” development. To leap:
• from pre-industrial to post-industrial,
• from unsustainable intensive land use back to sustainable extensive nomadic land use,
• from exclusion of nomads, loss of food production and food security to social inclusion of nomads as the guardians and stewards of nature.
All these would make China a world leader.

This is a chance for a win/win all round. EU DG ENVIR and CLIMA should investigate this singular opportunity to ensure there remains on this earth a substantial area, a vast plateau close to the sky, dedicated to fulfilling environmental goals and providing environmental services directly to all of Asia, through water supply and climate dynamics, and to the whole planet.

The 2011 review of the EU 6th Environmental Action Program, which ends in 2012, says: “In the international area despite efforts, only limited progress has been made towards the 6EAP objective of integrating environmental concerns in the EU’s development, trade and neighbourhood policies. Limited progress has also been made in relation to the 6EAP objectives of promoting sustainable environmental practices in foreign investment and export credits.” http://ec.europa.eu/environment/newprg/pdf/Ecoliogic_6EAP_Report_EXECUTIVE%20SUMMARY.pdf Nowhere has progress been so limited as in the case of China, where galloping resource consumption and accelerating pollution negate all the good efforts of European governments and citizens to reduce their environmental footprint. Hopefully the EU’s next Environmental Action Program will be more successful.

This is an opportunity for bold initiative, for a game changer, for ensuring that Europe’s hard work to reduce emissions is not wiped out by China’s industrialisation.

Kang Rinpoche: holiest of pilgrimages or mass tourist destination?


Several big new hotels, badged with high profile global brand names, are under construction in Lhasa; the StRegis luxury hotel is already open. When the four new hotels are complete, by the end of 2012, Lhasa will for the first time have about 2700 premium priced beds that need to be filled, year-round, to pay for the investment by the Chinese property speculators who own the buildings.

How will the tourism industry fill those beds? One answer comes not from Lhasa but far to the west, at the holiest of Tibet’s sacred pilgrimage mountains, known to the world as Mt Kailash. Not only is there an airport close by, enabling wealthy tourists to turn the whole of Tibet Autonomous region into a circuit, Nepal is working hard make Kailash a destination appended to Nepal tourism, the final destination in a route that is mostly Nepalese.
With Tibetans compulsorily silent, Nepal is moving to fill the vacuum, repositioning Kailash as a multi-religious, multi-national site that just happens to be in Tibet.

As tourism in Tibet is rapidly being shaped by many actors, with quite varying agendas, the picture emerging is of both opportunity and threat. From a Tibetan point of view the threats are uppermost in many minds: Tibet overwhelmed by huge numbers of arrivals, an endless parade of strangers who come ignorant of ground reality and leave none the wiser after visiting not only Lhasa but other iconic destinations in Tibet, in an enclosed tourist bubble.

This threat needs to be taken seriously and considered carefully, for any opportunity to nudge the future in a better direction. But the very multiplicity of players now engaged in policy making for future tourism in Tibet also suggests positive opportunities for Tibetan values, Tibetan perspectives, Tibetan income and employment can also be integrated into such development.

Perhaps the best case study for identifying opportunities is not in Lhasa, where Chinese fears make it impossible for Tibetan voices to speak up. If we look instead at the remotest areas of upper Tibet, specifically Kailash (Kang Rinpoche), as a destination now with its own airport and plans to make it part of a Chinese tourism industry circuit, we can also find countervailing moves that might yet maintain Kailash as a sacred landscape, and prevent it being overrun.

Kailash is an especially useful case study because it has long been internationalised, with the devout Hindus (and Sikhs) of India and Nepal regarding it as an extremely sacred pilgrimage. For many centuries pilgrims have made the arduous journey to be purified, as do countless Tibetan pilgrims from all over Tibet.

If Kailash now belongs to China, it also belongs, in a cultural sense, to India and Nepal too, and this internationalisation is now highly formalised, as a transboundary process involving three governments, their official research institutes and many NGOs. It is the KSLCI, Kailash Sacred Landscape Conservation Initiative, under the umbrella of the intergovernmental institution based in Kathmandu, ICIMOD, or International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development. http://www.icimod.org/?page=529

KSLCI is up and running, holding regular planning sessions involving scientists, policy makers, tourism planners, with especially strong representation by biologists and conservationists whose primary concern is biodiversity, plus
KSLCI describes itself: “The Kailash Sacred Landscape Conservation Initiative, a collaborative effort of ICIMOD, UNEP, and regional partners in three countries, was initiated through an extensive consultative process and launched with a Workshop and Regional Consultation held in Kathmandu in July 2009. KSLCI First Regional Workshop was organised from 11th to 13th of April 2010 in Uttarakhand, India and Second Regional Workshop was organized in Jiuzhaigou, Sichuan, China from September 4-6, 2010. The Conservation Initiative seeks to facilitate transboundary and ecosystem management approaches for biodiversity conservation and sustainable development through regional cooperation. The proposed Kailash Sacred Landscape (KSL) includes an area of the remote south-western portion of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) of China, and adjacent parts of north-western Nepal, and northern India, and encompasses the cultural geography of the greater Mt. Kailash area.”

Having already had two workshops in 2010 (in India and China Sichuan) and a third in Nepal in December 2010, there is a lot of energy, with all three governments behind the project. Not only do the governments see this as an unusual opportunity to integrate biodiversity conservation across borders, but also to strengthen the tourism economy, with principal access via Nepal, for all nonChinese and nonTibetan pilgrims.

The second workshop staged by KSLCI in September 2010 had 25 participants, one of whom is identifiably Tibetan, Luo Rong Zhandui (Lhorong Damdul?) from the China Tibetology research centre in Beijing. That is an improvement on the first workshop, in early 2010, with 33 listed participants, none of them Tibetan. Perhaps the third workshop, concluded in Kathmandu (16 to 18 December 2010) managed to find more Tibetan voices. Perhaps not.

The limited Tibetan role in this internationalisation points to several concerns. The emphasis of the program is on biodiversity and there are biodiversity science purists who are too ready to see local Tibetan communities as threats to biodiversity conservation, and are quick to agree to the exclusion of locals from biodiversity protected areas, in the name of science. This may be old fashioned science, and contrary to the somewhat vague rhetoric of participation that KSLCI reports often mention, but it is quite common, not only among Chinese scientists but even people as famous as George Schaller, who clearly worries about Tibetan nomads in the Changtang protected area which he did much to establish.
While everyone is on record as wanting to maintain cultural values, ancient murals in old monasteries, and the integrity of the pilgrimage circuit, it is the livelihood of local communities that has fewer friends. Schaller accuses the nomads of bringing in trucks, enabling them to go deeper into the Chang Tang than before, and this undercuts the argument that nomads have traditionally made occasional use of all Tibetan landscapes, even the Chang Tang alpine desert. Trucks aren’t traditional, so the tradition argument is no longer valid, they say, in pressing for exclusion of nomads (as well as Chinese oil drillers and poachers).

The long standing question of hunting endangered biodiversity is the other accusation levelled at the pastoral nomads who have often retreated to the Chang Tang to get away from Chinese governmentality. The accusation is that the Chang Tang, and now Kailash sacred area are conduits for illegal trafficking, thus legitimating transboundary intervention. KSLCI reports frequently name tiger bone and tiger skin trafficking as a major issue for them. This too delegitimates Tibetan pastoral nomadism, at a time when China makes ready use of opportunities to sedentarise nomads in the name of science.
Despite the bland jargon used in KSLCI reports, there are signs that nomads will yet again be blamed and their livelihoods curtailed. Here are some quotes from their reports:

“Identification of major issues and priorities for the KSL
Fragility of ecosystem
– Prone to degradation due to overgrazing and vulnerability to climate change
– Need to protect rangeland and wildlife habitat
– Establishing a corridor for animal migration”

Gap analysis
• Biological and cultural diversity and resources
– Lack of information on carrying capacity and assessment of livestock overgrazing
– Little monitoring of biological, environmental, and socioeconomic data
– No integrated planning and action guiding environmental protection
– Role of traditional knowledge of ecosystem management not referenced or used fully
– No participation and management by local stakeholders
– Ecosystem fragility indicating that resilience may not be sufficient for adaptation to rapid climate change.”(source: First workshop report)

“opportunities arising from reduced loss of biological diversity and protection of ecosystem:
traditional knowledge of wise use of resources and biodiversity by local people
Large ecological engineering such as reversing grazing for grassland, Tibet eco-security conservation and construction engineering
NGO efforts: e.g. WWF efforts on nature reserves, Tibet antelope protection and capacity building.” (Second workshop report, p6-7)

Explicit mention of “reversing grazing” as an opportunity, a positive outcome of this trilateral intergovernmental process, graced by titles such as ecological engineering, Tibet eco-security and construction engineering, is alarming. Are Tibetan livelihoods yet again to be sacrificed for the sake of biodiversity, climate change mitigation, and the tourism/pilgrimage experience?

These are early days, the new airport at Ngari is barely open and tourist flights barely begun. But it is not hard to see how Chinese scientists and policy makers can readily slip in further restrictions on nomads, to a scientific audience based in Nepal, which is biased against Tibetans, and India, which has its own traditions of seeing Himalayan “tribals” and “backward castes” as primitive.

The worst case scenario is that the KSLCI legitimates further exclosure of nomads, confusing onlookers with the assertion that such removals are a scientific necessity essential to biodiversity conservation. On the other hand, KSLCI jargon is full of the language of participation, benefit sharing and stakeholder consultation. And the process is young. It is also reliant on funding from the German government, the same German agency that not so long ago was persuaded by China to invest in poisoning Tibetan plateau keystone species on the mistaken assumption that the eradication of grassland burrowing mammals would correct a major cause of degradation, even though international scientists consider the mammal population explosions a symptom, not a cause of degradation. The German technical assistance agency GTZ might be persuaded to take more care this time round to consider the complexities of tri-national governance of Tibetan areas with greater sensitivity.

A further vulnerability of the nomads who pasture their herds in the vicinity of Mt Kailash and the shores (and wetlands) of Lake Manasarovar, even though they are the only actual inhabitants of the sacred area, is that they are few and the Kailash Sacred Lands have been defined to make them a small minority. Cross the border in Nepal KSL includes a population of 330,000, while the Tibetan nomads are fewer than 9000 people. The needs of the Nepalis, of Bahjang and Humla, who are poor and quite isolated from the spread of development through Nepal, could tip the balance towards a pristine, unoccupied, biodiverse Tibetan upstream serving the needs of a populated downstream in Nepal.

While Nepalese scientists and ministries may readily accept Chinese suggestions that nomads are a threat to biodiversity, the prospect of integrating the Chinese and Nepali tourism industries, converging on Kailash, seems, in KSLCI reports, a welcome prospect. Among the many opportunities named is the expansion of tourism to an industrial scale.

“Ngari prefecture has abundant tourism resources in terms of mountain, grassland and lake landscape, human artefacts and cultural heritage sites; 47 scenic styles and 291 items based on the national standards
Potential industrial structure transformation and opportunities for employment on tourism and transportation’

The above list, taken from the second KSLCI workshop report, is headed as “Opportunities from eco-friendly and heritage-based tourism for the livelihood of local people”. If tourism industrial structure transformation is to be understood as an opportunity for the livelihood of local people, what future is there for the nomads?

These may be good reasons to study more closely the oldest examples of mass tourism, including eco-tourism, in Tibet, which is not in Lhasa but at the opposite end of the Plateau to Kailash/Kang Rinpoche. In Jiuzhaigou, north of Chengdu, on the easternmost edge of the Tibetan Plateau, above the lowland plains of hot and humid Sichuan, Chinese entrepreneurs took a Tibetan “fairyland” and made it into a destination for four million tourists a year. Jiuzhaigou (where KSLCI convened its September 2010 workshop) is a story of how Tibetan villagers were utterly sidelined by “tourism industrial structure transformation”, being forbidden to allow tourists to stay in their homes, and forbidden to continue farming, as they had for centuries, all in the name of science, and conservation of a UNESCO World Heritage listed landscape.

Eight Chinese myths about Tibetan nomads


A briefing by Gabriel Lafitte
Presented at European Parliament Tibet Intergroup 30 March 2011
www.rukor.org, editor@rukor.org, +613 407 840 333

In a world where active, violent conflicts inevitably dominate headlines and the attention of policymakers, unresolved conflict over Tibet attracts less attention.

It is a political reality of this second decade of the 21st century that the rise of China overshadows the concerns expressed in earlier years by European leaders over human rights in Tibet. It is getting harder to find official voices able to speak up on violations of the civil and political rights of Tibetans.

Does this mean there is nothing we can do? Not at all, it is just that we need a different approach.

The six million Tibetans in Tibet (Chinese 2010 census figures) have made humanly habitable the planet’s third pole, by skilful, mobile, extensive land use, moving with their yaks, sheep and goats across pastureland as big as the whole of western Europe. Not only is that way of life now being rapidly shut down by official intervention, the exclusion of nomads from their pastures depopulates the Tibetan countryside, opening it to exploitation by itinerant gold miners whose methods are environmentally destructive.
This is an economic development issue, an environmental issue and a question of the collective economic and social rights of the Tibetans as a people. Exclusion of nomads is now being taken up by human rights monitoring agencies, for example, the recent reports of the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food and access to land, as a backward step in a world running short on food because of Chinese consumption. Human Rights Watch intends to publish a new report soon on the internal displacement en masse of Tibetan nomads, having first reported the issue in 2007. TibetWatch will also publish a detailed report on nomad displacement in 2011.

From development and environmental points of view, these are issues where Europe has much to offer. Development does not declare entire populations redundant, still less is it helpful to label as ignorant, backward and primitive those populations which have skilfully and productively used an entire plateau sustainably for millennia. Rehousing the millions of pastoral nomads of Tibet –as is happening now- in concrete barracks on urban edges, makes useless their livelihoods, land care skills and productivity in livestock production, at a time of fast growing demand for the wool, butter, cheese, hides and meat they produce. Global food insecurity is only worsened by making the Tibetan nomads redundant, fenced out of their pastures.

China mistakenly blames the Tibetan pastoralists for degradation of the rangelands, seen as a threat to China’s river water supply, necessitating the removal of both herds and herders, in the name of watershed protection. Although China’s great rivers –the Yangtze and Yellow- are over-used downstream, and much polluted, China is anxious to maintain the flow of pure water from the glacial sources high in Tibet, even if it means removing the nomads who live in an area the size of Germany between the glaciers and lowland China.


There is no reason why the Tibetan pastoral nomads cannot be partners with the state in protecting watersheds while maintaining their livelihoods; but China has formulated an either/or policy. China is usually very up-to-date in all matters, but when it comes to the grasslands, it does not work with or even listen to its nomads, so policy is based on remote satellite data, and mechanistic formulations of “stocking rates” and “carrying capacity” that are not relevant to the extremely unpredictable climate of the world’s third pole.

China is behind the times, and needs to catch up. Europe can help. Most of the expertise, individually and institutionally, on skilful, appropriate policies for the drylands and uplands of the nomads, is in Europe. There is much opportunity for technical assistance that strengthens nomadic life, returns mobility as the key to successful nomadic production and sustainable, mobile grazing. This new approach, which recognises the skills of nomads as risk managers, living off uncertainty and unpredictable pastures, is called the New Range Ecology.

China can learn to respect the specialist livestock producers of the Tibetan Plateau, if given help by Europe. The best help is in pilot projects showing how to work with pastoralists as partners, rather than a top-down approach that assumes all pastoralists are primitive and ignorant. For some years, the European Union and other OECD countries have financed and implemented projects that show, in practice, how development can be done most effectively by co-management, with state agencies and pastoralists, organised into producer associations, working together.

Those pilot projects could now be scaled up, in all five Chinese provinces that include parts of the Tibetan Plateau. Specifically, China could learn from the experiences of neighbouring Nepal, Mongolia and Bhutan that nomadic livestock producers can be encouraged to reduce herd size and grazing pressure by inexpensive insurance finance that recompenses nomads when disastrous climate events wipe out much of their herds. A major reason nomads keep more animals than necessary in good years is as their only insurance against bad years, in a country where there is no social safety net, all health costs are user-payment upfront in advance, and herd size on the hoof is the only source of security. When nomads know the state is there, in an emergency, to help, they are much more willing to reduce herd size, and the need for coercion and displacement evaporates.

European development agencies have spent decades in Nepal working with forest communities in the hills, setting up user groups that empower villagers to work with the state to attain globally important goals such as carbon sequestration, erosion mitigation, flood control, sustainable land use and biodiversity conservation. Yet in Tibet, on the other side of the Himalayas, the state is distant, punitive and disciplinary, relying on an approach that is decades out of date elsewhere in the developing world.

Environmentally, the Tibetan Plateau is crucial to planetary atmospheric patterns, drawing inland the monsoons that make India, China and SE Asia productive. Climate change is happening faster in the high altitudes of Tibet than elsewhere, providing China with a short-term boost in glacier melt river water; perhaps one of the reasons why China is reluctant to accept greenhouse gas emission quotas.

The Tibetan Plateau is almost 3 per cent of the planet’s land surface, naturally rich in biodiversity despite the cold. Until recently it was an unfenced land where huge wild herds mingled freely and undisturbed, with the domestic herds of the nomads. Fish were abundant in lakes and rivers, since Tibetans do not kill fish. Land was used extensively, which means lightly, in a mobile way, always moving on to ensure pasture remains intact, and not vulnerable to the biting gales and blizzards of the high plateau. There was much forest, and extensive wetlands, which were major carbon sinks.
In recent times this has all changed. Wetlands were drained and dried out, rivers dammed for hydro power, wildlife shot and poached by immigrants, the land compulsorily fenced and nomads no longer allowed their mobility, which meant concentrations of animals in small areas which inevitably degraded. Trawlers took to the waters, soldiers stationed in Tibet gunned down wildlife. Forests were destroyed, pandas died. More recently, China has nominated the less productive areas of Tibet, mostly the alpine deserts, as protected areas and insists that internal displacement of whole communities of pastoralists is for the sake of the environment.


In theory, China’s programs seem valid, even important contributions to a global effort to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and sequester more carbon. Only when one looks more closely at the actual implementation of China’s programs, on the ground, does it become obvious that in practice the official slogans and campaigns are actually contradictory, self-defeating and with many perverse outcomes.

On paper, the displaced nomads are voluntary “ecological migrants” choosing to sacrifice their way of life for the greater good. On paper, China is scientifically addressing its downstream water shortage, its past history of mistakenly ploughing forest, grassland and hillslopes which are now being replanted as green belts. Officially, this is all about plausible, sensible slogans such as the grain-to-green campaign to turn marginal farmland back to forest or grassland, part of a land use change program needed worldwide to help adapt to climate change.

Now, many people are confused. Is there inevitably a clash between watershed protection and pastoralism, a contradiction –as Chinese officials say- between grass and animals? Are the pastoralists abandoning their whole way of life actually voluntary ecological migrants, as China claims? What sort of lives can they now lead? Could they contribute better to environmental outcomes in Tibet by maintaining their traditionally mobile way of life, and as park rangers, anti-poaching patrollers and reforesters with modest incomes from external sources to employ them as guardians of nature in Tibet?
Here are China’s eight key policies, examples of the gap between stated policy objectives and actual results:

ONE: Protecting China’s Number One Water Tower. Ostensibly, the high altitude glacial sources in Tibet of three great rivers –the Yangtze, Yellow and Mekong- require removal of herds and herders so more grass will grow. Huge areas have been designated as requiring “treatment” to reverse desertification and degradation of the rangelands.

On the ground, when nomads and their animals are removed, grass does grow, but in the absence of grazing, grassland biodiversity shrinks, inedible shrubs replace grassland, alien invasive weeds multiply and medicinal herbs are fewer. There is no program of “treatment” of degraded pasture, no budget or employment to sow seeds and carefully rehabilitate degraded areas. The removal of the nomads is the “treatment.”

Climate change at the planet’s third pole –the Tibetan Plateau- happens faster than in the lowlands. Glacial melting, according to Chinese scientific calculations, gives China aghout the 21st century.
Downstream, China’s great rivers are chronically over-exploited, farmer irrigators continue to pay only nominal amounts for water use, and there is massive discharge of pollutants into the great rivers. The solutions to these problems are not to be found in Tibet, which, despite the Chinese label of “China’s Number One water Tower” is actually semi-arid. The rain and snowfall in the source area is only 250mm a year.

TWO: Climate change is the cause of rangeland degradation in Tibet, necessitating removal of nomads, under the slogan of tuimu huancao, removing animals to grow grassland.

In reality, degradation of the rangelands started to accelerate in the 1960s and has gone unchecked ever since. After 9000 years of skilful and sustainable use of the rangelands by Tibetan pastoralists maintaining a mobile civilisation, degradation began when nomads lost all power over their herds and their lives, were compulsorily collectivised into communes intended to “scientifically” intensify meat production. These communes, which lasted 20 years, were disastrous, increasing herd size beyond the capacity of the land to bear. These mistakes of the revolutionary period cannot be spoken about or acknowledged, so all blame goes now onto the nomads as ignorant, and onto climate change as the explanation of all problems.

THREE: Resettled nomads can join the modern economy, start their own businesses, take full advantage of being resettled along roads giving them access to markets.

In reality, relocated nomads are rarely allowed to keep any animals. In some places they must take out bank loans to pay for the housing that is officially the gift of a generous state, forcing them into debt. Although they are promised compensation, provision of survival rations, vocational training, schooling for their children, access to electricity and urban services, the ground reality is that in many resettlement blocks there is no school and almost no adult education providing useful vocational skills, in a language the nomads understand (Tibetan). While there is always a police station built, many promised services do not materialise. Vocational training, if available, is too brief and inadequate, or quite inappropriate to the situation, not equipping ex-nomads with practical skills such as business planning, or even how to save cash income, essential to people not used to having to pay cash for everything needed for survival.

The resettlement blocks are places of wasted life, where people made redundant in the modern world are parked, away from view, with nothing to do. Meaningless lives lead to alcohol abuse, violence and theft, community discord and the ex-nomads get a bad reputation. This is a self-fulfilling negative loop, proving what authorities suspected all along: that Tibetan nomads are of “low human quality”

The reservations of 20th century north American Indians or Australian Aborigines were similarly destructive of social bonds, of meaningful life and cultural continuity.

FOUR: China says nomads don’t own land and don’t care for it. Tibetan nomads have had land rights ever since the 1980s, but persisted in overgrazing because they could access land that doesn’t belong to them, and they don’t care if it degrades. The nomads have also had great opportunity to grow rich from off-farm income earning opportunities, notably the gathering of yartsa gumbu (cordyceps sinensis), a fungal growth of grassland caterpillars in great demand as a virility enhancer used in traditional Chinese medicine.

On the ground, the experience of the Tibetan nomads is that their animals were returned to them in 1980 after the communes failed, but returning guaranteed land tenure rights took much longer than for Chinese farmers. The land they were allocated had to be fenced, usually at nomads’ expense, there were many taxes to be paid either in cash or labour, prices for nomadic products were manipulated by unscrupulous cartels of urban merchant butchers immigrating into Tibet, and official regulations increasingly restricted herd size (as well as family size). Although nomads were eventually given land use certificates, they were only for winter pastures. Their customary mobility, essential to both sustainability and productivity, was curtailed. Access to summer pastures high up in the alpine meadows became more difficult.
On paper, nomads had secure tenure. In reality the number of animals they could keep on the land allocated to them shrank, and nomads increasingly led a subsistence existence. Many slid into poverty, very vulnerable to immiserisation if anyone in the family became ill or disabled. The nomads were encouraged to sedentarise, making the winter home the only home, with no more summer mobility.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, nomads in theory had their land; in practice the land was too small, the fencing and new housing too expensive, the taxes and cadre rent-seeking usurious, the result was overstocking and land degradation, and the nomads sliding into poverty. Sometimes nomads had to sell all their remaining animals, just to survive, or could not afford to restock after a snow disaster, and were forced into becoming urban beggars. The incentives to sedentarise were often the only option for immediate survival.

Both the rangeland and the nomadic livelihoods were on a negative spiral, with intensifying restrictions reinforcing further degradation, and reinforcing the view from afar, in Beijing, that Tibetan nomads are stupid, ignorant, greedy and destructive.

FIVE: Resettled nomads will now be able to lead comfortable lives in new housing provided by the generosity of the state, with access to electricity; and their children will be able to go to school for the full nine compulsory years. Their measurable cash income will be higher than before, and they can transition to the modern economy.

In reality, concrete houses are extremely cold in winter and unbearably hot in summer, especially as many have few windows. Often the nomads have to pay for house construction, even when it means indebtedness to a bank which they cannot repay. They usually have to sign an undertaking not to keep any animals, the penalty for any breach is loss of the new house. Their land use certificates are nullified, so they have no right to return to their old pastures.
Nomads stripped of all that is familiar, all their skills now useless, experience deep shock at no longer having purpose in life. They must now pay cash for everything. The young adults seek casual unskilled employment in towns, on construction sites. Unfamiliar diseases, especially infections spread by overcrowding, become more common. Public hygiene essential to high-density living is seldom taught, and not in a culturally appropriate way.

The school curriculum continues to emphasise political education in Party policies, patriotic education, and not the transmission of skills that are actually useful in remote areas. China used to have mobile tent schools in nomadic areas, until 25 years ago. It is not necessary to sedentarise whole populations so the children can attend school. Nomadic Mongolia achieved almost 100% literacy among nomads in the 1970s and 1980s by investing in well-equipped boarding schools for nomad children, and a school timetable that fits in with the nomadic calendar.

SIX Nomads must go. China says there is no way of mitigating climate change and the degradation of the rangelands, without first removing the nomads whose overgrazing is the main cause of the problem.
In reality China has not tried the methods in use elsewhere in the world, to repair degraded areas, as a co-operative process involving local land users and the state. In landcare programs around the world, local communities are encouraged to organise themselves, and work together with government to design, plan and implement labour-intensive replanting of native species which have been dying. The state provides finance, scientific expertise and if necessary income support so livestock producers can spend time on the rehabilitation work. None of this has been done in China’s grasslands, in the badly desertifying grasslands of Inner Mongolia, or in Tibet, except for a few small pilot projects.
Exclosure of entire populations should be the very last resort, if all else has failed. In China it has become the one program which supposedly will, by itself, without further intervention, fix everything, with no investment of state funds except for some of the costs of construction of concrete block housing, and the promise of subsistence rations for some, but not all, displaced nomads for a few years.

SEVEN: Kill the rodents. China says a major cause of grassland degradation is population explosions of burrowing mammals, in plague proportions, which destroy grasses by eating roots, and expose the soil to erosion. These rodent plagues must be controlled by chemical poisoning on a large scale, utilising funding from GTZ, Germany’s official aid agency.
On the ground, ecological research shows the rodents are keystone species, essential to aerating the soil, and are naturally the main food of several predatory birds species and four-legged hunters. When rodent populations explode, it is a symptom of existing rangeland degradation, not its cause. Poisoning them en masse, which Tibetans are shocked at being required to do, is not helpful, and it exposes poisoned carcases that are consumed by birds, transmitting the poisons to them.

EIGHT: Nomads should learn to become ranchers, operating feedlot cattle fattening operations on urban outskirts, bringing in fodder for animals in a modern, scientific way, making profit by selling fattened animals for slaughter as soon as they gain enough weight. Intensive feedlot meat production is the way of the future, while extensive, mobile land use, following animals to pasture, is primitive slavery to nature.

Producing animals solely for slaughter, with animals as the necessary means to a monetary end, is repugnant to most Tibetans. Accumulating wealth year by year is not common. Most Tibetans believe generously donating surplus funds annually is the best path to future wealth. Tibetans have neither the capital, nor the business model of endless accumulation, needed to go into the ranching business.

In reality, nomads did try to increase production, especially of wool, only to find their efforts undermined by county level officials who over-invested in wool scouring plants in the 1980s policy of promoting rural industrialisation. These wool scouring plants owned by county cadres failed to prosper, or to look after the interests of the nomads by separating semi-fine, valuable wool from coarser grades. By the late 1980s nearly all the rural wool scouring plants went broke and there has been no further attempt to add value to Tibetan wool.

Now the woollen mills of coastal China rely entirely on imported fine wools; and the substantial Tibetan wool surplus is used only for low grade, low priced products such as felting for hats. Instead of helping nomads improve sheep breeds, wool quality, wool sorting and cleaning, and the transport and marketing of wool to the mills, Tibetan wool is sold near Beijing in the dirt, on an open field, mixed with mud and dust, attracting only low prices.


In some cases, there are independent witnesses such as international scientists who have done the fieldwork, and published their results in reputable journals. This is true of the debate over poisoning pikas and other grassland rodents, and the biodiversity consequences of fencing animals out of the grasslands. There are dozens of scientific papers, academic conference presentations and postgraduate dissertations showing in detail the unwisdom and narrow-mindedness of China’s governance of the grasslands.

Most of the information, however, comes from those who may not speak: the nomads themselves, who are forbidden to organise themselves, or to speak up. If they try to articulate their concerns they are labelled criminal splittists, which results in long gaol sentences. In keeping with the protocols of human rights monitoring, their names are not given here. Nonetheless, there are opportunities to interview nomads discreetly, taking care to protect their identities, which is why the picture above is not attributed to named individuals.

Professional human rights monitors, development agency specialists and other professionals have debriefed nomads all over Tibet. The picture that emerges is quite varied: in some areas official policy is enforced vigorously, in other areas nomads are yet to be excluded or pauperised. But the trend is clear: in the past decade hundreds of thousands of nomads have been sedentarised, with no direction or future.


China could achieve much by effective reforestation that employs Tibetans as forest guardians, by restoring wetlands and removing the fishing trawlers. China could repair the damage to the grasslands: this has seldom been directly attempted and even more seldom has it succeeded.

There is also a much bigger picture. China’s development policies for the Tibetan Plateau concentrate investment, and environmental impacts, in areas best endowed with factors of production. This creates zones of intensive land use, at mine sites, urban centres and the engineering corridors that connect intensive development centres with highways, railways, power pylons and pipelines. It also means the rest of the Tibetan Plateau remains a vast, under-capitalised, neglected hinterland now rapidly being depopulated as the nomads are removed to urban fringes. Basically it is a choice between intensive, concentrated, high-impact development, and the older, traditional extensive land use practiced by the nomads.
There are strong environmental reasons to believe the build up in human population by Chinese immigration into Tibet, and the intensive land use pattern, are unsustainable. In other words, the people who made the entire Tibetan plateau habitable –the pastoral nomads- are the only people who know how to use Tibet sustainably and extensively. Never before has the Tibetan Plateau supported 11 million people, but it does now, only because of heavy dependence on imports of fuels, food and almost anything manufactured.


Tibet is on the brink. China could decide the future of Tibet is as a nature reserve, a wildlife refuge populated by nomads who know how to protect biodiversity; or Tibet can learn the hard way what Europe learned some time ago: that not all populations have to undergo intensification and concentration in order to live well. Europe has its Natura 2000 program, (http://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/natura2000/index_en.htm ) the centrepiece of EU nature & biodiversity policy. It assures the long-term survival of Europe’s most valuable and threatened species and habitats. Natura 2000 is not a system of strict nature reserves where all human activities are excluded. It includes in nature reserves land likely to continue to be privately owned and the emphasis will be on ensuring that future management is sustainable, both ecologically and economically. If the Tibetan Plateau learned from this, there would be no need to displace the nomads, who could instead be employed locally to rehabilitate degrading rangelands and reforest hillsides which Chinese loggers indiscriminately cleared until a decade ago.

Europe understands that there are areas best designated post-industrial and post-agricultural, without need to remove the former farmers or villagers. Instead they are employed creating post-industrial, post-productivist futures, entrepreneurially setting up conservation and ecotourism businesses that include local culture and traditions as part of what attracts visitors. This would be very useful in Tibet.

China will not discover by itself how to become a partner with the pastoral nomads, because it does not listen to nomads, nor are nomads permitted to establish their own NGOs or water user groups or producer co-operatives. Chinese leaders believe they are on a civilising mission to raise the human quality of very backward people in Tibet. It will take a very long time for China to realise it has much to learn from traditional Tibetan land care practices and indigenous knowledge.
The program of removing nomads, reducing them to poverty and dependence on handouts is a path to wasted lives, alcoholism, meaninglessness and immiserisation. China blames the victims of climate change for the degradation of the grasslands and excludes them from participating in the rehabilitation of the pastures. China says it is setting aside the entire “Three River Source Area” of 200,000 sq kms –half the size of Germany- as a protected nature reserve, in which there is a program of treatment planned for the restoration of degraded and desertified areas. But if one looks more closely, the removal of the nomads is not the precondition for the beginning of treatment, it is by itself the sole treatment; there is almost no funding allocated to the remediation of degraded land, which is a labour intensive process best achieved by engaging the energies of the nomads, also providing them with income support and poverty alleviation.

In so many ways, development, poverty alleviation, environmental protection, biodiversity conservation, reforestation and watershed protection could be designed in ways that are mutually supportive. China treats them as mutually exclusive.
Europe is well endowed with development agencies with useful experience that China could learn from, which could strengthen instead of closing nomadic livelihoods. There are development NGOs, some quite small but skilful, established by Tibetans in global diaspora, which have learned from experience how to achieve not only better livelihoods for nomads but also the literacy and numeracy necessary to avoid discrimination and exploitation, and better health in a country where the poor must pay upfront for all health care. Europe has several academic institutions with practical experience in working with Tibetans, including regularly bringing bright young Tibetans to study in Europe and gain higher degrees. The connections exist, ready to be scaled up if there is a will to try fresh approaches that deal with core issues.
If the nomads of Tibet become partners in achieving environmental and developmental goals, they also cease being enemies of China’s progress, obstacles to attaining security and stability, threats to harmony and unity among ethnicities. Helping Tibetan nomadic pastoralists regain mobile livelihoods could also help China overcome its anxiety that nomads in remote border regions are a danger to national security.

China will not immediately welcome any such new approach. But what is the alternative? China will persist with its civilising mission, utterly convinced that the nomads of Tibet are of “low human quality”, to use a common Chinese phrase, and increasingly depopulate the Tibetan countryside, leaving it vulnerable to opportunistic gold miners, usually poor immigrants with neither the capital nor the technology to extract gold carefully. All over Tibet, an illegal gold rush is now occurring, even in areas officially designated as nature reserves and watershed protection zones. The reality is that officials are bribed to look the other way, the nomads are no longer there to protect their lands, or, even worse, the mining is sometimes done with local authorities as silent partners pocketing much of the proceeds. With gold at record prices, and the streambeds of Tibetan rivers carrying much gold, the mercury and cyanide used by illegal diggers have devastating effects.

On paper, small-scale gold mining in Tibet is banned. The extraordinary proliferation of illegal gold dredging from Tibetan rivers and streams suggests China’s true motive for fencing out the nomads is not watershed protection, climate change mitigation, carbon sequestration, nomad education, comfortable homes or any of the rationales China presents to the world. China has long feared nomads, found their mobility a threat to disciplinary governance, and worried that nomads are uncontrolled. Six decades of controlling the world’s third pole has convinced China that it is time to consolidate China’s control of border regions nominally designated as areas of ethnic minority governance.
If nomadic mobility and nomadic livelihoods are gone, others will inevitably move into the empty land. It seems those who are moving in have no concern for environmental consequences, and Chinese authorities at a local level turn a blind eye, despite all the high level rhetoric about watershed protection.

China, usually so keen to be up to date with the latest fashions in anything, lags far behind the New Range Ecology, which emphasises the skilfulness, adaptability, resilience, flexibility, productivity and sustainability of pastoral nomadism. China will need external assistance to learn from the lessons of successful nomadic development projects in other countries.
This is an opportunity for foreign ministries in Europe, official development assistance agencies, and the NGOs with experience in nomad projects, to assist China’s transition to a positive alternative. Instead of treating the nomads as enemies of the land, and of the state, the alternative is working cooperatively with nomads, restoring their mobile, extensive, sustainable way of life. That would win Tibetan hearts, guarantee harmony and stability, and enable central authorities to work in partnership with the nomads to achieve environmental goals.



Gabriel Lafitte March 2011

China, at its imperial centre, has long mistrusted the mobility of the nomads of its northern and western edges. The mobility of the nomads was always the core of imperial fears and strategies. Mobility was an ever-present problem for successive dynasties facing their nomadic neighbours so closely to the north, and so far away in the west. Centuries of managing the risks arising from mobility left a deep imprint on Chinese minds, and a major repertoire of governmentalities to deal with it.

Negative as mobility has seemed to emperors in palaces, a closely related term, mobilisation, has come to have only positive meanings, both in raising imperial armies to defend against nomads, and in today’s world mobilisation is the process whereby the productive efficiency of the capitalist market economy is realised. This is a think piece on the interplay of mobility and mobilisation, as seen from above and below.

Fearing for the vulnerability of peasant farmers to nomadic raids, looting and plunder, it was ingrained in Chinese imperial worldviews that the fluid, mobile nomads were ever a threat, the more so because their whereabouts are unknowable, since they are beyond official scrutiny, having no registered domicile that can be monitored and taxed. How to govern or at least deter the nomads has been an abiding concern for dynasty after dynasty, including even those such as the Manchu Qing who themselves were nomads who conquered China. Many of the default policy settings of today’s China originate in the attitudes of the Qing, who ruled China from the mid seventeenth century to early twentieth. They were obsessed both with how their small Manchu population of nomadic warriors from the far north could maintain control over the whole of China, and how to subdue bigger nomadic ethnicities such as the Mongols and Tibetans.

China’s imperial annals emphasise the cultivation of sophisticated imperial statecraft as the primary means of keeping the nomads in check, divided against each other, in tributary submission to the imperial court, with military force the last option when diplomacy, patronage, imperial benevolence and dividing nomads against each other all had failed. The master narrative of the annals is that, as in the ancient Art of War, state violence is necessary only occasionally, when nomads suddenly congregate in vast numbers, to attack the lowlands, plundering the cities and farmlands. This foundational mythos does not correlate well with the historic records, however. Historically, China has tended to use force when it could, to extend its territories by conquest of nomadic realms. A closer look at the records, using not only Chinese but also Mongolian, Tibetan and other sources, shows that much of what Chinese court annalists depict as nomads and other barbarians paying tribute to the imperial court was more than repaid in kind, with the imperial court effectively buying off the emissaries from distant lands, with gifts to the nomads far greater than the offerings brought to the capital by the ambassadors from afar.

Nomadic mobility has constituted the core of the problem. As in the west, nomads are imagined to disperse and congregate anywhere and everywhere. If they can be anywhere, far beyond the gaze of the state, they can gather into a horde and descend without warning, to plunder civilisation. These are the heavily laden archetypes common to both ends of the Eurasian continent, whether in China or Europe, towards the Eurasian heartland’s endless steppes and its nomads. This is where the concepts of barbarism and civilisation were born, as polar opposites and inevitable antagonists. This is perhaps the deepest of dualisms, a logic of either/or, good and bad, right and wrong, in which one term entails the other but always opposes it, a source of chronic tension. This is clearly a construct of the sedentary, history-writing, civilised mind, seeking to distance itself from the barbarian.

Until the birth of communist power, Chinese central leaders always sought to manage the problematic nomadic mobility, not to end it. Only in Mongolia did China, prior to communism, seek to sedentarise the nomads and to settle their lands with Chinese peasants. Elsewhere, such as the Kirghiz and Uighur nomadic lands of Xinjiang, and the Tibetan Plateau, there was little attempt at governance of the nomads, little interest in extending the reach of the state into the lives of nomads and their daily decision-making about their herds and livelihoods. The dynastic annalists were content with recording the ritual submission of the Uighurs, Kirghiz and Tibetans to the imperial court, creating an appearance that Beijing was at least nominally in control. But actual control was not even attempted, except in Mongolia. The Mongols were on China’s doorstep, just to the north of Beijing. The northern capital had been built by the Mongol conqueror Chinggis Khan to be close to his beloved grasslands, enabling his court to winter in Beijing and summer on the steppes, with hunting aplenty. Ever since, China’s capital has been only just within the intensively farmed zone, never far from the great plains and drylands of Mongolia.

It is only in the twenty-first century that China has moved to decisively end all nomadic mobility in much of Tibet. While mobility has remained negative to the central gaze, at the same time China as the world’s factory, has also come to depend on a different kind of mobility, often called mobilisation by development specialists borrowing from the rhetorics of war. This is the mobility of the peasantry, seeking factory work in the cities, but willing to return home when a global financial crisis cuts employment, or when the seasonal harvest back home requires all hands, or when they are unwelcome in cities which refuse them and their children residential registration, schooling or health care. To economists, this mobilisation of surplus labour is the fundamental cause of China’s rise, and the mobilisation of labour in turn leads to the mobilisation of land. Small, uneconomic peasant plots need to be consolidated into bigger farms reliant on capital, fuels, and technology to replace human labour, and become much more productive, according to conventional development economics. Multiple small farms can become a few big mechanised farms only when land is mobilised, becomes a marketable commodity, with small farmers able and willing to sell their land leases and use the proceeds to launch themselves into business or a new urban life. The bigger the farms, the more capital-intensive they become, and better able to attract loans and investment, thus mobilising capital as well. Modernity, efficiency, and globalisation, all involve the mobilisation of labour, land and capital, so all may flow to where they are most productive and generate the highest rates of return. This is basic market economics.

In China, however, the mobilisation of labour is in both directions, not only from farm to factory, but back again. China has only partly dismantled a Maoist instrument of control, the hukou registration system, which designates each individual as either rural or urban, with no official permission to reside in the long term outside of one’s designated area. Despite the repeated calls of the World Bank and other orthodox economists of maximal efficiency, China has clung to this tool of governance, which was originally designed to prevent mass migration to cities. Even though the factories rely on the labour of the healthiest young adults from the countryside, China’s cities continue to view them ambivalently, as temporary guest workers, not as fellow citizens with equal claim to social security, education and official services. This ambiguous status helps keep wages down. Workers know they can be sacked and readily replaced by other new arrivals, and if they find it hard to find new employment, their presence in the city is at best semi-legal, with much scope for harassment by police, and pressure to return. Gradually this is changing, as the number of ex-peasants is in the hundreds of millions, as they gradually create pressure for access to schools and services, and equal rights. But there is still a gap, and an official stance that peasants are always peasants and must return if no longer needed. This is mobilisation with Chinese characteristics.
The willingness to leave one’s land and work in a factory is extolled as the heart of modernity, showing an adventurous spirit, a willingness to leave behind tradition and join the flows of fluid factors of production, a personal mobility that tracks, follows and goes to where the best opportunities are located. This is good mobility. It begins with the personal choice to seek one’s fortune in a factory, but leads to changing the whole of society. It is the mobility of the individual to leave the family and it enables the market’s invisible hand, and the state’s visible hand, to mobilise land as well. Then all factors of production are in play, fully mobilised, ready to flow to wherever rationality and efficiency can maximise their growth.

Mobilisation is what states do to ready their armed forces for war; it is a military metaphor that economists took up to express the struggle to create wealth. Mobilisation is directed by central authority, be it the invisible hand of market logic or central authorities deciding who and where should get rich first, including themselves. Modern labour mobility is patriotic, contributing to China’s growth, leading to mobilisation. Nomadic mobility by contrast is backward, uncivilised, a slavery to nature, an evasion of the state’s gaze, a refusal to contribute to the monetised economy and growth.
Modern mobility must be freely chosen by a modern individual rationally calculating where to move to maximise life chances. Revolutionary China had three decades of compulsory mobilisation of land, labour and capital, all in the service of the revolutionary party-state, all in the service of, and at the disposal of the party-state. Between 1949 and 1978 China mobilised everyone, by decree, to go wherever pioneering labour was needed to conquer nature, open the wilderness to the plough, build invulnerable defences deep inland in preparation for foreign invasion, even to magically produce steel in backyard furnaces. Mandatory mass mobilisation failed; the new mobilisation for wealth creation must build the party-state by beginning in individual will.

The voluntary mobility of the nomad cannot, in this urban sinocentric viewpoint, be rational, productive or a good business decision by an entrepreneur of animal production, since everyone Chinese knows it is merely blindly following the animals to their pastures, a bestial existence among beasts. What could be more primitive than wandering wherever one is led by animals?

If civilisation and barbarism are polar opposites, they must begin somewhere, especially if at some point in the ancient past civilisation grew out of barbarism. What was that first impulse towards civilised mastery of the natural world? In the writings of Chinese elites, that crucial turn comes down to a simple choice: the barbarian goes with the animals to the food; the civilised man brings the food to the animals. The civilised man pens his animals in a fenced enclosure, goes out and cuts forage, or grows a fodder crop, then brings it to his animals to fatten them while under his protection. It matters little that the civilised method is more laborious and these days reliant on fossil fuels as well. It cannot be that the nomad with her herd has a more relaxed life, or more leisure, or time to train the mind, because the nomad is a slave to nature, at the mercy of the elements, an insignificant figure in the vastness of the endless plateau.

In China’s annual statistical yearbooks, the nomads hardly appear, and certainly not as risk-calculating entrepreneurs running their own businesses. The provincial and county level statistical yearbooks covering the Tibetan Plateau add up to thousands of pages, updated each year. If one searches for the nomads, and the nomadic livestock production economy, there are statistics on tonnages of meat and wool produced, and on how much meat is consumed in the immigrant cities of Tibet, and in the rural areas (a lot less than in the cities). But the producers appear in only one table. In the Agriculture chapter, a table headed Basic Conditions of Rural Grass-Roots Units and Labourers lists the total rural workforce, lumping farmers and nomads together. As a category, known only as “rural labourers”, they suggest a rural lumpen proletariat, who could be available wherever there is work; rather than entrepreneurs whose advantage is their intimate knowledge of specific pastures, and the risks of too many or too few animals. Not much seems to have changed since, in 1935, Owen Lattimore wrote on the wickedness of being nomads (Owen Lattimore, ‘On the Wickedness of Being Nomads’, T’ien Hsia Monthly 1, no.1 (August 1935)): “All policies towards the Mongols, whether Chinese, Soviet or Japanese, appear to start from, a common premise: that something must be done about the nomadism of the Mongols. If, in other words, the Mongols can only be cured of being Mongols, all will be well—at least, for China, the Soviet Union or Japan. What, actually, is nomadism, Mongol nomadism? To begin with, there has for centuries been no true nomadism in Mongolia. The Mongols live under a form of society which was established as a compromise between the political requirements of the Manchu empire, and the social and economic traditions of the Mongols themselves. Each Mongol tribal group occupies a territory with well-defined frontiers. Within this territory, all of the land belongs to all of the tribe. People move about freely, because in an arid climate it is not practical to keep animals grazing always on the same fields. Most families in Inner Mongolia have one summer camping-place, to which they return year after year, and one winter place, which is even more permanent, because it is convenient to accumulate a store of fuel for the winter. These two camps are often only a few miles apart. No individual holds any property in land. There being no ‘capitalist’ monopoly of land, wealth and social advancement depend primarily on the energy and competence of the individual. If he manages his livestock with skill, the natural increase of every year is a clear increase in wealth; he does not have to lay out capital for the purchase of pasture land on which to feed his herds. Nor can the rich man, by asserting private ownership of land, prevent the poor man from grazing his flocks on it. Under such conditions a prince can be poor and ignorant (and often is) and a commoner can be rich and educated.”

The mobility of the nomads of Tibet is likewise not random, or arbitrary, in fact many Tibetans are troubled by the romantic baggage the term “nomad” carries in English, with its connotations of utter freedom, fluidity, irresponsibility, the rolling stone with no direction known. Like the Mongols, most Tibetan pastoralists are hardly nomadic in this modernist fantasy sense of wandering at will. Even before the sedentarisation policies of the modernising party-state they overwintered in one place, often a house, usually big enough for the family on a floor above the animals sheltering at ground level. The one major move to the summer pastures was to known and agreed pastures, usually at a higher altitude, which turn green in spring and summer, and must be vacated in autumn, before the grasses brown and become dormant, preserving biomass below ground for the next growing season. This annual migration up to the alpine meadows and down again, is not what most westerners imagine.
It is not a romantic dualism of opposites to recall the fundamental differences between mobility and mobilisation. Mobility decentralises; mobilisation centralises. Mobility is centrifugal and only occasionally centric, usually in festive high summer temporary encampment, or in midwinter clustering of families in their mud walled overwintering home. Mobilisation is centripetal, drawing into the centre of power all those to be disciplined to serve as agents of the state, in making war, or class war as activists of the Party. Mobilisation is a gathering of resources, especially human resources deemed as such by the gaze of the state, drawing unto itself the able bodied, to be trained and sent into battle. Mobility evades the state, slides past the gaze of the state and out of sight, disappearing up a winding valley, beyond scrutiny.


We are all nomads now. In developed countries, jobs for life, marriages for life, careers for life are so twentieth century. We now move home, change partners, change not only employer but also industry, re-inventing ourselves as we move to fit in with the dynamic global economy. To be modern, equipped for global modernity, is to be ready to move, and when a global financial crisis wipes out not only my job but also my employer and even my industry, we do move. The pace of change, we are told, is such that we are always shovel-ready, primed with skill sets suited to the new emerging opportunities. Nomadic life has made a comeback, but it has done nothing to rehabilitate the old nomads of the steppes and high plateaus.

Unfashionable mobility is the literally upwards mobility of the nomad, beyond the reach of the state; and its is this escape to the highlands that is also celebrated romantically by the revolutionary and anarchist strands of modernity, which romance freedom from social constraint as the highest of values. The word “nomad” serves marketers of mass produced manufactures of all sorts, as a marker of individuality, appealing to imagery of being a carefree, footloose, self-actualising individual who is not just one of the herd. Innumerable manufactures use the term “nomad” to flatter the buyer into conceiving of their purchase as proof of being a free spirit, a different drummer, anything but a creature of habit and predictability. The very qualities that states view with suspicion are transvalued by those who see themselves as “rebels” by disposition.

The fashionability of the nomad, as marketing tool for encouraging consumption, and as a life strategy for responding to capitalism’s cycles of creation and destruction, would seem to have little connection with the lives of remote, unfashionable nomads of the drylands, rangelands, uplands and continental interiors, the original cowboys. The difference between the modern urban sophisticated nomad and the premodern primitive rural nomad was explored in a companion piece, Mobility and Mobilisation, with an emphasis on differences.

But what if premodern and modern mobilities were much the same, even if we haven’t noticed? That is what this post explores.
The argument is twofold: the premodern nomads were (and are) not free-floating random atoms leading lives of utter freedom, but circulated in set patterns and lived in hierarchical, ordered societies. Today’s urban nomads negotiate global capitalism by internalising a similar calculus of risk and reward, forever obtaining certificates of compliance with new competencies suited to the job market, fitting ourselves to the new governmentality which micro-manages our behaviour.

While advertisers invoke the figure of the nomad as a brand name to persuade us that being a loyal customer is an assertion of freedom, everyday reality in the contemporary compliance society is that we remake ourselves as required by the market. We circulate globally, within the designed and managed order of global corporations which might make use of our services in London today, Siberia tomorrow, then West Africa. The impersonal, disembodied, inexorable yet naturalised market rules. The market creates and destroys companies, industries; even entire economies are bankrupted by “market forces.” Governments struggle to regulate, and are helpless to defend even the sovereignty of the state when “market forces” sense weakness they can gamble against. When government is weak, the old disciplinary society is largely gone, we no longer ask what we can do for our country, and we are no longer nation builders. We are now investors in our own lives, hoping to anticipate which way the market will turn. The market makes no binding commitments to anyone or any institution or government, but expects the compliance of both the individual and the state even when it needs to be saved from itself.
The romance of the cyber age is that we can be instantly anywhere on the net, have friends across the planet, invest in our own human capital and earn a university degree sitting on the couch at home. We imagine ourselves as freely roaming nomads of the cyber world, as we comply with yet another administered test.

“Fixity, durability, bulk, solidity or permanence, those supreme values of the sedentary mentality, have all been degraded and have acquired an unambiguously negative flavour,” Bauman says. (Society Under Siege, 236). The old statist project of perfection, even utopia, to be attained by scientific rationality promised a predesigned destination, and it failed. Now there is only the market, and me. Having largely invented the market, its inventor, government, now exists in its shadow, as its facilitator, occasional regulator and rescuer, employing a wide range of devices to be alert for market failure and otherwise stay out of the way of this self-existing social force which obeys its own well-known, naturalised laws. Now that governments no longer claim to have a master plan, or even a destination beyond vague concepts such as “competitiveness” or “efficiency”, or “productivity”, governments at all levels are micromanagers deploying innumerable devices invented to monitor and adjust the conditions of life.

China, however, came into active possession of huge areas of rangeland quite recently, and with no tradition of exerting sovereign control over these vast territories to the north and west. The long transition from empire to nation-state was a task successive dynasties set themselves, including the Manchu Qing, the Republican/Kuomintang and the Communist Party. Whatever one makes of the contested claims China makes to territorial sovereignty of the far west, not even the staunchest advocate of China’s Tibet claims Chinese power extended its reach into the conditions of daily life of Tibetans, except perhaps for extraction of tax revenue in some places and times.
China in the 1950s had to make up governance of the rangelands, with almost no base. This turned out to be a complex matter, with no approach being settled on for some years, with considerable interim confusion. Among the most urgent nation building tasks were to instigate class warfare among the frontier ethnicities, and to objectively classify the various ethnicities according to scientific criteria. The compulsory denunciation by the poor of every ethnicity, of their rich, was the revolution. The liquidation of the exploiting classes, preceded by mass campaigns of public denunciation and “speaking bitterness” was the fundamental task of the revolution, and in many ethnic areas, communities were quite reluctant to denounce the educated elite. Similarly, the process of identifying, naming and classifying the ethnicities that constitute the family of nations of China, was such a messy, contradictory process that the ethnographers sent out to remote valleys and high plateaus found themselves attempting “to transform the worldviews of their minority informants during the interview process itself,” so Mullaney tells us.
This took on urgency because the regime in its early revolutionary enthusiasm asked people to identify their ethnicity, resulting in filled forms naming over 400 ethnicities in one province alone; a level of complexity quite beyond the capacities of a new state to administer with any semblance of disciplinary power. This was critical, since new China had dispensed with the Kuomintang approach of defining “the very meaning of the operative term, minzu, in such a way as to disallow the very possibility of a multi-minzu China.” (Mullaney 3) But 400 plus minzu were inadmissible, so the state engineered a miracle of categorical compression, a taxonomy of identity, which included locating each people or nation in a fixed position on a ladder of human social evolution. Where each minzu was located was crucial to the class warfare to be instigated through mass campaigns. If a minority was classified as feudal, the struggle to overthrow the landlord exploiting class must be relentless, the cadres must do everything necessary to ensure that anywhere from a minimal five per cent of the population up to as much as 80 per cent were denounced, humiliated, found guilty of class crimes and liquidated.

Other minzu were luckier, being classified in other positions on the ladder of social evolution. On the lowest rung of the ladder was primitive communism, an egalitarian prefeudal society which needed no purging, only urgent modernisation. On higher rungs were other categories, which were not predetermined to be as exploitative as the feudal, with different destinies.
These were among the devices new China deployed to create order, and make the state a presence in daily lives. The census, surveys, questionnaires, interviews, ethnographic expeditions, cadre recruitment and training, cadre schools were among the ways the state mobilised to govern. Once the oppressors were eliminated, construction could begin.
But what to construct? What could a revolutionary regime achieve in the grasslands? What was there to do? China was determined to assert sovereignty over these vast territories, and complete the task the Qing had barely attempted, to not only conquer but to rule the far west. The new state needed new ways, multiple and heterogeneous ways of making its new territories thinkable, recognisable, categorisable and calculable. It needed ways of operationalising the dream of making all that vast space –the Tibetan Plateau alone added one third to China’s area- productive.

The high plateau had not been mapped, nor its resources inventoried, or its rivers sourced to their origins. The mountains had not been climbed, the glaciers measured, the productivity of the grasses enumerated. The few existing old texts were dismissed as unsystematic and unscientific. The new generation of classifiers dismissed the old provincial gazetteers compiled by previous regimes as idiosyncratic, arbitrary, with “an excessive number of categories according to a mixed bag of taxonomic criteria: geographical origins, cultural practices, and sartorial habits, among others.” (Mullaney 54)
What the ethnographers despatched in the 1950s came up with instead was a drastic reduction of diversity, to 55 minorities, plus the Chinese, themselves redesigned as an ethnicity for the first time, making a total of 56 legally equal ethnicities altogether. This was the desired result, but it was achieved, as Mullaney’s elderly interviewees recount in detail, by hastily grabbing an obscure Edwardian era British imperial taxonomy of Chinese ethnicities based on neatly nested hierarchies of language groups, a fittingly “objective” criterion. On top of this, they used Stalin’s rigid alder of social evolution to assign evolutionary positions that spared the social suffering of class war for some and guaranteed it for others. In addition, the ethnographers had their own agendas, especially when it came to quaint and exotic communities they were fond of, even if they did not clearly possess all attributes Stalin listed as prerequisites for classification as a nation. In their unabashedly ethnogenetic enterprise”, these official ethnographers opened up the possibility for groups not yet in possession of Stalin’s four required attributes to be categorized as full-fledged minzu in advance, giving rise to the possibility of ‘precapitalist nationalities.’ The Ethnic Classification was based on a dynamic and futurological definition of minzu.” (Mullaney 90-1)

In the same first decade of communist power, the state had to decide its stance towards the land of snows as well as the people. How to make thinkable and categorisable a land of such vast extent, with so few people, a land surely of great productive potential, but potential for what was quite unclear. The Qing dynasty’s failure to turn conquest into rule, an empire into a nation-state, the inability to persuade or coerce large numbers of Chinese settlers into Tibet, suggested the difficulties ahead. Unlike other provinces assimilated into China, the Tibetan Plateau was simply too big, too remote and above all, too cold to sustain Chinese peasant farmers.

Everything was tried, usually with disastrous results. Human will could conquer mountains and all obstacles, the Chinese people were constantly told, and in the first decade of communist power, such revolutionary enthusiasms were believed. But everything about Tibet was unfamiliar, other, unknown, and mysterious. Where China’s great rivers actually began, in Tibet, was a mystery which previous regimes were unconcerned to adumbrate. How people could survive, and thrive, in such intense cold and thin air was a mystery. Whether Tibetans were physiologically different, enabling them to survive without altitude sickness, was an urgent priority for scientific investigation, but they turned out to be much the same as all humans.

An obvious start was to enumerate the land, count the livestock, map the rivers, lakes and glaciers, inventory the native species, and classify them into harmful and beneficial to crops and humans. Almost none of this had been done, other than the expeditions of European plant hunters, often employed by commercial nurseries looking for exotic species that could be domesticated as a new fashion for gardens throughout suburban modernity worldwide. Even the clouds of Tibet were unfamiliar, requiring great efforts at taxonomy, and a special Atlas of the Clouds of Tibet, such an achievement that it was translated and published in English as well as Chinese. (Atlas of Clouds over the Qinghai-Xizang Plateau, Academic Press, New York, 1986)

Much as ethnographers had neither time nor imagination to come up with a Chinese ethnicity classification system, revolutionary China’s first “animal husbandry” administrators turned to standard rural development tools, notably the “stocking ratio” and the “carrying capacity” of given parcels of land, usually generalized across vast areas. Like language as the objective marker of ethnicity, sunlight, rainfall and grass growth were objectively quantifiable devices by which the ideal number of livestock could be determined. The ultimate number had to fulfill several criteria, which increasingly pulled in opposing directions. On one hand, revolutionary China was predisposed to believe that the vast grasslands could produce more; yet such production must also be sustainable in the long term, without degrading the grasslands. So the number had to be just right, not so low that grass would go to waste for want of teeth to graze it, nor so high that “grazing pressure” would destroy the resource on which it feeds.

In countries with predictable climatic variations, such approximations worked quite well, even if in practice, stocking ratios often had to be revised downwards after initial optimism as to what the land could be made to yield, primarily measured in edible animal protein, and proved too optimistic. Where climates were highly variable and unpredictable, with frequent extremes such as drought and flood, standardized formulae such as “stocking rates” or “carrying capacity”, averaged over spaces and times, proved to be highly misleading. European settler occupation of inland Australia, for example, spread deeper and deeper into the arid interior in the 1870s and 1880s, peaking in 1893 with a sheep population of 100 million. A decade later the number of sheep was half. (Donald 75) The calculated stock carrying capacity implemented by optimistically expanding pastoralists, was “unwarranted and the investment in it misplaced, a cause of instability not of progress. The sheep population was reduced by half and much of the Western District of new South Wales was virtually evacuated.” (Shaw 15)

The time when China found itself in actual possession of Tibet, in the 1950s, was a time of great inventiveness of devices for making growth of agricultural output necessary, measurable, feasible and naturalisable as self-evident laws of economic development. The Gross Domestic product had been invented, primarily by Kuznets, in the early 1940s, making available for the first time a territorially bounded measure of output comparable across states and across time. With GDP as a base, it did not take long to divide the world into the developed states, and their opposites, the underdeveloped. Thus underdevelopment came to be a major problem of the post WWII world, a problem on which the capitalist First World and Soviet bloc Second World agreed, while disagreeing about the roles of states and markets in solving it. Increased per capita output, a sustained secular improvement in material well-being, an increasing flow of goods and services, a significant self-sustained increase of per capita income were all conceptualised as definitions, in the 1950s, of the task of governments, in underdeveloped countries such as China. (Arndt 51)

As early as 1922 China’s leader Sun Yat-sen proposed just such an agenda, complete with railway lines crisscrossing the Tibetan Plateau. “His book The International Development of China was almost certainly the first to advocate economic development in something like the modern sense and use of the term.” (Arndt 16) But Sun had little control over China and none over Tibet; little access to investment capital, and many other difficulties. Yet he named the development agenda; which decades later the Communist Party took as its great project.

As early as 1956, before the violent liberation of Tibet had been completed, Zhou En-lai announced, at the start of the 2nd Five-Year Plan, that “In order to achieve a rational distribution of productive forces in our country, to promote the economic development of all areas, and to adapt the geographic disposition of our industries to the situation of our resources and national defence, it is necessary to build new industrial bases in the interior in a planned way.” (Eighth National Congress 289-90) Zhou listed the key projects, which included hydropower damming of the Yellow River along the Sanmen gorge in Amdo (Qinghai in Chinese) in northern Tibet, “and intensify geological work in Tibet to prepare the way for its industrial development.” The Communist Party Congress of 1956 was more specific, naming the extension of rail lines from China deep into oil-rich Xinjiang and the oil fields and industrially useful salt lakes of the Tsaidam Basin in northern Tibet: “It is required that 8000-9000 kilometres of new railways be built in these five years. The trunk railway lines from Lanzhou to our border in Xinjiang, from Baotou to Lanzhou and from Lanzhou to Tsaidam will be completed.” (Congress 244)

The industrialisation of Tibet began quickly, with much of northern Tibet incorporated into the Third Line zone of inland areas to be industrialised as a way of matching the military might of the US and then also the USSR, as far from both as possible, to minimise the danger of attack while military industries were built from nothing. China’s leaders very quickly decided they must develop the same capacity as the Americans and Soviets in making submarines equipped with nuclear missiles, able to roam the oceans globally, invulnerable to attack or even tracking their location in the depths, able to fire at will. That decision, made in secret in 1956, designated Tibet, specifically the largest lake in Tibet (and China), the Tso Ngonpo (Qinghai Hu in Chinese, Kokonor in Mongolian) as the place for a secret atomic city developing and testing nuclear submarine missiles. In the hundreds of pages of the 2nd Five-Year Plan, the language throughout is of increased output, as a natural task and an urgent necessity, expressed always in the imperative indirect voice: “It is necessary that…”

The same discourse of increasing output per capita was applied to agriculture and pastoral nomadism. In a table called “Agricultural Economic Efficiency” China celebrated four decades of applying this new norm. In 1957 agricultural output per mu of land was worth RMB 52; by 1988 this had risen to RMB 228. The output of each “agricultural labourer” producing meat from pigs, sheep and cattle was 21 kilos per person in 1957, and 69 kg in 1988.(Changes and development in China 1949-1989, table 4-11).
The necessity for increasing output, within the constraints of rationality, meant being careful about the limits of land, climate, soils and so on. The speeches of Zhou En-lai and Liu Shao-chi to the 1956 Communist Party Congress are full of warnings about not going too fast; not forcing the pace of change beyond what is bearable. Their warnings were soon countermanded by an impatient Mao.
How to measure rationality on the grassland? The nomads themselves were of no help, not only because they had no standardised technical devices to measure productivity, but because nomadic society was self-evidently static and unproductive, in the eyes of the Party. Nomadism was a primitive stage, logically prior to the invention of farming, an arrested development that suggested arrested mentalities. Nomadic Tibet was ill suited to such modern tasks as feeding huge numbers of Chinese prisoners, workers, scientists, soldiers and pioneer farmers to the Tibetan Plateau, especially to Tsaidam basin and Qinghai province, who needed meat.
The balance between increasing output and destructive over-use, the ideal sweet spot of maximal production without overgrazing, generated the closely related devices of “carrying capacity” and “stocking rate”, both resulting in a number of animals per given area, with the differing kinds of animals given a formularised statistical weighting so that one yak is declared to be the equivalent of six sheep. One number could define the optimal herd size, be it in a small area or, by averaging, smoothing and generalising, over big areas too. This simplicity quickly enabled these disciplinary devices to be naturalised, as objective laws of nature, self-evident truths, drawing attention away from themselves, with the focus solely on the numbers they produced.
In countries with no accumulated wisdom of experience in the stocking of rangelands with cattle and sheep, stocking rates were often unrealistically high, until the rangelands collapsed. In arid South Australia, early settlers, from the 1850s through to early in the 20th century commonly stocked land at a rate of 100 sheep per square mile, though today 20 to 25 is regarded as the most the land can carry, and still regenerate. What has also been learned in the last century is that instead of a single number, applicable over a wide area and over a long time, is that “the key principle is matching animal numbers with land capability and feed availability, managing total grazing pressure and making sure animal numbers are reduced quickly and sufficiently when going into a dry period.” (Pasture Degradation and recovery in Australia’s Rangelands, 2004, 190) The calculation of what is appropriate is more nuanced, flexible, contextual and cognisant of shifting circumstances, especially climatic variation. The Australian strategy of quickly destocking pastures early in a drought in turn requires a huge road network, the availability of large numbers of heavy trucks, and cheap fuel, making it economic to take animals hundreds or thousands of kilometres to areas unaffected by drought.

Tibet also experiences great climatic unpredictability, with blizzards, gales and unseasonal snow cover the biggest dangers to livestock herds. But Tibetans cannot truck livestock 1000kms to agist them or avoid a cold snap. What Tibet does have is thousands of years of pastoralism, accumulated local knowledge of what is possible, and what the productive limits are. In Tibet, the new Chinese settlers could have sought and listened to the nomads, collecting “indigenous knowledge”, which development agencies worldwide now do routinely as an integral aspect of natural resource management policy formulation. This was never done. Chinese and Tibetans inhabited the same plateau, but lived entirely separate lives, in very different lifeworlds, with almost no communication. This has been so for 60 years, and there is as yet very little sign of dialogue, even though several international NGOs and aid agencies have done small scale dialogue and consultation workshops with nomads in Tibet, to show China that the process can be beneficial.

Outside China local knowledge is often regarded as important, even the key to success in biodiversity conservation or skilful resource management or risk management. But local knowledge is always, implicitly or explicitly, juxtaposed with “universal knowledge”, meaning objective scientific knowledge that is beyond human convention, is a law of nature, independent of culture and subjectivity. China’s great project, beginning in the 19th century and now peaking, was to capture and utilise the “universal knowledge” that made the west –and then Japan- so powerful that China could be humiliated. Throughout the 20th century China’s great pedagogic task was to learn, absorb, assimilate, reproduce and disseminate these seemingly universal truths that the west proclaimed as the source of its superior power over nature and humanity. It was insufficient for the state grasp the technical tools of modernity, all patriotic Chinese should learn the new universal truths of modernity and apply them, to build and save China.

Not only did this lead to deep ambivalence about Chinese tradition, it meant that knowledges not associated with modernity became invisible or, at best, recognised as trivial skills of subsistence. The knowledges of nonChinese ethnicities, living in unfamiliar environments, were especially invisible. Yet all knowledge is local. In an article of that title, professor of cyber scholarship Geoff Bowker tells a story of a young Yolngu Australian Aboriginal boy who, after an unpromising start, turned out to have an aptitude for classroom learning, even qualifying as a pilot. Yet he only began his schooling at the age of 11. “The guy messed up majestically in class at the start: he was put into seventh grade because he was 11 years old, but when asked to read numbers on the blackboard he couldn’t. He was sent back to grade one then bounced his way up to grade 11 in record time. Naturally people thought his progress was amazing and asked him how he was able to move through the grades so quickly, telling him how much better he would have done if he’d been at school from the beginning. He responded, “If I’d been at school from the beginning I’d never have been able to do any of this. Because I spent the first 11 years of my life in the country listening to the land with the constant intelligence of the wind, the climate, the waves, the vegetation and the changes of seasons in me and around me all the time, I learned how to think and be aware constantly. It’s that awareness which allowed me to zip through school and go further than anyone had gone before.’” (Geoffrey C Bowker, All Knowledge is Local, Learning Communities: International Journal of Learning in Social Contexts, 2. 2010)
Tibetan nomads say something similar. Tai Situ Rinpoche, originally from a remote nomadic area, for decades a Buddhist master with a global following, says:

“The natural pattern, where grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins, in addition to the father and mother, take care of the child’s needs, provides stability with the natural environment. These people don’t have shopping centres, big highways, and so on. They live with nature, and they know the trees, flowers, and animals. The child sees his mother milking the cow to get the milk he is going to drink for breakfast. From the beginning he learns about the natural order of things from nature itself. A typical middle-class Tibetan family has two places to live: a highland estate for the summers and a lowland estate for the winters. The family has seasonal separations and reunions, since some family members stay mostly in one place, but most of the younger adults move back and forth. Hey experience sadness at parting and happiness at the real communication that takes place at meeting their friends and relatives once again.

“Tibetan children are exposed to natural reality all of the time. If they see a death, it is a real death. Death is not something that appears on a square screen, acted out by people who then get up and star in another movie. A child knows whether her jacket is made out of wool from the sheep, the very fine hair of the goat, or the skin or fur of some other animal. She saw how it was made by her mother or uncle, and maybe she helped clean, separate, or spin the wool.

“This kind of natural information has a deeper value that relates to a person’s inner development. When someone learns that it is necessary to wait half a year for certain flowers to grow, having watched them grow from seeds into plants, and having watched the leaves come out and buds open up –all in a certain, reliable period of time- an appreciation of the natural rhythm of things develops. One becomes aware at a deep level that things happen in a particular way and at the right time. This sort of appreciation builds the ability to accept other kinds of circumstances as they occur [40] throughout life. It helps a person understand the temporary nature of life and its phases.

“People who grow up in a changed, more artificial environment has difficulty understanding that life is simple. Everything becomes very complicated for them, and especially such things as love, caring for themselves and other people, having balanced relationships, discipline and so forth. Such basic states as happiness, sadness, death, and birth all become very complicated. Even though they might have books and video cassettes that discuss every critical aspect of life, it is indirect learning. People who have grown up with nature might not have seen any books, and they might not have the ability to explain what love, respect, or kindness is, but they know and feel these principles in a way that gives them stability. The professional therapist has originated from the need of modern people to find answers for all those major questions that didn’t need to be asked in the past. Nowadays the simple things that people once knew naturally have become areas of uncertainty.” (Tai Situpa, Relative World, Ultimate Mind, Shambhala 1992, 38-41)

These are not romantic fantasies of “living at one with nature” proposed by outsiders, they express insider learning’s from direct experiences and perceptions, unmediated by formal classroom categories and hierarchies of knowledge. This is what new China, despite its construction of a disciplinary state in Tibet, never noticed as knowledge useful to governance of the grasslands or of Tibetan lives.

In the absence of local knowledge, what did revolutionary China bring to its new task of governing the grasslands? New China had a distinctive mindset, often articulated explicitly as the General Line of Party policy, in documents that were meant to be carefully studied and then implemented, by cadres all over China. Very seldom was there recognition that the nomads and their grasslands were very different to the circumstances of China’s peasantry, all of whom were to be made to produce more, fast. China had an urgent agenda for all of rural China, which was to be the source of finance for the capital needed for China’s speedy industrialisation. Even though the revolution had been made in the name of the peasants, and in New China the peasants were extolled, along with workers and soldiers, as the only trustworthy classes, predatory extraction of surplus value from the peasants was top priority, and persisted for decades. Party leader Chen Yun put it bluntly in 1950: “China is an agricultural country; the investment for industrialisation has no alternative but to use agriculture. Industries need to invest, and agriculture is our only source of funds.” (Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, Important Literature Collection since the Founding of the Nation, vol 1, 1992, 267)
The urgency of industrialisation, the example of Stalin’s Soviet Union, and the revolutionary utopian hope that mobilised human nature could overcome all obstacles, all led to a fixed conviction that rural China, the land and the people, could produce much more, if only they were organised rationally in collectives and communes, with land and labour aggregated into much bigger units of production, then allocated for maximum efficiency.

China had lost a century, the revolutionaries believed, in the race to prove itself the equal of the developed countries. While China took a century to bring to power a strong state, national unity, and a determination to achieve what Japan, facing similar challenges, had tackled almost a century earlier, everything was at last in place. A new sun was rising, destined to eclipse the Japanese imperialists and the western imperialists. By 1958, at the moment of China’s most decisive intervention in Tibetan nomadic lives, China’s official goal, for which everyone was to be mobilised, was to surpass England in 15 years and catch up to America. (Shi Cheng, China’s Rural Industrialisation Policy, 55-6)

This extraordinarily ambitious goal actually took 50 years, not 15. But in the 1950s, a new wind was blowing, often called by Chinese the communist wind (gongchanfeng in Chinese), and it could blow away anything old. The Party’s newspaper, People’s Daily, editorialised: “Strive for Top Speed. To develop our country’s social productive forces, realise national industrialisation and agricultural mode4rnisation at the highest speed is the basic spirit and soul of the General Line… and is an essential policy for socialism in our country.” (quoted in Shi Cheng, 55)

Speed and revolutionary certainty manifested as five winds or five styles, phrases used by Chinese to sum up the whirlwind they lived through: the communist wind, dictatorial commandism (mingling zhuyi), blind direction of production (xiazhihui shengchan), boastful exaggeration (fukua) and cadre privilege-seeking (ganbu teshu). Boastful announcements that production targets had been fulfilled or overfulfilled were the public face of a party-state insisting its commandism and fetishisiation of production as an end in itself proved the triumph of the revolution. The private face of the party was its selfishness and greed in ensuring that its functionaries got the best of everything. (Dali L. Yang, Surviving the Great Leap famine: the struggle over rural policy 1958-62, in Timothy Cheek ed., New Perspectives on State Socialism in China, 263)

These powerful energies explain why no one listened to the nomads. The low commodity output of Tibet, even the low human population of Tibet, were proof that Tibetans had made little of the potential of Tibet. A land of backward nomads, exploiting nobles and useless meditators clearly had lost any mandate to govern the grasslands, and was now destined to enter history, modernity and industrialisation, even if new China initially had very little idea as to what that might mean.

China was on a mission to save itself, to match its enemies in military power, to stand up, and to do all this at maximum speed. Old China had been disorganised, fragmented, and unproductive. Rational planning could liberate peasants and workers to utilise to the full their labour and achieve leaps in output. All the standard concepts of the machine age pointed to economies of scale, much bigger units of production able to own, operate and maintain heavy equipment to mechanise farming. Soviet style tractor stations, combine harvesters and other machines would make agriculture much more efficient, with greater surpluses available to the party-state. Aggregating peasants into production brigades, communes and state farms, all eating from a single mess hall, with cooking and childcare centralised, would leave rural workers free to devote themselves fully to production. It was a utopian dream, which peaked at exactly the time China gained, through extreme violence, full control over the Tibetan rangelands and nomad lives.

New China had great hopes for Tibet, without being able to specifically name what Tibet might contribute to China’s full speed modernisation. Surely such a big land must yield riches, if only they can be found and mastered? But what China encountered was utterly unfamiliar and daunting. As early as 1952, Mao wrote of the task ahead in Tibet: “Tibet compares poorly with Xinjiang, whether politically or economically. Xinjiang is well connected with the heartland of the country by motor roads. While several hundred thousand Han people live in Xinjiang, there are hardly any in Tibet, where our army finds itself in a totally different minority nationality area.” (Selected Works vol 5, 73-4) Mao’s secret directive is disappointed by Tibet, since it is “totally different.” But the Party, in the vanguard of changing everything, could not for long respond by leaving Tibet to be “totally different.” Despite being totally ignorant of the totally different, the party-state must proceed to change Tibet, without coming to know it first. Mao’s secret directive devotes itself then to the strategy of saying reassuring things to the Tibetan elite, while preparing secretly “to achieve a gradual, bloodless transformation of the Tibetan economic and political system”.

Mao’s only available frame was to see Tibet in purely political terms, as a land where the Chinese occupation, he acknowledges, was deeply unpopular, where “the Dalai clique… have an advantage over us in social influence.”His response was, for the moment, to go slowly, while appearing confident, even refusing to make any compromise with the “Dalai clique.” He ends his directive by ordering the Party in Tibet that ”in appearance we should take the offensive and should censure the demonstration (against Chinese rule) and the petition for being unjustifiable, but in reality we should be prepared to make concessions and go over to the offensive in the future when conditions are ripe.”
Mao was in possession of universal truth, was the singular agent of change, at the forefront of the laws of history, and thus needed no particular knowledge of Tibet. His entirely politicised understanding of the Tibetans, and their heartfelt protests, is expressed in a military language of feints, tactical retreats and frontal attack. He spends much of the directive explaining why impatient Party cadres in Tibet should bide their time. He outlines various shrewdly sketched scenarios: either the Tibetans will come to accept China’s occupation, or they will rebel. “Either will be favourable for us. The longer we delay, the stronger will be our position and the weaker theirs.” The seasoned military campaigner thus declared the only knowledge that needed to be known, that China would overturn Tibet at a moment of its choosing, and all other knowledge is incidental.

Tibet’s incorporation into China could not have come at a more inauspicious time. Not only were 1958 and 9, the years of the final Tibetan revolts and their ruthless crushing, the high tide of Mao’s determination to accelerate the revolution, Mao had a global agenda as well. In the aftermath of Soviet repudiations of Stalinism, Mao was sure the mantle of global leader of the forces of socialism had fallen on him, and he was determined to improve on the Stalinist model, establishing China’s ideological leadership of the whole socialist world. Speed was not only a means to proving the superiority of the Chinese model, and its fidelity to Stalinism, it was an end in itself, the surest demonstration that the largest population on earth could be rationally organised to out-produce any other nation, or social system. Nothing was to get in the way, certainly not an ethnicity whose numbers at most were one per cent of the population of China, scattered across their remote plateau.
Revolutionary China’s decisive 1959 break with the Soviet Union was not at all a break with the Soviet model; if anything it was a repudiation of Khrushchev’s treacherous “revisionism” and a return to Stalinist coercion as the essential method of accelerating progress. Nor did China’s break with revolution, after Mao’s death, end the ongoing reliance on Soviet models, especially the compulsion to theorise stages of development, with socialist man at the pinnacle of social evolution, and all ethnicities ranked on the ladder of progress. (Thomas P Bernstein ed., China Learns from the Soviet Union, Lexington 2010) The rigid hierarchy invented by Morgan, ethnographer of the Iroquois in the 1870s, became Stalin’s frame for the disciplinary management of ethnic difference, and then China’s, surviving into 21st century as the ever-presentt, self-evident rationale for treating the Tibetans as primitive and feudal.

Not only did China position itself as the exemplary revolutionary society, harbinger of the future of all mankind, it also reworked its ancient history as a magnetically powerful Han ethnicity that had for thousands of years attracted, assimilated and absorbed nearby nomadic societies. Historian Chen Liankai posited Han origins in indigenous, sedentary Huaxia culture in the Yellow and Yangtze River valleys around 3000-2000 BC. Its superior culture and size, Chen said, drew in and ‘polymerized’ (juhe 聚合) surrounding nomadic and semi-nomadic peoples producing first the Han minzu following the Qin dynasty unification of 221 BC. Ever since, China has had the capacity to profoundly transform its more primitive neighbours, to alter even their molecular structure. (Chen Liankai, Preliminary research on the Zhonghua minzu (Zhonghua minzu yanjiu chutan), Beijing: Zhishi Chubanshe, 1994, pp.111-29, 275-288 & 288-311). Another metaphor used by Chinese ethnographers is to depict Han Chinese society as a snowball, accreting and absorbing other nationalities as it rolls over the landscape of China. (James Leibold, In Search of Han: Early Twentieth-century Narratives on Chinese Origins and Development, China Heritage Quarterly, 19, 2009)

This dualistic interplay of extremes serves actual pastoral nomads ill. Both extremes assume the nomads wander at random, is findable anywhere and nowhere. The nomad is a random particle, a shape shifter whose presence or absence eludes the objective scientific gaze of the state, like a particle in quantum physics whose ontological status depends on the viewer. It is the mobility of the nomad that is the defining characteristic, whether this is seen as negative or positive. Because the nomad is mobile and eludes the state, he is also without hierarchies, leaders or aristocracies; whether this is seen as further proof of nomadic unaccountability or as romantically attractive. Those who see nomads as primitive, their mobility a slavery to nature; and those who celebrate it as the headless state of not being governed, would be surprised to find nomads industrious, disciplined, careful risk managers who think ahead, calculate their value adding and plan accordingly. Living at the mercy of nature and in harmony with nature are two sides of one coin, neither of which is open to the abundant evidence that nomadic societies are commonly hierarchical, as David Sneath has shown at length. Both extremes assume society is the other to the state, for good or ill. Thus nomads themselves do not have their own states, hierarchies and power relations; they are undifferentiated tribes or hordes, all based on kin connections. Sneath’s evidence of social strata, rulers and ruled in nomadic societies suggests modernity has seen in nomads only what it is predisposed to see.

Mobility has become more fashionable than ever, in academic circles, where mobilities are studied as a key conduit for understanding the connections, assemblages, and practices that both frame and generate contemporary everyday life. Thus the yearnings of Chinese peasants for New York are seen as constituting 21st century modernity. An academic study of these magical yearnings for a transformed life announces itself as “an exploration of how mobility as a key trope in projects of capitalist development and modernity is currently lived in post-Mao China among a rural-coastal population situated on the mercurial edge between global flows and parochial closures.” (Julie Chu, Cosmologies of Credit, 2011, 4) Global capitalism requires mobility of us all, not only the physical mobility of the peasant who moves to an urban factory, but also a mobility of identity, as capitalism restlessly creates and destroys whole industries and regions where production flourishes or declines. Global capitalism morphs into the new control society of flows, making us flow along, reinventing ourselves as necessary. The new order, as true of new China as of the older metropoles of modernity, engineers the consent of the governed through its use of metaphors of mobility and the opportunities mobility makes possible. Yet global capitalism, contrary to classic capitalist conceptions of flows of labour and capital to spaces of highest efficiency, also disrupts flows, especially human flows, behind mercantilist barriers and state boundaries. The grand narrative of mobility as the responsibility of the citizens of modernity is in no way contradicted by the actual prohibitions on mobility wielded by states. China encourages peasants to leave their subsistence farms, and in recent decades taxed them to extract surplus value for investment in industrialisation, forcing them off land that could then be mobilised for higher efficiency. Official discourse encouraged mobility, a willingness to plunge into the sea of commerce, even at a cost of eating the bitterness of disrupted families, low wages, job insecurity and uncertain futures, because this is how patriotic citizens improve their human quality and contribute to nation building. Yet the same party-state persists in inefficient statist, top-down allocations of labour, maintaining regulatory distinctions between ethnicities, rural and urban residents, and genders. The party-state positions itself as the embodiment of scientific development, a higher rationality, the peak of human quality incarnate, the exemplar all should aspire to. In this sense it is far from becoming the compliance society Foucault sees as emerging in the metropoles, and more closely resembles the old disciplinary society in which social engineering is the state’s pedagogy. The party-state perpetuates the tradition of the dynastic annalists in claiming authorship of the lives of its citizens, maintaining vigorous agency in shaping individual lifeworlds.
Mobility does not mean freedom, in the sense that modernist romantics imagine the nomad lives a life of freedom; but nor is the mobility of contemporary liquid modernity merely a choiceless compliance with the hegemonic project of the all-powerful party-state that engineers the consent of the governed, according to its predetermined agenda. Despite the ingrained habit of Confucianist states to imagine themselves in command of all lives, all destinies, contemporary China no longer fits such a simplistic totalising mould, if it ever did. Although the regime insists on taking credit for all successes, and censoring mention of failures, street level China has its own bold, emergent, entrepreneurial flows of capital, land, labour and human capital that are barely regulated by the party-state. The vibrant, even chaotic, speculative, high-risk new China acts first to seize opportunities, and only later generates a rationale, such as statist authorship of what worked.

But in Tibet, the nomads languish in the old disciplinary society, where little happens outside the purview and surveillance of the state, so intensive is the investment in technologies of control and disrupted mobility. The immobilisation of the nomads is but part of the immobilisation of Tibetan society, into closely watched small neighbourhoods, where all movement is monitored by ever-present surveillance cameras watched by huge numbers of immigrant Chinese security officials who seldom speak Tibetan but take behaviour on camera as signifier of mental intent, and punish accordingly. The panopticon project of early industrial modernity lives on in China’s remotest provinces, where the apparatus of disciplining the masses results in tertiary sector employment dominating the whole economy. Prison guards, security agencies, file keepers, monitors of behaviour public and private: these are bigger than the nomadic, farming, mining and industrial economies of Tibet put together, as Andrew Fischer reminds us.

The disciplinary society China has created in Tibet not only confines people in institutions, but has made all of urban Tibet an institution, locked down, segmented into quadrats, under constant surveillance even when people are at home. To be Tibetan is to be suspect, requiring surveillance and discipline. To be an educated Tibetan, even a cadre or minor official is to be especially suspect, forever monitored for any sign of disloyalty. The best to be hoped for is to be provisionally free to circulate, a right the party-state can always withdraw. As Kafka reminds us, in disciplinary society, apparent acquittal, between confinements, is as much as can be achieved. China’s disciplinary society can always declare one guilty of revealing state secrets, which covers anything declared retroactively to be a state secret. The definition of state secret is a state secret.

To Foucault, disciplinary societies are creatures of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, reaching their peak early in the 20th. But the disciplinary society has an afterlife, its most total instantiation being Tibet, complete with the party-state’s teleology of Tibet’s compulsory journey from darkness to light, from primitivity to standardised urban comfort. The relocation of nomads into roadside line villages en route to market, is just part of the grand plan. It may be that “we’re in the midst of a breakdown of all sites of confinement –prisons, hospitals, factories, schools, the family. Educational reforms, industrial reforms, hospital, army, prison reforms; but everyone knows these institutions are in more or less terminal decline.” (Deleuze, Negotiations 178) But in Tibet it is as if Mao’s vision lives on, of the great sage who inscribes his beautiful thoughts onto the minds of the blank masses.

This is far from the mobility of global capitalism, in which “there’s no universal state, precisely because there’s a universal market of which states are the centres, the trading floors.” (Deleuze, Negotiations, 172) The market is the sole universal, making almost impossible the process of even imagining any other ways modernity might constitute itself. So naturalised, automatic and unreflective is the inbuilt model of the market, all else seems shadowy, or archaic or romantic. Nomadic existence may well be all three in many minds, a vestigial remnant of a romantic golden age that cannot possibly be relevant to anyone in a globalised interdependent economy.



A presentation by Gabriel Lafitte to “Der Dritte Pol in Gefahr – Chinas Umweltpolitik in Tibet” conference of Tibet Initiative Deutschland 15 March 2011, Berlin
glafitte@aanet.com.au, www.rukor.org +613 59623434 +613 407 840 333

Table of Contents



According to recent archaeological fieldwork, the Tibetan Plateau has been used extensively by pastoral nomads for close to 9000 years, so there should be little reason to expect that, in the 21st century, such land use would be brought to an end.

But Tibetan nomadic pastoralists are now required, by state directives, to remove both their herds and themselves from large areas of grazing land, with little prospect of ever resuming their mobile mode of production. Under an official policy of tuimu huancao, “removing animals to grow grass”, hundreds of thousands of nomads have already been removed, especially in the area where three great rivers: the Yellow, Yangtze and Mekong all rise in glacier melt on the Tibetan Plateau.

The pastoral nomads who have been removed have had their land rights documents nullified. They are now landless, without means of subsistence, untrained in modern skills essential for entry into the modern workforce, dependent entirely on rations issued for a limited period to many but not all who have been internally displaced by tuimu huancao since it was announced in 2003.

Landlessness, loss of livelihood and production in many areas such as the prefectures of Yushu and Golok (in Chinese Qinghai Yushu and Guoluo) are now a direct cause of immiserisation and despair, as there is nothing the formerly independent producers can now do to sustain their lives.

The root of the problem is denial of the right to access traditional customary lands, in areas already adding up to hundreds of thousands of square kilometres. This exclusion zone has been proclaimed, and is now expanding, as the policy solution to the problem of rangeland degradation and hence the threat of erosion of the upper watershed of China’s greatest rivers.

This raises several questions. First, are the rangelands degrading, and what are the causes? Is exclusion of customary land use the only policy alternative? What is the scientific basis for declaring hundreds of thousands of lives redundant?

In order to answer such questions, we could begin by meeting the pastoral nomads of Tibet, getting a feel for their lifeworlds.


Tibetan nomads, if asked, usually say that their traditional way of life is easy, garnering the natural bounty of the seasons. The animals mate and reproduce by themselves, the dri (female yaks) give milk freely, both to their calves and their human milkers, the grass grows by itself. All the people need do is be mobile, moving on with their animals, so pastures are not exhausted. This is what they told Mel Goldstein (Nomads of western Tibet, Serindia, 1989)

Nomads are seldom asked, so their perspective is seldom heard. Occasionally, an anthropologist or development specialist does ask, and are told that being at home on the range means a life of comfort and ease, with material needs provided by the animals, and mental ease coming from a grounded life, and the popular traditions of training the mind in not thinking excessively.

No westerner has immersed in the Tibetan nomadic world as did Robert Ekvall close to a century ago, and his embodied familiarity with nomad ways of doing and being is evident on every page. He had 14 childhood years and eight adult years among the nomads, ending in 1936. (Cultural Relations, intro) Growing up as a native Tibetan speaker gave Ekvall special insight.

He notes the revealing nomad greeting: has there been difficulty? “There is a common greeting, in the form of a question, to which I have never heard an affirmative answer. E dKaa THal? (‘Has there been difficulty?’) is the question asked of the guest as he enters the tent, is shouted to riders coming within earshot from every form of venture, trade, hunting, raiding, pilgrimage, or long-range herding, and is posed to the members of the tenthold as they gather at the end of the day’s activities. The invariable answer is Ma dKaa THal (There has been no difficulty), or more colloquially, ‘No trouble at all’. The hard fact is that, in every instance, there has been plenty of trouble. No day filled with the exigencies of pastoralism combined with nomadism can be without trouble. Repeatedly, I have travelled with Tibetans when the entire day has been a succession of disasters or near-disasters: loads thrown in bogs and streams; robbers evaded or, in head-on confrontation, bluffed off; rain all day, so hard that no noon halt was feasible and everyone went hungry and thirsty; what should have been fords become waters for swimming, with loads and cattle nearly swept away; and at the end we were a sorry bedraggled lot, but the answer, somewhat hoarsely defiant and denying all reality, remained true to form –Ma dKaa THal (No difficulty at all). (Fields on the Hoof 92)

The nomadic masculine insistence that nothing is problematic contrasts with the Chinese predisposition to find everything about Tibet problematic. Tibetan nomads accept that life is risky, that the best approach is to deal with risks on the spot, as they arise, decisively. Ekvall notes that Tibetans, nomads and farmers alike, live in an unpredictable climate: “The economy is a high-risk one with very little of the slow-but-sure aspect of gain, for the livestock fields of the agriculturalists are as vulnerable as the harvests. A single heavy snowstorm, or a virulent cattle epidemic, can virtually wipe out all the potential harvest and the fields as well, leaving the once wealthy pastoralist a pauper. Loss and gain are equally unpredictable, for in two or three very good seasons a poor man can become a man of wealth, but risk is always present. With acceptance of risk as the basic factor, the subsistence routine becomes a successive taking of chances, and when risk taking becomes a habit, the habit may well leave its mark on personality, thus giving to the nomadic pastoralist something of the character and outlook of the gambler. This may partially explain his lavishness, his love of status symbols, and his arrogant assurance in situations of disaster, for chance, that has gone against him, may well be with him next time.” (Fields on the Hoof 91)

Ekvall lists many more of the unpredictable risks facing nomads, to which their response is “realistic appraisal of just exactly what is happening in a photoflash recognition of relevancies; near-instantaneous making of decisions, ad hoc and all-out commitment, as suggested in the Tibetan words for decision-making, Thag Chod (cut-off rope); action swift as a reflex, but carried through to the end. They are tough, self-reliant, meeting emergencies as mere routine, and subtly alert to changes of weather, scene, and circumstance; for the change that goes with movement is a variable requiring constant, focused attention.” (Fields of the Hoof 88)


The qualities Ekvall names are exactly those cultivated by Buddhist practice: fearless acceptance of reality is it occurs, a willingness set aside comfort and habit in order to encounter the nature of reality; immediate, immanent, embodied experience of suchness; decisive responsiveness to circumstances as they arise rather than prescripted ideas about what should be, or routinised attempts at controlling (or editing out) the uncontrollable. Circumstances are encountered as a gestalt, in the present, not as abstractions or examples of theories about what should be. Immediacy, unmediated responsiveness, presence of mind are not only highly valued in Tibetan Buddhism as manifestations of enlightened mind, but are taught as abilities one can learn to embody. Such learning can begin intellectually, but textual learning is only one of many entry points to the actual work of familiarising mind and body with the fluid nature of reality. In the west, with its tradition of intellectual Buddhism, there is a tendency to suppose nomads, often barely literate, could not possibly have understood such higher teachings on emptiness, interdependence, contingency and impermanence; that only literate practitioners of the “high” monastic culture could have understood. This seriously under-estimates the many ways the Buddhist approach to the nature of all things is popularly available, through proverbs, songs of realisation of the most popular saints, dance and opera, and especially by the living example of lay yogis and great lamas in the community. It is intellectual arrogance to assume that only those familiar with technical philosophical language can access the inner truths of Buddhism, or that nomads are unable to develop the deep faith which ripens into confidence and transformation of the self.

The qualities Ekvall observes in Tibetan nomads, of groundedness, realism and decisiveness, are described by a great contemporary lama, Tai Situpa: “The natural pattern, where grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins, in addition to the father and mother, take care of the child’s needs, provides stability with the natural environment. These people don’t have shopping centres, big highways, and so on. They live with nature, and they know the trees, flowers, and animals. The child sees his mother milking the cow to get the milk he is going to drink for breakfast. From the beginning he learns about the natural order of things from nature itself. A typical middle-class Tibetan family has two places to live: a highland estate for the summers and a lowland estate for the winters. The family has seasonal separations and reunions, since some family members stay mostly in one place, but most of the younger adults move back and forth. They experience sadness at parting and happiness at the real communication that takes place at meeting their friends and relatives once again.

“Tibetan children are exposed to natural reality all of the time. If they see a death, it is a real death. Death is not something that appears on a square screen, acted out by people who then get up and star in another movie. A child knows whether her jacket is made out of wool from the sheep, the very fine hair of the goat, or the skin or fur of some other animal. She saw how it was made by her mother or uncle, and maybe she helped clean, separate, or spin the wool. This kind of natural information has a deeper value that relates to a person’s inner development. When someone learns that it is necessary to wait half a year for certain flowers to grow, having watched them grow from seeds into plants, and having watched the leaves come out and buds open up –all in a certain, reliable period of time- an appreciation of the natural rhythm of things develops. One becomes aware at a deep level that things happen in a particular way and at the right time. This sort of appreciation builds the ability to accept other kinds of circumstances as they occur throughout life. It helps a person understand the temporary nature of life and its phases.

“People who grow up in a changed, more artificial environment have difficulty understanding that life is simple. Everything becomes very complicated for them, and especially such things as love, caring for themselves and other people, having balanced relationships, discipline and so forth. Such basic states as happiness, sadness, death, and birth all become very complicated. Even though they might have books and video cassettes that discuss every critical aspect of life, it is indirect learning. “People who have grown up with nature might not have seen any books, and they might not have the ability to explain what love, respect, or kindness is, but they know and feel these principles in a way that gives them stability. The professional therapist has originated from the need of modern people to find answers for all those major questions that didn’t need to be asked in the past. Nowadays the simple things that people once knew naturally have become areas of uncertainty.” (Tai Situpa, Relative World, Ultimate Mind, Shambhala 1992, 38-41) Similar first-hand accounts of the inner life experienced by those who grow up as nomads can be found in the writings of Chogyal Namkhai Norbu, and Chope Paljor Tsering. (The Nature of all Things, Lothian, 2004)

Tai Situ Rinpoche, speaking to modern metropolitan audiences, suggests it is they who are confused, lacking confidence and certainty, wandering in a maze of ideas about reality; while the nomads have direct and immediate access to how things are, and no illusions as to whether all risks can be controlled, managed, insured against or compensated for when all is lost.


China’s exclosure of nomads en masse is based on scientific evidence that the Tibetan rangelands are in disequilibrium, are unbalanced, degrading, prone to extreme events, all highly problematic. Is this an objective truth of the science of ecology, or an artefact of observation by the invisible scientific observer? Why is it that everything about Tibet, through Chinese eyes, seems problematic?

A profound change has occurred in ecology as a science, with major consequences for the world’s pastoral nomads, whether Tibetan or African. A new discourse has emerged. Instead of deploying a narrative of deficit, resource scarcity, threats due to drought, disease and insecurity; the new discourse, based on a closer awareness of what pastoral nomads actually do, recognises “the key role played by mobility in enhancing production. We argue that specialist dryland pastoralists produce by exploiting non-uniform distribution –in the form of what we call ‘intelligent’ harvesting of unstable concentrations of nutrients on the range. Dryland pastoralists are successful producers, they do so by exploiting asymmetric distribution, not stability and uniformity.” (Saverio Kratli, Living Off Uncertainty: the intelligent animal production of dryland pastoralists, European Journal of Development Research, 22, 2010, 606-7)

This is a new way of understanding how pastoral nomads have made the Tibetan Plateau and the drylands of Africa habitable and productive. Modernity, manufacturing, urban life, corporate success and agribusiness all require uniformity, stability, predictability, elaborate commodity supply chains and management strategies for minimising risks. So ingrained is the emphasis on stability and control of nature, as the necessary prerequisite of all modern life, it took a long time before rangeland scientists could name the assumptions, and be heard. Now they have named the alternative to dominance, equilibrium and predictable, guaranteed access to natural resources. The alternative starting point is to accept living in an environment which is unpredictable, unstable, where abundant nutrients flourish in brief transience, in asymmetric patterns across the landscape. Rather than seeing such uncertainty as problematic, both for human life and for environmental sustainability, this new appreciation recognises the fluid mobility of pastoral nomadism as its greatest asset, “operating not by avoiding risk but by harnessing it as the very basis of production.” (Kratli 608)

This is a nomad-centred way of looking at the drylands and uplands where the nomads live. Instead of imposing on them, in the name of science, assumptions which govern city life, the new range ecology says “the unstable heterogeneity of dryland environment is not an obstacle to pastoralists; it is what they produce with. This is done by systematically targeting and intelligently harvesting the transient concentrations of nutrients on the range.” (Kratli 608) In short, “pastoral systems are better understood as driven by stochastic events rather than homeostatic mechanisms.” In non mathematical language, this means the availability of feed for herds is governed not by regular processes always tending towards stability, but by unpredictable, adventitious circumstances due to unpredictable confluences of causes and conditions. Thus it is entirely inappropriate to judge the choices made by pastoralists as to where they lead their herds, as if they live in a stable environment with an inbuilt tendency to revert to a steady state. To apply a steady state model to the way pastoralists live is to inevitably find them to be dangerously overgrazing, carelessly pushing the land beyond its limits. China looks at its newly acquired grasslands for regularity, then, not finding it, assumes everything is problematic.

The alternative to a predetermined model for the grasslands, taken unwittingly from the regularities of urban modernity, is not another predetermined set of assumptions. It is not a question of dropping one ideology, or master narrative, for another that is chosen just as arbitrarily. Ecology has swung away from assuming, in advance of detailed observation work, that ecosystems by their nature tend towards equilibrium. Having discovered the hard way, after great effort, that no such equilibrium is to be found in nature, in actual ecosystems, which are instead in dynamic flux, ecology has tended to go for an opposite model, which is just as arbitrary. If an equilibrial steady state is not to be found, then ecosystems should instead be seen as inherently resilient and robust. Not surprisingly, ecologists are still arguing as to whether either set of assumptions is a valid starting point.


There is a third alternative, which arises from seeing the grasslands through the eyes of the pastoral nomads. This is a different way of doing life, by choosing to avoid grand assumptions altogether, taking conscious care to do away with grand concepts such as rangeland dynamics and ecosystem drivers, in favour of a cultivated immediate responsiveness to circumstances as they arise. From a Tibetan viewpoint, human minds do inveterately tend to generalise, to liken this to that, to accrete habitual ways of making decisions based on analogous past experience, and these are secondary. What matters most is sensitive, close observation and awareness of circumstances and associations, of the mood of one’s animals, the taste of their milk, conjunctions of naturally arising phenomena, as well as past experience of which medicinal herbs grow best in which pasture previously visited. This is a more immediate, fluid, situated, responsive way of making decisions, more attentive to detail, less concerned with fitting what arises into a predetermined set of categories. Each situation is encountered afresh, in its suchness, rather than fitting it retroactively into a predetermined chain of cause and effect. If the availability of feed arises stochastically, the chain of cause and effect is obscure and complex, not simple and predictable. There is little point in trying to fix cause and effect, and thus gain control of effects, such as a predictable supply of grass in particular times and places. Rather than being fixated on aetiology, and chains of causation, each situation is taken for what it is, as it is, as a sui generis, something unique, to be utilised decisively if useful, and avoided if not of use. This is living in the present rather than reconstructing the past so as to predict and control the future. This includes living with generalisations, rules, policies and ideologies kept as useful ways of organising, but not as master narratives to be followed, irrespective of actual circumstances in the present. These are practices familiar to Tibetans, practices which can be learned, for which there is a language of training and practical exercises which can be done to embody learning and make it practically available as needed, as circumstances arise. Learning how to live in the present, rather than in a world of ideas, is familiar to nomads.

The current Karmapa is one of many high lamas born (in 1985) into nomad society, spending their early years in nomadic communities. According to Chogyam Trungpa, for centuries Tibetan Buddhism has also been mobile: “They travelled in large encampments, or caravans. This included the Karmapas, up to the seventh or even the eighth generation of Karmapas. Everything was adapted for a travelling group situation. It was possible to set up a magnificent capital, a temporary modern city, right on the spot. The Tibetan tent culture was prominent and became powerfully important. This provided possibilities of establishing complete splendour in one night. The next day, the whole thing could be disassembled and the people could continue on their journey. Villagers would wake up in the morning and go out to take their herds into the mountains. They would look down into the next valley and find a whole huge monastery encamped there. Then the next day, when they woke up, the camp was gone. That type of monastery was able to travel to a lot of areas.

“The way to reduce pollution and save ourselves from urbanisation might be to have a magnificent dharma tent culture. The organisation could fulfil its duties wherever it goes. The administration would have a chance to relate with each locality as well, and then fold everything up and move somewhere else. That is a very heroic and very Buddhistic approach: nothing is particularly permanent, but you keep on moving all the time.” (Chogyam Trungpa, The Mishap Lineage, Shambhala, 2009, 32-4) There has been great difficulty, yet no difficulty at all.

One textual example of this approach is How to Look at a Horse and Judge its Worth, which proved so valuable to the People’s Liberation Army that it reprinted Buston’s 14th century Tibetan translation of this 10th century Sanskrit classic soon after the end of the Cultural Revolution, when it once more became politically permissible to use traditional Tibetan knowledge instead of persecuting it. As the title suggests, this intensely practical work, from a branch of Tibetan medicine, which is a specialist branch of Tibetan Buddhism, was of use to all who ride in Tibet, be they Chinese soldiers or Tibetan nomads.

China’s army’s embrace of classic Tibetan (and Indian) ethno veterinary knowledge is unfortunately exceptional. There are few other examples of China paying heed to nomadic knowledge, or even noticing that it exists. There is a reason China has fallen so far behind current ways of understanding pastoralism. Although China usually prides itself on being up with the latest in just about any field, but on the key question of whether pastoral Tibet is an overgrazed disaster requiring expulsion of the nomads, or a manageable but highly unpredictable environment, China is 20 to 30 years out of date. It is 30 years since Sandford’s book critiquing standard “carrying capacity”, “over-stocking” and “herd size regulation” models of rangeland governance, just one year after China promulgated its Grassland law in 1982. In the intervening three decades a new paradigm has evolved, usually called the new range ecology (NRE).


International best practice where rangelands are degrading is to first work with local pastoralist communities to provide them with resources and training to rehabilitate degraded areas, by providing them with suitable knowledge, seeds and equipment to establish sown pasture using indigenous varieties suited to the cold climate of Tibet. Removal of both herd and nomads should be the very last resort, after other forms of co management have been tried and failed. It is a serious policy failure to turn to exclosure as the first substantial intervention to deal with what China calls “the contradiction between grass and animals.” China has turned to depriving nomads of their land as a first resort, without having tried cooperative joint management of natural resources to maintain primary goals of rangeland management: sustainability, wildlife and habitat conservation, and productivity.

How many of the two million pastoralists of the Tibetan Plateau have already been driven to abandon both herds and land is hard to quantify, in the absence of independent monitoring and the political impossibility of nomads speaking for themselves, organising to make their voices heard. The inexorable pressure of state policies over decades, to reduce herd size, reduce land lease area or cancel leases altogether, restrictions on family size, sudden natural disasters and worsening erosion of grassland soils have steadily pushed Tibetan nomads off the land, towards casual money earning opportunities somewhere else. The poverty of pastoralists unable to graze or maintain herds beyond bare subsistence level pushes them to urban fringes, sometimes as construction workers, or sellers of medicinal ingredients found in the grasslands. Sometimes there is work on local road construction. Such cash income opportunities usually attract the healthiest adult males, with women, children and the elderly left on the rangelands to carry on the hard work of livestock production. Taxes need to be paid in cash too, putting further pressure on nomads.

After a natural disaster –a blizzard, cold snap or earthquake- the poor are often reduced to beggary, again forcing people off the land and into towns. This may be temporary, but if debts have accumulated –exacerbated by bank loans for nomads to build new permanent homes- nomads sometimes have little choice but to accept the standing offer from the state to buy out their remaining herd, and also pay a modest amount to cancel their grazing land lease. Given the range of policies which squeeze and compromise nomadic viability, and the combination of incentives and orders to leave the land, it is hard to distinguish involuntary displacement from the choices made by the desperately poor, in order to survive. For these reasons, it is hard to quantify how many Tibetan pastoralists have, with great reluctance, left their land, with no prospect of ever returning. It is certainly hundreds of thousands of people, and the number is increasing rapidly.

The tuimu huancao policy, removing animals to grow more grass, is China’s boldest solution to the endless problems of nomads and grasslands. For decades, despite nominal restoration of land use rights in the 1980s, Tibetan nomads have been hemmed in with stocking rate formulae, administrative caps on herd size, strictly allocated grazing rights, restrictions on family size, heavy taxation requiring cash payments, compulsory fencing and attendant costs, often including indebtedness from having to take out loans for state owned banks. The combination of all these pressures has been steady impoverishment, with a lot of data suggesting that most nomads have barely enough livestock for subsistence.

In a land of uncertainty, with mobility long curtailed, this slide into immiserisation also makes it hard to say what is the final straw that drives nomads off their land and into a concrete block. China argues that all sedentarisation is voluntary and no-one is coerced. However, when Human Rights Watch released its first report on Tibetan nomads (another is due in 2011) it made telling use of a phrase HRW monitors were told repeatedly by nomads: “No-one has the liberty to refuse.” (No-one has the liberty to refuse: Tibetan herders forcibly relocated, Human Rights Watch, June 2007 vol 19 #8)

What is certain is that they deeply regret having to leave livestock, land and a livelihood that had been their whole world; and are even more distressed to find that there is no way back, that the state, having cancelled a land lease, never restores it.

This social suffering is invisible to China’s central leaders. In 2011, in response to requests by the UN Special Rapporteur to the Right to Food that nomads not be involuntarily resettled, China replied: “The Government emphasized that although many people were relocated to save the grasslands, no one was forced. The resettlement process always involved careful consideration of the individuals affected. The Government invested money to establish water, electricity, roads, education, medicine, radio, and other needs to the people that were relocated into cities and towns. The Government encouraged the relocated herdsman to start their own businesses.”

The tuimu huancao policy names the above ground growth of grass biomass as the sole objective, to which all else must comply. This entails abrogation of the long-term land lease certificates issued to nomadic families in the 1980s and 1990s, in every way analogous to the land rights given to Chinese farmers to convince rural producers that the land confiscations of the 1950s can never happen again. In a state where absolute title to rural land is not available to rural dwellers, these long term leasehold certificates were proclaimed as being as good as a title deed. They could be used as collateral for raising bank loans, since they entailed a state guarantee intended to persuade farmers to care for land that was in every way theirs. In nomadic areas of Tibet, the awarding of such certificates happened more slowly than in most of China but by the early 1990s all nomadic families had their certificate, which named the family members entitled to use the specified land.

What seemed at the time a welcome retreat by the state, entrusting active land management to responsible nomad households, turned out to be a time bomb. Problems quickly surfaced. First, the land rights usually covered only winter grazing areas, not the upper alpine pastures that are essential to enabling herds depleted by winter starvation to rapidly gain weight grazing on mountain meadow. The mobility inherent in nomadism as an integrated system of animal rearing was compromised. Second, the nomad families were strongly encouraged to make their winter quarters into a permanent home, and to fence their allotted land. Construction of a permanent home and fencing both require capital outlay, though nomads have had only limited access to cash income, since they consider their true wealth to be animals on the hoof, not animals sold for slaughter. In some areas, central poverty alleviation funds partly financed fence and house construction but in many areas nomads report that they were required to take loans from China’s state owned policy banks, which led to great indebtedness and great difficulty in servicing loans. Poverty was the result, as herd sizes have relentlessly decreased to bare subsistence levels, a fact verified by recent research conducted by Leipzig University. A nomadic family interviewed in November 2010 said: “The local officials promised us poverty alleviation funding, and it sounded like a great bird would come from the sky. But when it got closer, it seemed like just an ordinary bird, and by the time it landed, it was no bigger than a bug.”

Third, the long term land lease certificates identified by name the family members at the time of issue, and were never subsequently amended to accommodate natural increase, whether by birth or marriage. This bureaucratic rigidity, so unlike the periodic re-adjustment of pasture allocation undertaken by the traditional rukor tent-circle, had severe consequences later. Officials in charge of administering this policy, chiefly the Animal Husbandry Bureaus at provincial level and lower, said explicitly that the refusal to enter new family names onto land certificates would teach the nomads to restrict family size; and the refusal to re-allocate land as circumstances change in a highly changeably alpine climate that is prone to natural disasters, would teach the nomads to restrict herd size.

These statist interventions proved disastrous. The official failure to engage with nomads in any meaningful program of rural extension, breeding programs, basic education in numeracy and literacy, meant state policies remained incomprehensible to the nomads, and the nomads remained a lumpen mass of backwardness in official eyes. A policy intended to incentivise nomads to care for land that was effectively theirs, was experienced as enclosure, which the nomads had to pay for, while greatly restricting the mobility on which pastoral systems worldwide depend.

The result was further degradation of pasture, since the nomads had largely lost their mobility; which in official eyes only further proved the nomads are to blame for degradation. One official response was to renew efforts to persuade nomads to kill more animals, increasing the slaughter rate to the officially recommended level of one half of all sheep to be slaughtered each year and one quarter of all yaks. This too the nomads resisted, in part because of a Buddhist repugnance at raising animals solely and specifically for slaughter, but also because, in a high-risk environment, the herd is the nomad’s only wealth, and after a disaster, the bigger the remaining herd, the faster the recovery. Experience in other nomadic economies, notably Mongolia, shows that nomads can be persuaded to reduce herd size if they can first be persuaded that the risks inherent in pastoral nomadism are shared by the state. This is achieved by setting up an inexpensive livestock insurance program which pays nomads to restock and recover after a major disaster. China never attempted in any way to assist the nomads to lessen risk, or to invest in rehabilitating degrading pasture.


The state-driven exclosure movement is the culmination of decades of state suspicion, mistrust, misunderstanding and communication failure to understand the dynamics of pastoral nomadism, is now accelerating. All over the vast Tibetan Plateau, in area comparable to Western Europe, both herds and nomads are compulsorily removed, while praised in official media as “ecological migrants.”

This is one of the greatest expulsions of a population from their lands in history, comparable in many ways to the 19th century European settler-driven removal of Australian Aborigines, American and Canadian Indians from their lands and into vestigial reserves. This profoundly mistaken and entirely unnecessary policy is a breach of collective social and economic rights as well as individual rights to freedom of movement and association. It cuts off at the root the livelihoods, productive economy and food self-sufficiency of those who made the Tibetan Plateau habitable.

This is state failure on an extraordinary scale, a reversal of direction by a state that throughout the 1980s and 1990s had dismantled the first wave of statist intervention, the disastrous communisation of the nomads into disempowering work units utterly under the control of revolutionary cadres with no understanding of the natural limits of the rangelands. After the failure of the communes, the Chinese state returned herds to owners, and gradually issued long term land rights certificates to each nomadic family, guaranteeing secure access to grazing land. Now these land rights have been torn up, the certificates nullified, herds removed and the nomads themselves compelled to leave pastures they managed both sustainably and productively for the past 9000 years.

Anthropologist Emily Yeh (Restoring the grasslands? China Dialogue, January 26, 2010)
writes: “Evidence to date suggests that the ecological benefits are questionable while the social costs are high. For tuimu huancao and ecological migration to improve grassland degradation in any given area, several conditions must hold true: grasslands must be degraded; overgrazing must be a primary cause of the problem; and removal of grazing must be able to move the ecosystem out of its undesirable state. However, a number of scientists have questioned sweeping statements about pervasive degradation across the plateau. Indeed, some of the data on which commonly cited statistics about the extent of degradation and the rate at which it is increasing is based, appear to be from undocumented and methodologically dubious surveys.

“Recent attempts to more rigorously quantify the extent of degradation have had conflicting results. Thus, while overgrazing in the past or present is undoubtedly a key driver of vegetation change in some areas, other factors such as climate change – and interactions between multiple factors – may also play important roles. To date, few rigorous studies have been conducted to investigate these multiple interacting factors, or the extent to which ecosystems can transition to other states under conditions imposed by various interventions. Much work remains to be done in demonstrating the ecological effects of grazing removal in areas where it is being implemented.

“Furthermore, there are reasons to believe that tuimu huancao in its various forms will not be a win-win solution for both rangeland health and climate-change adaptation. Large-scale boundary fencing, together with use-rights privatisation, reduces mobility across the landscape. (Although small-scale fencing for reserve pasture or fodder production is generally welcome). This could potentially increase vulnerability to devastating snowstorms, which climate-change models predict will become more frequent and severe. In addition, such fencing can have negative effects for migratory wildlife, as well as for local livelihoods, as a result of the uneven spatial distribution of rangeland resources.

“A study conducted by Chinese scientists in Sichuan’s Ruo’ergai county found that the number of herders facing lack of water availability tripled after household rangeland allocation. Furthermore, recent ecological evidence from warming and grazing experiments on the eastern Tibetan plateau suggests that the presence of moderate grazing actually helps control the expected effects of global warming on reduction of biodiversity and rangeland quality. Experimental warming leads to decreased species richness, including of medicinal plants, as well as decreased biomass, including palatable biomass. However, these effects are dampened in the presence of grazing. These results suggest tuimu huancao may not be adaptive for climate change.

“Studies to date of those who have been resettled through ecological migration also suggest that the benefits of resettlement for improving the livelihoods of herders are overstated. Some who have voluntarily resettled have expressed regrets about doing so, saying they did not realise the extent to which everything in their new town-based lives must be purchased with cash. For many families, government compensation has been inadequate, especially as inflation drives up costs while subsidies remain the same. In one study conducted in Golok, the annual income of those resettled in towns was reportedly lower than their earlier subsistence income, while expenditures were higher; those interviewed also stated that their health conditions had declined after resettlement, because of changes in living conditions as well as diet. Contributing significantly to the problems is the fact that the Tibetan ex-pastoralists do not have Chinese language and other skills needed to earn an income in the towns.”

In recent decades the rangelands have experienced alarming degradation, erosion, even such loss of soil as to strip the land back to bare rock exposed to the gales, blizzards and temperature extremes typical of the planet’s third pole. The Chinese state, backed by Chinese scientific research reports, insists that the nomads themselves are primarily responsible for greedily and ignorantly overstocking the pastures, and failing to kill a higher proportion of their yak, sheep and goat herds annually. China’s other explanation for the degradation of the rangelands, including the area where the Yellow, Yangtze and Mekong Rivers all rise in Tibetan rangelands, is global climate change, for which China blames the older industrialised countries. Because of climate change and nomadic backwardness, in order to conserve the headwaters of China’s great rivers, the tuimu huancao policy required the removal of herds and herders, to grow more grass. To the Chinese state, this policy is necessary, rational, and scientific and is now extending far beyond the river source region to the entire plateau.


At the current accelerating rate of exclosure, almost all of Tibet’s two million nomads will have become displaced persons by 2013. We are more than half way through a decade of accelerating depopulation of the great grasslands, with implementation spreading now well beyond the initial four prefectures that constitute most of the rangelands of Qinghai province.

This is a major breach of the collective rights of whole communities, clans and nomadic tribes to their economic and social rights to livelihood, access to land and the means of production.

This punitive approach also contradicts China’s own “Outlines of National Food Security Development Plan” for the years to 2020, which emphasises the need for state investment in technology to make primary producers more productive, rather than constricting them in am myriad regulations, all of which reduce productivity.


in the booming immigrant Chinese cities on the plateau, in the mining extraction areas, and in the corridors of roads, railways, pipelines and power pylons that connect these intensive development zones, the pace of development is accelerating, with many new hydropower dams due to be built, both to power Tibetan extractive industry and prove China’s green credentials.

Put simply, Tibet is fast becoming two economies, two kinds of land, two ways of using land: extensive and intensive. Extensive land use is traditional, mobile, a light touch, grazing here and there, moving on, few towns, no heavy industry, no concentration of population and environmental impacts in small areas. Intensive land use is the opposite: concentrations of investment, infrastructure, people, feedlot farming and urban services, in as small an area as possible. China explicitly signalled the shift from extensive to intensive as its key strategy of the Ninth Five-Year Plan that began in 1996. It is the key to efficient delivery of services, from electricity to education, to people clustered conveniently together. Extensive is primitive, intensive is modern. Extensive means being at the mercy of nature; intensive development is proof of man’s mastery over nature.

This is orthodox development economics, the economics of efficiency and scale, of bundled service delivery, with a country like Germany the ideal: a big population concentrated in a manageable area, with the capacity to invest in ensuring all gain access to the full range of modern services at least cost. When Deng Xiaoping famously said: let a few get rich first, the first are those already best favoured by their location, those who are best endowed with factors of production. Hence urbanisation is at the core of all of China’s plans for Tibet, as Anders Andersen’s forthcoming book, The Chinese Presence, TibetWatch 2011, makes clear. This is the ideology of productivism.

But China is just as strongly committed to colouring vast areas of the map of Tibet as nature reserves and river source protected areas. This serves China’s interests, protecting upper watersheds, making settled nomads visible and scrutable by state power, excluded from the nature reserves, in new towns where they can learn how to be civilised. China continues resist being bound to any greenhouse gas emission reduction targets or quotas, and must win credibility elsewhere, on the vast hinterland of Tibet, which has never produced much for China, and can better be re-engineered as climate-change abatement land.

These are China’s hopes, but Tibet remains disappointing and problematic, in Chinese eyes. Everything about Tibet seems problematic, and the more one thinks about it, the more one investigates, and decrees policies, the more problematic it gets. Everything about Tibet is discordant, unfamiliar and difficult. It is extremely cold yet very sunny. It is China’s number one water tower, yet largely arid. The people are stubbornly wedded to their non-commercial way of life, even when opportunities to accumulate wealth are available. Great rivers start below dramatic glaciers but then disappear into swamps as they fan out across plateau grasslands. Fugitive permafrost comes and goes, wrecking all engineering efforts to construct highways that don’t heave upwards in winter and slump down in summer, axle-breaking hazards for trucks and buses. The sky is so close one can touch the clouds, but the air is so thin every breath could be one’s last. Even in midsummer, a snowstorm can materialise out of the blue. Herders live at the mercy of the elements, but don’t want to modernise. Crop after crop has been tried, but few survive. Yaks, sheep and goats are everywhere but there is very little fresh meat to be had in the markets. The rivers and lakes are full of fish but the Tibetans don’t fish. Tibet is vast, but produces nothing. There is more grass in summer in the alpine meadows than herd animals to eat it. There is insufficient grass in the overwintering plateau floor pasture for livestock to survive without starving, but the nomads show little interest in farming crops for fodder to feed their animals in winter. He land abounds in minerals, but few mining companies –Chinese or foreign- are willing to invest capital to extract them. Beijing pours money into Tibet, but there is never an economic take-off. The Tibetans are not grateful, they prefer the mumbo-jumbo of their lamas. The more one thinks about Tibet, the more problematic it becomes.

All this problematising, from a Tibetan point of view, comes from too much thinking, that is not grounded in an appreciation of what is. Tibetans generally find Tibet fine as it is, and don’t begin, as their first move, by seeing their homeland as harsh, fearsome, threatening, overpowering, perverse or difficult.


The famous French philosopher Gilles Deleuze proposed the creation of a “nomadology” as an alternative to the all-too-familiar category of “history.”

Although he never developed a nomadology of his own, he saw the need for not just a different story to the conventional stories historians tell, but a different universe, inhabiting a different space/time, with a very different attitude towards the word, so cherished by historians as the currency of record, and thus of truth.

While seeing the need for a radically different starting point, Deleuze himself, a French intellectual of the mid 20th century, was quite unable to do more than point in the right direction. It is, the nomads say, grandmother’s finger pointing our eyes towards the hazy moon of enlightenment, but it is we, each of, who must turn our gaze to encounter the cold silver light of reality.

History is inevitably a written record of sedentary peoples bound by conventions of time and space, with an exaggerated reverence for the word. History is a primary tool of identity of people who have externalised time and space and the word into objectively existing naturalised categories of existence, within which we live, bound by them as absolutes. History is the record of the great deeds of kings and armies, conquests and cities, territory and wealth.

The history of the Chinese Communist Party’s encounter with the nomads of Tibet is disastrous, from the 1935 beginning, in the Long March. Nowhere did the retreating communists suffer greater losses than in crossing the boggy wetlands of eastern Tibet, sniped at by nomad riflemen, responding in kind by looting monasteries and leaving the nomads to starve. Both history and now science see Tibet, the land and the people, only as problematic, extreme, harsh, in disequilibrium, ungovernable. Maybe it’s our paradigm.

Nomadology makes no such assumptions. Time and space are fluid, elastic, human conventions immensely useful for naming a thousand plateaus but not to be taken too seriously. Nomadology does not impose Euclidean geometry as an invisible overlay circumscribing the world of experience. Nomadology is unmediated direct experience of whatever arises, without excessive thinking, conceptualising and confusing proliferation of categories. Nomadology, in the daily lives of Tibetan nomads, is the momentary encounter with whatever arises, without a complex predetermined agenda as to how nature is to be conquered, progress accelerated, accumulation intensified.

History worships the timeline, the arrow of time that ever points from past to future, from the triumphs and disasters of the ancestors to the ever greater triumphs (and inevitable disasters) of the coming generation. History naturalises progress, binds us to the agendas of nationbuilding, scientific mastery, ever upward and onward. Accumulation, growth, expansion are naturalised as inevitable and necessary, as the graph of stock indices climbs and falls and climbs again. Every situation becomes a project. Every project is defined narrowly by excluding much of the messy complexity of reality, treating those externalities as invisible, so as to better focus intensively on the few remaining variables, which can be manipulated. Every project thus contains a problem, and its technical solution. Only an expert can deal with the problem, as Laurie Anderson sings.

All the innumerable problems, solutions and project implementations add up to the great project of modernity, the attaining of the ever-unreachable goal of comprehensive national power, the fulfilment of all wishes, the availability of all consumables at affordable prices to we whose fundamental role is as consumers.

History not only obliterates nomadology, it makes it so utterly invisible that it becomes impossible to even imagine.

Yet nomads continue to live their nomadology, notably in Tibet, a vast land sparsely but extensively populated by pastoral nomads not driven by the agendas of the nation-state, or the urgency of modernity’s obsessive drive for perfection. Nomadology is not just different, it is fundamentally different, in ways that remain inscrutable to the gaze of the legislative state. Nomadology slips between the categories, and can be seen, if seen at all, as a passive, retrogressive fatalism, a surrender to the forces of nature, a primitive failure to strive for mastery, even a terror-filled abyss in which puny man is at the mercy of the violent forces of nature.

As recently as November 2010, China announced it had succeeded in sedentarising 6000 Tibetan pastoral nomads, far from the Three-Rivers-Source region, in the Tibetan prefecture of Yunnan province (Dechen in Tibetan, Deqen or Diqing in Chinese). The China Tibet Online website announced: “6,000 herdsmen say goodbye to nomadism in Deqen. Shangri-la County of Deqen Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan Province has helped more than 1,300 families nomadic herders left nomadic life and moved into comfortable, spacious houses. This year, a total of 111,780,900 yuan will be invested on construction projects to help 6,000 nomadic herders of 1,300 families move into new houses.” (28 Nov 2010)
In this Tibetan upland portion of Yunnan, pastoral nomadism has been practiced for centuries, and in recent years, villagers democratically agreed on formal rules ensuring that there would be no overgrazing, and that all available pastures would be used skilfully, in seasonal rotation. In translation, this is the exact wording of that village-level democratic process: “To people of all sectors of society in Dimaluo: Based on the leadership of the Village Committee, for the good of animal husbandry in our Dimaluo, for the health of the future Dimaluo villagers’ living environment, for the sustainable development of the livestock industry in Dimaluo, on the basis of the Village Customary Regulations (in Chinese cungui minyue) and to strengthen the management system of rangelands that are going to degrade, we ask people of all sectors to cooperate. Let us create a beautiful future animal husbandry together.
“The following is the management system for Xinke upland rangeland:
-Before the 10th of May every year the path up to Xinke must be made passable. Every household that herds in Xinke rangeland must take part in repairing the road. Those who, after being informed, do not take part in repairing the road, will be fined.
-Before 10th of May each year it is forbidden for the livestock of any household in any hamlet to graze in Xinke rangeland. Infringers will be fined……” (Andreas Wilkes, The Creation of Community-Managed Rangeland Institutions in Dimaluo: three cases of community-based natural resource management, Centre for Biodiversity and Indigenous Knowledge, Kunming, Community Livelihoods Working Paper #11, 2005, p10)
By these simple rules, the three villages democratically decided how to ensure that the upper summer pastures are used, taking pressure off lower pasture land, and that herds are not moved up until spring grass growth is vigorous. Tibetan pastoralists have shown their capacity to translate customary oral decision making by the traditional tent-circle, into the formal and written processes of Chinese legal regulations. Yet these arrangements have now been nullified by the supervention of state power, herding the herders off their land and into block houses below their pasture lands, with little future. An especial irony is that in Yunnan this is happening just above the zone designated officially by China as the actual historic Shangri-la, the romantic paradise on earth invented by the English novelist James Hilton in 1935. While tourists enjoy being photographed seated on a docile yak, the real nomads are now shut out of their land and livelihoods.


China ratified the UN Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) in 1993 and is thus obligated to enact complementary legislation and then implement it, to fulfil its CBD responsibilities.
Sanjiangyuan, the Three-Rivers-Source Protected Area is officially gazetted by the government of China as a high level officially Protected Area, thus incurring the mandatory obligation, under the UN Convention on Biodiversity’s Element 2 Program of Work on Protected Areas (PoWPA), dealing specifically with governance of protected areas, to ensure that traditional owners and land users in protected areas are not excluded but become participants in the work of protection.
The Convention on Biodiversity has many sections (notably Article 8 (j)) emphasising the importance of indigenous communities as guarantors and protectors of biodiversity and the ongoing sustainability of entire ecosystems, based on evidence from around the world, showing that the most effective way of maintaining ecosystem services to downstream users, and the viability of biomes, and the conservation of endangered species, is to not only allow customary land owners continuing access to land, but to support their efforts at rehabilitation of degraded areas.
The Convention on Biodiversity specifies not only governance but also equity and participation as the key issues all signatory parties must address, and report on, in certifying their compliance with provisions of the Convention. Equity and participation require inclusion of communities long resident inside declared Protected Areas, respect for their collective economic and social rights to livelihoods compatible with the objectives of declaring areas protected.


China should halt implementation of its tuimu huancao policy of removing animals to grow grass, until there is scientific consensus that such a program is necessary. A world scientific conference should be convened to clarify whether customary and contemporary Tibetan pastoral nomadic practices are causes of rangeland degradation, and whether grassland rehabilitation can be achieved with active nomadic participation rather than by exclusion.

China should update its rangeland management policy to world standard, inviting best practitioners from rangelands around the world to establish projects aimed at co-management of natural resources, to introduce new, inclusive processes of flood control, climate change mitigation, carbon sequestration and sustainable grazing, rather than exclusion. The NEW RANGE ECOLOGY should be the benchmark.

China should extend basic income support, health insurance and a social safety net to rural Tibetan areas, enabling pastoralists to repay debts, restock pastures and resume seasonal herding. This is in line with China’s policies of increasing domestic demand and buying power, lessening reliance on exports, and increasing incomes of the poor.

China should provide pastoral nomads with guaranteed land rights comparable to those issued to China’s peasant farmers in the 1980s, including official guarantees that land will not be arbitrarily repossessed by the state, for decades to come.

China should invite scientists from many countries to independently investigate how well central policies actually work in practice on the Tibetan plateau. This includes the sloping land conversion program, the grain-to-green program, the tuimu huancao removing animals to grow grass program and other land use programs that restrict nomadic mobility.

China should implement policies announced in 2003, which stated that nomads and herds would be removed for three or five years, to let more grass grow, and then be allowed to return to their pastures.

China should design all policies for pastoral areas according to the overall principle that traditional pastoral nomadism was sustainable because it was mobile, making extensive use of all pasture. All policies should be designed to ensure seasonal access to both summer alpine meadow and winter lowland pasture. The net loss of sustainable agro-ecological food and fibre production further deprives a world in which food prices are rising rapidly due to neglect of investment in agriculture, nowhere more so than on the Tibetan Plateau.

China should suspend programs requiring pastoral nomads to build (and finance the building) of barns, overwintering animal enclosures, fenced hay paddocks and hay storage, until consultation with nomads, as equals, establishes whether such measures are workable, given the intense pressure on nomads to maximise food and fibre production in the short growing season.

China should implement its food security policy and invest in organic agro-ecological production of food and fibre from the Tibetan Plateau, including investment in employing pastoralists to sow native grass seeds and rehabilitate eroded areas.

China should cease mass poisonings of Tibetan wildlife such as burrowing mammals that aerate the soil, and the birds that feed on them.

China should enforce its own laws on biodiversity conservation and halt poaching of endangered species in nomadic areas, including the source area of China’s rivers.

China should fulfil its obligations under the Convention on Biodiversity to report in detail on how it promotes co-manangement of pastoral lands on the Tibetan Plateau.

China should enforce decrees forbidding the mining of gold and other minerals by unregulated gold rush artisanal operators, and repair the damaged rangelands resulting from gold rushes, highway and railway construction and fencing that exposes alpine soils to erosive winds and blizzards.

China should promote the uses of Tibetan pastoral wool, cheeses, yoghurt and other nomadic produce in urban Chinese markets which are rapidly acquiring a demand for dairy products and wool. China should learn from NGOs creating markets and value-added products for urban consumption by using the produce of the pastoralists.

China should cancel the indebtedness of pastoralists and resettled pastoralists, where such loans are nonperforming, and the debtors have little realistic prospect of repaying.

China should make mobile solar power readily available to nomadic families rather than requiring nomads to settle permanently before becoming eligible for access to electricity.

China should invest in boarding schools with well paid teachers and good facilities, to attract the children of nomads, rather than use China’s commitment to 9 years of compulsory schooling as an excuse to settle nomads in areas where no decent schools exist.

China should allow resettled nomads an option of return to their lands, with official assistance to train pastoralists in natural resource management, protected area management, and sustainable land use.

In addition to sources cited above there are many organisations dedicated to taking a fresh approach towards pastoral nomads:


www.iied.org, http://www.odessacentre.co.uk/,


http://www.iwgia.org/sw161.asp, www.internal-displacement.org/







http://www.cbd.int/traditional/, http://www.nomadicpeoples.net/